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Prizes and Honors / Lipson Essay Prize

Description. The Leslie Lipson Program at UC Berkeley is intended to encourage undergraduate students to study humanistic values and their practical application for individuals, societies, and states. One component of the Leslie Lipson Program is the Lipson Essay Prize. Eligible freshmen and sophomores are invited to submit an original, unpublished piece to the Lipson Essay Prize contest on one of the essay topics related to humanistic values. The essay topics for each year are selected by the Lipson Committee. 

Prize Amounts. A $2,000 prize is awarded to students who submit winning essays on one of seven topics related to humanistic values. 

Leslie Lipson Biography. The Leslie Lipson Program is endowed in memory of Professor Leslie Lipson, who taught political theory and comparative government at Berkeley for 33 years. As a professor, Lipson's first love was the undergraduate curriculum, and undergraduate students twice selected him as the best teacher in the Department of Political Science. Berkeley honored Lipson in 1980 with the Berkeley Citation, for individuals of extraordinary achievement in their field who have given outstanding service to the campus. Lipson's books include The Great Issues of Politics, which has been published in ten editions, translated into numerous foreign languages, and used in introductory political science courses across the country; and his seminal work, The Ethical Crises of Civilization, in which he analyzed the historical developments in world civilizations that have resulted in both better and worse ethical choices. "Humanistic values are the fundamental values of good and evil, right and wrong, just and unjust, as carried out by individuals and societies in service of or against humanity" (Leslie Lipson).

Eligibility. To be eligible for the Lipson Essay Prize, students need to be freshmen or sophomores and have a minimum 3.5 grade-point average (GPA). Students from any field of study are welcome to apply. Essays will be reviewed by the Lipson Committee, and the committee may award up to five prizes for winning essays.

Deadline. Submissions must be emailed to Prizes@berkeley.edu. See General Rules for Competitive Prizes for more information.  


2020-21 Lipson Essay Prize Essay Topics

1. Can a widely shared belief in “alternative facts” be fatal to democracy in America? If so, how? You might wish to consider, for example, the decision of 40% of America’s electorate to adopt, apparently, the alternative political, social, and economic reality voiced by President Donald Trump, such as his continuing claim that he won the 2020 presidential election. 


2. There are currently two different schools of thought on the question of indicting Donald Trump for federal or state crimes once he leaves office on January 20, 2021. Some believe that justice requires such steps, while others argue that it is more important to “bring the nation together”. How might these two competing considerations be reconciled? 


3. Has the combination of Donald Trump’s arrogance, misconduct in office, and systematic lying influenced standards of ethical conduct in society generally? If so, how? What can be done about it? 


4. Is policing in America affected by systemic racism? If so, how can the police power in a democracy be managed consistently with the preservation of equal rights under law and the goal of achieving social justice? 


5. The United Nations has now reported, in its 2019 Emissions Gap Report, that the world will face irreversible, consequences from global warming by 2030 if carbon dioxide emissions are not reduced by 7.6% annually on a worldwide basis. The consensus of climate scientists is that this reduction will not occur. In the face of this prediction, what should be the response of America and the world to Greta Thunberg, who said at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York in September 2019, “You have stolen my childhood and my dreams with your empty words. You’re failing us, but young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you.” 


6. What are the philosophical, social, religious, and/or historical points of difference that have triggered the current so-called “culture wars”? Why have they done so? 


7. Under what circumstances might armed insurrection against a democratically elected government be morally justified? Are there particular philosophers or political theorists on whom you would rely for either a justification or a critique of such a choice? 


8. Some have suggested that the institutional and cultural turmoil of the last four years has significantly eroded belief in American “exceptionalism”, both within the United States and internationally. What has been considered the basis of America’s exceptionalism in the past? What aspects of America’s constitutional, political or moral status which in the past might have been considered exceptional are currently in a state of decline, and what can be done about this decline? 


9. The U. S. Supreme Court held over 50 years ago that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects political speech, whether seeking to tell the truth or not, unless it is an incitement to ‘imminent lawless action”. (Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444, 447 (1969).) Does this standard adequately address the problematic impact of the new and widespread use of social media on the telling of the truth? Should new limitations be placed on the First Amendment protections enjoyed by the Internet and social media in all its forms? 


10. Do such things as “generational duties” have relevance to the maintenance of democratic society? Should each generation in a democratic society have a duty to “pay it forward” and to narrow the economic divide between its richest and poorest members (for example, in the areas of earned income levels, employment, and educational opportunity), without passing on such issues to the next generation? If such “generational duties” exist, how could they be implemented?


Lipson Essay Prize Submission Process


3,000 to 4,000 words; typed

12-point font; double-spaced with one-inch margins; numbered pages

Last 4 digits of your student identification (SID) number in top-right corner of every page


You may submit only one essay per calendar year

Make a copy for your record; no essays will be returned

Your submission needs to be anonymous; please do not include your name. On the front of your manuscript, please write the following in the upper right corner:

  • Name of the contest

  • The last 4 digits of your student identification (SID) number

  • The number of pages in your submission

Please download and complete the Prize Entry Form. 

Using all separate attachments: Send your entry, a copy of your Berkeley ID and the prize entry form to Prizes@berkeley.edu

Previous Winners

2019-20: Evan Juan, "The Obligation of a Human Right to Health"; Aditya Varma, "American E(conomics) X(clusion) C(hurch) E(xpansion) P(rogress) T(echnology)-ionalism"; Max Zhang, "Sleeping at the Wheel" 

2018-19: Hannah Herrick, "The Persistence of Racism through Colorblindness"; Vedant Kajaria, "A Consummate Relationship with Anarchy"; Karen Lee, "Condemned to Condemn"; Tara Madhav "American Democracy, Racism and the State of Exception"; Kathleen Navas, "Psychological Basis and Modern Impact of Racism on Society"; Wyatt Singh, "The Second Coming: A Century Later, W.B. Yeats' Words Are Still Relevant"; Sharon Marie Vaz, "Yeats' Spiritus Mundi and its Relevance to 2019"; Leo Zlimen, "Our Own Phantom World" ($2000 each)  

2017-18: David Olin, "The Spirit and the Machine", Nicholas Pingitore, "Wandering with Walden", Evan Schwartz, "Arguments for Disobeying Trump's order for a Preemptive Nuclear Strike: Echoes from the Nuremberg Tribunal", Talia Wenger, "How Artificial Intelligence Re-Ignites the Human Spirit" ($2000 each)

2016-17: Alexander Casendio, "Is democracy in general, as a form of government, currently broken on an international basis?"; Daniel Rosenthal,"What are the reasons for the cultural and political polarizations in the U.S. and what is its impact on humanistic values. Is this only a national trend, or is it an issue internationally?"; Thomas Lee Kadie,"The Licensing of Right-Wing Populism"

2015-16: 1st prize: Liya Nahusenay, "Islamophobia: A Detrimental Misnomer"; Neel Somani, "Contemporary Stereotyping: Exploring the Seduction of Bias"; 2nd prize: Nina Djukic, "A Rare Drought Rain"; Suleman Khan, "The Government That Cried Wolf: Refugees and National Security"; Olivia Maigret. "The Complicity of Religion in Terrorism"

2014-15: Carter Bryce Keeling, "The People's Climate March"; Ismael Farooqui, "The Invisible Hand: The results of wealth accumulation in a democracy"; Joprdan Hyatt-Miller, "The Logic of Violence"; James Rosenberg, "Legal Accountability for Torture: Preserving a Nation of Rights and Values"; Zijing Song, "One Oligarchy, Under God"

2013-14: Elizabeth Carroll, "A Nation of Suspects: Modern Surveillance and the Right to Privacy"; Wenyan He, "The Bilateral Nature of Ethics in Economic Inequality"; Taylor Madigan, "A Rawlsian Approach to Economic Inequality"; Sharada Narayan, "The Politics of Political Ethics"; Zijing Song, "The State of Obama's Union"

2012-13: Pierre Bourbonnais, "No Excuses for Lying"; Apruva Govande, "Emotional Bridges through Empathy"; Adithyavairavan Murali, "War on Terror: The Great Game of Education, Economics and Human Dignity"; Seth Victor, "The Lies and Unethical Nature of the War on Terror"

2011-12: Adam Susaneck, "How Party Stratification Leads to Duopoly as Ideology Establishing Elections as a Script Creating Not Deadlock, Livelock!"

2010-11: Ayden Parish, "Fundamentalism, Church and State"; Timothy Borjian, "The Problems with American Exceptionalism"

2009-10: Jasmine L. Segall, "Ethical Implications of Anonymous Methods of Modern Warfare"; Spreeha Debchaudhury, "We the People: A Colorful Portrayal"

2008-09: Alexander Setzepfandt, "Optimism: Breaking Free from the Unethical Behavior of Others"; Anirudh Narla, "The Triumph of Grey: The Importance of Indeterminacy and Complexity in Black and White"

2007-08: Danielle Rathje, "Fair Trade and Global Responsibility"; Keith Browner Brown, "Factoring in Humanity: The Failure of Population Control"

2006-07: Andrina Tran, "Varieties of Morality: William James, Pragmatism and Freedom "

2005-06: Erica Mu, "Dismantling Torture: An Examination of the United States at a Political and Ethical Crossroads"; Jillian Marks, "Torture: An Analysis of Its Evils"; Alexander H. Lau, "Revealing Racial Bias: A Case for Affirmative Action"

2004-05: Jacqueline Nader "The Greatest Danger of Our Time"; Yanpei Chen, "Morality and Political Discourse"; Charles Lin, "Avoiding a Tragedy: Reconciling International Interests in the Atmospheric Commons"

2003-04: No award given

2002-03: Jennifer Greenburg, "Women's Participation in Post-Apartheid Reform"; Sebastian Petty, "Back to the Land: Institutional Forms of Community Supported Agriculture"; Tina Sang, "Chinese Household Registration System"

2001-02: Susan Tche, "Effects of the New World Economy on Post-Embargo Vietnam"

2000-01: Cynthia Houng, "Sustainable Development? Towards a New Synthesis of Environment Ethics and Philosophy"; Joseph Kim, "Does Absentee Voting Have Anti-Social Effects on Voters?"; Pha Lo, "The Hmong of Laos: Cultural Perspectives on Implementing a Global Agenda"