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Liberal Democracy


This section of our course is devoted to the making of the Liberal Democratic Nation-state.  I use the word “making” quite deliberately.  By considering the long evolution of the idea of liberal democracy and the invention of viable institutions to put it into practice, I shall argue that there was nothing inevitable about the rise of liberal politics, values, and ideas in the western world. We are very are lucky to live in a liberal society!  Once we have worked our way through this historical background, I will provide you with some clues for understanding the crisis of US and European democracy today.

6. LECTURE:  Monday, September 4

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 that eventually made Modern Liberalism possible, although certainly not inevitable.

Assignment:  Print and read the following chapter by Max Weber, one of the most influential articulators of the concept 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, even those Americans who self-identify as Catholics.

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, just seek to identify the main points. Write them down.


7. LECTURE:  Wednesday, September 6

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 totally unanticipated by those whose decisions made it possible, but only they could make it possible.  How do we account for this 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.  I will not touch on all of them today, but I want to spread out your reading so you do not get overwhelmed by too much reading at the same time.

Assignment:  Begin thinking about the significance of the twin revolutions in political participation that took place in America (1776) and France (1789).

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 interested in the 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.

8. DISCUSSION SECTION:  Friday, September 8

Discussion themes:  Your discussion today will be based on the following theme:  “Why are we all Protestants?”  You should keep the following questions in mind as well:  1) If we are all Protestants, what happened to Catholicism? 2) What does any of this have to do with politics? and, 3) Is McAdams crazy?

Assignment:  There is a two part assignment for this discussion:  First, in one paragraph, identify the three main points in Weber’s argument about the origins of Protestantism.  It is up to you to decide which points are the major points. Make sure you understand how your three points combine into a cohesive argument.

Second:  In a second, single paragraph respond to the following:  Is McAdams flat-out wrong when he declares that “you are all Protestants”?

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

9. LECTURE:  Monday, September 11

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

Today’s AssumptionPolitical Parties have been major instruments for including disparate groups of people into the modern nation-state, both in Liberal societies and, as we shall see later, other societies.  Today, the Catch-all party is the predominant party in the Liberal world.

Assignment:  Reflect upon the way politics is conducted in the U.S.  What is the reward for compromise?  What is the price of conviction?  Are we now look experiencing the collapse of Catch-all parties in the U.S.?  Are

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 and 5. READ

Peter Baker, “Bound to no Party”  READ


10. LECTURE:  Wednesday, September 13

Reflection:  The rise of Fascism in Europe in the first half of the twentieth century represented a fundamental challenge to the values and institutions of Liberalism.  The Liberal response to Fascism was the Welfare State.  Today, all Liberal states are Welfare States.

Today’s Assumptions: Liberalism’s victory over Fascism was far from certain.  The salutary outcome of this contest was facilitated in large part by two factors:  military power and the West’s readiness to embrace the state’s role in the Liberal Welfare State.  During the Obama years, some American politicians equated the Liberal Welfare State with Socialism, but this claim is historically problematic. In contrast, Fascism was a Socialist system of government and so was another political identity that we’ll consider in a few weeks, Leninism.


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 fascist movements in Europe and the US. Could Fascism be lurking in our future?  Or is the Modern Welfare State enough to save us?

Benito Mussolini, “The Doctrine of Fascism”  PRINT AND READ

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

Peter Foster, “The rise of the far right is not a false alarm,”The Telegraph PRINT AND READ

On the subject of the Welfare State

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  READ

And, “Going Dutch” READ (doc file)

11. DISCUSSION SECTION:  Friday, September 15

Discussion: For this section, our goal is to identify the distinguishing features of a hypothetical Fascist solution to social welfare issues and then compare them with those that are meant to prevail in a Liberal Welfare State.  Reflect on these questions:  Is there a hard-and-fast boundary line between the two systems? If so, what is it? Why might some people be tempted to cross this line in the direction of Fascism?

Neo-Nazi protest in Charlottesville

David Motadel, “The United States was never immune to fascism”  PRINT AND READ

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

Roberto Foa and Yascha Mounk, “The Signs of Deconsolidation,” Journal of Democracy READ AND PRINT

Assignment:  Write one paragraph in response to this situation:  We now have neo-Nazis marching on the streets of  our cities.  But what conditions would be required for the United States to become a Fascist state?  Feel free to either agree or disagree with Motadel’s argument.



12. LECTURE:  Monday, September 18

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

Today’s Assumption: Liberalism  can’t live up to its name unless it has certain essential features. I have already outlined these four characteristics.  Yet by nature, Liberalism  is unstable.  The Liberal  policies our government espouses today are not necessarily the same as it will espouse tomorrow; they are frequently not the same as it espoused yesterday (especially in the current political climate!).  And it can be a very good thing, too!  If such Liberal-democratic mainstays as Iceland, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Slovakia, Liechtenstein, Andorra, and the US didn’t change, they wouldn’t be Liberal  at all.

At the same time, the features that make liberal democracy great can also be the source of its unraveling.  In certain circumstances, good causes can be transformed into ugly manifestations of unrest and instability.

Reading assignments:

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

What would Taylor Swift say?  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

“New Free Speech Movement” READ This site is sympathetic to the neo-Nazi movement.  If you find it offensive, simply note the reference to the First Amendment and move to another assignment.  [Note: Twitter has just deleted this site.  I am preserving the references above as an artifact of our times.]

Compare to:

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


Anonymous – Message to Charlottesville #OpDomesticTerrorism WATCH

Anonymous hacks Fox News WATCH

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

There will be two showings of this film.  You may choose either Monday, September 18 or Tuesday, September 19. Both showings will be at 7:00.  Location:  1050 Nanovic Hall, Elizabeth Nanovic Seminar Room

Please arrive 10 minutes before the start of this film (6:50) so you make sure you can get in the building.

If it is impossible for you to view the film on either of these evenings, you will be able to find it in the Hesburgh Library Audio-Visual Center.  However, I strongly recommend that you see the film one of these evenings since you will get a better impression by viewing it on a big screen.


13. Wednesday, September 20

We will have an in-class discussion today instead of a lecture. Prepare for this discussion by re-reading the assignments for Monday and reflecting on “The War at Home” (if you were able to see it on Monday or Tuesday).

“There is Silence in the streets”  READ  Huh? What happened since this article was published 11 years ago?

Russel Brand, “We no longer have the luxury of tradition” PRINT AND READ

Anonymous, #OpDomesticTerrorism: SCAN

Consider this:  Under what circumstances would you resort to violence to protect Liberal Democracy?

14.  NO DISCUSSION SECTION: Friday, September 22.

We are not having a regular discussion section because your first REFLECTIVE ESSAY will be due this date. It is your responsibility to make sure that your TA receives your essay on time. She will clarify when and how you are to give it to her. 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.

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