Reaction papers require that you
react to things like an event, video, or visit
to an organization or historical site. Usually,
in this type of assignment you are asked to
react to something and provide a thoughtful
account and analysis of your reaction. As with
the other types of assignments, your reaction
should not only involve your personal feelings,
but a reaction and reasoned response formulated
in the context of course issues and themes.
For example, in past Government 101 classes
students were asked to attend a public lecture
pertaining to democratic citizenship. Students
were required to restate the speaker's main
thesis, describe his or her main points or examples
used to support that thesis, and provide an
independent analysis of the content of the lecture.
Once again, the quality of the student's analysis
hinged on whether the student could demonstrate
a grasp of the main lecture points and their
connection to class themes and issues.
Annotated Reaction Essay
In this assignment, students were
supposed to write a reaction essay based on
a public talk given by Shaul Bakhash, Robinson
Professor at George Mason University. As guidelines
for this assignment students were instructed
to address three questions:
What is the speaker's main
How does the speaker support
or develop his thesis? (For example, theories,
In your opinion, does the speaker
succeed in making his case? Why or why not?
There are instructor comments
throughout the document, denoted by the symbol
The discrepancies in the implementation
of democratic theory have been great throughout
cultures and time. Professor Shaul Bakhash explained
how the Middle Eastern world has fared in its
achievement of democracy in the third lecture
of the "Foundations in Democratic Citizenship"
lecture series. His profound observations on
the paradoxical nature of Middle Eastern society
in particular struck a chord, and the similarities
between his and Professor Hung Nguyen's lecture
were clear. Both societies, Middle Eastern and
Asian, share a common theme. Tradition competes
with globalization as the animated urban societies
of both regions pave the way for progressive
governance, yet the governments of both remain
To begin, Professor
Bakhash traced the roots of Islamic philosophy
and its connection to the Greek philosophers.
He maintained that Islam was the principal vehicle
through which Greek knowledge was transmitted,
primarily during the fourth and fifth centuries.
However, the ideas of the Greeks were in conflict
with those of the Islamic world. Professor Bakhash
introduced the "Revelation vs. Reason"
dilemma, where philosophical and scientific
nature clashed with the religious nature of
Islam. The fundamental problem in the progression
of the Middle Eastern world is the intrinsic
link between religion and the state.
The Middle East, Bakhash states,
is highly organized, both socially and politically.
There is a high amount of entrepreneurship,
as he describes the bustling marketplaces, and
a strong sense of community. A burgeoning middle
class supplemented by the dynamic urban society
would seemingly produce an ideal democracy.
The associations that are favorable in Middle
Eastern cultures are certainly exemplary of
the associations Alexis de Tocqueville favored.
However, it is authoritarianism that has generally
prevailed in the Middle East. The ruling groups
have been restricted to a select few who do
not allow many people the freedom to participate
The intrinsic bond between religion
and state muddles the possibilities for clear
government, according to Professor Bakhash.
The Middle East has had many encounters with
the West. Professor Bakhash cited the nineteenth
century as a time when new ideas such as individual
rights and popular sovereignty were introduced
to Islam. By the late nineteenth century the
Ottoman Empire had a constitution and had drawn
on such thinkers as Rousseau and Montesquieu
for ideological inspiration. However, the Middle
East "failed to devise principles of good
government," according to Bakhash. He pointed
out that Islamic theory is strong in theology,
art, etc., but weak in political philosophy.
Islamic civilization has fallen behind its competitors
such as the United States because of this failure.
Islam was once the greatest importer of art
and culture, but has fallen behind.
Today the bond between religion
and the state in the Middle East remains strong
and continues to hinder the growth of democracy.
According to Bakhash, many Islamic thinkers
are now implying that a separation of religion
and politics would be beneficial, although this
is a slow progress.
Although my background is in East
Asian cultures and not the Middle East,
I see similarities in the push for modernization
while the impediments of authoritarianism remain.
Professor Bakhash hopes the Middle East will
intensify its democratic values in the future,
but just as in Vietnam and China, the movement
will take great effort. The transition from
authoritarian to democratic regimes is highly
tedious. The middle class is expanding in both
regions, and the youth that live in places like
Vietnam will undoubtedly push for further democratic
To Move into a new system of governance
which differs from the historical method for
both regions requires a great deal of effort
from the people. I believe it is possible that
the gradual implementation of democratic values
can be achieved in te Middle East and Eastern
student writes a good introduction that identifies
the subject of the essay (Bakhash's lecture),
situates the lecture within larger course themes
(difficulties of translating democratic theory
into practice), and compares this lecture to
a prior public lecture (delivered by Professor
Hung Nguyen). The introduction also identifies
Bakhash;s main thesis that governments remain
oppressive in the Middle East despite the progressive
strides of urban societies within the region's
larger states. BACK
the next four paragraphs the student provides
a good summary of Bakhash's arguments used to
support his thesis. In addition, she uses her
own voice to restate his main points and avoids
using too many quotes. BACK
student makes an effective reference to Tocqueville,
a theorist covered earlier in the course. This
demonstrates her ability to make connections
between different course subjects and authors.
She could improve this connection by adding
a sentence or two describing what Tocqueville
specifically liked about political associations.
paragraph seems incomplete. The student doesn't
develop her main point of this paragraph. In
fact, it's unclear what her main point would
student includes her own analysis of the difficulties
of democratization in the Middle East. BACK
student makes an effective connection to similar
problems in East Asian cultures, as Prof. Nguyen
had pointed out in his previous public lecture.
fully address the assignment's requirements,
the student should have made an explicit judgement
about whether she thought the speaker succeeded
in making his case. While the student's tone
of voice throughout the essay suggests she was
convinced by his arguments, she should have
explicitly said so and explained why. One short
paragraph (three or four sentences) was all
she needed to make her case. It is common for
students to fizzle out and stop short of providing
a full conclusion. This is a serious problem
because it undercuts their whole essay. Fortunately,
the problem is easy to fix. See the links devoted
to conclusions found under the "Introductions
and Conclusions" heading of helpful links.