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Liberal Democracy


Now, we get concrete!  This section of our course is devoted to the making of the Liberal Democratic Nation-state.  I use the word “making” quite deliberately.  Everything has a history, including you.  We need to go back to the roots of any phenomenon in order to understand it. 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.

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 European today.

6. LECTURE:  Monday, January 29

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, even those Americans who self-identify as Catholics.  To understand 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. LECTURE:  Wednesday, January 31

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 begin thinking about 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.

8. DISCUSSION SECTION:  Friday, February 2

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:  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?”  One succinct, tightly argued paragraph.

9. LECTURE:  Monday, February 5

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 not destined to remain the preeminent form of political competition.

Two populist politicians hard at work

Assignment:  Reflect upon the way politics is conducted in the U.S.  What is the reward for compromise?  What is the price of holding your ground and refusing  to compromise?  In an era of populist politics, are we now experiencing the collapse of Catch-all parties in the U.S.?  If Catch-all parties should fail, what type of party will replace them?

Max Weber, “Politics as a Vocation,” in H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, eds., From Max Weber:  Essays in Sociology (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1958).  READ

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

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, “This is how democracies fail”  PRINT AND READ


10. LECTURE:  Wednesday, February 7

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 inevitable welcomed by all people.  Yet, its victory over Fascism was far from certain.  The happy was of the battle between these competing political identities was facilitated in large part by two factors:  military power and the West’s readiness to accept the fact the state should play a strong role in a Liberal Welfare State.  During the Obama years, some of the President’s opponents equated the Liberal Welfare State with Socialism, but this claim is historically problematic. In contrast, 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 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)

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

ABC, “Germany’s Neo-Nazis”  READ

A Nazi Running for Congress in Illinois


2.  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  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!

11. DISCUSSION SECTION:  Friday, February 9

Discussion: For this section, I want you 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

Ed Mazza, “An actual Nazi”  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:  For this one-paragraph assignment, we would like you to imagine that you are writing the introductory paragraph to a longer essay.  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.

Paragraph topic: Is Motadel right when he suggests that a fascist future is conceivable in the US?  Or will our political system’s institutional constraints and democratic culture prevent America from going down the fascist path?


Your first REFLECTIVE ESSAY ASSIGNMENT is HERE. It is due on Friday, February 16.


12. LECTURE:  Monday, February 12

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  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!  Indeed, if such Liberal-democratic bastions as Iceland, Monaco, Slovenia, Liechtenstein, Andorra, and the US didn’t change, 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):

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


Then, compare with:

David Brooks, “How Democracies Perish” READ.  Who is right, Brooks or Deneen (Notre Dame)?

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 Vietnam War,by Ken Burns, Episode 8.  

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

To make it easy for you to schedule this viewing, there will be two showings of this film:  Monday, February 12 (216 DeBartolo Hall) and Tuesday, February 13 (117 DeBartolo Hall),  both at 7:00.


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. You should also be able to find it on-line.  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, February 14

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 our class film.

“There is Silence in the streets”  READNew York Times, August 31, 2006.  Huh? What happened since this article was published 11 years ago? Or are we returning to a time of silence?

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, February 16

Your Reflective Essay is 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.

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