Tuesday, February 8, 2005

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Pretend you're a U of C undergraduate!!

Paper topic for my students in Power, Identity and Resistance: Liberalism and Its Critics:

The following is excerpted from President Bush’s Second Inaugural Address:

Some, I know, have questioned the global appeal of liberty - though this time in history, four decades defined by the swiftest advance of freedom ever seen, is an odd time for doubt. Americans, of all people, should never be surprised by the power of our ideals. Eventually, the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul. We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery. Liberty will come to those who love it….

We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom. Not because history runs on the wheels of inevitability; it is human choices that move events. Not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; God moves and chooses as He wills. We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul. When our Founders declared a new order of the ages; when soldiers died in wave upon wave for a union based on liberty; when citizens marched in peaceful outrage under the banner "Freedom Now" - they were acting on an ancient hope that is meant to be fulfilled. History has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction, set by liberty and the Author of Liberty.

If Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau were alive today, what would their reaction be to the assumptions and logic advanced in these sections of the speech? Would they agree or disagree? Why?

posted by Dan on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM


If memory serves, my way of answering these questions was to blow off the paper until 10PM the night before, and spend my time sweating Math 207 (the hardest class in the world) and Physics 151 problem sets. At that point, I would first figure out the four or five obvious points that the professor wanted me to see, and jot them down. That's a paragraph each. Then figure out the two contentious points I would raise to show the professor that I could see outside the box. That's two paragraphs. Oh, and at least one bit should slag Rousseau, just on general principles. Link 'em together into a reasonable narrative flow, make sure the text was sufficiently dry and formal, five pages solid and done by 5AM. Fifty-fifty shot of an A, and about 20% chance the prof would ask the class about one of my contentious points.

If that all sounds cynical, it doesn't diminish the fact that I did love my time in the Common Core, and am still enthralled by the world of ideas it opened to me. That all only worked because I had done the readings, had participated in some of the best discussions in my life, and had really thought about these great minds, at least when I wasn't trying to master Dedekind's construction of the real numbers and Maxwell's equations. Lesser undergraduate experiences produce consumers, or at best citizens. Chicago produces feral academics, who retain the taste for it even if life takes them another way.

(BTW, how the hell did Hume get left off the reading list? And no reading requirements for first class! Standards have certainly gone slack since my day. )

posted by: dave on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

I second what Dave said, but would add: if you really want to pretend to be a U of C undergrad, you have to spend at least as long complaining about the paper as writing it. Also, Soc papers should never take more than three hours (you begin to face diminishing marginal returns, and there is a high likelihood that your paper will descend into pseudo-intellectual indulgence/incoherence.)

posted by: Philip J. Brinkman on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

If they do OK on that one, how about a Part II where the trio is Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche?

posted by: P O'Neill on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

Rousseau would be pysched, Locke would be skeptical but intrigued, and Hobbes would be horrified?

posted by: praktike on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

Can I steal this idea for my students?

posted by: msj on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

you should post the papers if the students consent - fascinating question, though it's missing hegel

posted by: publius on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

It's not especially evident in the passages quoted, which have more of a Tom Paine ring, but ersonally, I find Bush's philosophy rather Leninist. (To preserve Democracy, we must export Democracy to third world. Doesn't that sound like a variation on Lenin's writings on colonialsism?)

I actually do not mean this pejoratively. I am just struck by the resemblence.

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

I think Locke may have raised a question as to the wisdom of making national commitments of blood and treasure based only on what the people of some other nation want. Resources of blood and treasure not being infinite, the wisdom of expending them when success is unlikely may be doubted -- and if success depends entirely on what other people do rather than on what we are able to do ourselves, it will be unlikely more often than not.

I will not argue with anyone who claims the above is more a Zathrasian than a Lockean question. Recall, though, that Locke wrote mostly of government within a state or commonwealth. Some of what he wrote has application to international relations, but I don't think it's easy to infer from Locke any theories about how such a commonwealth should conduct itself relative to the rest of the world.

posted by: Zathras on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

I realize that La France is sooo out of favor, especially with POTUS and his supporters. However, if I had to pin a respectable "big" name to these ideas it would be Comte. Monsieur Bush is a classical positivist. Mebbe that's why Chirac and his buddies loathe him so.

posted by: Kelli on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

I second Praktike, and note that we are in really deep doodoo when our president is closer to Rousseau than to Locke or Hobbes.

posted by: Anderson on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

Monsieur Bush is a classical positivist. Mebbe that's why Chirac and his buddies loathe him so.
Posted by Kelli

M. Bush is a little tin pot Texas Hitler. Remember, both used an event (The Reichstag Fire, 9-11) as a pretext for curbing critics and both lied mightily to launch a war against an innocent country (Iraq, Poland). France, Germany, and Russia shed a lot of blood because of one of them. They are not deceived by the facile lies of the other.

posted by: Mike on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

Those who have to resort to Ad Hitlerum attacks have already lost the argument.

posted by: Tim on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

Hahahahaha! Hahahaha! You're considering George Bush's words as if they actually had meaning! That's hilarious.

Oh wait: you're actually a real academic at a real university (which I very nearly chose to attend). That scares me.

posted by: Marshall on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

Maybe in Philosophy 101 a bunch of 18 year olds would find something to ponder in that pretty flight of empty words.

But a real philosopher? Someone who has made some small effort to understand ideas which are outside his own experience and beliefs? Someone who's actually tried to reconcile the internal logic of his philosophy and live by its strictures?

Pssht. He wouldn't waste a minute on a self-adulatory speech that was crafted by professionals and delivered by a adult child who's lived not a single word he said.

posted by: Palladin on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

Hobbes undoubtedly would indict Bush's statement as nice, benevolent, and too long long winded.

posted by: Publius Rex on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

Dave wrote:

"Math 207 (the hardest class in the world)"

Nonsense! Everyone knows that the hardest class in the world is Math 55.

posted by: Alexander Serre on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

I've gotta know -- what are math 207 and math 55 ?

posted by: stari_momak on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

Not at U of C, but in undergrad, Poli Sci was also last on priority list -- When it got to 3am, I'd just stick in tangentially related block exerts.

posted by: Jor on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

Too bad the class discussion of Rousseau comes on the very heels of the paper's due date (if I'm reading the class schedule correctly). And, god, dave is a fierce time manager! OK, it's only a 5-6 pager, but I always found my first drafts only hashed out my arguments, and they benefitted greatly from simmering another day or so and then getting an extensive revision.
For that matter, slaps for a couple of self-indulgent papers can be wonderfully instructive; puts you in touch with your inner gasbag. Sooner recognized, sooner suppressed. Might help in recognizing the gaseous quotient in the SOTU excerpt, though treating it as anything more than an isolated text is just asking for trouble.
I love dave's "feral academics." Yes, we seem to wear the Mark of the Beast, and thank heaven.

posted by: grishaxxx on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

You're now reading Strauss and Schmitt in Soc? That's certainly a change.

posted by: bjt@yahoo.com on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

Math 207 is the second quarter of Honors Analysis. To get it you either have to get an "A" all three quarters of Honors Calc (not actually possible) or place in (requires that you are a genetic mutant.)

I have no idea what Math 55 is, but it really can't be harder than Math 207. Unless, of course, like Harvard, Math 207 is really hard to get in to, but easy once you're there. I doubt that, though.

To all the "you're taking GWB seriously?!?" people: that's what we do at the U of C, take things seriously. We use our superior reasoning and analytic skill to dismiss things rather than dismissing them out of hand. Particularly in a class like SOSC, engaging the thought of contemporary political leaders is a worthwhile thing to do. It's good for academia and good for society. Be not afraid.

posted by: Philip J. Brinkman on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

"Math 207 (the hardest class in the world)"

Nonsense! Everyone knows that the hardest class in the world is Math 55.

You're both wrong! Everybody knows that the hardest class offered at the U of C is the swimming class for seniors in the Spring Quarter. It's at 7:30 AM.

PS: Dave - out of curiosity, did you have Paul Salley for Analysis?

posted by: Independent George on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

PJB, my apologies for conflating yours and dave's posts vis-a-vis the 3 hour limit on Soc papers. Math was not part of my Hum Division requirements. French was, and it was a my particular monster.

Regarding superiority, however, we were most fortunate in being trained by a school whose mission it was to teach us how to think - not what to think, but how. We brought the talent, and the College shaped it, and we honor that tradition (just about the only one UofC provides) exactly by not dismissing anything out of hand until we give it due scrutiny, and with all the rigor we can bring to bear. Be not afraid, indeed, armed with those weapons.

As for the GWB team - do they confuse, or do they even make the distinction between, rigor and stubborness?

posted by: grishaxxx on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

engaging the thought of contemporary political leaders is a worthwhile thing to do

I'm sorry, but that's just a basic misunderstanding of the text and the assignment in question. The assignment implies that Bush's thinking is in the accepted academic tradition of political theory, that his words can be analyzed as part of a 'discourse' (I hate that word). What Bush said, however, is a random aggregation of words that sound like the words in the writings of Rousseau et al. In fact, the aggregation probably is not random: it was conceived with Rousseau et al in mind and so the words are organized into groups that look suspiciously like the 'ideas' that you find as groups of words in seminal texts.

I suppose you might think that it is a worthwhile academic exercise to pretend that those groups of words are indeed like the ideas in Rousseau, to analyze them taking nothing into account except these particular words uttered by George Bush in the course of a longer speech.

However, that is not a worthwhile exercise because it involves bestowing the status of 'idea' onto an utterance that does not qualify. Bush's speech is not a part of some dialogue of ideas. It is a political speech that only uses certain words because they have political meaning (in part because of the great power that Rousseau et al endowed them with). But Bush is not strengthening those thoughts by adding his own but weakening them by free-riding on the power that real thinkers gave them.

posted by: Marshall on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

Math 207-8-9 is Honor's Analysis, and as someone pointed out you can basically only place into it. That means that it's filled with the geekiest 18 year old males on the UofC campus, which is saying something. When I took it, the first quarter consisted of basically proving all of Newton's calculus, starting by defining of the real numbers. Second quarter was measure theory and LeBesque integration, with excursions into the structure of Hilbert space (this is commonly taught to first year math graduate students, not freshmen). Third quarter got very bizarre, tensor calculus stuff that I never did fully comprehend. The highlight being when the prof remembered on the last day "Oh, yeah, I was going to show you general relativity", which he proceeded to do in about six equations.

Nels Nygaard was the prof in my day, not the pirate. Fun times.

posted by: dave on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

To Marshall, I'd repeat that treating the SOTU passage as more than a straight text - e.g., addressing its context of history, policy, action - is a pit the students here might not want to fall into, and I don't think DD intends them to do so. As the assignment stands, if any of these 3 guys encountered this particular character-string, what would they each make of it, knowing what WE know of their recorded thought. "Alive today" doesn't necessarily mean that they are our contemporaries, for the purposes of the problem.
At an admittedly snarky level, they might not see the passage as containing an argument at all - merely a string of sentiments, of greater or lesser attractiveness to each according to his lights. I think you could build a nice takedown of the speech passage on that ground alone, i.e., NONE of them would approve of it. One could even argue that the closer the SOTU's rhetoric came to the tone of any of the writers in question, the more they might reject the reflection as a distortion of what they meant. Be not afraid to play, even if it's serious play.
The Emperor may not, in fact, have even the patches he flourishes. And, whoa, I've syepped over the math guys' indulgence line there!

posted by: grishaxxx on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

Like many of the essays that Dr. Drezner will no doubt receive, most commentators have not answered the question. Instead, most have instead said a lot of things about Bush, Hobbes, Rouseau, and Locke, some of which relate tangentially to the question. Hopefully, partial credit will be given.

In that spirit, I hope that Dr. Drezner will let us know who the assignment turned out. A presidential speech is an odd choice since its purpose is emoptional button-pushing rather than rational argument. Nothing wrong with that, a little inspiration is a good thing. Hobbes then, might approve that Leviathon's lair was being properly feathered by high flown rhetoric. Rouseau would be pleased that the world's leader recognized that "man is born free." Locke would renounce his previous theories as impractical in light of subsequent events become an acolyte of Filmer.

posted by: catfish on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

Nels Nygaard was the prof in my day, not the pirate. Fun times.

Too bad. I don't know Nygaard, but the pirate rocks.

And I also submit the spring section of English 101 as another candidate for toughest class at U of C. Not to pass, but to regtister for.

posted by: Independent George on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

My point was that even treating it as a straight text is dignifying the words therein beyond their due. It simply is not part of a discussion of the meaning of freedom, even if it includes many of the same words strung together similarly that discussions of the meaning of freedom contain.

And so on.

posted by: Marshall on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]


The words themselves have consequences, even if Bush himself does not mean them. If for no other reason than the public face of our foreign policy cannot escape them. For example, it is now real difficult for Bush to take another glimpse into Putin's soul, and conduct his policy as if Russia is a nacent Democracy, rather than somewhat tired old-style authoriatarian dictatorship.

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

Why? Previous presidents have pronounced similar sentiments, and later cut whatever deals they felt necessary.

This administration has had little problem in not being held to their previous words. If so, Gonzales and Rice would be spending more time with their families, and Bush would have sent Powell in to wield a terrible swift sword among the appointees in the Pentagon.

posted by: Barry on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

What a ridiculous essay question! Bush is obviously a Fukuyaman Hegelian with language like that, not Roussean, Lockean, or Hobbesian. All of those men clearly had static, non-forward looking historical narratives to tell that were about covenants and contracts happening from past to present, not an unfolding of history.

posted by: MrProliferation on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

What, you mean Hobbes isn't a stuffed tiger?

posted by: fling93 on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

I wonder if actual U of C undergraduates are as obtuse as some of the posters on this thread.

I mean, really. In historical context Bush' second inaugural may have represented a significant change in traditional American statements as to this countries values and objectives overseas, but it was hardly a complete break from them or anything close to it. Past statements, especially those by American Presidents, have had consequences -- big ones. Maybe this one won't, but I'm not sure I like the odds on that possibility.

It is hardly frivolous to consider the relation of an ideological outlook crucial to how Americans see their country and society to the political philosophy that (at least in the case of Locke) so heavily influenced that society at its creation. Refusal to consider this because Bush is a) stupid, b) lying, c) stupid and lying, d) concerned about polls of stupid and lying voters, or e) a doodoohead are responses I would expect of some 18-year-olds, but not any who could get into the U of C. If they stayed in academia long enough to get tenure, then maybe.

At any rate, I'd be interested in what responses Dan's question got from his real class.

posted by: Zathras on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

Heh, I wrote this paper (though on a very different quote from the same speech) two weeks ago in my section of PIR...

posted by: sam on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

Ummm... guys? All y'all realize the question isn't about Bush, but about Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseuau, right?

posted by: Independent George on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

"what would their reaction be to the assumptions and logic advanced in these sections of the speech"

Are we then to presume that Hobbes, Locke, or Rousseuau would actually call any part of this speech "Logical".

Perhaps "assumptions AND logic" should be changed to "assumptions OF logic".

posted by: UCR Student on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

It is hardly frivolous to consider the relation of an ideological outlook crucial to how Americans see their country and society to the political philosophy that (at least in the case of Locke) so heavily influenced that society at its creation.

I will ignore your obviously over-rosy view of the University of Chicago admissions office, which apparently did not subject me to an examination of ideological purity at the point of admittance, and instead comment on the above.

I would argue that Rousseau had a far more lasting and important influence on American politics than Locke. Locke is highly relevant to the thinking behind the American Revolution itself (ie, that in certain instances an illegitimate government can be overthrown), but Rousseau is the far more important thinker. He pointed to popular democracy as identical with freedom rather than a means to it, and he located democracy as the central star in the constellation of institutions that characterizes a free (and good) society. Compare the social contract with, for instance, John Winthrop's "A Model of Christian Charity" to see the themes that distinguish a uniquely American political philosophy.

I will make a substantive point on Bush, his speech, and his administration at this point: it is the rejection of everything beautiful in Rousseau and Winthrop. They saw politics as the (in one case divinely-ordained) counter to the atomism of modern society. Bush wishes to withdraw everything to do with the community. The "Ownership Society" is the negation of the City on a Hill. Whatever Bush said in his speech, if he is correct, then Rousseau is wrong.

posted by: Marshall on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

Per Independent George's point....not only did Locke's influence on American political development go well beyond the issue of when an illegitimate government could be overthrown, but the influence of Rousseau in this country though perhaps not elsewhere seems questionable.

The Founders certainly did not identify popular democracy with freedom; the Constitution they designed and that has existed for well over two centuries is a fairly explicit rejection of that idea. In popular understanding, both today and for some time past, such an identification is frequently made by people who take for granted the institutions and procedures (e.g. the independent judiciary, the electoral college, the federal structure, and -- arguably -- the post-Theodore Roosevelt expansion of the Presidency's power) that contradict it. (Also, and not to stray too far afield here, but the Founders not only admitted but expanded at great length on Locke's influence on their thinking, while Rousseau's influence on the democratizing trends of later generations appears to be more a matter of inference.)

Now, you could proceed from this observation back to the point I made upthread. If freedom involves a lot more than free, democratic elections held once, the difficulty of spreading it in distant lands would appear greater, the odds against success longer, the wisdom of committing vast amounts of our finite resources of blood and treasure more doubtful. As I suggested earlier I'm not sure if Locke's thought points directly to this conclusion; I'm just saying the conclusion is consistent with it.

posted by: Zathras on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

From Mr. Proliferation: "What a ridiculous essay question! Bush is obviously a Fukuyaman Hegelian with language like that, not Roussean, Lockean, or Hobbesian. All of those men clearly had static, non-forward looking historical narratives to tell that were about covenants and contracts happening from past to present, not an unfolding of history."

I'm not sure it is that ridiculous. You are undoubtedly correct in pointing to Fukuyama as the direct inspiration for the Presidents remarks. But the teleology of Fukuyama/Hegel here is tempered somewhat and a certain latitude is given to human action.

While the strictly Hegelian notion of history would be foreign to them, the idea that there might be a telos wouldn't be. That is a given in the Christian thought all three thinkers would have known.

I think, Hobbes would have most clearly rejected the ideas the President presents. He wouldn't agree that "liberty" is what people innately yearn for. The call for Hobbes is towards order and stability, the necessary ingrediants for the amelioration of life's difficulties.

Locke and Rousseau would be more positive. The idea of a natural yearning for liberty is right up Rousseau's alley. Although the modern conception of "freedom" in a liberal state might not coincide with Rousseau's own. Additionally, the idea of progress is not accepted by Rousseau. Civil society doesn't enhance our freedom but seperates us further from our natural state of freedom.

In Locke's view alone there might be room for some kind of "progression" of liberty that might approximate the Hegelian notion of history. Locke's natural rights do produce a story line, of a sort, that follow axiomatically from the state of nature through to civil society. That the story might be repeated in other contexts might not seem that alien to Locke.

posted by: Iconic Midwesterner on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

Hobbes would find little changed:

"It may peradventure be thought there was never such a time nor condition of war as this; . . . but there are many places where they live so now. For the savage people in many places of America, . . . live at this day in that brutish manner, as I said before."


P.S. Living without awe of any authority and thus in a state of war, my use of elipses may be unjust, but expected.

posted by: PD Shaw on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

20 years fade away just like that...flashback to Nathan Tarcov destroying my precious little freshman ego - and rightfully so - with questions like this.

Hardest class? Organic chemistry - I mean, come on - 8:30 Saturday labs? Even at the U of C, that was abuse.

Most difficult? Honors Chem. I shudder just thinking about that one....

Someone mentioned "feral academics" which made me smile - but our devotion to "Devil's advocacy" is almost more fun.....

posted by: Jon on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

Well, I always spent more than three hours on my Hum papers, mostly because I'd waste oodles of time reading weblogs when I should be writing my paper. Which reminds me...

posted by: Maureen on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

Who were the citizens who "marched in peaceful outrage under the banner "Freedom Now"? It appears to be a description of contemporaries of the Founding Fathers, but it does not fit any description of the Revolutionary times that I am aware of, at least not in the greater Boston area where I live. People were calling for liberty, perhaps, but not "Freedom Now."

posted by: marcia on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

Hopefully, they would all be wise enough to consider the source. Anybody can say nice stuff -- so what? Obviously the words of philosophers are in a different sphere from the words of practicing politicians who control great states.

posted by: herostratus on 02.08.05 at 10:13 AM [permalink]

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