Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Mythic Foundations of Western Political Thought

Says Seth: An argument that I started having with myself about where politics comes from. I picked it in my first book, and this semester I have the chance to share this argument with 7 intrepid students.

Course Outline

It’s often assumed that religion is just a cover for politics: having God on your side justifies anything, no matter how costly or self-serving. But what if it’s actually the other way around--what if religion is the source of politics? If not, why did ancient people treat kings like Gods, and why do we still obey rulers we've never met? We will study myths of foundation and order from the world's first states in Mesopotamia and their legacy in the Bible. In these myths God gains sovereignty by slaying Leviathan, the cosmic dragon. We will analyze some alternatives that Western political thought offers: are they more reasonable? Did the West ultimately abolish Leviathan or has it merely replaced it with its own myths?

Mark Lilla The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics and the Modern West
David Graeber Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (Cambridge textbook version)
Carl Schmitt, Political Theology
Simon Parker, Ugaritic Narrative Poetry
Benjamin Foster Before the Muses: An Anthology of Akkadian Literature

David Miller Political Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction
Marc Van de Meiroop A History of the Ancient Near East ca. 3000 - 323 BC
God, The Holy Bible (HarperCollins study bible or any other version)

1. Tuesday, January 20 Introduction.

2. Thursday, January 22 Political Philosophy as a Great Separation
Mark Lilla, The Stillborn God
“The Crisis,” “The Great Separation”

3. Tuesday, January 27 Separation and its Discontents
Lilla, “The Ethical God,”
Add/Drop Period ends. Last day to declare a class Pass/Low Pass/Fail.

4. Thursday, January 29 Why The State?
David Graeber, Fragments 46-70
David Miller, Political Philosophy chapters 1 and 2

5. Tuesday, February 3 The Foundation of God’s Kingdom
from Foster, Before the Muses “The Valorous Sun; Hammurabi, King of Justice”
from van de Mieroop, the Old Babylonian Period
First 3-page paper: Examining an Argument in Political Philosophy:
From any of the readings, analyze in depth one argument about one point
First page: analyze how the argument works and what it is trying to accomplish, what is at stake in this particular debate.
Second page: go through the evidence and steps. Be precise, citing the most decisive phrases and sentences by page number (no need for block quotes) and, every time you cite, analyze what it's accomplishing in the argument.
Third page: where would you go from here? If not fully convinced what would you need to decide? If convincing what can you do with it now?

6. Thursday, February 5 The Slaying of Leviathan
from Foster, Before the Muses “The Epic of Creation”

7. Tuesday, February 10 The State’s Ancient Other: The West Semitic Ideal I
Thorkild Jakobsen, “Primitive Democracy in Mesopotamia”

Read the two very short, but important, letters from Adad (the local West Semitic version of Marduk) to Zimri-Lim in Foster 143-144.
What theory of legitimacy is implied in the second letter? How does it compare to the theory of legitimacy Hammurabi propounds in the epilogue to the laws? How does it compare to the theory of the Epic of Creation?

8. Thursday, February 12 Negotiated Sovereignty: The West Semitic Ideal II
From Parker, Ugaritic Narrative Poetry, Baal epic

9. Tuesday, February 17 Divine Myths of Justice: Yahweh Dethrones the Gods
from Parker, Ugaritic Narrative Poetry, Kirta epic
Psalm 82

10. Thursday, February 19 Human Myths of Justice: Absalom Dethrones David
II Samuel
from Herodotus, History

11. Tuesday, February 24 Human Myths of Justice: Killing a Tyrant
From Livy, Roman History
From Dumezil, “Myth into History” in Archaic Roman Religion

Thursday, February 26 No class--Trinity days

12. Tuesday, March 3 Classical vs. Biblical Political Myth
Foucault, “Omnes et Singulatim: Towards a Critique of Political Reason"

13. Thursday, March 5 The Messiah: the death and resurrection of a political myth
Isaiah, Suffering Servant
KTU 1.161 Ugaritic funerary ceremony
Daniel 7 son of man
Gospels Son of Man passages
SECOND PAPER: The Ideals of an Ancient Myth

14. Tuesday, March 10 Is the State a Machine for Happiness?
from Aristotle, Politics

15. Thursday, March 12 Is the State a Ritual Device?
From Aristotle, Politics
Dupont, Florence (1989) ‘The Emperor-God's Other Body', in Michel Feher et al. ( eds) Zone 5: Fragments for a History of the Human Body, Part 3

Tuesday, March 17 SPRING VACATION

Thursday, March 19 SPRING VACATION

16. Tuesday, March 24 Religion as a Tool for Politics
Machiavelli, from Discourses on Livy

17. Thursday, March 26 Politics as a Tool for Religion
Hocart, from Kings and Councilors

18. Tuesday, March 31 Politics as Cosmology
Geertz, from Negara
Quentin Skinner, review of Geertz

19. Thursday, April Jurisprudence as Myth and Ritual: The Medieval King’s Two Bodies
Kantorowicz, from The King’s Two Bodies: An Essay in Medieval Political Theology
THIRD PAPER: A Medieval Political Myth

20. Tuesday, April 7 The Return of Leviathan
Hobbes, from Leviathan

21. Thursday, April 9
Hobbes, from Leviathan

22. Tuesday, April 14
Weber, “Politics as a Vocation”

23. Thursday, April 16
Lincoln, Religion, Empire and Torture

24. Tuesday, April 21
Carl Schmitt, Political Theology

25. Thursday, April 23
Lilla, Stillborn God
FOURTH PAPER: Modern Political Myth

26 Tuesday, April 28
Simon Critchley, “Crypto-Schmittianism”

Take-home exam.

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