Within public life in many Western countries, the words ‘politics’ (zhèngzhì), ‘political’ and ‘political life’ (zhèngzhì yóuxì) are today proving to be deeply controversial. They are often reckoned to be dirty words, synonyms for corrupt government, lying politicians and unpopular political parties. The sentiment fuels the rise of populism, but it also feeds the propensity of citizens to turn their backs on ‘politics’ so that they can get on with their real material lives, freed from the double standards, cheating and manipulation said to be inherent in the political.
The deep anti-political trend is the starting point of this series of four lectures. They probe the historical roots of this active Western contempt for ‘politics’, along the way examining influential examples such as Thomas Mann’s Reflections of a Non-Political Man  and Ambrose Bierce’s famous definition of politics as the business of ‘criminal classes’ who specialise in promoting a ‘strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles’ . The lectures will explore the limitations of this anti-political way of thinking, its presumption that life can and should be lived beyond the traps set by politics and its manipulative division of people into ‘tools and enemies’ (Friedrich Nietzsche). The sessions will appraise these limits by means of detailed examinations of the principal understandings of politics that have shaped modern Western ways of thinking. Four classic texts, each written during the past century, will be surveyed: Carl Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political ; Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition ; Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality ; and Nadia Urbinati’s Representative Democracy: Principles and Genealogy . The lectures will probe their different understandings of politics and political life, and their practical implications and effects in such matters as the individual and society, public and private life, freedom, equality and justice, the local and the global, and peace and war. The lectures will explore the reasons why modern Western political thinkers have thought that politics is both necessary and desirable; and they will explain why these competing and conflicting understandings may well have much more in common than is typically supposed. Throughout, emphasis will also be given to how the respective understandings of politics has implications for such disciplinary fields as political theory and political science, international relations, history, anthropology, media and communications, and sociological theories of modernity.
28 May 2018 | Carl Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political (1927)
30 May 2018 | Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition (1958)
06 June 2018 | Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality (1978)
08 June 2018 | Nadia Urbinati’s Representative Democracy: Principles and Genealogy (2006)