Unit H

  • Must the need for a stable social order conflict with the need for individual liberty? What, therefore, should we do?

    Dr. Baumer - Fine Arts


    “Let me write the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws.” – Andrew Fletcher (after Plato)

    “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free” – Lee Greenwood

    “Bring down the government, they don’t speak for us.” – Radiohead

    “Deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome someday” – Charles Tindley, altered by Pete Seeger

    From Bunker Hill to South Africa, most revolutions have had a soundtrack. Songs on both sides of the barricades have been credited with helping to create and sustain mass movements, and not just in the political realm. Jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, punk, and rap have all had revolutionary effects on society, and caused generational and cultural rifts that still resonate today. Throughout history, music has been an expression of liberty and identity, as well as a site of social conflict. Just as the ruling powers in every age have tried to control music for their own sake, music has helped to generate an opposition in ways small and large. Social movements have grown from musical styles created for worship or entertainment, and revolutionaries have used this music to create and sustain mass movements. 

    The unit will focus on these four concepts: identity, self-expression, social control, and censorship, all of which are intertwined in music. We will proceed chronologically, beginning with the use of music as a means of social control in the regime of the “Sun King,” Louis XIV of France. Drawing on the musical style and politics of the French Revolution, composers such as Beethoven created a style of music that powerfully expressed ideas of individual liberty, as we will examine in the “Eroica” Symphony.  As new social ideals proliferated in the 19th-century, operas such as Verdi’s Rigoletto created both a national identity and a location for the state to exert social control. Popular music’s role in creating identity has taken on new importance in recent decades; we will examine this through a study of Madonna, the music of the soldiers in the Iraq War, and the music used to torture “enemy combatants” in the “war on terror.”   Fallout from 9/11 has also stirred new debates over censorship and labeling of popular music, as seen in the case of the Dixie Chicks.

    For complete syllabus click here


    Dr. Marsden - English

    We live, as I’m sure you are aware, at a time wherein the issue raised in Unit H is central to the national political debate. What constitutes a “stable social order” and why, if at all, do we need it? What constitutes “individual liberty” and why, if at all, do we need it? Are the two necessarily in conflict and, if so, to what degree? These issues are far from new, and in this unit we’ll explore look at how they have been addressed from a literary perspective. In addition to a sample of shorter works from other writers including Ursula LeGuin, Allen Ginsberg and Yvgeny Yeshtushenko, we’ll work closely with two remarkable mid-twentieth century novels—George Orwell’s 1984 and Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange—both of which vividly dramatize what is at stake in the core question. 

    During the course of our discussions, we will satisfy the larger goals of Honors Core as established in the general syllabus: developing writing, critical thinking and problem-solving skills.


    Dr. Ricketts - History


    One of the great conundrums in the quest for “the good society”—however that vision has been delineated—has been balancing the liberty of the individual with the general welfare of society. Using the United States as our case study, we will begin by establishing the historical debates and a common terminology to facilitate discussion. In the U.S., civil society (primarily in associationism) and the state (generally through the rule of law) have traditionally been viewed as the major instruments for establishing and maintaining both social order and individual liberty. We will take a fairly close look at the courts, especially the Supreme Court, which empowers the Constitution, examining the major decisions that, in the works of one author we will read “illuminate the tensions between individual liberty and the interests of society, the challenge of balancing majority rule with minority rights, the difficulties of applying old laws to new technologies and changing cultures, and the need to address crises in the short term while preserving fundamental rights in the long term.” As a case study, we will examine a well-known, yet largely misunderstood case—The Little Rock Nine—to understand more fully the role of the courts in one persistent social issue—race. Overall, this unit should enable you to better understand the fundamental fragility of our system of checks and balances as it evolves in changing historical circumstances, and why the potential for Supreme Court appointments is one of the most important elements in choosing a President.

    Readings will include two books available at the Coop Store: Michael Trachtman’s The Supremes’ Greatest Hits: The 37 Supreme Court Cases That Most Directly Affect Your Life, and Melba Pattillo Beals’ memoir of Little Rock, Warriors Don’t Cry.


    Dr. Rubenstein - Philosophy

    The potential conflict between individuals and their government appears on many fronts. In this unit we will explore a number of them. For instance, we will investigate some of the ways philosophers have justified the right of the government ("the state") to impinge upon and limit individual's freedoms. In addition to this general issue there are a host of less abstract and practical questions. How much power should the state have? Should it have a role in constructing a morally better society, or should its powers be limited to economic matters? How much freedom should individuals be given, and why? In addition to these questions concerning the relation of the state and the individual, there are also important issues about the relations between individuals within a state. For instance, are our duties to fellow citizens captured simply by rules that tell us to refrain from certain actions, or are we obligated to contribute to others' well-being? And how should we adjudicate a desire for a merit based society with the prima facie existence of great economic disparity? In sum, we will explore a number of foundational issues in political and social philosophy, using them as a means to explore issues and debates that are still very much alive today.