The Good Society

033:040, Literature, Science, and the Arts

169:040, Leisure Studies

3:30-4:50 MW, E238 Adler Journalism Building

Fall 2008


Thomas Dean
Office of the President, 230 Jessup Hall

(Northwest corner of building, in enclosed hallway)

Mailbox is in main President’s Office, 101 Jessup Hall

Phone:  (319)335-1995

Office hours:  By appointment


Syllabus is online at

Class calendar is on on-line version of syllabus


Course Description


This course focuses on the open-ended question, "What is the good society?" A broad range of perspectives—historical, economic, political, cultural, artistic, philosophical, and scientific—provide the basis for analysis, discussion, and writing toward a definition of the good society.  This semester, we will focus on five major ideas regarding our collective practices within American society—ideas that have intended to define the United Sates as “the good society,” and ideas that have helped shape and define our culture over time.  We will explore both historical and contemporary ideas related to each of these ideas, examining how they have changed over time, as well as how they both complement and compete with each other.


Required Texts (available at Prairie Lights Bookstore, 15 S. Dubuque St.)


Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace:  The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry, ed. Norman

            Wirzba, Counterpoint, 2002

Alan Trachtenberg, The Incorporation of America:  Culture and Society in the Gilded Age, Hill and

            Wang, 1982, 2007

Linda Hogan, Dwellings:  A Spiritual History of the Living World, W. W. Norton, 1995, 2007

Bill McKibben, Deep Economy:  The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, Holt, 2007,


Coursepack, available at Zephyr Copies, 124 E. Washington St.

Additional handouts and online materials


Grading and Course Expectations


My presumption is that you are here to learn, and learning requires, especially in a discussion-oriented course, consistent class attendance, adequate preparation of course readings and other materials, active and constructive participation, and completion of writing assignments on deadline.  College of Liberal Arts and Sciences course guidelines state that for each semester hour credit in the course, students should expect to spend at least two hours per week preparing for class sessions; for this course, then, we presume an average of six hours of outside preparation on average per week.


Grading will be based on these assignments:


Five short papers (approximately 2-3 pages each), one on each unit (10%

            each, 50% total)

One larger-scale semester project focusing on how a community with which

                        you’re familiar exemplifies (and/or does not) “the good society” (30%)

Attendance and preparation (based on daily in-class short writing; see section

                        below for specific details) (20%)


·         You must complete all papers and the semester project in order to pass the course.


I set high standards for you, and I presume you do so for yourself.  Letter grades mean the following:  A for exceptional work, B for very good, C for acceptable, D for unacceptable but passing, F for failing.


I grade students individually (not on a curve) based on historical performance of students in my experience.  For your information, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences recommends the following grade distributions (in percentages) for this level course:


A: 15%, B: 34%, C: 40%, D: 8%, F: 3%, Average 2.50


Attendance and Preparation Policies and Evaluation


I presume you will be here at every class meeting.  There are no “excused” or “unexcused” absences for this course.  An occasional absence for legitimate reasons is understandable, and I have built in a buffer for those instances in the “attendance and participation” portion of your grade.  (To put matters into perspective, realize that two absences is one whole week of our course.)  If your longer-term attendance becomes problematic for a legitimate reason (extended illness, family emergency, etc.), please let me know as soon as possible so that we can make appropriate arrangements for possible makeup work.  These will be rare situations, however. 


To document attendance, to evaluate preparation, and to focus your thinking for class discussion, I will ask all class members to write for five minutes on the day’s reading (or topic if no reading is assigned).  The writing is to be informal—structure and mechanics will not be graded.  You may not refer to your texts during the writing.


Your writing should be specific regarding the reading material.  Therefore, rather than attempting a summary of the reading, I would suggest some of the following:


·         Discussion of what you found particularly interesting,

·         Questions about ideas you are not yet understanding,

·         Analysis of the reading’s strengths and/or weaknesses,

·         Connections you see with other material from the course or your own experience.


There will be no make-up writings allowed (except in the case of rare, longer-term extenuating circumstances as noted above).  We will do our in-class writing after a couple of minutes of “housekeeping” matters at the beginning of the class period.  I will not accept any of these writings after I have collected them when the writing period is completed.


This assignment is not intended to “catch” you in lack of preparation but rather to motivate you to keep up with the course material and attend class.  It is demonstrably true that those students who attend class the least perform the poorest.  Conversely, the more prepared students are, the better both individual performance and class discussion are, and the learning experience individually and collectively is optimal.


Each daily writing will be worth four (4) points—1 point for attendance and 3 points for content.  There are 28 class days, for a total of 112 points (adjustments will be made if necessary during the semester).  Grading will be on a straight percentage scale with 90s for A’s, 80s for B’s, 70s for C’s, etc.  Therefore, assuming all class days are held, the grading scale will be:


Total points     Grade


111-112           A+

101-110           A

100                  A-

98-99               B+

90-97               B

89                    B-

87-88               C+

79-86               C

78                    C-

76-77               D+

68-75               D

67                    D-

66 and below   F


Course Policies


E-mail and computer access:  For purposes of class communication and fulfillment of assignments, you'll need an e-mail account and regular access to a computer.


Attendance:  See “Attendance and Preparation Policies and Evaluation” above.


Class decorum:  I work to create a positive, affirming, comfortable, challenging, and open atmosphere in the classroom.  I appreciate your efforts to do the same.  The best learning comes about from disagreement and debate; at the same time, class discussion must remain civil and respectful.  I highly discourage late arrival and early departure from class, as they are disruptive.  College of Liberal Arts and Sciences classroom environment policies are available online at


·         Please turn off all electronic devicescell phones, text messaging devices, iPods, computers, etc.before class starts. Text messaging, email, web browsing, and other electronic communication are not allowed during class.


Deadlines:  Deadlines are deadlines.  I will accept late papers only under extraordinary circumstances and only with prior approval.  This is primarily in fairness to the rest of the students in the course.  If you anticipate a serious problem, please alert me before an assignment is due, or as soon as possible after an emergency.


Administrative home:  The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is the administrative home of this course and governs matters such as the add/drop deadlines, the second-grade-only option, and other related issues.  Different colleges may have different policies.  Questions may be addressed to 120 Schaeffer Hall, or see the Academic Handbook:


Academic fraud:  Plagiarism and any other activities when students present work that is not their own are academic fraud.  Academic fraud is reported to the departmental DEO and to the Associate Dean for Academic Programs and Services, who enforces the appropriate consequences.


Accommodations for disabilities:  A student seeking academic accommodations should register with Student Disability Services and meet privately with the course instructor to make particular arrangements.  For more information, visit this site:


Understanding sexual harassment:  Sexual harassment subverts the mission of the University and threatens the well-being of students, faculty, and staff.  Visit for definitions, assistance, and the full University policy.


Reacting safely to severe weather:  In severe weather, the class members should seek shelter in the innermost part of the building, if possible at the lowest level, staying clear of windows and free-standing expanses.  The class will continue if possible when the event is over.  (Operations Manual 16.14.i.)


Making a Suggestion or a Complaint:   Students with a suggestion or complaint should first visit the instructor, then the course supervisor and the departmental DEO.  Complaints must be made within six months of the incident.  The Leisure Studies Academic Coordinator (DEO) is Professor Ken Mobily, 408 Jefferson Building, 335-0172.  The Director of the Division of Interdisciplinary Programs is Helena Dettmer, 120 Schaeffer Hall, 335-2633.


Course Calendar


Please note:   The course calendar will be modified as necessary as the semester progresses.  It is your responsibility to keep abreast of calendar changes via class announcements and online changes.  If you are absent on a day a reading handout is provided for a future class session, you are still responsible for acquiring the handout and preparing the reading on time.


Mon, Aug. 25 - Welcome and introduction to the course


The Agrarian Society


Wed, Aug. 27 - Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, "Query 19: Manufactures"

                              Online at


                        J. Hector St. John De Crevecoeur, Letters from an American Farmer, “Letter III: What Is an American?,” beginning (p

                             48) – p.61; pp. 66-70

                              Online at


                        Dale Maharidge and Michael Williamson, “The Land” and “Uptown,” from Denison, Iowa: Searching for the Soul of

                             America Through the Secrets of a Midwest Town (coursepack)


 Mon, Sept. 1 – Labor Day, no class


Wed, Sept. 3 – Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace

                           “The Unsettling of America,” pp. 35-46

                           “People, Land and Community,” pp. 182-194

                           “Conservation and Local Economy,” pp. 195-204

                           “The Whole Horse,” pp. 236-248


Mon, Sept. 8 – Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace

                           “The Body and the Earth,” pp. 93-134

                           “The Idea of a Local Economy,” pp. 249-261

                           “The Pleasures of Eating,” pp. 321-327


Paper #1 Assignment


In “The Whole Horse,” Wendell Berry defines “agrarianism” as, most fundamentally, “a way of thought based on land” (p. 239).  Of course, what that entails involves many, many ideas and particulars.  Although farming is in many ways the basis of an agrarian society, the values and practices that underlie it are the values and practices of a good society overall.  Berry, perhaps more than any other modern thinker, articulates this wholistic vision of an agrarian society most thoroughly.


Write an essay that explores several dimensions of Berry’s wholistic vision of an agrarian society.  Include discussion of at least three of Berry’s essays, one from each of our class days devoted to his writing (September 3, 8, and 10).  Also connect the older agrarian ideas of Jefferson and Crevecoeur to Berry’s thinking.  If you would like to include some discussion of the Denison, Iowa selection, you may, but that is not required. 


Berry focuses on many aspects of society, so you will not be able to cover them all.  Be selective, but also make sure your topics and points are interconnected.  In other words, show how the ideas are related, and avoid writing a series of mini-essays.  I am not asking you to present a personal opinion in this essay as to whether you agree or disagree with Berry.  This is to be an essay that integrates his ideas, an opportunity for you to show you understand them.  (There will be opportunity to take a more argumentative approach in other essays this semester).


Length:  2-3 word-processed, double-spaced pages


Due date:  Monday, September 22, beginning of the hour.  I will accept papers only delivered in person; no email submissions, please.  If you encounter a problematic or emergency situation, please contact me before the due date/time, or as immediately as possible.


 Wed, Sept. 10 – Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace

                           “Two Economies,” pp. 219-235

                           “Solving for Pattern,” pp. 266-275

                           “The Use of Energy,” pp. 279-292


The Civically Engaged Society


Mon, Sept. 15 – Wendell Berry, “From Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community,” The Art of the Commonplace, pp. 159-181

   Philip Selznick, “In Search of Community,” coursepack


Wed, Sept. 17 - Alexis de Tocqueville, Selections from Democracy in America

                                "Of the Uses which the Americans Make of Public Associations"

                                    online at

                                "How the Americans Combat Individualism by the Principle of Self-Interest Rightly Understood"                        

                                     online at

                         William M. Sullivan, “A Public Philosophy for Civic Culture,” coursepack


Mon, Sept. 22 - Robert Putnam, “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital,”

                             Online at                                        

                          Amitai Etzioni, “The Road to the Good Society,” Online at

                             PAPER #1 DUE


Paper #2 Assignment


One of the most persistent themes in American culture is the struggle or balance between the individual and the larger society.  This is in many ways a perennial subject for all societies, but it is particularly pertinent in American culture thanks to our heavy emphasis on personal independence and individualism.  While we highly value our personal freedoms and individual identity, we cannot have a “good society” without some kind of collective social structure, values, mutual participation, etc.  This is where the challenge of civic engagement becomes an important and persistent question for us.


Write a paper that explores the idea of civic engagement within an American culture that, almost by definition, operates on a struggle between the individual and society.  Include discussion of at least three of our civic engagement unit writers (Berry, Selznick, de Tocqueville, Sullivan, Putnam, Etzioni, Flora).  While all of these writers talk about some of the same topics, they all also have their own particular ideas and interpretations—no two of these authors are really exactly the same—so be sure to look at differences as well as similarities.  With this paper, you may choose to either write an objective essay that explores the authors’ ideas, or you may write a more argumentative paper that stakes out your own personal opinion as a thesis.  In either case, be sure, as always, that your essay is focused and cohesive.


Length:  2-3 word-processed, double-spaced pages


Due date:  Wednesday, October 8, beginning of the hour.  I will accept papers only delivered in person; no email submissions, please.  If you encounter a problematic or emergency situation, please contact me before the due date/time, or as immediately as possible.


Wed, Sept. 24 - Cornelia Butler Flora and Jan L. Flora, “Creating Social Capital,” coursepack


The Corporate Technocracy


Mon, Sept. 29 – Alan Trachtenberg, The Incorporation of America:  Culture and Society in the Gilded Age

                                Preface - Chapter - Chapter 3, pp. 3-100


Wed, Oct. 1 -  Trachtenberg

                                Chapters 4-5, pp. 101-181


Mon, Oct. 6 – Trachtenberg

                                Chapters 6-7, pp. 182-234


Semester Project


Choose a community with which you are familiar—it could be Iowa City (your college home), your current hometown, a town in which you grew up, or another community in which you have spent a significant amount of time.  You can zero in on a particular portion of that community, such as a neighborhood, but take the term “community” in the broad Berry/Selznick sense that we have been working with. 


Create a project that explores how that community does and/or does not fulfill the vision of a “good society” based on one or more of the ideas we are exploring this semester:  the agrarian society, the civically engaged society, the corporate technocracy, the traditional society, the sustainable society.  You can focus on particular aspects of these ideas, but balance a focused topic with some level of breadth.  The purpose of the assignment is to apply ideas about the “good society” we are exploring this semester to your experience.


The format of the project can be flexible:  it can be a traditional essay, or it can incorporate some other format as well (PowerPoint, DVD, visual arts, music, recorded interviews, etc.).  All projects must include some writing, however.  All projects should also incorporate some level of work beyond your basic knowledge of the community (for example, historical research, interviews, research on current issues in your community, etc.).


I am more than happy to discuss possibilities with you—in fact, I encourage it.


Length:  If you write a traditional essay, it should be between 6 and 10 pages.  Other formats should be adjusted accordingly.


Grade:  This project accounts for 30% of your final course grade.


Due date:  Wednesday, December 3, beginning of the class hour, delivered directly by you.


Presentations:  We will spend our last two class periods, December 8 and 10, with presentations on your projects.  These are not to be formal presentations so much as informal sharing of what you did on your project and the conclusions you drew.  If you have some other kind of media (PowerPoint, DVD, etc.) that you would like to share, you can do that.  Each presentation will be approximately 5 minutes.


Wed, Oct. 8 – Trachtenberg

                        FYI:  Website with archive of Columbian Exposition photos and information:


                            PAPER #2 DUE


Mon, Oct. 13 – Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man, selection, coursepack

                            Recommended:  Fukuyama, "They Can Only Go So Far" (handout)

                                                                          "The Fall of America, Inc." (handout)


Paper #3 Assignment


Alan Trachtenberg’s analysis of the 1893 Columbian Exposition in The Incorporation of America illustrates how the fair was full of contradictions.  In many ways, the entire phenomenon and experience of “the incorporation of America,” or as I have dubbed it the “corporate technocracy,” and its results are full of these contradictions.  One could easily argue that for every advantage this version of “the good society” creates, there is a disadvantage.


Write a paper that explores the double-sidedness, or contradictions, of the “corporate technocracy.”  Explore both historical ideas and events as illustrated in Trachtenberg, and explore their more modern results in Fukuyama’s liberal democracy/technologically driven capitalism dynamic and/or the phenomena of suburbia.  (The Kunstler essay and the film subUrbia are mostly negative portrayals of suburbia; for positive ideas, you can draw on the ideals of Olmstead in Chapter 4 of Trachtenberg, “Mysteries of the Great City,” or your own experience if you have lived in suburbs.)


Length:  2-3 word-processed, double-spaced pages


Due date:  Monday, October 27, beginning of the hour.  I will accept papers only delivered in person; no email submissions, please.  If you encounter a problematic or emergency situation, please contact me before the due date/time, or as immediately as possible.


Wed, Oct. 15 – James Howard Kunstler, The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Manmade Landscape, selection,



Mon, Oct. 20 – Film:  subUrbia

                            View film ahead of class, on reserve at Main Library Audiovisual Services


The Traditional Culture in Modern Society


Wed, Oct. 22 – Linda Hogan, Dwellings:  A Spiritual History of the Living World, pp. 11-62


Mon, Oct. 27 – Hogan, pp. 63-108

                          PAPER #3 DUE


Wed, Oct. 29 – Hogan, pp. 109-159


Mon, Nov. 3 – Film:  Daughters of the Dust

                          View film ahead of class, on reserve at Main Library Audiovisual Services


Paper #4 Assignment


Among the traditional societies that we have studied in this unit, spirituality plays an important role in defining what it means to be human, what it means to be part of a community, and what it means to be part of the larger world.  Often, these spiritual beliefs and practices are at odds with the modern world.


Write a paper that explores how the spiritual underpinnings of these traditional societies might provide insight on how to make modern American society even more of a “good society.”  In the course of your essay, you will need also to discuss how these spiritual beliefs inform the traditional societies and how they are at odds with the modern world.  You must discuss Linda Hogan’s Dwellings and either Daughters of the Dust or the Amana Colonies.  If you would like to discuss both Daughters of the Dust and the Amana Colonies, you may (Hogan is required in all cases).  If you would like to draw on material from previous units—to either support the beliefs of the traditional societies and/or to illustrate the state of modern society—you may.


Length:  2-3 word-processed, double-spaced pages


Due date:  Monday, November 17, beginning of the hour.  I will accept papers only delivered in person; no email submissions, please.  If you encounter a problematic or emergency situation, please contact me before the due date/time, or as immediately as possible.


Wed, Nov. 5 – The Amana Colonies

  Jonathan G. Andelson, “The Community of True Inspiration from

                                                Germany to the Amana Colonies,” coursepack

                          Class visit by Lanny Haldy, Amana Heritage Society


The Sustainable Society


Mon, Nov. 10 – Bill McKibben, Deep Economy:  The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future

                                Introduction, Chapters 1-2, pp. 1-94


Wed, Nov. 12 – McKibben, Chapters 3-4, pp. 95-176


Mon, Nov. 17 – McKibben, Chapter 5, Afterword, pp. 177-232

                              PAPER #4 DUE


Paper #5 Assignment


You have two choices for our final paper.


1)       Write a paper that connects ideas from Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy to any material of your choice from this semester.  You could make a connection with one or more authors, one or more ideas or units, etc.  Your connection could be comparative or contrasting.  No matter how much material you choose or what approach you take, make sure your essay has a clear thesis, is focused, and is cohesive.  You can include Korten and/or Hawken if you would like, but that is not required.




2)       Choose an idea about building a sustainable (or, as he puts it, “durable”) society from Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy that interests you.  Write an essay that connects the idea to your own thoughts and/or experience, including why and how you think that idea will help build a “good society” in the future.  You can include previous authors from this semester or Korten and/or Hawken if you would like, but that is not required.

Length:  2-3 word-processed, double-spaced pages

Due date:  Wednesday, December 10, beginning of the hour.  I will accept papers only delivered in person; no email submissions, please.  If you encounter a problematic or emergency situation, please contact me before the due date/time, or as immediately as possible.


Wed, Nov. 19 – No class


November 24-28 – Thanksgiving Break


Mon, Dec. 1 – David C. Korten, The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community, selection, coursepack

                        Paul Hawken, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World,

                                selection, coursepack


Wed, Dec. 3 – Sustainable Iowa City

                        Class visit by Fred Meyer

                        PROJECT DUE


Project Presentations


Mon, Dec. 8 – Project presentations


Wed, Dec. 10 – Project presentations

                          PAPER #5 DUE


FINAL EXAM PERIOD – Thursday, Dec. 18, 7:30-9:30 a.m.