Click here to download a PDF copy of this syllabus.

Politics of Fear

Brooklyn College, Spring 2019

Instructor:  Asher Wycoff Email:
Time:  Fri., 9:30am–12:00pm, JH 3403 Office Hrs.:  Thurs., 1:00pm–2:00pm, JH 3416

Course Overview: Emotional states have decisive 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 cheap used copies. They are listed for sale in the online bookstore. If you obtain the books elsewhere, please try to get the specific editions listed here; discussion will run most smoothly if we're all following the same page numbers.

All other readings will be available in PDF on Blackboard. If you have trouble accessing or obtaining the reading materials, please let me know as soon as possible.

Requirements and Grading: 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. Formal requirements are as follows:

Here's a breakdown of how grading for this course adds up overall:

Course Requirement Points Possible
Participation 20 points possible
Reading Presentation 20 points possible
Term Paper Proposal 5 points possible
Term Paper Rough Draft 20 points possible
Term Paper Final Draft 30 points possible
Total 100 points possible

Since the course as a whole is graded out of 100 points, your raw score at the end of the semester is also your percentage score in the course. I assign letter grades by the usual scale: 93–100 is an A, 90–92 is an A-minus, 87–89 is a B-plus, 83–86 is a B, 80–82 is a B-minus, and so on. Feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns about grading over the course of the semester.

General Class Guidelines: While I do not grade on attendance specifically, you are nonetheless 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 encourage you to avoid using other electronics as well, if possible. If you use a laptop or tablet in class, please only use it for purposes related to the course (taking notes, consulting readings, e.g.). You are encouraged to print out PDF readings for in-class use.

Academic Integrity: For the paper(s), you may cite relevant sources in APA, MLA, or Chicago format (Chicago being the general standard in Political Science). The format of citations is less important than their accuracy and consistency. As long as you provide a complete bibliography and in-text citations for direct quotes and close paraphrases, you may use whichever citation style you’re most comfortable with.
Consistent, complete, and accurate citations are essential for avoiding plagiarism. Plagiarism is any act of presenting someone else’s words and/or ideas as your own. Each student is responsible for knowing what constitutes plagiarism and avoiding it. If you are unsure, the full CUNY Academic Integrity Policy and the Brooklyn College procedure for its implementation is available online here. If a faculty member confirms a violation of academic integrity, they are required to report it. Familiarize yourself with CUNY’s Academic Integrity Policy 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 provide any necessary accommodations.

Course Schedule

Spring recess begins April 19.