Liberal Democracy

PART II In the first section of this course, we focused on abstractions. Now, we get concrete!  This section is devoted to the making of the Liberal Democratic Nation-state.  I use the word “making” quite deliberately.  Everything has a history, including even you.  To understand any phenomenon, we need to begin with its roots. The roots of Liberal democracy and the invention of viable institutions to put this idea into practice have long histories that had nothing to do with how they came out. In this light, I shall argue that there was nothing inevitable about the rise of liberal politics, values, and ideas in the western world.  Unfortunately, there is also nothing inevitable about liberal-democracy’s survival.

We are very are lucky to live in a liberal society!  See what Warren Buffett has to say about the “Ovarian Factor”:  READ

Once we have worked our way through this historical background, I will provide you with some clues for understanding the crisis of liberal democratic politics in the US and Europe today.

6. LECTURE:  Monday, January 28

Reflections on the development of a social, political, and economic culture that was conducive to the rise of Liberalism.

Today’s Assumption:  I shall cover several major events in Europe between the fifth and nineteenth centuries–the fall of the Roman empire, the birth of feudalism, and the Industrial Revolution–that eventually made Modern Liberalism possible, although certainly not inevitable.

Assignment:  Print and read the following chapter (Chapter 5) by Max Weber, one of the most influential, early social scientists and a pioneer of the theory of “unintended consequences.”  As you reflect upon the essay by the Catholic priest, Martin Luther, keep in mind that we can never understand our culture, or ourselves as individuals, without recognizing that those of us who grew up in North America were all raised as “Protestants.” Yes, this is true even of those Americans who self-identify as Catholics.  To make sense of this statement, the key point is to understand what I mean by “Protestant.”

Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, only chapter 5:  PRINT AND READ

Martin Luther, “The Freedom of a Christian” READ  This is a long essay by an angry Catholic priest. Don’t worry about the details of Luther’s argument (there’s too much you that you won’t know).  Just seek to get a general sense for the tone and content of his argument.


7. Polar Vortex Day:  Wednesday, January 30

Alas,  we lose an entire day of our course.


8. DISCUSSION SECTION:  Friday, February 1

Discussion themes:  Your discussion today will be focus on the following theme:  “America’s culture of radical individualism means that we are all Protestants?”  You should keep the following questions in mind:  1) If McAdams is right (and not crazy), what does he mean by calling American Catholics “Protestants”?; 2)  Is the culture of radical individualism that grew out of Protestantism and is epitomized by the archetypical American hero, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger (see Pumping Iron) and Eminem (see Eight Mile), a good thing?

p.s. I realize that not all of you identify as Catholics or even consider yourself religious.  However, I say this unto you: You are all Protestants. Indeed, even atheists are Protestants in America!

Assignment:  Does Notre Dame represent a successful alternative to the unintended product of Protestantism that Weber calls the ‘iron cage?”  Write one succinct, tightly argued paragraph.

9. LECTURE:  Monday, February 4

Reflections about a meteoric development that shaped the character of Liberalism as we know it today:  the opening of the boundaries of the political realm to the participation of ever broader sectors of society.  This development took place in different ways and in different countries.  It is still taking place around the world today, even in the United States.

Today’s Assumption: The tumultuous intrusion of the “unwashed and unwanted” into the Liberal arena was unanticipated and, for the most part, not welcomed by those whose decisions made it possible. Yet only they could have made this development possible.  How do we account for this unforeseen and unforeseeable transformation?  Since people in power do not intentionally make decisions that will undermine their interests, I shall argue that a hostile ideology like Liberalism could only have arisen as the unintended consequences of the decisions of power holders.

NOTE:  “In a democracy it’s your vote that counts. In feudalism, it’s your count that votes!” (McAdams)

For this section, you should begin reading the following assignments and consider the significance of the twin revolutions in political participation that took place in America (1776) and France (1789). In touching on these events, I want to give you a sense for how the idea of a liberal-democratic revolution may be understood in different ways.  As we will see, these different ideas can lead to different conceptions about what a liberal-democratic nation-state owes citizens.  Not all liberal states are alike.  Given their diverse histories and cultures, it would be strange if they were.

Readings:  .

Roger Kingdon, America the Unusual, chapter 4

The American “Declaration of Independence” PRINT AND READ

The French National Assembly, “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen” PRINT AND READ

The ways of thinking behind the American Revolution and the French Revolution were different in important ways, although each resulted in liberal democratic institutions. If you are interested in learning more about the roots of these differences, feel free to read this excellent article:  Kim R. Holmes, “The Great Divide: The Ideological Legacies of the American and French Revolutions” READ   Could one say that the French Revolution was even more revolutionary than its counterpart in America?  This reading is not required.


10. LECTURE:  Wednesday, February 6

Reflections on the evolution of Political Parties in the West: Cadre parties, Mass parties, and Catch-all parties.

Today’s Assumption:  Political Parties have been major instruments for including disparate groups of people in the modern nation-state, both in Liberal societies and, as we shall see later, other societies.  Today, the catch-all party is the predominant type of party in the Liberal world, but it is increasingly under threat.

Assignment:  Reflect upon the role of catch-all parties in an era of intense polarization.  If election to office is dependent on the financial contributions of special interests and the fickle behavior of electorates, what is the reward for politicians to engage in compromise?  Are their political benefits to refusing to compromise?  In an era of populist politics, are we now experiencing the collapse of catch-all parties?  If catch-all parties should fail, what type of party will replace them? Or will liberal democracy simply fade away without them?

Roger Kingdon,  America the Unusual, chapter 2

Michael Kazen, “How can Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders both be ‘populist’?”  READ

Cas Mudde and Cristobal Kaltwasser, Populism, chapters 1, 5. READ

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, “This is how democracies fail,” New York Times, January 19, 2018  PRINT AND READ

Yet, the story is always more complicated:

Max Fischer, “After a rocky 2018, populism is down but far from out in the West,” New York Times, January 5, 2019:  PRINT AND READ


11. DISCUSSION SECTION:  Friday, February 8

Discussion:  As a result of Polar Vortex day, I have had to change the topic of this section and move things around.  On Monday, I’ll talk about the differences between fascism and the liberal welfare-state.  For now I just want you to reflect on what you’ve read by this date.

For today’s section, just go with the articles you’ve already read as well as the ones below.


Cas Mudde and Cristobal Kaltwasser, Populism, chapters 3 and 4.

David Brooks, “How Democracies Perish,”  New York Times, January 11, 2018 READ.  Who is right, Brooks or Deneen (Notre Dame)?


Neo-Nazi Protest in Charlottesville

Please write an introductory paragraph about the following question. In writing this paragraph, you should imagine that you are writing the introduction for a longer paper:

Paragraph topic: “Will populism eventually lead to the demise of liberal democracy?”  If yes, why? If no, why not?  You may only take one  side.

We have two goals in making this assignment:

  1. The first goal is to get you to think about the meaning of “populism” and “liberal democracy.”
  2. The second is to get you to think about the form a great introductory paragraph should take. Unlike the paragraphs that you have written up to this point, an introductory paragraph for a paper in this course would typically do the following things: 1) state the issue; 2) identify an argument and a counterargument; 3) take a firm stand; and 4) provide the reader with a sense of how you will proceed.


Your first REFLECTIVE ESSAY ASSIGNMENT is  HERE. It is due on next Friday, February 15, at noon.


12. LECTURE:  Monday, February 11

General reflection:  The advent of Fascism in Europe in the first half of the twentieth century was a searing challenge to the values and institutions of Liberalism.  The Liberal response to Fascism was the Welfare State.  Today, all Liberal states are Welfare States in one respect or another.

Today’s Assumptions: We may like to think that Liberalism would be inevitably welcomed by all people.  Yet, its victory over Fascism was far from certain.  The good news is that liberal democracy won.  Yet its triumph was largely facilitated by the convenient conjunction of two factors:  military power and the West’s readiness to accept the state’s strong role in a Liberal Welfare State.  During the Obama years, some of the President’s critics equated the Liberal Welfare State with Socialism–indeed, the current US President has reinvoked the  threat of Socialism–but this claim is historically problematic. Fascism was a Socialist system of government; so was another political identity that we will consider in a few weeks, Leninism.

Assignments: There are a lot of readings under the two topics below (Fascism and Welfare State), but aside from Mussolini’s crucial essay, most are short.

I.  On the subject of Fascism, read both Benito Mussolini’s prognostications as well as the testimonies of some of people who fell in love with the movement. Then, reflect upon the significance of the recent popularity of neo-fascist movements in Europe and the US. Could Fascism be lurking in our future?  Or is the Modern Welfare State enough to save us?

Major Reading: Benito Mussolini, “The Doctrine of Fascism”  PRINT AND READ  Don’t worry about all the details, just get a general sense for his argument and why it might be appealing.

Steinhoff, Pechel, and Showalter, Voices from the Third Reich (PDF FILE)

Good or bad news on the contemporary horizon?

Dan Holleran, “The Opportunistic Rise of Europe’s Far Right,” The New Republic, February 16, 2018 PRINT AND READ

Timothy Snyder is worried (Guardian, October 30, 2018)  PRINT AND READ

Thomas Meaney is not as worried (New Statesman, September 12, 2018)  PRINT AND READ

On the subject of the Welfare State read:

Kingdon: America the Unusual, chapters 1 and 3.

Pew Foundation:  “Five Ways in Which Americans and Europeans are Different” PRINT AND READ

Comparing Welfare States  SKIM  This page will give you a sense for the diverse types of liberal welfare states.

And, “Going Dutch” READ.  A personal account of the Welfare State in action!  I have spent a good amount of my life living in Germany, and I have consistently been amazed at the benefits of a social-democratic welfare state.

13.  EVENING FILM: Monday, February 11 0r Tuesday February 12

Required Film #1 (Evening), “The War at Home”

We will watch a film about the necessarily conflictual and unstable character of liberal democracy.

Also, What! Protest at Notre Dame?  READ

To make it easy for you to attend this viewing, we will have two showings of this film:  On Monday, February 11 AND on Tuesday, February 12, both at 7:00 pm.  Location:  B062 Jenkins Nanovic Hall

If it is impossible for you to view the film on either of these evenings, you may be able to find it on-line.  I have also asked Hesburgh Library to order a copy.  However, I strongly recommend that you see the film on one of these evenings since you will get a better impression by viewing it on a big screen.

14. LECTURE:  Wednesday, February 13

Reflections on the inherently contradictory and conflict-ridden characteristics of Liberalism.

Today’s AssumptionLiberalism  can’t live up to its name unless it has certain essential features. I have already outlined four characteristics.  Yet by nature, Liberalism  is unstable.  The Liberal-democratic character of our government today is not necessarily the same as it will be tomorrow; jt is certainly not the same as it was yesterday (especially in the current political climate!).  Still, this capacity for change can be a very good thing.  Indeed, if such Liberal-democratic bastions as Iceland, Monaco, Slovenia, Liechtenstein, Andorra, and the U.S. didn’t change over time, they wouldn’t be Liberal  at all.

Liberal democracy is not only inherently conflictual. Regrettably, the features that make this political identity great can also be the source of its unraveling.  In certain circumstances, good causes can be transformed into ugly sources of unrest and instability.  We can see this in the U.S. and Europe today.

Reading assignments (most of them are short):

America is one darn complicated country

Suzy Hansen, “Unlearning the Myth of American Innocence”  READ

The Good…

Kingdon,  America the Unusual, ch. 5.

Chris  McGreal, “The S-word: How Young Americans Fell in Love with Socialism” READ

What does citizenship have to do with it? READ

What does Notre Dame have to do with it?  Read about Notre Dame students battling the Ku Klux Klan:  READ

…the Bad, and the Ugly

“What happens when a millennial goes fascist?” Los Angeles Times READ

Richard Fausset, “A Voice of Hate in America”: READ  This article was widely criticized after its publication for humanizing fascism and extremism.  Do you think this is a fair criticism?


There are Leftist extremists, too.

See Peter Beinart, “The Rise of the Violent Left, The Atlantic, READ

Anonymous, #OpDomesticTerrorism: SCAN

Anonymous – Message to Charlottesville #OpDomesticTerrorism WATCH

Consider this:  Under what circumstances would you resort to violence to protect Liberal Democracy?  Or do you think the preservation of Liberal Democracy isn’t worth the risk of violence?  If so, why?

       “I am Anonymous”


15.  NO DISCUSSION SECTION: Friday, February 15

Your Reflective Essay will be due on this date.  There will be no discussion section since you have been writing your essay.

It is your responsibility to make sure that your TA receives your essay on time. He or she will clarify when and how you are to turn it in. Your essay should have a title and be double-spaced.  See above for all of the other specifications.  Be sure to put your name on your essay.


NOTE:  Please do not use electronic devices of any kind during our class, including laptops, cell phones, tablets, tape recorders, FBI trap-and-trace technology or any other personal digital device.  My classroom is a tweet-free zone!