Year-long course studies foundational political texts
For the first time, Notre Dame’s Center for Citizenship and Constitutional Government is offering a year-long course that runs throughout the whole academic year for students in its undergraduate minor, Constitutional Studies.
Taught across both semesters of the 2022–23 school year by Professors Patrick Deneen and Vincent Phillip Muñoz, the course was titled in full “Core Texts in Citizenship and Constitutional Government.” The first was designed to provide students with an understanding of the political philosophy that permeates Western constitutional thought in the Classical and Christian traditions, before shifting attention toward modern—particularly liberal—political philosophy in the second course.
The sequential nature of the year-long course aims to contrast the two traditions of political thought—their conceptions of justice, liberty, and the rule of law—and even to consider whether a definitive difference between the two actually exists. The class is conducted in a seminar format, consisting of a nearly identical cohort of students across the two semesters. This form emphasizes building relationships between students in order to unlock the fruitful discussion that comes with a close-knit and familiar group.
Professor Muñoz, director of the Center for Citizenship and Constitutional Studies, taught the second semester of the course which focuses on modern political authors. He reflected on the purpose of the course in a conversation with the Rover:
“Students at Notre Dame and universities like it will be the future leaders of our country. Once they find themselves in those positions of influence—whether in government or business or whatever else—it will be too late to truly contemplate these questions. Therefore, it is important that they do so now, and that’s what we’re doing here by reading and discussing these authors together.”
This past fall, students in part one of the Core Texts class read and discussed Homer’s Odyssey, Plato’s Republic, Saint Augustine’s City of God, selections from Thomas Aquinas’ De Regno and Summa Theologica, Saint Thomas More’s Utopia, Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis, and Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan.
Studying, discussing, and writing about these texts, Professor Deneen told the Rover, was “an effort to provide the foundational ideas that we think of regarding modern constitutionalism, so that students would come away with an understanding that what are sometimes thought of as distinctly American or modern constitutional ideas actually have very deep roots.”
With this first half of the sequence, Professor Deneen also expressed a desire “to paint something of a contrast to modern constitutionalism, to emphasize the way that the pre-modern tradition was a kind of constant negotiation between what we might describe as the ideal and the real … particularly as they concern human nature.”
Deneen summarized: “To see the continuities and the ruptures were the two hopes of the first part of the class.”
The Rover also spoke to some students in the class. Luke Schafer, a senior studying economics and global affairs, said, “This is one of those classes that you go to Notre Dame for. It’s what sets it apart from other universities.”
Further praising the fall class, Professor Deneen added that “there was a level of engagement and enthusiasm and interest that I don’t think I’ve encountered before in many years of teaching. … It was a very exciting and stimulating class to teach.”
The spring class will examine texts such as Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, and selections from Rousseau, Marx, and the American Founders. The class will end the semester by reading pieces by current thinkers, including Carl Trueman and even Professor Deneen.
Professor Muñoz hopes that this curriculum will get students to ponder questions of modern political thought such as: “How do we wrestle with the modern existence of two distinct authorities—one secular and the other spiritual—since the advent of Christianity?”
Looking forward to the spring semester course, Catalina Scheider Galiñanes [editor’s note: Catalina is a Social Media Coordinator for the Rover], a sophomore studying economics and political science, told the Rover about her excitement to continue working with such a fine cohort of students.
“I am excited to continue the conversations we had in the first portion of the class … I feel that we have created a close community based on our friendship and shared passion for political theory … and it is always a good semester when I am able to take a class with Professor Muñoz!”
For those interested in this class and exploring these questions, the Core Texts sequence will be offered again next year. The fall course will be led by Professor Susan Collins, while the spring section will be led by Professor Mary Keys. Students enrolled in the Constitutional Studies minor and willing to contribute to meaningful discussion throughout the year are encouraged to apply. More information can be found at constudies.nd.edu.
Chris Stokes is a senior political science major who appreciates cool fall nights and canned chicken from Costco. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.