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Essay #2


“Raining Cats and Dogs”

It is raining cats and dogs in South Bend.  Once again, I decide to organize a little soirée to pass the evening.  Since you were such a great guest at my last meal, I invite you.  Then, I invite John Stuart Mill and Vaclav Havel since they seem to share such close views. I am certain they will like each other.

After some useless chit chat which satisfies none of us, I invite my guests to say something profound about politics.

Havel speaks first:  “The specific nature of post-totalitarian conditions—with their absence of a normal political life and the fact that any far-reaching political change is unforeseeable—has one positive aspect:  it compels us to examine our situation in its deeper coherences and to consider our future in the context of  the global, long-range prospects of the world.  The most intrinsic and fundamental contradiction between human beings and the system takes place at a level incomparably more profound than that of liberal democratic politics.”

To my surprise, Mill winces at my other guest’s words and then retorts:  “That’s totally absurd, Vaclav.  Liberal democracy compels us to ‘live within the truth’ as well, indeed, to a far greater extent than you would ever find in a post-totalitarian system!”

I am horrified.  Clearly, I was wrong in thinking Havel and Mill would get along.  However, I don’t know what to say that will mollify at least one of them.  Since you wrote such a great essay after my last dinner, I naturally turn to you.  So, I inquire:  “Who is right, Vaclav or John Stuart?  And don’t waffle because I have to please one of my guests!”

Which thinker is right?


Assignment: Please respond to this question in an essay of 3-4 pages (but no more than 4).  Your response should be typed, double-spaced, and use 12 point font.

Note:  I have slightly modified the quotation from Havel’s “Power or the Powerless” (pp. 205-6) to make this assignment work; rather than using his term “traditional politics,” I have inserted “liberal democratic politics” (since that is what I think he means).

We will evaluate your essay according to four criteria:

  1. Your understanding of what Havel and Mill are fighting about.
  2. The clarity and consistency of your argument, and your ability to take counterarguments into account.
  3. Your direct use of your readings to back up your points concretely.
  4. And, importantly, your demonstrated ability to think for yourself.

I have no objection if you want to discuss this assignment with your classmates.  However, your essay must be absolutely, totally, irrefutably, and unmistakably your own work.  Remember the Honor Code!

As always, I have advice.

  1. Read this assignment closely the moment you receive it. It may seem complicated at first. But if you allow its elements to percolate in your head for a while, you will find that they all flow together.
  2. Do not put this assignment off until the last moment. If you do so, you will not be a happy camper and neither will we.
  3. Seek the advice and counsel of both your TA and me.  We will each read your intro paragraph and the first sentence of your second paragraph.
  4. Visit the writing center. Share your essay with an advisor.  There is no end to learning how to write better.

You have more than a week to complete this assignment.  Please turn in your essay to your respective TA no later than Noon on Friday, November 3.

Good luck!



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