European Intellectual History Syllabus

42.346 Spring 2002

Week Four Study Questions for web-linked readings.

This week we will do things a bit differently from past weeks...   As before, I expect each of you to read ALL of the web-linked documents.  But in class, each of you will be assigned to a specific group that is responsible for one specific document.  In class we will carry out a debate between the "authors" of these documents, with each group explaining and defending the position of "its" author.


Charles and Katrina--deMaistre

Tim and Shawn--Paine

Jon and Jason R.--Burke

Josh F.--Jefferson

Ryan and Jeremy--Metternich

Alan and Jason S.--Wollstonecraft

Josh T.--Sieyes

Jason D.--Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen 

It is important to understand that many of the assigned documents were, in fact, responses to other assigned documents.

A)  In chronological order, the first of these documents was Jefferson's "Declaration of Independence," written (as I hope you all know!) in 1776.  Read Jefferson, "Declaration of Independence" at

In what passages and in what ways does Jefferson discuss the issue of natural rights, and to what previous philosophers/political thinkers is his discussion indebted?

How does he define the function of government?  The nature of the social contract?  The right to rebel?  Again, to what previous philosophers/political thinkers is his discussion indebted?


B) The second document chronologically was Emmanuel Seiyes What is the Third Estate? (1789).  Read Seiyes, What is the Third Estate? (an excerpt)  at

Sieyes, as you know from your readings in Perry, wrote this pamplet in early 1789, in the context of the gathering of the Estates General, which directly preceded the 1789 Revolution in France...

How does Sieyes define the "nation" and how does he understand the function of civil equality in the nation state?

C) Read the 1789 French "Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen" at

The National Assembly drafted the "Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen" in August 1789, against the background of the first months of the French Revolution. 

How does this document address the following issues:  natural rights; the nature of liberty; the nature of the social contract; the nature of sovereignty; the nature of the nation; the nature of law; the limits of the power of the law and the state; the function of a constitution; the nature of property rights; the nature of representation. 

D)  Read Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France at

Edmund Burke drafted his Reflections in 1791--which stands as one of the classic statements of modern conservativism--in response to what he considered the tragic excesses of the French Revolution and to those in England who sympathized with the French and with republicanism.

What does Burke see as the great achievement of the English revolution of 1688 and of other "reforms" in English history?

What does Burke see as the great flaw of the French revolution?  What does he consider its inevitable results?  What might the French have done instead of rebel?

What does Burke think of the idea of democracy?  What is his perspective on human nature and on the ideal of reforming government and man?

What is Burke's view of the importance of hierarchy and tradition?  Of faith in reason?

Why did Burke think that the English were better off than the French?

How would you relate all this to the basic conservative critique of the Enlightenment and of revolution?

E)  Read Paine, The Rights of Man (a selection from text in response to Burke) at

Tom Paine, who you probably know best from his activities in the American Revolution (e.g., his Common Sense) wrote The Rights of Man in 1792, largely in response to Burke's Reflections.

What are Paine's rejoinders to Burke's arguments? 

What is the basis of Paine's argument that the American and French revolutions have restored, not destroyed, the natural order of governance?

What are Paine's arguments in favor of a republican form of government and against monarchy?

What does Paine see as the main tasks of the nation?


F) Read Wollstonecraft, "Dedication" and "Advertisement" to The Vindication of the Rights of Women at

Mary Wollstonecraft wrote her Vindication in 1792, in part in response to Paine's Rights of Man.  Based upon this brief selection from the book (and please feel free to read more!), what was Wollstonecraft's argument regarding

Women's intellectual, physical, and moral condition as it stood in 1792 and in its potential;

The importance of virtue and the role of women in establishing a virtuous society;

The possibility of ending tyranny without recognizing women's equal rights?

What is her general rhetorical "strategy" in making this argument?


G) Read de Maistre, selestion from Essay on the Generative Principle at

de Maistre's 1810 essay provides us with the voice of a more "reactionary" conservativism than that of Burke, but nevertheless a stream of political thought that we will encounter again many times in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  

Did he think that man was capable of making correct laws, or correct goverment?  What did he consider the only basis of political legitimacy and civilization?


H) Read von Metternich, selection from Political Confession of Faith at

Metternich, the architect of Austria's conservative policies after the French Revolution and the leading intellectual force behind the Holly Alliance (Austria, Prussia, Russia) that sought to prevent liberal revolution after the Napoleonic wars, drafted this statement as an entry in his 1820 memoirs.  

What was Metternich's main criticism of liberalism and of the French Revolution?

Did he believe in the possibility of positive social reform?  Explain his reasoning.

Was he a champion of the idea of nationalism as it had emerged from the French Revolution?  Explain his reasoning.


OK--now, I want you to consider two "big" questions:

1)  What connections do you see between the ideas of these (specific) liberal and conservative thinkers and the legacies of the Enlightenment?

2)  What connections do you see between the ideas of these (specific) liberal and conservative thinkers and the ideals of Romanticism?

European Intellectual History Syllabus