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PHI 118 — Democracy and Its Discontents: Philosophical Roots of America’s Reactionary and Radical Politics

Quarter: Spring
Day(s): Thursdays
Course Format: On-campus
Duration: 10 weeks
Date(s): Apr 4—Jun 6
Time: 7:00—8:50 pm
Drop Deadline: Apr 17
Units: 2
Tuition: $480
Instructor(s): Frederick M. Dolan
7:00—8:50 pm
Apr 4—Jun 6
10 weeks
Drop By
Apr 17
2 Units
Frederick M. Dolan
Whatever the fate of the Trump presidency, the forces that led to it promise to be with us for the foreseeable future. While the grievances and hopes of Trump’s supporters are complex and varied, one highly visible coalition has emerged. Known as the alt-right, this coalition rejects the core values of liberal democracy, above all that of equality. Illiberal sentiments also inform some on the radical left. Antifa (a militant left-wing group) advocates the use of intimidation and violence to deny political opponents the right to free speech and assembly. Some of these activists draw on a “counter-enlightenment” philosophical tradition that holds that liberal democratic societies fail to adequately shelter the higher and deeper aspirations of humanity. The tradition includes figures commonly associated with right-wing politics, such as Joseph de Maistre (1753–1821), Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), Martin Heidegger (1889–1976), and Julius Evola (1898–1974), and others typically associated with the left, such as Michel Foucault (1926–1984), Theodor W. Adorno (1903–1969), and Herbert Marcuse (1898–1979). In this course, we will seek to evaluate and understand the counter-enlightenment political philosophy invoked by America’s most radical political groups, exploring the possible limits of liberalism, and asking whether our current frameworks of political thought have the resources necessary to articulate a meaningful and moderating response.

Frederick M. Dolan, Professor of Rhetoric, Emeritus, UC Berkeley

Frederick M. Dolan’s interests include the philosophy of art, hermeneutics, and political and moral philosophy, in particular the relationship of modern political theory to the philosophical tradition and its critics (especially Nietzsche and Heidegger). He received a PhD from Princeton.

Textbooks for this course:

(Required) Nietzsche & Kaufmann, Basic Writings of Nietzsche (ISBN 9780679783398)
(Required) Heidegger & Krell, Martin Heidegger: Basic Writings (2008) (ISBN 9780061627019)
(Required) Foucault & Rabinow, The Foucault Reader (ISBN 0394713400)
(Required) Horkheimer & Adorno, Jephcott, Dialectic of Enlightenment, Stanford UP edition (ISBN 0804736332)
(Required) Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling (ISBN 978-0-140-44449-0)