Democratic Freedom and Its Enemies

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The course will introduce students to the classics of democratic theory, beginning with John Locke and concluding with John Rawls.  As a counterpoint, the class will also expose students to democracy’s most penetrating critics, from Karl Marx to Friedrich Nietzsche to Carl Schmitt. Class-room work will focus on close reading of key primary texts: Locke’s Letter on Toleration, Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, Marx On the Jewish Question and so on.   Students will learn to see these texts both in their historical context and in their relevance to contemporary dilemmas and debates. The overall purpose is to vindicate the claim that what democracy is has never been a settled question, and the controversies that divide democracies today can be illuminated by returning to primary texts.  The key themes will be how democratic theorists have thought about toleration, inequality, colonialism and empire and inclusion.  Students will be expected to think for themselves on these questions, and to learn how to explicate texts to their fellow students, with a due sense of their historical context and contemporary relevance.