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The John M. Olin Center for Inquiry into the Theory and Practice of Democracy

Nietzsche, Heidegger, and the Future of Democracy

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Liberal, democratic polities presuppose the existence of individual subjects, capable of reflective and critical distance from a possible course of action, and capable of taking, and being charged with, unique responsibility for those actions. And such societies encourage unfettered, public debate in the belief that such subjects would be ultimately responsive to the force of better reasons, and would act accordingly. Yet throughout many contemporary social science and humanities disciplines, a widespread and deep skepticism about the possibility of such individual agency and such responsiveness reigns. Such skepticism has many sources, but we are interested in this series in the two modern thinkers who posed the problem of such subjectivity in different but related ways, and who have had such widespread if various and differing influences: Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger. Nietzsche's genealogical critique of the Christian notions of individual souls, the free will, the "value of truth" and individual guilt, and the influence of his account on such later thinkers as Weber and Foucault, helped inaugurate such a skeptical modernism. Heidegger's claim is even more radical: to have "destroyed," or dismantled the entire history of metaphysics, which he reads as a "metaphysics of subjectivity," and to have inaugurated a new and radically different way of thinking about human beings. We are asking the speakers in our lecture series to reflect on the implications and widespread influence of such attacks for the future of modern democratic politics, and to consider the issue either by reflecting on Nietzsche's and/or Heidegger's works themselves, or by considering the role such Nietzschean and Heideggerean themes play in our current understanding of political life. 

We are especially interested in such questions as: the relation, if any, between Heidegger's critique of the "technological subject" and democratic practices; the problem of value, as it arises directly in Nietzsche and indirectly in Heidegger, and the relation between their accounts (and those of authors influenced by them) and the value most at issue in liberal democracies - a free life for individual agents. While we are focusing on the political implications of Nietzsche's and Heidegger's philosophic claims, and not on any political views as such, we want to ask whether their own expressed hostility to liberal democratic societies might be essential to their basic positions and so might reveal the difficulties involved in making their philosophies safe for democracy. 

All lectures will be at 4:30 p.m. Unless otherwise noted, they will be held in Social Science 122 (1126 E. 59th St.). Please check this site for changes in the schedule or location. When possible, we will post speaker's papers here on the site in advance of the lecture. For further information, or if you anticipate needing assistance, contact Stephen Gregory (773-702-3423; stephen-gregory@uchicago.edu).


Autumn Quarter

Wednesday, October 11
Volker Gerhardt, Institut für Philosophie Humboldt-Universität, Berlin
The Future of Mankind:  Humanity After Nietzsche and Heidegger
Wednesday, November 8
Richard Rorty, Comparative Literature, Stanford University
The Decline of Redemptive Truth and the Rise of the Literary Culture
Wednesday, November 29
James Porter, Department of Classical Studies, University of Michigan
Nietzsche and the Seductions of Metaphysics

Winter Quarter

Wednesday, January 24 Richard Wolin, Department of History, City University of New York
Arbeit Macht Frei: Heidegger as the Philosopher of the German "Way"

Spring Quarter

Wednesday, March 28Wendy Brown, Department of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley 
Nietzsche for Democracy
Wednesday, April 18Dieter Thomä, Department of Philosophy, University of St. Gall, Switzerland
Beyond Freedom and Self-Preservation:  On Nietzsche, Heidegger and Modernity
Wednesday, April 25 Bernard Williams, All Souls College, Oxford University
Truthfulness as a Political Virtue
Wednesday, May 23 Richard Zinman, James Madison College, Michigan State University
Nietzsche and the Pathos of Distance

Further Information

All lectures are scheduled at this time for Social Science 122 (1126 E. 59th St.).
The locations may be subject to change. All lectures are at 4:30 p.m.
Persons who believe they may need assistance please call Stephen Gregory in advance at 702-3423 or email  stephen-gregory@uchicago.edu.

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Revised: August 28, 2000