Debating Democracy: Threats and Prospects

Course Description

One often hears it said today that democracy is under threat. Yet debates around this question are rarely informed by an understanding of the history of democracy and its confrontations with competing forms of government and social organization. In this course, we work to deepen our understanding of what democracy is and what it requires in order to strengthen our ability to defend it.

In the first two weeks, we survey the history of democracy from its origins to the present day. We start in ancient Greece, reading selections from Pericles, Plato, and Aristotle, then move into the early modern period to consider the work of Machiavelli and Hobbes. Next, we look at the social contract tradition (Locke and Rousseau) and how it informed two defining revolutions of the modern period, the American and the French. Finally, we consider the work of thinkers who have exposed the dangers of democracy (including Tocqueville, Mill, and Douglass) as well as of others who have challenged it directly (Marx, Lenin, and Mussolini, among others). Given its scope, this first portion of the course doubles as an introduction to the history of Western political thought, providing a solid foundation for future work in related disciplines.

In the final week of the course, we apply this understanding to our present moment: we study selections from three of the most prominent, recent books about the threats facing democracy today and consider, as a case study, current debates about voting rights in the United States.


There are no prerequisites for this course.


One Section Available to Choose From:

Online sections of Pre-College courses are offered in one of the following modalities: Asynchronous, Mostly asynchronous, or Blended. Please review full information regarding the experience here.

Dates: July 18, 2022 - August 05, 2022
Duration: 3 Weeks
Meeting Times: M-F 3:30P-6:20P
Status: Closed
Format: On-Campus
Instructor(s): Jonathan Sozek
Course Number: 10243