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Diminished Democracy: Critical Perspectives on our Contemporary Political Malaise  

David Peritz America is the oldest and most stable democracy in the world. Something like American democracy is not only admired but also ascendant the world over. We have mainly overcome a long history of race-, gender-, and class- based exclusions, and increasingly made effective the in-principle commitment to civil and political rights at the core of the Constitution. We find ourselves at the onset of a presidential election that almost certainly will be not only the most expensive but also one of the most fractious and unpredictable in our long political history. The current political climate belies the gravity of issues faced: the erosion of wages and standards of living, increasing inequality and stalled social mobility, unsustainable spending on core state goods including social security and medical care, on-going security challenges and the slow erosion of American power internationally, global warming, an education and health care system that deliver mediocre results at extraordinarily high costs, etc. What are we to make of our democratic ambivalence as we live with the triumphs and troubles of a political system that is the worst—except for all the others? To gain insight into these issues, we will look at contemporary American politics from a more philosophical, historical and comparative perspective. We will examine transformations in American political institutions, economics and civil culture that have perhaps made our politics at once more inclusive but also more fractious, unequal and dysfunctional. This should assist us in thinking more critically and deeply about contemporary politics in the build up to a major national election. Week 1: An Overview of Democracy’s Triumphs and Troubles Week 2: Democracy and Political Decay: Is America Democracy Exceptional (and worse as a result)? Week 3: The Production of Apathy: Does Bureaucracy Produce Passivity? Week 4: Influence and Affluence: Do only the Rich Rule in America’s New Gilded Age? Week 5: The Contradictory Logics of Democratic Capitalism: Is our Economy Constraining Our Democracy (and vice versa)? Week 6: Neoliberalism and Democracy: Has Economic Thinking Eclipsed Democratic Citizenship? Reference material and suggested reading will be provided to registrants of the course. David Peritz Completed his Doctor of Philosophy in Politics at Oxford University in 2004. He currently teaches in the Politics Department at Sarah Lawrence College. He is a Regular Visiting Professor, Master of Art in Liberal Studies at Dartmouth College. He has received numerous grants and teaching awards including Harvard University’s Certificate of Distinction in Teaching, Fall 1995 and Spring 1996 and has published numerous articles. He is a San Francisco native and is currently situated in the Bay Area.