Social Relationships & Responsibility: Democracy in America?



Course Number




Course Description

Theme: American Democracy?
Keywords: Equality, Freedom, Democracy
What is the ideal relationship between "equality," "freedom," and "democracy"? Are these ideals in competition or are they mutually compatible? At the level of theory or philosophy, how do you think society should be best organized to ensure the greatest levels of freedom, equality, and democracy for its citizens? (What rights should non-citizens have any to freedom or equality in a democracy?) What kinds of freedom, equality, and democracy do you think should in principle be reconciled? If we look empirically, i.e. at the actual world we live in, is the United States a democracy and to what extent does it guarantee freedom or equality to its citizens? If the US is less than a full democracy or citizens or less free or equal than you think they (or we) should be, where, how, and why do you think the United States falls short of democracy, freedom or equality? What changes would be required for the US to become more democratic and for its people to become more free and more equal? How might we bring about these changes?
This course will focus on African American thought in relationship to other canonical sources in Western political thought to examine the relationships between equality, freedom, and democracy in historical thought and US history. Together we will read from major texts in liberalism, socialism, and anti-racism. Authors will include Baldwin, Angela Davis, Douglass, Fanon, King, X, Locke. We'll have regular readings, two short papers, an annotated bibliography, and several student taught classes. My approach to teaching this course is that I will learn at least as much about our shared subject matter from you, my students, and our shared learning community, as any one of you will learn from me. The shared questions that we are all confronting in this course focus on the questions of what social justice requires and whether we can make the American social order (more) just. These questions are real, challenging and interesting for us and we hope that you will join us in the hard, but rewarding, struggle of thinking about them.
Course Learning Goals
• To begin to build a set of philosophical and theoretical concepts for understanding the contemporary social world and its historical foundations
• To learn how to read dense texts and practice expository writing including direct citation, paraphrasing, and summarizing
• To reflect critically on ideas of Social Justice and the Fairhaven Mission's commitments to justice and diversity
• To have fun with ideas


Admission to Fairhaven College

Materials Fee


Required Texts

Four books have been ordered by the University bookstore (Locke & Marx are widely available online)

• John Locke, Second Treatise of Government (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1980 [1689])

• Karl Marx, Wage Labor and Capital (Create Space, 2017 [1849])

• James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (New York: Doubleday, 1992)

• Benjamin I. Page & Martin Gilens, Democracy in America? (Chicago University Press, 2020)

• Other Readings will be shared via Canvas.


S/NX grading; narrative evaluation.

Faithful attendance and participation; one comparative paper; an annotated bibliography; a final paper such as a course literature review; co-teaching class on day on Page & Gilens text.


Fall 2023

Course Instructor(s)

Niall O Murchu

Course Subject