Written Assignments

Revolutions Then and Now


Web Resources for This Assignment

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality
This is the only material you can use to explain eighteenth century and modern revolutions or liberation movements.
Revolution and After
This is for information on the French Revolution.
Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence
This is for information on the ideas of the American Revolution.

The Foundations of Revolutionary Thought

   There is no question that the revolutions of the eighteenth century, both fought in the name of "freedom" and "rights," two modern inventions, were deeply indebted to ways of thinking that can be specifically identified. The American Revolution, in large part, was based on ideas ultimately derived from John Locke as well as radical ideas from England—these radical political thinkers were heavily influenced by Rousseau. The French Revolution, on the other hand, was almost completely indebted to Rousseau—it is no exaggeration to call the French Revolution "Rousseau in action."
   One of the important consequences of Enlightenment discussions of individuality, politics, science, economics, and the mechanical, deistic view of the universe, was a new type of discourse called "liberation discourse." The Enlightenment from its beginnings saw itself as "liberating" Europeans: from superstition, arbitrary authority, ignorance, and so on. The premiere work of liberation discourse was, of course, Rousseau. This assignment is about tracing the character of revolutions—those of the eighteenth century and those now—to one of their origins: Rousseau. I want you to compose a three to four paragraph essay in which you reflect on the nature and characteristics of the eighteenth century revolutions, the modern age, and the thought of Rousseau.

Your essay

   To make this happen, you first need to compose a thesis that relates Rousseau to one of the eighteenth century revolutions, and then relates both of those to any "modern" revolutions or liberation movements that you're familiar with (the sexual revolution, the women's movement, the gay/lesbian rights movement, the human rights movement, the right to life movement, the freedom of choice movement, the civil rights movement, the militia movement, etc).
   After you've composed your thesis, you need to outline what aspect of Rousseau's thought was most prominent in the eighteenth century revolution that you're talking about (French or American). You will need to explain that aspect of Rousseau's thought and back it up with quotes from the text. Part of what you'll be graded on is how well you understand Rousseau's text both in its general argument and in its specifics.
   After you've explained that aspect of Rousseau's thought, show how it appeared in the circumstances or thought of one of the revolutions. For the French Revolution, you can use the textbook; for the American revolution, you might want to focus mainly on the Declaration of Independence. Make sure that you use as much of your discussion of Rousseau as possible when explaining this revolution.
   The final part of your discussion will be to relate a modern liberation movement to your overall discussion. The common thread will be Rousseau. The same ideas that you applied to the eighteenth century revolution should be applied to your discussion of a modern day revolutionary movement. You may, if you really want to do well, point out how different the modern day liberation movement is from Rousseau's ideas. How would you account for those differences?

Grading

   Throughout the course of these written assignments, I've been trying to teach you several things:
a.) how to compose a thesis;
b.) how to apply information;
c.) how to take what you know and explain what you don't know;
d.) how to be rigorous with your definitions.
This assignment puts many of these things together. I'll be looking for: a.) a clearly stated thesis; b.) a good understanding of Rousseau; c.) a rigorous application of the details of your discussion of Rousseau to the question of the French or American revolutions and to modern "liberation" movements. Of the three, the most important is the application of the details of your discussion of Rousseau to the question of French or American revolutions.

You should submit your assignment
using WebUniversity
at http://webu.wsu.edu.



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