Final Essay: Length 6 pages
The final assignment for this class is a cumulative final essay. It asks you to look back over the readings
and lectures to answer one of the following questions:
Topic #1: Liberalism and its Critics
Contemporary American democracy is often seen as part of the “liberal tradition” political
thought. In this class, our representatives of liberalism have been Locke and Mill (but later thinkers like
Dewey, and Berlin also relate). However, a number of thinkers, beginning with Plato and running through
Marx, Nietzsche, and Schmitt, have been highly critical of liberalism.
This essay asks you to answer several questions: first, what is liberalism? How do we define it,
drawing on our texts? Second, what are some of the major critiques of liberal political thought, and how
persuasive are they? Does liberal philosophy remain compelling in late modernity?
Topic #2: The Ancients and the Moderns
Machiavelli argued that ancient political thought and religion had been otherworldly and
obsessed with utopian “imagined republics.” Taking this observation as our starting point, this essay asks
you explicate the differences between ancient and modern political thought. Do they start from different
assumptions about human nature? Do the moderns face a different set of political questions, or do they
answer the enduring questions differently?
Finally, evaluate the relationship between these two modes of political thought are the ancients
in the moderns compatible? Is one approach superior to the other? Make an argument for how we should
approach this relationship.
Topic #3: Modernity and Freedom
Many modern thinkers (especially Rousseau and Marx) argue that, for a variety of reasons,
contemporary society makes us both less happy and less free. How do they make this paradoxical
argument? What thinkers offer a more optimistic account of modernity? This essay asks you to evaluate
this debate and come to a conclusion about what we can learn from it.
Use clear and direct writing
Engage directly with the texts
Cite using our generic, in-text citation format, e.g. (Aristotle 4), (Marx 467).
No formal bibliography is required