Dr. Laurie M. Johnson

Political Thought

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Home: Polsc 671: Syllabus



This course is designed to create a deeper understanding and interest in contemporary issues in political thought.  Its topics change frequently to keep up with the latest developments in the field.  This semester, the focus is on democracy.  One of the areas of greatest concern and debate in recent political thought has been the communitarian challenge to the classical liberal tradition.  In the first part of this course, we will explore the communitarians' ideas of political friendship as a critique of contemporary liberal ideas of citizenship and political participation within democracy.  We will also explore competing liberal and conservative understandings of democracy that challenge communitarianism as anti-democratic.  In the second part of the course, we will turn to a study of the democratic ideology of America through another lens, America's popular culture, and in particular popular television.  Popular television shows such as Start Trek and The X-Files are examined for what they convey about American democracy and America's impact on the world. We will look at the globalization of America's democratic culture and examine the claim that this global culture is "delegitimizing the nation-state."

Required Texts:

Paul Cantor, Gilligan Unbound, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., New York, 2001.
Bruce Frohnen, The New Communitarians and The Crisis of Modern Liberalism, University of Kansas Press, 1996.
Michael Pakaluk, editor. Other Selves: Philosophers on Friendship. Hackett Publishing Co., Indiana, 1991.
Other readings provided in class or on the Internet as indicated in the syllabus.


In-class midterm essay exam: 35%
In-class final essay exam: 40%
Book Review and Analysis: 25%

Note: The "book review and analysis" portion of your grade consists of a 7-10 page typewritten, doublespaced paper in which you choose a book available in KSU's library, review it and incorporate into your review your own analysis of its merits and its application to issues raised in class.  A list of applicable books  is available on the political thought web page, address above.

1. Introduction to Communitarianism

Frohnen, "Introduction: The Rediscovery of Virtue," pp. 1-17.

2. The Crisis of Liberalism

Frohnen, Ch. 1: "A Liberal Community?" pp. 18-56.

Online Video of Amitai Etzioni, on privacy, from NewsHour: link on Communitarian Network
If you do not have the ability to view this at home you may do so in my office.

3.  The Model of Friendship

Aristotle, selection from Rhetoric, pp. 72-76 in Other Selves.
Aelred of Rievaulx, "Spiritual Friendship," pp. 129-145 in Other Selves.
Immanuel Kant, "Lecture on Friendship," pp. 208-217, in Other Selves.
Soren Kierkegaard, "You Shall Love Your Neighbor," pp. 233-247, in Other Selves.

4. How Can We Unite?  Civil Religion and Founding Myths

Frohnen, Ch. 2: "From Social Cohesion to Radical Reform: The Politics of Civil Religion," pp. 57-74.
And Ch. 3: "Rhetorical Foudings and the Great Leader: Garry Wills and America's Principles,"  pp. 75-100.

5.  Education: The Path to Proper Socialization?

Frohnen, Ch. 5: "Liberalism as Social Movement: Communitarianism in Practice," pp. 150-176.

"Undergraduate Education and the Development of Moral and Civic Responsibility," by Anne Colby and Thomas Ehrlich
 with Elizabeth Beaumont and Jason Stephens,The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, linked on the Communitarian Network at


6. The Liberal and Conservative Response

Frohnen, Ch. 6, "Covenant, Contract, and the Power of Interpreters," pp. 177-203.
Frohnen, Ch. 7, "Religion and the Ends of Communal Life," pp. 204-235.


Popular Culture in the Age of Globalization
Note: Links in this section are for your reference and do not include required reading unless otherwise announced in class by the instructor.

1. Why Popular Culture is Important

Cantor, "Introduction," pp. ix-xxv.
Cantor, "Notes on Method," pp. xxix-xli.

2.  National Television and the Democratic Ideology of America

Cantor, "The Courage of the Fearless Crew": Gilligan's Island and the Americanization of the Globe," pp. 3-33.

TV Tome's Gilligan's Island with episode synopses...

3. America: The End of History?

Cantor, "Shakespeare in the Original Klingon: Star Trek and the End of History," pp. 35-64.


Excruciatingly Detailed Guide to the original series's plots

4. Global Television and the Decline of the Nation-State

Cantor, "Simpson Agonistes: Atomistic Politics, the Nuclear Family, and the Globalization of Springfield," pp. 67-109.

Explore Springfield on the web...
The Simpsons Archive on the web...

5. The X-Files: Mainstreaming Paranoia

Cantor, "Mainstreaming Paranoia: The X-Files and the Deligitimization of the Nation-State," pp. 111-198.

I want to believe X-Files Movie info

6. Cantor's Conclusions

Cantor, "There's No Place Like Home," pp. 199-211.




Dep't of Political Science
Kansas State University
Primary Texts Certificate