Can a politician be both a partisan and a patriot? Can care for the common good coexist with the party spirit?

In this two-week seminar, students will explore the relationship of statesmanship and partisanship. The first week will focus on the 18th-century British statesman and political thinker Edmund Burke, who defended political parties as essential to the politics of any free society. The second week, led by Professor Daniel DiSalvo, will explore the function of parties in our republican form of government and the rise of polarization in American politics.

Image: Peter Tillemans, Commons in Session, 1810

Daniel DiSalvo on Party Reform in America

Faculty

Daniel DiSalvo

Daniel DiSalvo is a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute’s Center for State and Local Leadership and an Assistant Professor of Political Science at The City College of New York-CUNY.  His scholarship focuses on American political parties, elections, labor unions, state government, and public policy.

Greg Weiner

Greg Weiner is associate professor of Political Science, founding director of the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Center for Scholarship and Statesmanship, and provost at Assumption College. He is the author of American Burke: The Uncommon Liberalism of Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session

Recommended Reading:

Edmund Burke, The Great Thinkers 

 

Readings:

 

Questions:

  1. What is the source of Burke’s opposition to “refined policy”?
  2. Why is it imprudent to try to subdue the Americans by force?
  3. What does Burke say is the predominant temper and character of Americans? What are the six reasons he cites that made Americans this way?
  4. What is Burke’s reasoning for complying with the American Spirit as a “necessary evil”?
  5. Why is Burke uninterested in “the right of taxation” as a philosophical question? What does this suggest about his political and philosophical disposition overall?
  6. In his “Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol,” why is Burke so concerned with the partial suspension of habeas corpus law? Why according to him is the partial suspension so insidious?
  7. What is Burke’s attitude toward moderation?

Readings:

 

Questions:

  1. What is the relationship between “circumstances” and “metaphysical abstraction”? Which does Burke prefer and why? (p. 93ff.) How is this related to his later claim (p. 118ff.) that revolution is not a matter to be settled by “positive rights”?
  2. What does Burke mean by “a manly, moral, regulated liberty”? As opposed to what
  3. How does Burke respond to the purported “three rights” that the English acquired during the Glorious Revolution? (p. 102ff.)
  4. What can we deduce about Burke’s views on prudence from his claim that an exception from a principle is not the same as a principle? (p. 110ff.)
  5. What does Burke’s metaphor of liberty as an “inheritance” (p. 119ff.) say about his politics more generally? What does he mean by “preserving the method of nature in the conduct of the state”?
  6. Why does Burke argue against a government founded on “natural rights”? (p. 152ff.) He claims to support “real” rights and liberty. What does he mean? What are the foundations of British rights and liberties?

Readings:

 

Questions:

  1. Why is the French revolution in manners and chivalry important to Burke? (p. 163ff.)
  2. Burke prefers prudence to abstract reason and “barbarous philosophy” (p.171). What is the difference between the two? Why does Burke prefer prudence?
  3. Can prejudice be good? Under what circumstances?
  4. What is Burke’s view of the social contract, and how does it differ from those of other social contract theorists?
  5. Why is Burke concerned about “political Men of Letters”? (p. 208ff.)

Readings:

 

Questions:

  1. According to Burke, governmental power is not enough to stabilize society. How do property, religion, and prejudice help governmental power to stabilize society?
  2. Is Burke opposed to all social and political change? Under what circumstances, if any, is revolution justified?
  3. Is politics an art (a matter of practical know-how) or a science (a matter of theoretical knowledge)?
  4. On p. 272, Burke draws a contrast between “the boasting of empirics” and the “vastness” of philosophical promises. Which side is he on, and why?
  5. What is Burke’s case for moderation in political change (pp. 274-275 ff.)?
  6. What are Burke’s standards for political change (p. 364ff.)?
  7. In the “First Letter on a Regicide Peace” (pp. 63-64), why is it difficult to “find any proportion between the apparent force of any moral causes we may assign, and their known operation”? What is the significance of this observation for Burke’s politics?
  8. How does Burke define Regicide, Jacobinism, and Atheism? (p. 124ff.)

Readings:

 

Questions:

  1. Who are the “New Whigs,” and how do their political ideals differ from the “Old Whigs” with whom Burke identifies?
  2. What does Burke mean in saying that “nothing universal can be affirmed” in politics and morals? (p. 91) Does this mean he is a moral relativist?
  3. Does Burke oppose republican government? Why or why not?
  4. What is Burke’s case for his consistency between his early positions on America and his later ones on France?
  5. How do we incur obligations to others (p. 161ff.)? What political conclusions can we draw from Burke’s view?

READINGS:

 

QUESTIONS:

  1. What are the different models of parties that have been proposed in American politics since the Founding?
  2. Can political parties be made to serve the Founders’ objectives—at least in terms of presidential selection?
  3. What have been the consequences of the “democratizing” or “decentralizing” reforms of the 1970s?

READINGS:

 

QUESTIONS:

  1. How might changing campaign finance law reduce polarization?
  2. What steps might improve the presidential nomination process?
  3. What challenges do the parties face to secure their bases and expand their coalitions?

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