POLITICS (1): Tensions in Political Thought

                      NandaJoin the discussion after listening to the relevant audio lectures from a podcast series called Talking Politics | History Of Ideas. The Group is planning to further explore the tensions in the evolution of political thought through Nietzsche, Shklar, Wollstonecraft, De Beauvoir, Gandhi and Fanon in its second series.
Group Coordinator: Georgia Lepper and Vivek Nanda (click to contact)   

At 4:00pm on 17 January, 31 January, 14 February, 28 February, 14 March, 28 March 2023.

Hybrid meeting from 4:00 pm at a public venue in Islington on 17 January 2023, followed by discussions on Zoom on the remaining Tuesdays.

Schedule of Video Lectures for Discussion
Nietzsche17 January Nietzsche on Morality
Friedrich Nietzsche’s masterpiece The Genealogy of Morality (1887) sets out to explain where ideas of good and evil come from and why they have left human beings worse off. He traces their origins in what he calls the slave revolt in morality. David examines the ways Nietzsche’s story unsettles almost everything about modern social conventions and leaves us with the troubling question: what can possibly come next?

Schklar31 January Shklar on Hypocrisy
Judith Shklar’s Ordinary Vices (1984) made the case that the worst of all the vices is cruelty. But that meant we needed to be more tolerant of some other common human failings, including snobbery, betrayal and hypocrisy. David explores what she had to say about some of the other authors in this series – including Bentham and Nietzsche – and asks what price we should be willing to pay for putting cruelty first among the vices.

Wollstonecraft14 February Wollstonecraft on Sexual Politics
Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) is one of the most remarkable books in the history of ideas. A classic of early feminism, it uses what’s wrong with the relationship between men and women to illustrate what’s gone wrong with politics. It’s a story of lust and power, education and revolution. David explores how Wollstonecraft’s radical challenge to the basic ideas of modern politics continues to resonate today.

De Beauvoir28 February De Beauvoir on the Other
Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949) is one of the founding texts of modern feminism and one of the most important books of the twentieth century. It covers everything from ancient myth to modern psychoanalysis to ask what the relations between men and women have in common with other kinds of oppression, from slavery to colonialism. It also offers some radical suggestions for how both women and men can be liberated from their condition.

Ghandi14 March Gandhi on self-rule
Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj (1909) was a defining text of the movement for Indian independence from British colonial rule. It also articulated a radical new idea of politics in a modern context – peaceful protest or non-violent resistance. David explores the wider legacy of Gandhi’s ideas and asks what Gandhi’s withering attack on ‘machine’ politics means for the politics we have today.

Fanon28 March Fanon on Colonialism
Frantz Fanon was a psychiatrist who both experienced and analysed the impact of colonial violence. In The Wretched of the Earth (1961) he developed an account of politics that sought to channel violent resistance to colonialism as a force for change. It is a deliberately shocking book. David explores what Fanon’s argument says about the possibility of moving beyond the power of the modern state.

Previous Series
13 September 2022 was the initial in-person getting to know each other session.

Hobbes27 September 'Hobbes on the State'
Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan (1651) reimagined how we could do politics. It redefined many of the ideas that continue to shape modern politics: representation, sovereignty, the state. But in Leviathan these ideas have a strange and puzzling power. David explores what Hobbes was trying to achieve and how a vision of politics that came out of the English civil war, can still illuminate the world we live in.

Rousseau11 October Rousseau on Inequality
Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality (also known as the Second Discourse) tells the story of all human history to answer one simple question: how did we end up in such an unequal world? David explores the steps Rousseau traces in the fall of humankind and asks whether this is a radical alternative to the vision offered by Hobbes or just a variant on it. Is Rousseau really such a nice philosopher?

Weber25 October Weber on Leadership
Max Weber’s The Profession and Vocation of Politics (1919) was a lecture that became one of the defining texts of twentieth century political thought. In it, Weber explores the perils and paradoxes of leadership in a modern state. Is it possible to do bad in order to do good? Can violence ever be virtuous? Does political responsibility send politicians mad? David discusses the legacy of Weber’s ideas and asks: who is the true Weberian politician?

Schumpeter8 November Schumpeter on Democracy
Joseph Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942) contains a famous, and minimal, definition of democracy as the competition between political elites to sell themselves to the electorate. Schumpeter wanted to debunk more elevated ideas of the common good and the popular will. Why then has his theory proved so influential for people who want to rescue democracy as much as those who want to diminish it?

Marx & Engels22 November Marx and Engels on Revolution
The Communist Manifesto (1848) remains the most famous revolutionary text of all. But what was the problem with politics that only a revolution could solve? And why were the working class the only people who could solve it? David explores what Marx and Engels really had to say about capitalism, crisis and class and he asks what still resonates from that message today.

Fukuyama6 December Fukuyama on History
Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History (1992) became associated with the triumph of liberal democracy at the end of the twentieth century. But was Fukuyama really a triumphalist? David explores what Fukuyama had to say about the strengths and weaknesses of liberal democracy and asks whether his analysis still holds true today. What have we learned about the modern state from its history? And can it, and we, really change now?

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