Communication and Culture | Democratic Dissent in Wartime
C308 | 25093 | Ivie, R.
MW, 1:00 PM-2:15 PM, 800 E. 3rd St. – room 100
Fulfills College A&H Requirement
Instructor: Robert Ivie
Office: 800 E. 3rd St. – room 247
Description of Course Theme: This course examines dissent—its
cultural status, political role, and rhetorical characteristics—as a
vital democratic practice in the U.S., especially during wartime,
including the ongoing war on terrorism.
Dissent in wartime is as critical to the nation's democratic
identity as it is alarming to empowered elites and purveyors of
prevailing political opinion. Wars fought in the name of democracy
are unmatched by the actual practice of democracy in a moment of
national crisis. Thus, dissent typically is denigrated and stifled,
even within official deliberative bodies such as the U.S. Senate and
House of Representatives as well as in the courts, the mainstream
news media, grassroots politics and protest, and everyday
transactions of ordinary citizens. Dissent is disciplined in these
venues by representing it as dangerous, unpatriotic, and disloyal,
revealing an underlying distrust and culturally engrained fear of
Yet, dissent is critical to holding ambitious governments and
misguided policies accountable to public scrutiny and democratic
standards, not to mention the very identity of democracy itself. As
Cass Sunstein argues in Why Societies Need Dissent (Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 2003), freedom of speech is a safeguard
against senseless conformity; a culture of free speech is the
foundation of democratic self-government; and dissent within the
polity is a protection against ideological extremism, political
polarization, and unchecked power.
The course will explore these themes by tracing the roots of
contemporary attitudes toward dissent in the war on terrorism back
to the Quasi-War with France in 1798, the American Civil War, World
Wars I & II, the Cold War, the Vietnam War. In addition to
surveying the history of the suppression of dissent from the
Sedition Act of 1798 to the current PATRIOT Act, the course will
critically examine the foundational belief that democracy itself is
distempered and dangerous—a belief that transforms democracy into a
cause for war (rather than a process of vigorous political
deliberation), even as it provides a rationale for suppressing
dissent. We will explore the liminality of democratic dissent
between the boundaries of conformism and revolution, its tactics and
strategy, its political containment and escape, its vexed claims to
loyalty and national fidelity.
Readings: Three major readings for the course (all of which are
available in paperback editions) are Geoffrey R. Stone, Perilous
Times: Free Speech in Wartime (NY: W.W. Norton, 2004); Robert L.
Ivie, Democracy and America’s War on Terror (Tuscaloosa: University
of Alabama Press, 2005); Austin Sarat, ed., Dissent in Dangerous
Times (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005).
Format: The course format includes a combination of lecture and
Assignments: The major assignments, in addition to prescribed
readings, include regular attendance, essay examinations, and an
optional term paper in place of one of the essay exams.