Last week on Thursday, February 22, Politics Department faculty members participated in a panel presentation as part of the Spring 2012 Humanities Symposium. The Symposium’s theme, “The Transforming Book,” influenced the topic of discussion for the politics presentation. Entitled, “Transforming Political Thought: Seminal Books on Politics,” the presentation focused on books responsible for transforming political thought of the last two centuries. Each professor selected a book to present, touching on its’ basic tenets and the reasons for its’ significance to political thought.
The Federalist Papers
Dr. Rego chose the Federalist Papers of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay as a significant work which has influenced political thought over the course of the past two centuries. Although originally published in 1787 and 1788 by newspapers as separate essays, together the works of these three Federalists have come to form what some would call the “definitive commentary on American government.”
The Federalists believed that their writings should be understood as works of Political Science. They were of the opinion that a new form of government, one based on a strong central government of representatives rather than a direct democracy, was required for the expansive geographic area of their new country. The rules and mechanisms of this new government should take into account the fact that, “enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm;” the institutions of this new government should be designed to positively influence participants’ behavior. In order to foster stability and reduce the significance of factions, the Federalists promoted a model of government based on elected representatives that would protect the rights of minorities. Representatives’ would ultimately be answerable to their constituency through elections and would therefore be forced to act in the peoples’ best interests.
If this book sounds interesting, classes you may enjoy include American Government, American Political Thought and Constitutional Civil Liberties.
Democracy in America
Dr. Lauermann selected Alexis De Tocqueville’s sizable volume, Democracy in America, to present at the panel. Written by a French visitor to America in the 1830s, Democracy in America represents the culmination of Tocqueville’s observations of American culture. Tocqueville has been considered one of the first social scientists and his study of young America can be described as using the “soak and poke” method: he traveled extensively throughout the country and noted observations on the people, the government, the prominent practice of religion and so on.
Democracy in America focuses on several themes which are quintessential to the study of American politics. Being concerned about any excesses which may accompany a democratic state, Tocqueville discusses the classic dilemma of liberty vs. equality. He also described the central role of civic associations in American society. His emphasis on these institutions set the precedent for contemporary scholar Robert Putnam’s research as presented in the books Making Democracy Work and Bowling Alone.
If this book sounds interesting, classes you may enjoy include FYS – Democracy in America, Political Research Methods, Public Opinion and Comparative Politics.
The Acquisitive Society
Dr. Harles chose to present a book which may not be quite as well known to students of American politics, but which has had a profound impact on political thought in the UK: The Acquisitive Society by R.H. Tawney.
This book, written in the 1920s, significantly influenced Labour Party politics in the following decades. Tawney’s sense of social responsibility as informed by a private Christian faith represents a main theme his work. He felt that private charity was not enough to meet the present need for charity; changes in state and society were required to meet this need. The book explains four tenets of Tawney’s work: (1) that economic rights must be subordinate to economic responsibilities, (2) a disapproval of societies which focus more on acquisition than on functioning well, (3) economic rewards should be a byproduct of this new functionality and (4) there needs to be significant restructuring of governance over economic activities.
If this book sounds interesting, classes you may enjoy include History of Political Thought, Introduction to Economics and Politics of the United Kingdom.
Power and Interdependence: World Politics in Transition
To conclude the presentations, Dr. Curry presented on this book written in the 1970s by Robert O. Keohane and Joseph S. Nye. Power and Interdependence signifies a turning point in the way scholars and students looked at international relations. Up until the 1940s the discipline of international relations did not exist in relation to politics but was studied in the form of historical analysis. Following the 1970s we see a paradigmatic shift away from the historical mode of international relations to the inter-disciplinary practice we see today.
The authors argue in this book, first, that the old paradigm of international relations no longer suits the international system of the contemporary world. Second, they argue for a move from realism to complex interdependence: there are now multiple actors aside from the nation-state in the realm of international politics as well as a diversity of issues involved in the international system. These issues are concerned with the intermingling of domestic and foreign affairs in addition to a reduced sense of state sovereignty. Furthermore “hard” power, or military power, is no longer the most prominent form of influence available. The contemporary international system emphasizes other forms of “soft” power including diplomacy and economic leverage.
If this book sounds interesting, classes you may enjoy include International Politics, Theories of International Relations and US Foreign Policy.