Democracy Courses at UChicago

Featured course

Democratic Erosion

In Spring 2019, Professor Susan Stokes taught the innovative cross-university Democratic Erosion course. This course is part of a consortium of nearly 50 institutions that each offer a variation on this course, which teaches students to evaluate threats to democracy in the United States and abroad. Professor Stokes plans to offer this course again in the 2020-21 academic year.

Democratic Erosion was by far one of the best classes I took at the University of Chicago. The combination of hyper-relevant course material, a diversity of interesting readings, and a set of presentations from many of the authors themselves made the experience unforgettable.” —UChicago undergraduate student Justin Saint-Loubert-Bié

2019-20 Courses Related to Democracy

Over the coming months and years, the Democracy Curriculum will embark on a process of reviewing the democracy-focused courses available to UChicago undergraduate students. This process may lead us to the creation of new structures (sequence, cluster, minor, etc.) focusing on democracy; as we are in the beginning of this journey, we don’t yet know what the outcome will be. In the meantime, for the benefit of students, we have compiled the list below of courses that cover various aspects of democracy.

Note that we have listed each course once, rather than repeating cross-listed courses. This list is drawn from on the 2019-20 College catalog. We plan to update it with the 2020-21 offerings when that catalog is complete later in the summer 2020. If you are aware of any courses that we have missed, please email Kevin Kromash at



ANTH 29601. Populism and Its Discontents. 100 Units.
Populism and its Discontents is a reading-based undergraduate discussion seminar. Populism is currently the word on everyone’s lips. But what does it mean? We begin with the ambiguous status of populism in current public debates; populism is at once imagined as the lifeblood of genuine democracy and at the same time as the dark force that threatens democracy from within. Why should this be? Questions to be covered include, but are not limited to, the following: Are there progressive and regressive forms of populism? Does populism look different in today’s social media-saturated world than it did a hundred years ago? Does populism in the Global South force us to reconsider what we think we know about its Euro-American variants? Students will be asked to complete assignments drawing on the assigned readings and audiovisual materials and on contemporary media sources.
Instructor(s): William Mazzarella     Terms Offered: Spring
Prerequisite(s): PQ: 3rd or 4th year standing
Note(s): This is a 3CT Capstone Course
Equivalent Course(s): HMRT 29601, SOCI 28078


Classical Studies

CLCV 24319. The Idea of Freedom in Antiquity. 100 Units.
Freedom may be the greatest of American values. But it also has a long history, a dizzying variety of meanings, and a huge literature. This course will be an introduction to critical thinking on freedom (primarily political freedom) with an emphasis on Greco-Roman texts. The first half of the class will focus on Greek authors, including Herodotus, Euripides, and Aristotle. The second half will focus on Roman authors, from Cicero to Livy to Tacitus. The ancient texts will be supplemented by modern literature on freedom, such as John Stuart Mill and Isaiah Berlin.
Instructor(s): A. Horne     Terms Offered: Autumn
Equivalent Course(s): HIST 30507, CLAS 34319, HIST 20507, LLSO 24319

CLCV 25808. Roman Law. 100 Units.
The course will treat several problems arising in the historical development of Roman law: the history of procedure; the rise and accommodation of multiple sources of law, including the emperor; the dispersal of the Roman community from the environs of Rome to the wider Mediterranean world; and developments in the law of persons. We will discuss problems like the relationship between religion and law from the archaic city to the Christian empire, and between the law of Rome and the legal systems of its subject communities.
Instructor(s): C. Ando     Terms Offered: Spring
Equivalent Course(s): LLSO 21212, HIST 21004, HIST 31004, SIGN 26017, CLAS 35808


Comparative Literature

CMLT 26660. The Rise of the Global New Right. 100 Units.
This course traces the intellectual genealogies of the rise of a Global New Right in relation to the contexts of late capitalist neoliberalism, the fall of the Soviet Union, as well as the rise of social media. The course will explore the intertwining political and intellectual histories of the Russian Eurasianist movement, Hungarian Jobbik, the American Traditional Workers Party, the French GRECE, Greek Golden Dawn, and others through their published essays, blogs, vlogs and social media. Perhaps most importantly, the course asks: can we use f-word (fascism) to describe this problem? In order to pose this question we will explore the aesthetic concerns of the New Right in relation to postmodern theory, and the affective politics of nationalism. This course thus frames the rise of a global new right interdisciplinary and comparatively as a historical, geopolitical and aesthetic problem.
Instructor(s): Leah Feldman     Terms Offered: Autumn
Equivalent Course(s): CRES 36660, REES 36661, CRES 26660, ENGL 36661, CMLT 36660, ENGL 26660, REES 26660, SIGN 26050



HIST 18101. Democracy in America? 100 Units.
This course will explore the unlikely career of democracy in US history. Throughout its past, the United States has been defined by endless and unpredictable struggles to establish and extend self-government of one kind or another-even as those struggles have encountered great resistance and relied on the exclusion or subordination of some portion of society to underwrite expanding freedom and equality for those enjoying the fullest benefits of citizenship. American democracy has also relied on a conceptual separation between state and society that has necessarily broken down in practice, as political institutions produced and sustained economic forms like slavery or the corporation, social arrangements like the family, and cultural values such as freedom-even as private interests worked their reciprocal influence over public institutions. Over the course of the quarter we will explore this contested history of democracy in America through a close reading of classic texts, including Tocqueville’s famous study, contextualized by the most current historical scholarship. Small, incremental writing assignments and individual presentations will culminate in a final essay that can emphasize philosophical/theoretical or historical/empirical questions according to students’ interests. Students will also have the option of conducting their own original research to satisfy some portion of the coursework, which may lead to subsequent internship opportunities with relevant faculty.
Instructor(s): J. Sparrow     Terms Offered: Winter
Note(s): History in the World courses use history as a valuable tool to help students critically exam our society, culture, and politics. Preference given to 1st- and 2nd-yr students.
Equivalent Course(s): LLSO 28101

HIST 23517. The Authoritarian Personality: History and Theory. 100 Units.
Can you pick a fascist out of a crowd? Can crowds turn ordinary people into authoritarian zombies? This course offers an overview of the development of psychological research into authoritarianism. Our inquiry will unfold in three stages. Part I (Weeks 1-3) examines the emergence of the authoritarian personality – in rumor and reality – in interwar Europe. Part II (4-7) looks at texts that prepared the ground for Adorno’s infamous Authoritarian Personality (1950). Part III (7-10) deals with the search for anti-authoritarian personalities and scholars updating this research to respond to contemporary political developments.
Instructor(s): David Gutherz     Terms Offered: Winter. This course will be taught winter 2020
Equivalent Course(s): SCTH 20667

HIST 25300. American Revolution, 1763 to 1789. 100 Units.
This lecture and discussion course explores the background of the American Revolution and the problem of organizing a new nation. The first half of the course uses the theory of revolutionary stages to organize a framework for the events of the 1760s and 1770s, and the second half of the course examines the period of constitution making (1776-1789) for evidence on the ways in which the Revolution was truly revolutionary.
Instructor(s): E. Cook     Terms Offered: Winter
Equivalent Course(s): LLSO 20601, HIST 35300

HIST 28204. The Civil War and the Transformation of American Democracy. 100 Units.
The Civil War announced the dramatic failure of American constitutional democracy to resolve or avoid a fundamental conflict over slavery. The costly achievements of the war, however, only replaced one inescapable problem with another: namely, how to incorporate the results of an abrupt, catastrophically violent assertion of military force into an enduring political regime that remained true to the ideal of free government. A national commitment to equal rights established, but did not resolve, the problem of how to transform a society of slaves and conquered belligerents into equal citizens in a constitutional democracy. It is misleading to separate the abstract and practical dimensions of this essential problem. The moral principles at stake in the conflict ultimately depended on salvaging a bitterly divided nation from the abyss into which it had plunged. In this course, we will examine the history of the Civil War era through the dynamic controversies of high politics, as an entirely new conception of the American Republic emerged from the failure of the old.
Instructor(s): A. Rowe     Terms Offered: Spring


Human Rights

HMRT 21001. Human Rights: Contemporary Issues. 100 Units.
This interdisciplinary course presents an overview of several major contemporary human rights problems as a means to explore the use of human rights norms and mechanisms. The course addresses the roles of states, inter-governmental bodies, national courts, civil society actors including NGOs, victims, and their families, and other non-state actors. Topics are likely to include universalism, enforceability of human rights norms, the prohibition against torture, U.S. exceptionalism, and the rights of women, racial minorities, and non-citizens.
Equivalent Course(s): LACS 21001, HMRT 31001, LLSO 21001, HIST 29304

HMRT 21002. Human Rights: Philosophical Foundations. 100 Units.
Human rights are claims of justice that hold merely in virtue of our shared humanity. In this course we will explore philosophical theories of this elementary and crucial form of justice. Among topics to be considered are the role that dignity and humanity play in grounding such rights, their relation to political and economic institutions, and the distinction between duties of justice and claims of charity or humanitarian aid. Finally we will consider the application of such theories to concrete, problematic and pressing problems, such as global poverty, torture and genocide. (A) (I)
Instructor(s): B. Laurence     Terms Offered: Spring
Equivalent Course(s): LLSO 21002, HIST 39319, PHIL 31002, HIST 29319, HMRT 31002, INRE 31602, MAPH 42002, PHIL 21002


Law, Letters, and Society

LLSO 22403. Free Speech and the First Amendment. 100 Units.
This course will examine the Supreme Court’s First Amendment jurisprudence, focusing on such issues as speech critical of the government, the hostile audience, classified information, libel, commercial advertising, obscenity, symbolic expression, campaign finance regulation and the freedom of the press
Instructor(s): Geoffrey Stone     Terms Offered: Not Offered in 2019-20

LLSO 22612. Introduction to Political Philosophy. 100 Units.
In this class we will investigate what it is for a society to be just. In what sense are the members of a just society equal? What freedoms does a just society protect? Must a just society be a democracy? What economic arrangements are compatible with justice? In the second portion of the class we will consider one pressing injustice in our society in light of our previous philosophical conclusions. Possible candidates include, but are not limited to, racial inequality, economic inequality, and gender hierarchy. Here our goal will be to combine our philosophical theories with empirical evidence in order to identify, diagnose, and effectively respond to actual injustice. (A)
Instructor(s): B. Laurence     Terms Offered: Spring
Equivalent Course(s): PLSC 22600, GNSE 21601, PHIL 21600

LLSO 23420. The Civil Rights Movement in the United States, 1865-Present. 100 Units.
This class examines the history of the African American Freedom Struggle in the United States from emancipation to the present. Although the course will move chronologically, our emphasis will be thematic, covering such topics as voting rights and political participation, sex and marriage rights, criminal justice reform, the role of courts, and the relationship between law and social movements. A series of research papers will be required for this class (20-25 pages). Participation may be considered in final grading.
Instructor(s): Jane Dailey     Terms Offered: Winter
Prerequisite(s): None


Parrhesia Program for Public Discourse

PARR 15000. Political Rhetoric: Speeches, Campaigns, and Protests. 100 Units.
By critically examining historical and contemporary political discourse the class will attempt to elucidate how symbolic action creates meaning and shapes political positions as well as policy decisions. Utilizing rhetorical theory, students will analyze oral, written, and digital public communication aimed at influencing social, political, legal, and religious issues and institutions. It will explore topics such as the role of power and identity in political communication, the ethical dimension of public discourse, and the concept of a free and open public sphere. Through readings, discussions, case studies, and analytical assignments, students will learn to critically examine as well as to produce effective public discourse.
Instructor(s): L. Brammer     Terms Offered: Winter
Equivalent Course(s): FNDL 20199, ENGL 15005


Political Science

PLSC 21116. Elites and 20th Century Democratic Theory. 100 Units.
Contemporary populism has reinvigorated debate about the role of elites in modern democratic life. The Occupy Movement’s slogan of the 1%, to Brexit, Trump’s election and the rise of populist leaders in Europe, the relationship of elites-whether financial, social, or political-to representative institutions has been forcefully brought back onto the political agenda. How can the fact that a small number of people wield disproportionate power in the economic, social or indeed political world be reconciled with democracy understood as political equality? This course delves into the history of political thought to see how authors in the past century have conceptualized the relationship of elites and democracy. Beginning with the so-called ‘elite theorists of democracy’ – Gaetano Mosca, Vilfredo Pareto, Robert Michels – who were the first to theorize the elite class within modern democratic institutional arrangements, we will explore how their thought impacted the development of democratic theory both in Europe and the US through figures such as Max Weber, Joseph Schumpeter, C. Wright Mills and Robert Dahl. The goal will be to come to a better understanding of both contemporary democracies and the precise nature elites play in them, and to think about ways in which some of the more deleterious aspects of our contemporary politics might be tackled.
Instructor(s): N. Piano     Terms Offered: Spring

PLSC 21607. Empire, Colonialism, and Democracy. 100 Units.
With the rise and consolidation of global empires in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the unevenly integrated spaces of the metropolis and the colonies came to form a new conception of the globe. How did modern in particular, British political thought conceive of and respond to this reordering of the world? In this course, we will analyze the conceptual resources with which democratic and liberal thinkers approached and often justified the legitimacy of colonial rule. We will also explore how nineteenth-century British thought traveled to (and from) the colonies and how anticolonial political thinkers participated in and diverged from the British framework. Along the way we will tackle some of the big questions in British Empire and anticolonialism studies: how did European understanding of empire and colonialism change from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century? How did liberal imperialism unravel and what intellectual concerns conditioned the turn to indirect rule in the late 1850s? Was the nation-state an inevitable outcome of colonial rule? And, finally, how did the long history of colonial subjection shape the understanding of democracy in the postcolonial world? While this course takes colonial Indian political thought as a paradigmatic case, it also incorporates relevant materials from other colonial sites.
Instructor(s): N. Sultan     Terms Offered: Spring

PLSC 22400. Public Opinion. 100 Units.
What is the relationship between the mass citizenry and government in the U.S.? Does the public meet the conditions for a functioning democratic polity? This course considers the origins of mass opinion about politics and public policy, including the role of core values and beliefs, information, expectations about political actors, the mass media, economic self-interest, and racial attitudes. This course also examines problems of political representation, from the level of political elites communicating with constituents, and from the possibility of aggregate representation.
Instructor(s): J. Brehm     Terms Offered: Spring
Equivalent Course(s): CRES 22400, LLSO 26802

PLSC 22505. Knowledge and Politics. 100 Units.
What is the relationship between knowledge and power, and between science and democracy? What kinds of knowledge are needed in politics, and who needs to know what? In this course we read a number of philosophers, theorists, and social scientists interested in the relationship between knowledge and politics. Topics covered may include: the epistemic properties of political institutions and markets; the role of expertise in politics; values in science and public policy; and theories of epistemic democracy and epistemic injustice. (A)
Instructor(s): M. Landauer     Terms Offered: Winter
Equivalent Course(s): PLSC 42502

PLSC 23100. Democracy and the Information Technology Revolution. 100 Units.
The revolution in information technologies has serious implications for democratic societies. We concentrate, though not exclusively, on the United States. We look at which populations have the most access to technology-based information sources (the digital divide), and how individual and group identities are being forged online. We ask how is the responsiveness of government being affected, and how representative is the online community. Severe conflict over the tension between national security and individual privacy rights in the U.S., United Kingdom, and Ireland will be explored as well. We analyze both modern works (such as those by Turkle and Gilder) and the work of modern democratic theorists (such as Habermas).
Instructor(s): M. Dawson     Terms Offered: Spring
Equivalent Course(s): LLSO 27101

PLSC 23901. The Federalist Papers and Anti-Federalist Writings. 100 Units.
This course examines the debate over the ratification of the Constitution through a reading of The Federalist Papers and selected Anti-Federalist writings as works of continuing relevance to current practical and theoretical debates. Issues include war and peace, interests and the problem of faction, commerce, justice and the common good as ends of government, human nature, federalism, republican government, representation, separation of powers, executive power, the need for energy and stability, the need for a bill of rights, and constitutionalism.
Instructor(s): Nathan Tarcov     Terms Offered: Winter
Prerequisite(s): Open to undergrads
Equivalent Course(s): LLSO 23901, SCTH 31715, PLSC 33930, FNDL 21719

PLSC 24201. Liberalism. 100 Units.
The post-war consensus on liberal democratic government can today seem under siege in Europe and the United States. Has liberalism run its course, its once revolutionary promise now dimmed by rising inequality, populist ideology, and perceived threats to national cultures? What newer, more persuasive liberalism might replace the managerial, economistic, instrumental model that we’ve inherited? This seminar explores a variety of answers to that question, arguing that the canonical replies may be stranger, the forgotten alternatives more compelling, and liberal thought far more variegated than liberalism’s critics or defenders have recognized. Our eclectic respondents include F.A. Hayek, Judith Shklar, Bernard Williams, Susan Okin, Richard Rorty, and Nancy Rosenblum. We will also explore some surprisingly topical interventions by John Locke, Voltaire, Diderot, Condorcet, Mary Wollstonecraft, John Dewey, and José Ortega y Gasset.
Equivalent Course(s): MAPS 44200, PLSC 44201

PLSC 25215. The American Presidency. 100 Units.
This course examines the institution of the American presidency. It surveys the foundations of presidential power, both as the Founders conceived it, and as it is practiced in the modern era. This course also traces the historical development of the institutional presidency, the president’s relationships with Congress and the courts, the influence presidents wield in domestic and foreign policymaking, and the ways in which presidents make decisions in a system of separated powers.
Instructor(s): W. Howell     Terms Offered: Spring
Equivalent Course(s): LLSO 25215, PLSC 35215, AMER 25215, PBPL 25216

PLSC 25305. Democratic Backsliding in Russia, Poland, and Hungary. 100 Units.
Russian Civilization III is devoted to studying the Russian “other” in the second half of the 20th and early 21st century. It focuses on the Central European countries, which remained from 1945 through 1990 under the control of the Soviet Union, concentrating on Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. The first week of the course will cover the implementation and institutionalization of communist rule and resistance to it with a particular focus on the development of the dissident movement abroad (especially in Paris). The second week will discuss the downfall of communism in the region and the process of democratization, culminating with the joining of international organizations, such as NATO and the EU (hence, our trip the EU parliament and Council of Europe). Week three will cover the most contemporary events, including democratic backsliding, especially in Poland and Hungary. We will examine the causes and consequences of the rise of populism, nationalism and anti-western sentiment in states which only 15 years ago were so eager to join the European Community.
Instructor(s): M. Nalepa     Terms Offered: Spring
Prerequisite(s): Admission to the Paris Russian Civilization program

PLSC 26615. Democracy’s Life and Death. 100 Units.
How are democracies founded and maintained? What are their advantages and disadvantages with respect to stability, security, liberty, equality, and justice? Why do democracies decline and die? This course addresses these questions by examining democracies, republics, and popular governments in both the ancient and modern worlds. We will read and discuss primary texts from and social scientific analyses of Athenian democracy, the Roman Republic, the United States, and modern representative governments throughout the globe.
Instructor(s): J. McCormick     Terms Offered: Autumn
Equivalent Course(s): LLSO 26615

PLSC 28105. Transitional Justice. 100 Units.
This class will expose students to readings and research in a new area of social science: Transitional Justice. Transitional justice (TJ) refers to how new democracies deal with members and collaborators of former authoritarian regimes. In an era of democratic backsliding, getting TJ right cannot be overstated. When fragile new democracies are at risk of reverting back to dictatorship, the question arises: Can mechanisms set up by new democracies to deal with former authoritarian elites prevent such backsliding from happening? Or is backsliding occurring despite extensive TJ provisions? The class will introduce students a newly released dataset on Global Transitional Justice. Students will be encouraged and trained to conduct statistical analysis of their own to test hypotheses about the causes and effects of various transitional justice mechanisms.
Instructor(s): M. Nalepa     Terms Offered: Spring
Prerequisite(s): PLSC 22913, SOSC 13100-13300, or introductory statistics strongly recommended


Public Policy Studies

PBPL 22100. Politics and Policy. 100 Units.
This course has two fundamental aims. The first is to introduce students to a set of analytical tools and concepts for understanding how political institutions generate public policy. The second is to apply these tools in examining the major institutions of democracy in the United States. Note(s): Public Policy 22100-22200-22300 may be taken in any order.
Instructor(s): C. Berry     Terms Offered: Autumn
Note(s): Public Policy 22100-22200-22300 may be taken in any order.

PBPL 28871. Constitutional Law. 100 Units.
This course is an introduction to American constitutional law. Topics include: the role of the judiciary and other institutions in interpreting and applying the Constitution of the United States; theories of constitutional interpretation; the practice and meaning of judicial review in a political democracy; structural and individual rights approaches to constitutional limitations on government authority; and the public-private distinction in constitutional law.
Instructor(s): D. Spencer     Terms Offered: Spring
Prerequisite(s): Third or fourth year standing required