American Social Thought

Spring 1999

Marist College

Dr. Greg Moses

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Course Description: American social thought lives in the tension between what America is and what it ought to be. Central among the terms of such thought, we find democracy. What is democracy in America and what should it be? This will be the guiding question of our semester's inquiry.

To address the issue of democracy in America we begin with de Tocqueville's classic review, which will serve as our constant companion and road map. Occasionally we will break away from de Tocqueville to consider more recent contributions to important topics.

For instance, when we consider the foundational influences upon a federal conception of democracy, we will turn to Johansen's treatment of the Iroquois federation. The resulting comparisons and contrasts between American Indians and European colonists gives rise to contemplation of cultural sources and mixtures of the American scene today. Therefore, we turn to Zelinsky's survey of cultural geography in America and then reflect upon Alain Locke's work in cultural theory.

Back to Tocqueville, we will read about the importance of freedoms of press and assembly. What is the status of these freedoms in our capitalistic age of information? To assist our reflection of the question, we will explore the work of McChesney, Wood, and Foster.

Next, Tocqueville returns us to the problem of democracy in a multi-racial state. Critical perspectives of American social life will then be explored in the "creative and critical perspectives" collected by Anzaldua.

Tocqueville talks about the religious culture of American life. We will turn to the sermons of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Required Texts (in order of use):

  • De Tocqueville, Alexis. Democracy in America. HarperPerennial, 1988.
  • Johansen, Bruce. Forgotten Founders. Harvard Common Press, 1982.
  • Zelinsky, Wilbur. Cultural Geography of the United States. Prentice-Hall, 1992.
  • Harris, Leonard, Ed. The Philosophy of Alain Locke. Temple, 1989.
  • McChesney, Wood, & Foster, Eds. Capitalism and the Information Age. Monthly Review Press, 1998.
  • Anzaldua, Gloria. Making Face, Making Soul. Aunt Lute Books, 1990.
  • King, Martin Luther, Jr. Strength to Love. Fortress, 1989.

Assignments and Grades: The final grade will be based on the following components, each equally weighed.

  • Portfolio, Preparation, and Participation: students bring evidence of preparation to class and contribute to class discussions. At the end of the semester, preparations will be gathered and presented for collective evaluation.
  • Paper on democracy and cultural pluralism (due week 6)
  • Paper on democracy and capital (due week 11)
  • Final paper on democracy in America, answering the outcomes questions above (due May 14)

Outcomes: By the end of the semester, students should be able to (1) present outlines of what Tocqueville saw as vibrant foundations for the social life of democracy in America and (2) assess the importance of Tocqueville's diagnosis in light of more recent developments. Finally, students should be (3) able to articulate their own considered opinions about the needs and prospects for continued health of a democratic social order in the United States. Papers will assess students' progress along the way.

Attendance Policy: Students are expected to attend all classes. Given the wide range of personal needs that may arise, the instructor is willing to make allowance for two absences. Any absences beyond this limit must be excused and documented, or they will count against the student's final grade. Documentation will be accepted within two weeks of the absence. More than two unexcused absences will result in a letter grade reduction from the final average. For more than four unexcused absences, the instructor reserves the right to enter a failing grade.

Schedule of study:

Week 1 (Jan. 22): Review syllabus. Organize workshops.

Week 2 (Jan 27 & 29)

A. Reading: Tocqueville, "Author's Introduction" & Chs. 1-4 (pp. 9-60.) Preparation: Two paragraphs: (1) identifying a crucial thesis for your section of reading and summarizing Tocqueville's presentation (2) presenting your reflection and response (hints: does Tocqueville convince? does his thesis wear well today? does his work suggest other interesting considerations?) Workshops: Introductions and first thoughts on Tocqueville's America. Forum: Anglo American culture, character, & heritage. When American democracy was new. What is important about "social" and "society" when Tocqueville talks about America?

B. Reading: Tocqueville, Chs. 5-7 (pp. 61-111.) Preparation: Two paragraphs, explication and reflection. Workshops: On cities, states, judges, and political jurisdiction. Forum: Multi-centric arrangements of power, and the lurking threats of tyranny.

Week 3 (Feb. 3 & 5)

A. Reading: Tocqueville, Ch. 8 (pp. 112-170.) Preparation: Two paragraphs, explication and reflection. Workshops: On the federal system. Forum: Tocqueville's high estimations of the federal system.

B. Reading: Johansen, "Introduction" & Chs. 1-3 (pp. xi-55.) Preparation: Two paragraphs, explication and reflection. Workshops: Anglo roots reconsidered. Forum: Composite culture and the American Indian.

Week 4 (Feb. 10 & 12)

A. Reading: Johansen, Chs. 4-6 & "Afterword" (pp. 56-126.) Preparation: Two paragraphs. Workshops: The Albany Plan and the philosopher Canassatego. Forum: Canassatego, Franklin, and "Jeffersonian" democracy.

B. Reading: Zelinsky, Chs. 1 & 2 (pp. 3-64.) Preparation: Two paragraphs. Workshops: Sources and themes for American dreams. Forum: Both sides of the coin.

Week 5 (Feb. 17 & 19)

A. Reading: Zelinsky, Chs. 3 & 4 (pp. 65-140.) Preparation: Two paragraphs. Workshops: Process and structure in cultural geography. Forum: On the madness and promise of cultural geography.

B. Reading: Zelinsky, Ch. 5 (pp. 143-185.) Preparation: Two paragraphs. Workshops: Postindustrial patterns and permutations. Forum: Challenges of urban democracy.

Week 6 (Feb. 24 & 26)

A. First report: What have we learned? Four pages (1,000 words.) A scholarly reflection on transformations in your own understanding of America these past weeks. Workshops: Share papers. Nominate one to share. Forum: Two papers and discussion.

B. Video selection: The American scene.

Week 7 (Mar. 3 & 5)

A. Reading: Locke, "Pluralism and Intellectual Democracy" & "Cultural Relativism and Ideological Peace" (Chs. 2 &3 in Harris, pp. 51-78.) Preparation: Two paragraphs. Workshops: Coming to terms with a philosopher's contribution. Forum: American experience and the emergence of a pluralistic and functionalist philosophy.

B. Reading: Locke, "The Concept of Race as Applied to Social Culture" and "The Need for a New Organon in Education" (Chs. 16. & 22 in Harris, pp. 187-199 & 263-276.) Preparation: Two paragraphs. Workshops: Race, culture, and core curriculum. Forum: Reflections on methodology.

Week 8 (Mar. 10 & 12)

A. Reading: Tocqueville, Vol. 1, Pt. 2, Chs. 1-5 (pp. 173-230.) Preparation: Two paragraphs. Workshops: Freedom of press, assembly, and some comparisons. Forum: First amendment reconsidered as a democratic fundamental. Looking ahead: Dividing McChesney, Wood, & Foster.

B. Video selection: Race & America.

Spring Break

Week 9 (Mar. 24 & 26)

A. Reading: McChesney, Wood, & Foster, Chs. 1-7 (pp. 1-133.) Preparation: Two paragraphs. Seminar: Ten minutes per chapter.

B. Reading: McChesney, Wood, & Foster, Chs. 8-14 (pp. 135-235.) Preparation: Two paragraphs. Seminar: Ten minutes per chapter.

Week 10 (Mar. 31)

A. Reading: Tocqueville, Vol. 1, Pt. 2, Chs. 6-9 (pp. 231-315) Preparation: Two paragraphs. Workshops: Advantages, dangers, and maintenance of American democracy. Forum: Understanding and updating Tocqueville. How do the general principles hold up under modern conditions?

Week 11 (Apr. 7 & 9)

A. Second Report: Learning from Tocqueville, Locke, & McChesney, etal. Challenges of thinking about democracy today. Four pages (1,000 words.) Workshops: Share papers, nominate one to share. Forum: Two papers and discussion.

B. Reading: Anzaldua's "Introduction." Looking Ahead: Organizing our readings of Anzaldua.

Week 12 (Apr. 14 & 16)

A. Reading: Anzaldua TBA. Usual method of workshops and forum.

B. Reading: Anzaldua TBA. Usual method of workshops and forum.

Week 13 (April 21 & 23)

A. Reading: Tocqueville, Vol. 1, Pt. 2, Ch. 10 and "Conclusion" to Vol. 1 (pp. 316-413.) Preparation: Two paragraphs. Workshops: "Three Races." Forum: Anzaldua and Tocqueville. Looking Ahead: Organizing further reading of Anzaldua.

B. Reading: Tocqueville, Vol. 2, Pt. 1 (pp. 429-500.) Usual method of workshops and forum. Looking Ahead: Organizing our reading of King.

Week 14 (April 28 & 30)

A. Reading: King, TBA. Usual method of workshops and forum.

B. Reading: King, TBA. Usual method of workshops and forum.

Week 15 (May 5 & 7)

A. Review Seminar. Five minute oral reports.

B. Review Seminar. Five minute oral reports.

Final Exam

Due May 14: Nine-page report answering the three outcomes above (three pages per question.)

Contact Information

Telephone extension: 2217.

Email: JZ7R@maristb.marist.edu

Office: cubicle in Humanities temporary offices, ground floor of Student Center (SC 149)

Office hours: TBA.