This seminar is a political philosophical exploration of radical American democracy. While political characterizations of democracy see it as a form of government, this course explores the essence of democracy as a specifically modern way of life. To do so, it turns to some great thinkers of American democracy such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, and Ralph Ellison. What unites these radical democrats is the conviction that democracy is a thoughtful practice of individuals rather than an insitutional form of governance. As an ideal of radical individualism, American democratic thought offers, perhaps surprisingly, an aristocratic critique of the limits of democratic government even as it, seen from another side, makes possible our culture of narcissistic consumerism. Our aim is to understand the democratic spirit of radical individualism that has proven so seductive and powerful since its modern birth in the American revolution.
View the syllabus here.