Final Essay Prompt
Conservatives and progressives are divided perhaps above all over issues of race and class. What are the sources of race and class-based divisions and inequalities? What can and should be done – particularly by the government – about such divisions and inequalities? How do these divisions and inequalities impinge upon our various notions of rights and freedoms? What, if anything, binds us as a nation – as we the people – in the face of these divisions and inequalities? How do we conceive of “equality” in the first place? What do we owe one another, and what is properly a matter of personal responsibility? What would justice look like, and can we achieve it?
More broadly, these issues involve our ideas about nature and history and society. How do our views on human nature inform our answers to these questions? How do we understand the significance and authority of history – of tradition, custom, inheritance, precedent, debt, the idea of a nation that survives its individual members. What of the past should we conserve, and what does progress look like? Should we prudently look to the past to guide us in incremental and gradual reform, deferring to our established institutional arrangements precisely because they are old and time-tested products of adaptation? Or should we look to a utopian future as our guide, and discard – by means of revolution, if necessary – our cultural traditions and institutional inheritances if they perpetuate inequality, oppression, and exploitation and fall short of our ideals of freedom, justice, and equality?
Is society just a collection of independent individuals pursuing their private ends and interests and making their personal choices, or is it more of a collective and communal enterprise – a sort of family into which we are born, with roles and relationships in which we are embedded, and to which we have certain obligations and responsibilities? Is achieving the good society a relatively straightforward goal, a matter of rationally identifying and then enacting common-sense rules and universal principles of justice? Or is the good society composed of an endlessly complex, and often tragically conflicting, array of values, and so something that cannot be engineered.
All of these questions and more come into play in arguments over the justice and practicality of addressing race and class-based divisions and inequalities in America through a policy of reparations. We’ve touched on this topic throughout our course, in the discussion questions and current readings, and the week 10 module covers it in detail.
For your essay, draw on these week 10 readings, along with the deep understanding of conservatism and liberalism we’ve developed throughout the course, to explain what a principled conservative AND a principled liberal might argue in the case for and/or against reparations. Given America’s history, espoused principles, and current realities, would conservatives and/or liberals endorse or reject a policy of reparations? Why?
This is not an “opinion paper” where you present your own favored view. Rather, drawing on the course texts and lectures, you should construct both the conservative and the liberal case for/against reparations. Keep in mind that either side might not be simply for or against such a policy, but rather may endorse certain elements of it, reject others, and/or favor alternative policies for addressing class and race divisions and inequalities in America.
So one way of approaching the paper, but by no means the only, would be to ask “What would Burke, Paine, Marx, Muller … argue regarding reparations.” Obviously, you cannot address each author in depth; it is up to you to select the authors, and which aspects of their views, you address in coming up with coherent conservative and liberal positions on reparations. For more information on Sources of Division and Inequalities see this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_inequality
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