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AHUM 23A11 - The ABC's of Politics : Theoretical and Practical Perspectives on Contemporary Politics

Type d'enseignement : Lecture and tutorials

Semester : Autumn 2018-2019

Number of hours : 48

Language of tuition : English



Course Description

The objective of the course – inspired by the Abécédaire of Gilles Deleuze – is to draw a path within the history of Political Philosophy. To do so, each session will be dedicated to the analysis of one notion, while never losing sight of the necessity to bring out cross-cutting issues. The first session will present the concept of “Politics”. The next sessions will explore the below concepts – with no consideration for the alphabetical order: - Alienation - Crisis - Democracy - Rule of Law - Ideology - Liberalism - Machiavelli - Revolution - State of nature - Spectacle - Technology Of course, familiarizing with the philosophical language, transmitting the main requisites of the conceptual discourse and discovering some tools and approaches necessary to build and structure one's thoughts are the main outcomes this course intends to reach. These theoretical goals also have a practical dimension: many socio-political issues can be understood differently when we realize the difference between the words they are analysed with and the concepts they actually refer to. For example, how is it possible to criticize undemocratic situations when the concept of Democracy is completely undermined and only applies to the modern, representative form of political organization? What can we learn from the analysis of the emergence of the democratic practice and discourse, and especially from the interrogation of the possible antinomy between democracy and representation? Each class will also be an opportunity to realize that every concept has its own historicity. To put it another way, a political concept is always, at first, an answer or an attempt to clarify a specific historical situation. It is important to keep that in mind in order to answer the recurring question of each session: to what extend is philosophy political? Is philosophy, as Hegel wrote in the Preface of the Elements of the Philosophy of Right, a science that “appears only at a time when actuality has gone through its formative process and attainted its complete state”? If, on the contrary, it is established that philosophy can provide instructions and orientate what Marx called the praxis, how can we make a legitimate use of the concepts that may no longer strictly apply to our world? Under what conditions can we extract a concept from the sociohistorical ground it was born into?


BLANC, Félix (Boursier docteur ingénieur)

Pedagogical format

Every session will begin with an analysis of the common meaning of the notion, pointing out the limits of that meaning and showing the aporias it leads the thought to. Teacher and students will try to reach a definition precise enough to allow its right use and a relevant criticism of it. Each time, 4 or 5 classical texts will be presented, each one offering a different conceptualization of the notion. Of course, it is highly recommended that students fully read some of the books in the following bibliography. As to the examples, they will essentially be drawn from the history of the Mediterranean countries and of the Middle East, but also from contemporary music, movies and TV shows. At the end of the twelve sessions, every student is expected to be familiar with the notions and to be able to use them in a conceptual discourse. Students will also be able to identify those “cross-cutting issues” mentioned above.

Required reading

G.W.F. HEGEL, The Phenomenology of Mind [1807], B, IV, A, “Independence and Dependence of Self-Consciousness: Lordship and Bondage”, trans. J.B. Baillie, Dover Philosophical Classics, 2003.

Additional required reading

  • Karl MARX, A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right [1843-1844], in Early Writings, trans. G. Benton and R. Livingstone, Penguin Classics, 2000.
  • Georg LUKÁCS, History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics [1923], “Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat”, trans. R. Livingstone, MIT Press, 1972. Full text available on:
  • Axel HONNETH, Reification: A New Look at and Old Idea, Oxford University Press, 2007.