This fall, universities have been faced with an unprecedented crisis in the form of COVID-19. Colleges around the world have taken wildly varied approaches, many of which have been harshly criticized. At Penn State, for example, faculty warned administrative leaders about a second wave of the pandemic in the fall, yet classes were held face-to-face – and indeed, a fairly large number of students and employees contracted coronavirus, thus causing even more controversy. In one recent account, the author drew on Michel Foucault’s ideas about the panopticon as a way to understand what was happening on campus: instead of heeding the warnings, “the university instituted a series of panoptic measures to surveill and control students and faculty, hoping to obtain full compliance with social distancing rules through draconian means. But the history of Penn State surveilling and controlling campus members precedes the recent pandemic.”
Using these words as a cue, in this Blogpost I want you to think about the rise of “surveillance society” in the modern age. More specifically, I want you to consider the way in which “panoptic” forms of surveillance, policing, and power exist in your own life. Write two paragraphs on the following: 1) In what ways is Stockton University guilty of functioning as a “panoptic institution”? And how do you feel about this? 2) What are some other ways, or realms, that a de facto panopticon plays a role in your life? I’m thinking here of things like your cellphones, social media, your parents, the local police, and the list goes on. Is this acceptable, or should something be done about it? CAN anything be done about it given our technology-driven world?
In Alex Haley’s influential novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family, he tells the tale of an African man who is captured in his native land as a boy, sold into slavery and transported to America, where he lives out his days working on the plantation. The book goes on to tell the story of his children and grandchildren, who face many trials and tribulations but eventually go on to find happiness and success in the country that was forced upon their family as a home. For class Wednesday, we are going to trace the history and “roots” of slavery and racism in the United States, and some of Haley’s words in the novel certainly provide some interesting food-for-thought. Looking back at the past, for example, one character wonders what another’s “true name had been – the name of his African forefathers – and to what tribe they had belonged. He wondered if the gardener himself had known. More likely he died as he had lived – without ever learning who he really was.” Another character “thought that it was impossible for a ‘massa’ to perceive that being owned by anyone could never be enjoyable,” while another “was weeping for all of history’s incredible atrocities against fellowmen, which seems to be mankind’s greatest flaw.” Through the plight of centuries of slaves and their families, Haley powerfully shows the reader the sad, deplorable truism that “It is the way of the world that goodness is often repaid by badness.”
This is nowhere more clearly seen for those of us living in the United States than in our sickening history of slavery and racism. On the one hand, the early years of our nation are a wondrous and inspiring tale of growth, innovation, and development, as our founding fathers essentially created a grand new experiment in democracy, freedom, and nation-building. On the other hand, that very edifice – the very foundation of our country – was literally and figuratively built on the backs of slaves like those depicted in Haley’s novel. For this blogpost, I want you to write two paragraphs, in which you share your thoughts about the nation’s roots in slavery. I actually don’t have a specific question or prompt in mind here, but want YOU to respond to what you are assigned for class today as you see fit. For instance, you might think about new issues and ideas that you never knew about before, you might consider how the videos assigned for class are somehow revealing about issues in our education system or the politicians who run our society, you might connect the assigned material to the historical ideas and issues we have covered so far this semester, or perhaps draw specific connections to Black Lives Matter, police brutality, and our current political moment. In other words, just “riff” a bit and offer us something that we, in turn, might think about as we work together to explore the slave “roots” of America.
This blog posting was written not long after protests and violent clashes erupted over a statue of Christopher Columbus in the summer of 2020 in the “city of brotherly love.” The status of the monument is in currently flux, due to a court ruling that placed a temporary “stay” on its removal from Marconi Plaza in South Philadelphia. A lawyer who represents a group of local residents who want the statue to remain called this decision “not just a victory for the Columbus Statue, [but] a victory for civilized society.” Statements of this kind raise issues about memorials of this sort, which – like many confederate statues across America – enshrine and celebrate highly contentious figures from history. Taking such debates as a cue, in this blogpost I want you to think about the assigned readings from the “age of exploration” by viewing them from two divergent perspectives, as outlined below.
1) First, you might consider what, exactly, the “truth” is concerning Columbus’s journey, and the account of that journey. Or, you could ask similar questions of “truth” about the texts written by/about the conquistador Hernan Cortes, Bartolome de las Casas, and the work known as the ‘Florentine Codex.’ What are some of the main obstacles to really knowing the “truth” on the issues and details presented in these texts? If it is, perhaps, “inevitable” that the writing of history takes sides, what are the ramifications for our understanding of these texts from the “age of exploration” – and, more broadly, for our comprehension of power as articulated in the various historical works we have studied so far in Unit One?
2) Next class, we will be considering the subject of the Enlightenment, a concept that Immanuel Kant famously explained by saying that “Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage” (or, perhaps, “immaturity”). Kant criticized “man’s inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another” and encouraged his fellows to think critically and question accepted “truths” and structures of power. In what ways, then, are the authors of the texts assigned for class today “enlightened” – or not? To borrow from the lawyer’s statement above, how are these accounts presentations of “civilized” society – or not? Alternately, you can again think broadly here, and highlight a truly “enlightened” idea that we have covered so far in class. What made this notion so revolutionary in its own day and age? As a member of “civilized” society in the twenty-first century, how do you respond to such “enlightened” thinking?
By definition, a “leviathan” is a kind of massive sea monster, and for this blogpost we are going to literally and figuratively play with that premise by exploring two “monsters” of political rhetoric: the dark-hued theories about power espoused by Niccolo Machiavelli in The Prince (1513) and Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan (1651). Hobbes generally believed that there were profound misunderstandings in his age about the nature of sovereign power, and he had a cynical view of English politics and rule. Writing a century earlier, and about the complexities of Italian city-states, Machiavelli arguably took an even more cynical view, and his advice has had such a profound effect on subsequent political thought that his very name has come to have sociocultural meaning (with “Machiavellian” a pejorative term that is used to denote an individual who is noted for “cunning, duplicity, or bad faith” – especially a ruler whose behavior is manipulative, deceitful, and/or deceptive.)
In response to the cold-hearted – yet chillingly pragmatic – views of Hobbes and Machiavelli, in this blogpost I want you to do three things:
1) Try and compare/contrast the political thought of Hobbes and Machiavelli. In what way are their approaches, theories, and conclusions similar, but also, in what crucial ways do they seem to diverge?
2) Pick out a provocative quotation from either Leviathan or The Prince and connect it to one of our recent historical examples (perhaps especially Joan of Arc or Elizabeth I). Try to place your chosen comment(s) within the historical context of the day, and explore how it might open up some new perspectives on one of our recent readings.
3) Finally, pick another quotation – likely from the other assigned author – and think about the ways in which this notion logically applies (or not) to our own day and age. You might consider: is this particular suggestion for political behavior a wise one, a good way for a ruler to (justly) navigate the challenging political waters of the twenty-first century? Or would his premise be problematic in some way, shape, or form if taken up by a modern-day politician?
In her essay “Reflections on the Communist Manifesto”, political activist Lindsey German asserts that “The Communist Manifesto was invaluable in providing a unique introduction to Marxist politics and to the theory of revolution. It remains one of the great political texts which still inspires new generations of socialists and it can still serve as a guide to action.” In these words, German recognizes that, because of its connections with the development of communism, Marxist thought has long been seen with considerable suspicion in the modern world. Yet no matter what one thinks about communism or socialism as political doctrines, the undeniable fact is that Marxist ideas have had a MAJOR impact on the development of the modern world. Therefore, it is important to take a careful look at the subtleties and realities of central Marxist thought in order to fully appreciate its doctrines (for good or ill). In that spirit, for this Blog I want you to pick a major power-related theme or social concept that Marx and his fellows bring to the page in their wide-ranging analysis, whether it be an issue related to education, politics, banking, agriculture, militarism, labor, and so on. Your post should be two in-depth paragraphs long, and your task is to try and explain what, exactly, the forefathers of Marxism have to say about your chosen issue. To do so, you must directly engage with the actual words and ideas of Marx, Engels, and/or Weber. What is their view of your chosen issue, and what is their rationale for that view? Finally, I’d like you to connect today’s assignment with the politics of the modern world by offering a contemporary example or application of this premise. In other words, how might this “Marxist” notion bring rise to understanding and exploring a modern-day problem or challenge? And what do YOU think about the matter? I will be very curious to hear your thoughts in this Blog response!
Early in ‘The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian’, by Sherman Alexie, the narrator Junior comments that “I know my mother and father had their dreams when they were kids. They dreamed about being something other than poor, but they never got the chance to be anything because nobody paid attention to their dreams.” Shortly thereafter, he adds that “we reservation Indians don’t get to realize our dreams. We don’t get those chances. Or choices. We’re just poor. That’s all we are.” Junior has an interesting story to tell, and his life has been deeply impacted by the difficult realities of life on the reservation. For those of you in my ‘Power and Society’ class Junior’s experiences speak in interesting ways to issues of power, such as the authority of the state, class and hierarchy, poverty, the politics of parenting, and the role of schools in adolescent lives. Bearing in mind such issues, in this Blog post I want you to carefully respond to the common reading for Stockton freshman. Your response may do one of two things (or both!), and should be at least two paragraphs long: 1) Offer some commentary in the wake of the illustrator’s lecture at the Freshman Convocation (on Thursday the 29th ). Tell us, what did Ellen Forney say that really touched a nerve with you? What did you find interesting about her lecture, and what was invigorating about the entire Freshman Convocation event? Why? I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts about this talk! 2) If you aren’t able to attend the lecture or would simply rather discuss the book, then I’d like you to do just that. So, choose a particular moment in (or idea from) the novel and make some insightful connections between Alexie’s story and our course themes, or assigned readings. To make these connections, you might quote from the book itself, and then discuss what Alexie seems to be saying and doing in your selected moment (relative to power and inequality), and why? Also, what thoughts do YOU have about the subject – how do YOU respond to the power issue(s) raised in the novel based on your own knowledge or experience?
At the start of our ‘Power & Society’ class, we have spent a considerable amount of time examining Plato’s Republic – a monument of Greek philosophy and world literature. In this extensive dialogue, Plato (through the voice of his teacher Socrates) addresses the topic of Justice. So, what IS justice, in Plato’s vision? The answer is multifaceted and complicated, a fact that highlights that justice itself is also varied and complex. To explore the theme of justice in the Republic, I would like you to do two things (in two separate paragraphs). First, I’d like you to select a single passage from the Republic that you find to be interesting, provocative, or somehow problematic as it relates to the topic of justice. Then, you should analyze the passage itself and try to place it within its historical context. How does this statement fit within Plato’s broader discussion of justice and power, and how does it fit within the political and intellectual climate of ancient Athens? Secondly, what do you think about the viewpoint at hand, and why? To answer this question, you might consider Plato’s reasoning, and then provide a modern-day example as a test-case. What does your example show us about justice (or lack thereof) in the face of social controversy, and how does it illustrate your own view of justice? What might Plato have to say about your example?
In recent days, we have been perusing the argumentative writing of rebellion. To borrow the famous phrase used by one of our authors, you have been exploring influential writers who used words as a powerful form of “civil disobedience.” For this blog post, I want you to think carefully about one of these assigned readings (by Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X). For your post, I would like you to consider one of these works in two different ways. First, I want you to really think long and hard about the words and written approach of your chosen author. Why, exactly, is their writing so powerful, so engaging, so convincing? Be as specific as you can be in considering how your writer makes their point, and makes it well. Then, I want you to talk about your personal view of their argument. Do you agree with their “rebellious” perspectives, and why? How, exactly, do you feel about their “disobedient” contentions and social challenges? In total, your Blog post should be (at least) two in-depth paragraphs long.
During our first day studying the masterful novel ‘1984’ I gave you all a handout featuring an article that states, simply, that “We live in a world that George Orwell predicted” many years ago because his ideas “about a tightly controlled totalitarian future ruled by the ubiquitous Big Brother” are indeed “quite apt.” America in the age of terror is, in many ways, a surveillance state wherein freedoms are often restricted and the government has vast amounts of legal and political power. The Blog posts last time went well, and the general mode we adopted then is equally useful for a consideration of ‘1984’. So, for our final Blog of the semester, I want to work in a similar manner. This time around, I want you to: 1) Outline and explain a key idea or issue from Orwell’s novel. This could relate to politics, education, the media, or whatever you find interesting and important. Illustrate your chosen issue by quoting directly from the novel, and then offer some words about just what, exactly, Orwell is trying to say and why (especially as it relates to the post-World War II world in which he was living). 2) Detail a specific modern-day example or situation that the novel seems to suggest, or a problem it appears to bring to light. In other words, try to draw a connection between 2014 and the “future” Orwell was projecting in his imaginary ‘1984’, and highlight some important way in which he was, in fact, interestingly predicting the future. Then (and most importantly), please tell us a little bit about what YOU think about this particular issue. In what ways does your topic suggest we are – or are not—being watched by “Big Brother” and/or are less free than our Constitution might suggest?
In a text offering “Reflections on the ‘Communist Manifesto’ ” (published in the journal International Socialism), writer Lindsey German proclaimed that “the groundwork provided by ‘The Communist Manifesto’ was invaluable in providing a unique introduction to Marxist politics and to the theory of revolution. It remains one of the great political texts which still inspires new generations of socialists and it can still serve as a guide to action.” This writer recognizes that, because of its connections with the development of communism, Marxist thought – as espoused by Max Weber, Friedrich Engels, and especially Karl Marx himself – has long been seen with considerable ambivalence in the modern world. But, no matter what you think about communism or socialism as political doctrines, the simple fact is that Marxist ideas have had a MAJOR impact on the development of the modern world. Therefore, it is important to take a long and close look at the subtleties and realities of central Marxist thought in order to fully appreciate its doctrines (for good or ill). In that spirit, for this Blog I want you to pick a major theme or social concept that Marx and his fellows somehow bring to the fore in their wide-ranging analysis, whether it be an issue related to education, politics, banking, agriculture, militarism, labor, and so on. Try to explain what, exactly, Marxism has to say about that issue, and do so by directly engaging with the words of Marx/Engels/Weber. What is their view of your chosen issue, and what is their basis for that view? Finally, come up with a contemporary example or application of this premise. In other words, how might this “Marxist” premise bring rise to understanding and exploring a modern-day problem or challenge? And what do YOU think about the matter? I will be very curious to hear your thoughts in this Blog response!
In his famous essay “What is Enlightenment?” Immanuel Kant explains this concept by saying directly that “Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage” (or, perhaps, “immaturity”). He continues by decrying “man’s inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another. Self-incurred is this tutelage when its cause lies not in lack of reason but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere aude! “Have courage to use your own reason!”- that is the motto of enlightenment.” Our last two classes have addressed a series of thinkers whose ideas were, indeed, “enlightened” and whose arguments challenged and changed the world forever. In this Blog post, therefore, I want to have you bring to light a particular “enlightened” premise that really intrigued you of late, whether from Luther, Copernicus, Galileo, Rousseau, Locke, Adam Smith, or Kant himself. This time around, I’m particularly intrigued by what, exactly, you see as a truly “enlightened” idea. So, outlining your chosen concept, what made it so revolutionary in its own day and age? And why does this premise still have profound intellectual currency in our own era? Finally, for this response, I’m really curious about your personal thoughts and opinions on the matter – why, exactly, are you so struck by this particular example of/from Enlightenment thought? Why does it speak to you through the void of hundreds of years of time?
According to Mark Jendrysik, “The political theorists of seventeenth-century England saw struggles over political and religious organization as the central cause of revolutionary upheaval. Division on questions of political structures and religious belief resulted in civil strife and oppression. . . . John Milton saw a critical cleavage between those who freed themselves from the worship of kings and those who were still enthralled by the royal image. Oliver Cromwell believed faction, brought about by the desire of some men to rule over other men and force their beliefs into a specific pattern, caused the civil war. For Robert Filmer false beliefs about a specious and rebellious “liberty” destroyed natural order. For Thomas Hobbes the critical division in English politics was based in misunderstandings about the nature of sovereign power. Divided sovereignty, or the false belief that there was more than one source of religious and political authority in the world, became for Hobbes the central, overriding cause of disorder. The civil war represented the failure of English sovereigns to maintain necessary control over all aspects of political and religious life. The source of divided sovereignty lay in confusion about the source, nature and goals of political and religious power in the state.” As a result of his cold-hearted application of logical thought to the harsh realities of the English Civil War, Thomas Hobbes emerged as perhaps the quintessential political philosopher in the English-speaking world during the period commonly known as the Restoration era. One way of thinking about Hobbes is to see him as taking up the intellectual mantle of thought begun just over a century earlier by Niccolo Machiavelli (in ‘The Prince’). Like his Italian predecessor (though to a lesser degree), Hobbes has been seen as a kind of cynical commentator on politics and rule. Yet Hobbes DOES offer a different vision of political reality than Machiavelli for a different age, and in this response I’m interested in you bringing the ideas of these two intellectual behemoths into conversation. Specifically, I want you to do two things here: 1) Try and compare/contrast the political thought of Hobbes and Machiavelli. In what way are their approaches, theories, and conclusions similar, but also, in what crucial ways to they diverge? 2) Much like we did earlier with Machiavelli, I want you to pick out a particular quotation from Hobbes’ ‘Leviathan’, and discuss it – trying to address its significance and logic for its own time period and then, in turn, discussing how and why you think it logically applies (or not) to our own day and age.
Few writers are so significant that they leave a literal mark on the language, to the degree that their name becomes synonymous with a particular idea or phenomenon. Nicolo Machiavelli, however, was just such a man, and his book The Prince has been central to the study of political thought since its initial publication in 1532. In the English-speaking world, the author is probably best known or recognized through the adjective based on his name: “Machiavellian”, which Webster’s Dictionary defines as “of or relating to Machiavelli” or, more to the point, “suggesting the principles of conduct laid down by Machiavelli; specifically: marked by cunning, duplicity, or bad faith.” In other words, Machiavelli’s very name has come to designate an individual whose political behavior is manipulative, deceitful, deceptive, and/or dishonest. To a certain degree, this notion perfectly embodies Machiavelli’s political advice, yet in some ways this premise misses the point or, at the very least, fails to recognize the moral, literary, and political subtleties of Machiavelli’s Prince. For this response, I want you to navigate some of the subtleties brought to the page by Machiavelli, and to do so I want you to do three things. First, identify a particularly contentious idea from The Prince, a piece of advice that would seem, for lack of a better word, quintessentially “Machiavellian.” Quote it for the Blog and then I’d like you to critique that notion in several specific ways. On one hand, I’d like you to try to examine his logic, to try and understand WHY he offers the controversial piece of advice that he does. To help support and explain this statement, you should try to place his comment(s) within the historical context of his day and age (something that he himself does repeatedly in his book). On the other hand, I’d like to see how Machiavelli’s idea might be applicable to our own political moment. Is his particular suggestion for political behavior a wise one, a good way for a ruler to (justly) navigate the challenging political waters of the twenty-first century? Or would his premise be problematic in some way, shape, or form if taken up by a modern-day politician? The Prince is a very challenging and fascinating book of political advice, and it will be interesting to see what you are all able to do by way of examining that advice both as it relates to his own day and age, and also as an applicable premise for our current political realm.
In the opening passages of the Bhagavad-Gita, the “hero” (if you will) Arjuna is overcome by grief on the battlefield. Not wanting to kill his kin, he puts down his weapons and, dejected, refuses to fight. But Krishna, his counselor, famously urges him on by saying such things as “your business is with action alone,” that “there is nothing better for a Kshatriya than a righteous battle,” and arguing that if “Killed, you will obtain heaven; victorious, you will enjoy the earth. Therefore arise, O sun of Kunti, resolved to engage in battle!” Krishna’s advice to Arjuna has been the subject of considerable controversy over the years and is, to say the very least, provocative and complex. In addition to the Bhagavad-Gita our class has recently considered the challenging ideas of Aristotle’s Politics and Plato’s Republic, all of which are masterpieces of world literature and crucially important remnants of ancient political theory and belief. For the second Blog post of the term, then, I want you to precisely and directly engage with the politics of one of these major works. Specifically, I’d like you to select a single passage from one of these works, a passage that you deem provocative, interesting, or somehow problematic. Then, you should examine the passage itself and try to place it within the broader context of your chosen work and its historical/political/intellectual context. Finally, you might offer your own two cents’ worth on the passage: what do you think about the topic and viewpoint at hand, and why?