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Democracy's Discontents

Program(s): Immersion

This course is currently at capacity. If you select this course as a first choice on your application, please apply for second options that fulfills your interests.

*Taught Online for Summer 2021*  Most would agree that in recent years the very idea of democracy has taken it on the chin, but might we also be learning that democracy has a glass jaw? There have certainly been those over the past two-hundred-plus years who thought so. In this course we will read a number of major thinkers who have called the value and very possibility of democracy into question. We will begin the course with an examination of the democratic impulses of the French Revolution and then turn to three nineteenth century thinkers who expressed varying types of discontent with democracy: Benjamin Constant, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Friedrich Nietzsche. We will then close with Hannah Arendt, a twentieth-century thinker who was deeply ambivalent about the consequences of the emancipatory movements of the preceeding two centuries. The point of this course will, ultimately, be to ask whether and under what conditions democracy is a system worth defending and what alternatives one might be forced to accept if one concludes that democracy is more trouble than it's worth. In addition, you will learn to recognize some of your own unrecognized biases and gain some comfort in subjecting those biases to considered, searching reflection; become a more careful reader and interpreter of complex texts; and improve your ability to write essays that display rigorous analysis in clear and direct prose.

Daily Course Expectations

  • 6 hours of daily work
  • Mix of synchronous and asynchronous work (see definitions here)
  • 1 required synchronous session per day: 9:00 A.M to 12:00 P.M CST

Course Considerations

This course is an excellent introduction to the kind of close reading, interpretive, discussion, and writing skills that undergraduates learn in the College at the University of Chicago.

Writing Intensive
Reading Intensive
Discussion Intensive

Course Overview

Current Grade / Education Level

9th Grade
10th Grade
11th Grade



Start Date

July 13

End Date

July 29

Class Details

Primary Instructor

David Lyons

Academic Interest

Humanities (e.g., arts, philosophy)
Examining Culture and Society
Law and Politics
Social Sciences (e.g., history, sociology)

Class Specifics

Course Code

SOSC 25306 94

Class Day(s)

Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri


Session II

Course Length

3 weeks