Democracy as a Way of Life
The theme for Autumn 2020 is "Democracy as a Way of Life."
Democracy is often conceived of as a mode of government or form of rule, but both advocates and critics of democracy have just as frequently emphasized its significance as a social and cultural way of life, a manner of being in the world. Plato called democracy “the most attractive of the regimes . . . like a coat of many colors”; he also worried how democracy toppled the most basic relations of authority. Children defy their parents in a democracy, and students their teachers. Horses and donkeys wander “the streets with total freedom, noses in the air, barging into any passer-by who fails to get out of the way.”
This seminar analyzes democracy as a distinctive way of life as it arose after the American, French, and Haitian Revolutions. It begins with the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century transatlantic debates about the meaning of democratic revolution (Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine), segues to the flowering of democratic culture in the United States and its relationship to white supremacy (David Walker, Alexis de Tocqueville, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau), examines the nature of democratic education, popular sovereignty, and racial violence in mass, industrializing society (John Dewey and Ida B. Wells), and probes the connections between democracy, race, and empire in the twentieth century (W.E.B. Du Bois and Audre Lorde).
Students will be asked both to make oral presentations and to conduct interpretive, historical research.