Politics of Fear (Spring 2019)
Friday, 9:30am—12:00pm, James Hall 3403
Instructor: Asher Wycoff • awycoff (at) gc (dot) cuny (dot) edu
Office Hours: Thursday, 1:00–2:00pm • James Hall 3416
Course Overview: Emotions have undeniable political force, perhaps none greater than fear. Fear's precise role in political life has long been disputed, with formative theorists understanding it variously as a potent tool of governance, as an affective state governments should assuage, even as the very basis of civil society itself. Debates over the legitimacy of certain forms and means of inciting political fear reach back centuries. Over the course of this semester, we will examine a variety of theoretical approaches to understanding fear as a political idea, drawing on foundational texts from the 16th to the 20th centuries.
We begin the semester with Renaissance and Enlightenment theories of fear as it applies to politics and governance (Machiavelli, Spinoza, Hobbes). Following this, we move on to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century treatments of fear and related concepts (Burke, Hegel, Kierkegaard). These serve as a bridge to contemporary discussions of political violence (Furet, Walzer, Asad). Later weeks of the course examine experiences of fear in settings of mass atrocity and state repression (Arendt, Brecht, Barnes). The course concludes with reflections on efforts to attenuate or routinize fear as a political force (Foucault, Shklar).
Texts: I am asking you to purchase (or borrow) three books for this course, selected for their significance to the political theory of fear, as well as the abundance of budget-friendly used copies. They are listed for sale in the online bookstore. If you obtain the books elsewhere, please do try to get the specific editions listed here; discussion will run most smoothly if we're all following the same page numbers.
- ⇒ Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. Edwin Curley, Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994.
- ⇒ Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, New York: Penguin, 2006.
- ⇒ Julian Barnes, The Noise of Time, New York: Vintage, 2017.
All other readings will be available in PDF on Blackboard. If you have any trouble accessing or obtaining the texts, let me know as soon as possible.
Requirements: This course will involve some lecture when necessary, but it is constructed primarily around seminar-style discussion. Hence, it is absolutely critical that you come to class having completed and prepared to discuss the assigned readings. Formally graded requirements are as follows:
- You will be graded on participation. Grading on participation is not black and white, but if you do not consistently come to class prepared with the assigned readings, your participation grade will suffer. Your participation grade will also suffer if you routinely have your phone out during class, or if you are otherwise disruptive during discussion. Your overall participation grade, out of twenty points, will be awarded at the end of the semester.
- You will be expected to present on a week's readings. For the first two units, the Tuesday session will be dedicated to a mix of independent and team-based exercises. The exercises vary in content, but are all geared toward fundamental research skills. Each exercise is graded out of five points, for a total of forty points for all eight. If you are going to miss a Monday class, please let me know in advance, and I can provide a take-home version of the exercise.
- You will be expected to give a short presentation on a course reading. Starting on February 8, each class session will begin with an oral presentation by one or two students on one of the readings for that day. Presentations should present the core argument of the reading and its implications for the themes of the course. They should not simply summarize the argument beat-by-beat, but highlight parts of the argument the student finds particularly significant or interesting. Presentation days are assigned in the first two weeks of class on a first-come, first-served basis. Presentations are graded out of twenty points in accordance with the rubric on Blackboard.
- You will be expected to write a critical response paper. This is not a research paper (although you are welcome to bring in relevant outside sources), but an extended reflection on the themes of the course. Writing it will be a multi-stage process. A short proposal (maximum two pages) explaining the paper's topic and prospective argument is due on March 1. A rough draft (approximately 4-6 pages) developing the argument further is due March 29. The final paper (approximately 8-10 pages) is due on our final class meeting day, May 10. The paper proposal is worth ten points, the rough draft worth twenty, and the final draft thirty. Rubrics for each component of the paper-writing process are available on Blackboard.
Here's a breakdown of how the course is graded overall:
|Reading Presentation||20 points|
|Term Paper Proposal||10 points|
|Term Paper Rough Draft||20 points|
|Term Paper Final Draft||30 points|
|Total || 100 points possible|
Since the course as a whole is graded out of 100 points, your raw score is also your percentage grade for the semester. I award letter grades according to the usual scale, so 93-100 points earn you an A; 90-92 points earn you an A-minus; 87-89 points earn you a B-plus; 83-86 points earn you a B; 80-82 points earn you a B-minus; etc.
Conduct Guidelines: Although I do not grade on attendance directly, students are still expected to attend class regularly having completed and prepared to discuss the required reading. As not just quantity but also quality of participation is important, I strongly recommend that you stay on topic during class discussions.
I do not permit cellphone use during class, and I also encourage you to avoid using other electronics whenever possible. While I conditionally permit laptops and tablets, I reserve the right to change my mind if they become too distracting. If you use a laptop or tablet in class, please only use it for purposes directly related to the course (consulting readings, note-taking, e.g.). You are encouraged to print out PDF readings for in-class use.
Academic Integrity: In written assignments (and this includes short answer questions on tests), it would be really great if you didn't plagiarize. Plagiarism is the act of presenting someone else's ideas or language as your own. The faculty and administration of Lehman College strive to foster an environment free of cheating and plagiarism. Each student is individually responsible for knowing what constitutes cheating and plagiarism and avoiding both. If you are unsure, the full text of the CUNY Academic Integrity Policy and the Brooklyn College procedure for its implementation can be found at brooklyn.cuny.edu/bc/policies. If a faculty member confirms a violation of academic integrity, and/or if the student admits the violation, the faculty member is contractually obligated to report the violation to administration. That's a headache for all involved, so please familiarize yourself with CUNY's policy on academic integrity and avoid violating it.
Accessibility: In order to receive disability-related academic accommodations students must first be registered with the Center for Student Disability Services (CSDS). Students with a documented disability, or who suspect they may have one, are encouraged to set up an appointment with the Director of Student Disability Services by calling (718) 951-5538. If you have already registered with the CSDS, please provide me with the appropriate documentation and discuss your specific needs with me, and I will do my best provide the necessary accommodations.
January 25: Introductions, syllabus overview
- February 1: Reason, Imagination, and Passions
- Baruch Spinoza, selections from the Ethics:
- Part III: Preface; Definitions of the Affects, I–XV; General Definition of the Affects
- Part IV: Preface
- Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, chs. 1–7
- February 8: Fear and Governance
- Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, ch. 1–3, 8, 12–17
- Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, chs. 13–16
- February 15: Fear and Faith
- Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, chs. 12, 35–38
February 22: Fear and Faith, Continued
- Edmund Burke, An Inquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, Part II
- Søren Kierkegaard, selections from Fear and Trembling:
- Eulogy on Abraham
- Problema I
- March 1: Revolutionary Terror — Paper Proposal Due
- Francois Furet & Mona Ozouf, "Terror," from A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution
- G.W.F. Hegel, "Absolute Freedom and Terror," from The Phenomenology of Spirit
- March 8: Terror as an "Ism"
- Michael Walzer, "Terrorism and Just War"
- Talal Asad, "Horror at Suicide Terrorism," from On Suicide Bombing
- March 15: Atrocity
- Hannah Arendt, "Totalitarianism in Power: The Secret Police," from The Origins of Totalitarianism
- Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, chs. 1–3
- March 22: Atrocity, Continued
- Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, chs. 5–8
- March 29: Atrocity, Concluded — Rough Draft Due
- Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, chs. 13–15 and Epilogue
- April 5: Repression
- Bertolt Brecht, "Five Difficulties in Writing the Truth"
- Julian Barnes, The Noise of Time, Part One
- April 12: Repression, Continued
- Julian Barnes, The Noise of Time, Parts Two and Three
- April 19–26: Spring Recess
- May 3: Liberalism and Danger
- Michel Foucault, 24 January 1979 lecture from The Birth of Biopolitics
- Judith Shklar, "The Liberalism of Fear"
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- May 10: Course Wrap-up, Paper Discussions — Final Paper Due