American Studies | Advanced Topics in Arts & Humanities in AMST: Democratic Dissent in Wartime
A398 | 18308 | Ivie, R

Course carries A & H credit
Joint-listed with CMCL C308

Professor: Robert Ivie (

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 democracy
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.