Your Answers?

This is the time of year that professors both love and hate–the semester is coming to an end, and most of us are very ready for that, but it is also when lengthy research papers are due and final exams given.  Those papers and exams must be graded  (and unfortunately, those grades must often be defended to students convinced that their efforts entitled them to higher marks).

I give students in my law and policy classes a take-home final. That’s partly to make up for a pretty brutal midterm, and partly to see whether the materials and concepts we’ve covered have caused them to think critically about the enterprise of government and the elements of good policy. Has the class helped them fashion a coherent philosophy of governance? Has it given them an appreciation of the complexities involved and skills required?

Here are the questions I have given them this semester; they were to choose one and write an essay responding to that choice. How would you answer them? (I won’t grade readers’ answers…promise!)                                                       

  1. Earth has been destroyed in World War III. You and a few thousand others—representing a cross-section of Earth’s races, cultures and religions—are the only survivors. You have escaped to an earthlike planet, and are preparing to establish a new society. You want to avoid the errors of the Earth governments that preceded you. What institutional choices do you make and why? Your essay should include: The type/structure of government you would create; the powers it will have; the limits on its powers, and how those limits will be enforced; how government officials will be chosen and policies enacted; and the social and political values you intend to privilege.

2. The First Amendment protects religious liberty. Over the past few years, Americans have engaged in heated public debates about the nature and extent of that liberty. Some people argue that requiring employers to provide health insurance that includes contraception, or requiring businesses like florists or bakers to serve same-sex customers, is a violation of the religious liberty of those whose religions teach that contraception or homosexuality is a sin. Others disagree. What is the proper definition of “religious liberty”—that is, how far should the free exercise of religion extend in America’s diverse religious landscape? What religiously-motivated actions can government legitimately limit, and what are the justifications for those limits?

3. Donald Trump’s campaign slogan was “Make America Great Again.” Without addressing the personal characteristics of either candidate in the November election, and without opining whether America was or was not greater in the past, describe the characteristics, values or other attributes that you believe make a country “great.” In other words, what are the attributes of a great country? How does it behave toward its own citizens and toward other countries? What changes to current American policies or laws do you believe are needed to achieve greatness as you define it?



  1. All these questions are so important that they all should be answered.

  2. 1. There will be no organized religion. Religion, like sex, if entertained at all, will be practiced in private. Any expression of religion in public will be considered seditious and illegal. No attribute of government, society or the individual will be considered sacred, not even life.
    Government in any of its manifestations shall in its systems and its decisions weigh only the practical outcome with emphasis on long-term results. Example: murder may produce short-term results, but because the long-term results of murder are adverse, corrupting and pernicious, it will be illegal.
    2. There will be no organized religion.
    3. There will be no organized religion.

  3. In answer to question 2, government can legitimately limit any of my (or my company’s) religiously-motivated actions that interfere with your life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Justification for these limits comes from both the Declaration of Independence and the Bible. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as put forth in the Declaration, are three of the unalienable rights given to us by our creator. The Bible gives us the Golden Rule, which tells us to do unto others as we would have others do unto us, and also gives us, from the New Testament, “judge not, that ye be not judged”.

  4. I, to my surprise, did not see the word economy in Shelia’s three question final. Perhaps in these days the economy falls within the broader definition of political since a choice of political governing schemes presupposes the economic system to be chosen. I can appreciate Sheila’s end of semester busy work since my late wife was a university professor and covered our dining room table with semester-end themes and tests twice yearly. I can also recall my law school days in which our IU professors told us that our final grade would be the same as our final test grade – which put a lot of pressure on performing well at semesters’ end.

    In grading Shelia’s questions to her students against her teaching objectives, I give Shelia an A. I recall one law professor’s response to wrong answers; he said that he was not so interested in whether the answer was right or wrong (which can easily be corrected), but rather in the reasoning by which the student arrived at such answer (perhaps not so easily corrected). Later in the practice I had reason to doubt such an academic exercise in the real world when facing a judge and twelve people, but then (even when I toyed with the idea of pursuing a doctorate in economics) I have never been a professor. Sheila is both lawyer and professor and a credit to both, so on this 100th day of der Trumpf’s “administration,” I will risk the putdowns of my fellow commentators with my recommendation to her (as though she needed it)as follows: “You go, girl!”

  5. I know the religious liberty question (answer) isn’t simple, but here’s my distilled view, as it relates to businesses and the religious liberty of their owners / managers / employees. Businesses are allowed to exist under a strict set of laws. They operate within the confines of the law. If a business doesn’t want to follow ALL aspects of the law (such as not discriminating against someone) based on religious grounds, then they should shut down the business. Separation of church and state (religious beliefs and law). Period.

  6. As to the first question, the last thing you mentioned. the social and political values have to be spelled out first, before you can begin to devine what type of government you will have. That gives rise to more questions than answers. Remember that humans are not all like-minded and monolithic. More than likely, the group would split into camps and a power struggle would ensue.

    That being said, if I were a 21 year old college student, I would think democracy is the greatest thing since white rice, so that’s where I’d start.

  7. All three questions are thought-provoking, to be sure, and we need more of this. If we don’t get back to critical thinking, we will fail.

  8. Greetings Susan P. There are those people who are civilized, considerate of their fellow humans, give aid and comfort when they can, support life liberty and happiness and do not believe in a creator or do not see the bible as a guide to anything worthwhile. Irvin BAA 🙂

  9. “…attributes that you believe make a country “great.” In other words, what are the attributes of a great country? How does it behave toward its own citizens and toward other countries? What changes to current American policies or laws do you believe are needed to achieve greatness as you define it?”

    The killing of people in foreign countries must come to an end. The killing of people here at home, especially with guns, must come to an end. For our nation to be great, the taking of the life of anyone must END. Every person deserves dignity and every person has worth. The killing of people is the ultimate insult to morality.

  10. My husband says that option #1 is a trick question. The history of mankind proves that human nature is so diverse, shortsighted, and selfish that all forms of government are doomed to failure. You are trying to create a granite monument out of clay. It cannot be done.
    I’m wondering when you will post your students’ best answers!
    And I haven’t read all the responses yet, but I really like Brian Smith’s response to option #2.

  11. 1) a parliamentary or bicameral system, with an executive & an appointed judiciary. Most crucially: proportional representation.

    2) render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s. According to their logic I would only pay half my taxes because I’m morally opposed to the military-industrial-surveillance-complex, and I would never serve people with more than two kids because overpopulation yadda yadda yadda . . . .

    3) Basic income/safety net such that no one is homeless or starving. Subsidy of poorly performing schools, to a level _above_ that of wealthy suburbs if necessary. An intentional policy of geographic distribution of economic growth (like we used to have, and which France still has) so that there are more than three regions that are thriving. A foreign policy that defuses extremism by direct local investment & co-option of the young through education & even free visits to the US, as Israel does with American High School kids. Oh, and by not bombing those labelled ‘bad guys’ for domestic political purposes.

  12. I do not agree that option #1 is a trick question. I do agree that all forms of government are doomed to failure, but then so is everything else per the 18th century physicist Rudolph Clausius, formulator of the second law of thermodynamics, who coined the word “entropy” to describe the ultimate result of the degradation of matter and energy in the universe. Let’s not confuse good with perfect in governing. Nothing is forever, but that doesn’t mean we are excused from trying to improve the human condition during our short stays here. I do not propose to live life as a monk in some prayer cell, a prisoner of futility. I also eschew nitpicking of the governing process and claim to be a robust defender of democratic institutions in the hope they enjoy a long hunk of the timeline in our march to entropy. Since I am waxing philosophical, it seems to me that there is an ethical imperative involved, as in > Let’s do what we can while we can in our attempts to improve the human condition.

  13. 1) Hopefully a cc of the US Constitution can be found in the rubble. I would convene a Constitutional Convention with perhaps 2 doz fine minds and would update it to our times leaving as much intact as possible.

    One item we would wrestle with is Freedom of Speech from the standpoint of protecting truth where it can be discerned reliably like in science or by journalism or law. Other speech would require labeling as opinion in some clear way.

    Another would be clarifying the Second Ammendment vis a vis ownership of killing machines. Hunting equipment: OK. Collections: should be unable to fire. Home protection: long guns with latest technology to allow firing only by registered adults.

    The third topic would be to restate clearly freedom to practice religion if it falls into a specific observable specification of a practice based on worship of a god. The declare absolute separation of church and state which would preclude special tax considerations.

    Next, one citizen one vote. No electoral college giving preferential treatment to small states.

    Lastly we would define businesses in an overarching way and define their rights and obligations specifically and differently from citizens and apply the same to all businesses serving our citizens regardless of where they are registered.

    2) Addressed above.

    3) Great in a democracy is in the eyes of we, the people through voting of who best represents our interests and not other institutions interests like corporations.

  14. Question 1.

    “…preparing to establish a new society…” references a singular, cohesive group of people consisting of a cross section of races, cultures and religions. Human nature being what it is; all those remaining would never unite as a whole into one society.

    Stephen King’s novel, “The Stand” was based on the pandemic destruction of 98% of humanity and those remaining, by their basic natures, coalesced into two societies; basically good vs. evil.

    The same was true on a smaller scale in the novel, “Lord of the Flies” when a plane crashed on a small island, leaving only a group of children surviving: the children coalesced by their basic natures into two “societies”; again, good vs. evil. “Lord of the Flies” frightened me due to forcing me and I’m sure, many other readers to face the basic nature of humans. I always questioned this book being required reading in schools; it should not be banned…but certainly not required reading for impressionable young minds.

    “The type/structure of government you would create; the powers it will have; the limits on its powers, and how those limits will be enforced; how government officials will be chosen and policies enacted; and the social and political values you intend to privilege.”

    Again; basic human nature would come to the fore, after a few false starts on both sides, and the “good” would resort to choosing their leaders and deciding together, the necessary powers and privileges for the majority to survive and who would best serve to enact policies and how to enforce them.

    As always, on the “evil” side, the strongest among them, the bullies, would take control, reap the benefits and force their policies on the weaker members.

    Human nature; good vs. evil, strong vs. weak, rich vs. poor, creationism vs. evolution, will always separate us into two basic groups which then break off into smaller groups of “like” individuals and the results would eventually lead us to where we are today. There can never be “one society”; for those of you who adhere to creationism and the Bible, it began with Adam and Eve and their sons and Cain slew his brother Abel in that small “society”. Science proves through the study of evolution that all life is constantly evolving or devolving into endangered species or oblivion.

    Just the thoughts and views of life by a high school dropout with a GED.

  15. Greetings Irvin. Those two bible references are my own distillation of that book, ideas that one can live by whether religious or not. If I went to church, the roof would likely cave in. ?

  16. I suggest that everyone has a religion whether they know it or not. There’s also leaders that rise to the top. This new civilization, do some people tend to be more kind and the other part, is it more cruel? Our youngest son and his little professor friends played a game with a certain number of points. Ideally the characters allotted points to different skills. Finally our son quit playing because his best friend used all his points for power. Mull it over.

  17. 1. Amazingly, every surviving human being is a pure libertarian. As a result society is stateless.

  18. Hi Susan. Very good. Not literally, but the roof did fall on me years ago while serving in Korea and I realized the myths that had been foisted on me by my fellow humans served no useful purpose.
    Irvin BAA 🙂

  19. Irvin – I am aware of some of the myths offered as substance in Jewish scriptures, such as Adam and Eve were husband and wife, like, who married them? We find other myths in our discovery of the claimed Assyrian military might when we unearthed the Great Library of Nineveh as well as the origin and other myths of the Egyptians when we finally cracked their code. I think history should be a guide but not a straitjacket to the history we are making for ourselves as we make our own myths for posterity, and do not agree that myths serve no useful purpose since they can tell us what to avoid in our myth-making efforts.

    Currently we are engaged in day to day mythmaking by such known idiocies as “give more money to the rich and it will trickle down to the poor,” “put more carbon monoxide in the atmosphere because plant life likes it,” and other such irrational views peddled as rational to a gullible audience living in Trump’s Wonderland.
    To summarize, I think history provides us with both good and bad examples of myth-making that, properly understood, give us a choice of where and how we can fashion contemporary society for the better and that, to such extent, studies of rationales undergirding myth-making have value.

  20. Greetings Gerald. Very good. I agree that myths often can and do give us wise guidance. My comments to Susan were aimed at that book called the word of god and that unless we abide by those rules we are not good people. Irvin BAA 🙂

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