Teaching Political Theory in China

Pic unrelated to article and borrowed from http://jasonfking.com/blog/2007/05/

Stumbled across this interesting article about Daniel A. Bell teaching Political Theory in Beijing, China. This is what he writes about his course:

At Tsinghua, I teach a graduate seminar on “Just and Unjust War.” The “realist paradigm”—the idea that states are motivated by nothing other than self-interest in international affairs and that morality is not and should not be used to judge the international behavior of states—seems to be dominant in China. I think there’s a need to consider theories that allow for moral evaluation of wars, especially as China becomes a more dominant power in the international arena. After the first class, the same student from the party school stayed behind to ask if he could audit that class too. I agreed.

The auditing student’s involvement in his class leads to some interesting insights and a final excursion…I will not spoil the reading for you, but its quite a turn-around.

Bell also comments on the student-teacher interaction:

The students also raise questions in class. They are no slouches: it’s probably harder to be admitted, statistically speaking, into Tsinghua and Beijing University than into leading American universities. My students are supposed to be leaders of society: I’m told that the Communist Party student members at Tsinghua prepare the educational curriculum for all the young Communists in China. They are intellectually confident and often well versed in the Chinese and Anglo-American (if not French and German) philosophical traditions. Nonetheless, they often communicate their most critical comments via e-mail, not in the classroom. Of course, the e-mails are cordial, but the substance is often harshly critical of what I’ve said in class.

This text raises some questions: What style of student-teacher interaction do we have in Ghana? Does it matter what country the instructor comes from? What are some of the issues of teaching Social/Political theory in our context, if any?

Thanks all for following this class in the classroom, in discussions or on the web.

Development as Freedom

Development as freedom amartya sen economicsRequired Reading for Monday, 26th April 2010:

Founder of Social Rights Newsletter Pambazuka, Firoze Manji wrote this Review of Development as Freedom which summarizes Amartya Sen’s book Development as Freedom, its claims and importance (of course I’d prefer it if we could have read a few chapters from the actual book, but time makes that impossible – however, let me stress this is a very relevant book I think you all should read).

Read Manji’s review, and possibly also other sources, to be able to understand Sen’s main points.

Be prepared to discuss!

Are We Now at the End of History?

Pic borrowed from ersatzpolisci.pls.msu.edu

So, Plato, Machiavelli, Hobbes and Rousseau wrote, lived and died. Wollstonecraft, Marx and Engels discussed the unjust societies they found themselves in. The idea of democracy, rule of the people,  started to spread. Freedom and justice became pivotal concepts in discussing forms of government.

So is there an ideology to represent our time? Can we even say we have we arrived at an ideological endpoint? The End of History with Liberal Democracy for all?

Tomorrow, Wednesday we will talk about Francis Fukuyama‘s classic text “The End of history” (pdf) published 1989 in The National Interest.  This was the year the Iron curtain fell together with the Berlin wall.  Fukuyama’s text was widely circulated and debated. Three years later Fukuyama had developed his thoughts  into a book, with this thoughtful introduction in which he responds to some of the critics. Almost 20 years later he did this interview in Newsweek and was asked whether or not his thesis still held true:


FUKUYAMA: The basic premise still holds true. The problem with the popular understanding of the thesis was that history was just meant as things happening, when in fact the hypothesis dealt more with the evolution of human societies, the direction they were moving in and the likely final destination in terms of forms of government. So in spite of authoritarian revivals in Russia and China, liberal democracy is still the only legitimate form of government broadly accepted. Of course, several groups have opted out, like the Islamic fundamentalists, but in the long run I am still fairly confident that democratic systems are the only viable ones.

What do you think? Are we at the end of history with the “best” form of government despite some groups having “opted out”?

J.K Rowling on Taxes

Remember how we talked about how Social Democracy is dependent on taxes for its rich social benefits?

In UK, elections are coming up and the Labour party (social democrats) statnd against the conservative Tory party, led my Mr Cameron. In a column, Harry Potter’s mother J.K Rawling support the social democratic model and explains why.

She writes:

The 2010 election campaign, more than any other, has underscored the continuing gulf between Tory values and my own.

What do you think? Should society be obliged to help the poor? And how?

Friday: Animal Farm – The Movie

See the trailer of the 90 minute TV film “Animal Farm” we are watching on Friday’s class here:

Assignment: Animal Farm Review

This is the second essay assignment for the course:

After reading George Orwell’s Animal Farm, you are asked by the Ashesi library to write a review and opinion piece on how the novel can be used to teach ideology in the African context. As your review is to be published in the next Ashesi Bulletin, the head librarian is looking for a text of 1200 words. As usual, do not include Works Cited in the word count. The librarian wants you to include 1-2 academic sources (books or journal articles) and make sure your review contains the following three parts:

  1. Describe: A thorough description of the plot of Animal Farm.
  2. Relate: A description of an African political event or personality which correlates to an event or personality in the novel.
  3. React: Your opinion on the usefulness of Orwell’s Animal Farm for analyzing African political/ideological history.

As you read, keep African political history in mind. You can brainstorm events or personalities with colleagues, but you are to work individually on writing this assignment.  You will need to research your event/personality of choice carefully.  Start with online sources, but do not end there! When you compare the reality with Orwell’s fiction, use quotes from the novel to illustrate your points. Your review should be properly referenced and have a full bibliography with at least one credible academic source. Make it a point to use important key words to show you have understood the literature and lectures.

Except for content and analysis the grading process will encompass referencing, readability and mechanics (including word count, so add this information). Send an email to your lecturer if you have any questions: khadu@ashesi.edu.gh

Due Date: Tuesday 20th April 2010, 4.30 pm. All assignments must be submitted through turnitin.com (see Syllabus for details) and in hard copy to your lecturer in B3, New building.

Summary of Lecture on Economic Theory

Find below a summary by Sydney Oduro (word document here) from the lecture on economic theory.

Adam Smith, a moral philosopher and economist, was born in the year 1723, in Kirkcaldy in Scotland. Adam Smith was a son to a very successful lawyer also named Adam Smith. He was admitted into Glasgow University at the young age of 14 years.  Adam Smith was a capitalist and had two major works which he was famous for; the Theory of Moral Sentiments and the Wealth of Nations (With the Wealth of Nations being more popular). Adam Smith was a student of David Hume (another philosopher) and he was a great influence in Adam’s Wealth of Nations book.  The Theory of Moral Sentiments was published in the year 1759 whilst the Wealth of Nations was published in the year 1776. He was a great supporter of the Laissez-Faire economic system.

The Theory of Moral sentiments was a book deeply influenced by Hume and it was said to be a theory of moral attitudes. The Wealth of Nations on the other hand was a book that revealed how selfish intensions could be transformed by the invisible hand (free market) into social harmony and public benefit producing the wealth of nations in the best possible way. The Wealth of Nations took Smith almost ten years to write, and he wrote this with the intention of showing how nations should be run. He also stated that Division of labor and free trade were the keys to economic growth and that state intervention should be kept to a minimum. This book is regarded as the main foundation of the science of economics.

Adam Smith also argues that Individual self-interest plays a decisive role. He also did not believe in good intensions, but that selfish intensions could lead to public goods. Smith was a liberalist as well as a capitalist and developed neo-liberalism.