Theories of Tyranny

Term: Fall 2008

Subject Code: GPOL

Course Number: 5010

The very meaning of the term tyranny remains central to political theory and crucial to democratic discourse. However, it has been construed differently at various historical moments by distinct traditions and ideologies. The aim of this course is to closely examine the concept pf tyranny by focusing on its origins and development in Ancient Greek and Roman political thought. It traces its etymological appearance and historical diffusion in archaic times to its theoretical elaboration as a unique form of government in the classical age. As tyranny gradually became an object of knowledge, it generated different theories of its rise, perpetuation, and decline. Particular attention is given to the normative relationship among power, law, and justice and the recourse to legitimate violence against arbitrariness and illegal force. The course follows, on the one hand, the philosophical transmutation of tyranny into a form of degeneration of the human soul that seeks absolute freedom and, on the other, the poetic elucidation of the tragic consequences of the transgressive character of a political power that does not recognize any control. This hubris of tyranny is also examined historically in relation to the imperial ambition of perpetual expansion and boundless conquest. Is democracy or the republic antithetical to Empire? What is the relation between domestic political autonomy and world tyranny? Finally, the course looks into attempts to educate the tyrant in order to comparatively scrutinize the similarities and differences between tyranny and two other ancient systems of absolute power, monarchy and dictatorship.

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