Communication and Culture | Communication and Social Conflict
C304 | 1152 | Robert Ivie

Theme:  Democratic Dissent in a Nation at War

This course will examine the role of dissent in a healthy democracy
and the damaging constraints placed on it during a period of national
crisis such as America's war on terrorism.

Democratic dissent in a period of war or crisis is as critical to a
nation's political welfare as it is alarming to those in power and to
the purveyors of prevailing opinion.  This is especially the case when
a nation as powerful as the U.S. is overly prone to denigrating and
stifling anti-war dissent as unpatriotic and disloyal.  Fighting wars
in the name of democracy is unmatched by a willingness to practice it
in times of crisis.  The lesson Americans find difficult to master is
that vigorous dissent and debate are especially critical in times of
national crisis in order to keep ambitious governments honest and to
make misguided policies accountable in public debate.  Without open
debate, governments tend to exaggerate the danger to the nation,
target unpopular groups for vilification and repression, enact
preexisting political agendas under the cover of national security,
and generally spawn a culture of secrecy and suppression that fosters
poor decision making and regrettable consequences.  If  it is the
case, as Nancy Chang and others insist, that strengthening "our
commitment to the First Amendment and the democratic values it
embodies becomes all the more essential" when the nation's security is
threatened (which is precisely the point at which government and
society at large are inclined to curtail freedom of speech), then it
is especially important to understand what is at stake when democratic
dissent is curbed and to explore how the agonistic edge of vigorous
dissent can be sharpened to address more effectively the present
crisis of terrorism under prevailing conditions of division,
diversity, globalization, and multiculturalism.

Toward this end, students will read and evaluate books such as Nancy
Chang's Silencing Political Dissent: How Post-September 11 Anti-
Terrorism Measures Threaten our Civil Liberties, David Cole and James
Dempsey's Terrorism and the Constitution:  Sacrificing Civil Liberties
in the Name of National Security, Cass Sustein's, Why Societies Need
Dissent, Chris Hedges' critique of the overwhelming appeal of war in
his controversial best seller, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning,
and Roland Bleiker's Popular Dissent, Human Agency and Global
Politics.  Note:  These represent the kinds of books that will be
read, not necessarily the actual ones nor the actual number.  We are
likely to read three books over the course of the semester.

The student's major assignment in the course will be a term project
which she or he chooses in consultation with the instructor.  It will
involve research on a case of attempted dissent and corresponding
efforts to suppress dissenters.  It will also involve an analysis of
strategies for expressing dissenting views persuasively.