Tyranny and Dictatorship in Western Political Thought

Term: Fall 2011

Subject Code: GPOL

Course Number: 6458

The seminar will examine the conceptual and theoretical trajectory in Western political thought of the ancient Greek idea of tyranny and the Roman notion of dictatorship. We will treat them as central yet evolving borderline concepts through which we can explore and interrogate the themes of emergency rule, state of exception, and more generally the relationship between power, politics, law, and violence. The seminar will also focus on the overlapping and intersecting encounters between the figures of the tyrant and the dictator and explore the normative, descriptive, and analytical implications resulting from their fusion. Similarly, we will investigate various attempts to differentiate them and scrutinize the underlying political reasons for doing so. In addition, the seminar seeks to address the contested relationship between democracy and republicanism by looking at their divergent understandings of tyranny and dictatorship as they have been construed discursively and historically by these two political traditions. Finally, we will probe into how the two concepts inform theories of legitimacy, legality, obedience, and resistance. The readings will include selections from primary courses such as Thucydides, Plato, Xenophon, Aristotle, Polybius, Livy, Cicero, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, St. Augustine, John of Salisbury, Salutati, Bartolus, Machiavelli, Grotius, Hobbes, Pufendorf, Harrington, Filmer, Locke, Rousseau, Jefferson, Marx, Lenin, and Schmitt as well as a collection of relevant studies from the secondary scholarship.

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