I never lectured for long periods. Instead, I raised questions to stimulate class discussion. And often my questions came from the students' journal writing. The only requirement for the discussions was that the students had to support their positions with evidence and argumentation. Occasionally, some of the assigned reading would be some writing of mine, and the students were free to disagree with me. (This pedagogy of Socratic questioning is conveyed in my book Political Questions: Political Philosophy from Plato to Pinker.)
The final requirement for each of my courses was a paper that I called an "argumentative essay." Each student would take up some controversial question that had come up in the readings or the class discussions. The writer would have to develop at least three arguments supporting the author's answer to the question. The writer would also have to state, and answer, at least two objections to the writer's position.
Typically, by the end of the semester, each student would have written at least 65 typed pages for the journals and the final paper. Consequently, the students had a lot of practice in writing clearly and rigorously about some of the deepest questions in political science.
I was reminded of this this week when I saw that one of my former students--Govert Schuller--had just published two of his essays for me at his blog "Alpheus." The first one--"Darwinian Conservatism and the Liberal Welfare State"--was written for my course on "Biopolitics and Human Nature" in the spring of 2013. The second--"Nietzsche's Reluctant Acceptance of Liberal Democracy (and Later Rejection)"--was written for my seminar on "Nietzsche and Politics," also in the spring of 2013.
DARWINIAN CONSERVATISM AND THE LIBERAL WELFARE STATE
Schuller agrees with me that a good social order must conform to the natural desires of our evolved human nature, and that the utopian socialist and Marxist ideologies must be rejected insofar as they deny that evolved human nature. And yet he makes three arguments to show that a Darwinian account of human nature does not necessarily support conservatism.
First, he claims that my criticism of utopian leftist thinking is a straw-man argument, because there are realistic leftist positions that are not utopian--particularly, the welfare-state liberalism of European social democracy, as manifested in countries like the Netherlands.
Second, he claims that I do not look at the comparative research that shows that welfare-state regimes like the Netherlands can satisfy the twenty natural desires. Thus, I ignore the evidence that by many measurements of social health, the European social democracies rank higher than more conservative regimes like the United States.
Third, he disagrees with my suggestion that the ranking of the natural desires must be rightly left to the judgment of individuals, and so a social order cannot properly enforce a prescribed ranking. On the contrary, he thinks that Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of human needs is a good ranking of our natural desires--starting with physiological needs and moving up to security needs, then social needs, and finally self-actualization. Moreover, he asserts that the European social democracies do a good job of securing the basic biological needs (food, health, and shelter), while also securing the conditions for satisfying the other needs as well. This is clearly seen, he thinks, in the Netherlands.
NIETZSCHE'S DARWINIAN ARISTOCRATIC LIBERALISM
"if such ideas like democracy and human rights are tossed, then he can 'overcome' his previous reluctant acceptance of liberal democracy and go all out with a cruel, self-assertive, self-legislating, 'value-creating' (BGE, 260) upper class and reduce the rest of mankind to the status of Untermensch to be exploited, which is fine because exploitation 'belongs to the essence of what lives, as a basic organic function; it is a consequence of the will to power, which is after all the will of life' (BGE, 259). Here we can unfortunately see the foreshadows of a fascist ideology."