This is the 26th year of The New School’s Democracy and Diversity Institute. I have participated in just about all of them. One year, my father was gravely ill and I had to bug out. Recently, I have missed a few years, as I have been following a promise to myself to make myself dispensable in all the projects to which I am deeply committed, passing on the baton, working to increase the possibility that what I value has a life beyond my own. (I have been in fact worked on this at Public Seminar, as well as in the sociology department at The New School.) Yet, I couldn’t resist this year. It is a mad, mad world, and I need to meet with my colleagues, students and friends in Wroclaw to try to make sense of the madness, in pursuit of sanity. Thus I will be leading a seminar “The Media, the New Authoritarianism and Its Alternatives.”

I am not particularly optimistic about the present disorder of things. The darkness of our times is global. Thinking hurts, once again – the feeling I had in the aftermath of 9/11, which led to my writing of The Politics of Small Things. The source of the pain is the same, but it has metastasized. There is the clear and present danger of post modern barbarism, religious fundamentalism that justifies brutality as justified by “religionism” (“Islamism” but also its Christian, Jewish and Hindu cousins): the 21st century “advance” over the scientism of 20th modern barbarism. There is the new authoritarian reaction, the anti-terrorism and the war on terrorism, which challenges liberal freedoms, and which is in its murderous power the equivalent of the brutal forces it opposes. Think of the carnage of 9/11 and the carnage of the American response. The authoritarianism has advanced and spread: Trump and Putin, Orban, Kaczynski, and Duterte, et al. History seems to be repeating itself, first as tragedy and then again as tragedy, not comedy as Marx imagined. Its Fascism v. Communism all over again.

I would like to explore all this in Wroclaw, following a hypothesis that the development of the media has played an important role in the advance and spread of authoritarianism. We have seen how the new media system has facilitated resistance to postmodern barbarism and authoritarianism. This was a central theme in The Politics of Small Things, and later in the aftermath of the global protests of 2011, the topic of a seminar I gave in Wroclaw the following year. Yet now the underside of the new media landscape has become starkly apparent. Media may not cause the new authoritarianism, but in important ways they facilitate it.

We will start the first meeting with the seminar participants in my usual fashion. I will ask them to introduce themselves and why it is that they are joining this seminar. I will give an overview of the course plan. We’ll get to know each other and understand together our course of investigation. Given that I expect students from Europe, the Americas, and perhaps Asia and Africa as well, I plan to include their critical insights into the global developments from their corners of the world.

Hannah Arendt will be used as our guide for considering the new authoritarianism, and its relationship to the political challenges of globalization, so called neo-liberalism and perceived clashes of civilizations. We will study Arendt’s accounts of modern tyranny and barbarism, and their alternatives, and apply them to understanding postmodern tyranny and barbarism, and their alternatives.

We will consider how the media of the twentieth century, the centralizing mass media of radio and television, were knitted into the fabric of the major political formations of those times, and compare and contrast that to the way the politics of our times are constituted through contemporary media: cable television, talk radio, social media, and online publishing. How these form our “dark times,” and the relationships between truth and politics, and ideology and terror, will be among our major themes.

Here the working syllabus.

1. Introduction: Our Dark Times

Elzbieta Matynia, Grappling with Democracy,


“Democracy: Then and Now”

Arendt, Men in Dark Times, preface, “From an Interview”

Andrzej Franaszek, “Why Czeslaw Milosz Still Matters”

Goldfarb, “On Trump and Trumpism.”

“Truth and Politics at The New School and Beyond,”

“The Two Faces of Post Modern Barbarism,”

Hannah and Me

2. The Structural Transformation of the Mediated Public Sphere: Pre-television

Arendt, “The Public and the Private Realm” excerpt from The Human Condition

Habermas, “The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article,” “Further Reflections on the Public Sphere,” “Political Communication in Media Society”

Fraser, “Rethinking the Public Sphere”

3. The Structural Transformation of the Mediated Public Sphere: Television

Arendt, “The Crisis in Culture”

Dayan “The Peculiar Public of Television”

Meyrowitz, No Sense of Place (selections)

Dayan and Katz, Media Events (selections)

4.  The Structural Transformation of the Mediated Public Sphere: Post Television

Arendt, “On Violence”

Marwick and Boyd, “Twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience”

Bucher “A Technicity of Attention”

Dayan, “On Un-Publics,”

“Overhearing in the Public Sphere”

Alysha Khodaiji, “The New Public Sphere”

Zuckerberg’s Manifesto

Donald Trump’s first press conference

Rush Limbaugh’s review of press conference in

Trump on the established media

Conor Friedersdorf, “One Press Conferences, Two Audiences”

Goldfarb, “Solidarity and the Rise and Fall of the Public Sphere”

5. Grand Narratives I: The End of History and Clashes of Civilizations

Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, p. 267-302

Fukuyama, “The End of History,” Reflections on the End of History, Five Years Later

Giddens, “Modernity, History, Democracy

Huntington “The Clash of Civilizations?”

Said, “The Clash of Ignorance”

Bottici and Challand, “Rethinking Political Myth”

Challand “When the Far Enemy Becomes Near’

6. Grand Narratives II: Neo-liberalism?

Harvey , “Neoliberalism as Creative Destruction,” “Is This Really the End of Neoliberalism?”

Goldfarb, What do we mean by neoliberalism?

Lombardo, “Populism as Neoliberalism

Bryant William Sculos “On Theorizing Neoliberalism

7. Truth and Politics

Hannah Arendt, “Truth and Politics”

Goldfarb, The Politics of Small Things, Chapter 1

Munger “Blogging and political information”

Goldmacher, “How Trump Gets his Fakenews”

Nick Cohen, “Donald Trump”

Shuma Raha “Post Truth Politics is Here to Stay with Modi Trump as Ambassadors”

Jasper Jackson, “In the Post Truth Era Swedens Far Right Fack Fact Checher was Inevitable

Rachel McKinney, “The False Premises of Alt-right Ideology”

Marianne Le Nabat “On Secularism and the Lifting of the Burkini Ban”

Adam Kirsch, “Czeslaw Milosz’s Battle for Truth”

8. Ideology and Terror: Modern and Post Modern Barbarism

Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, p. 460-479

What ISIS Really Wants

Siobhan Kattago “The Specter of Fear”

Cinzia Arruzza “Is Solidarity Without Identity Possible?”

9 and 10. The New Authoritarianism

Arendt, “What is Authority?”

Andrea Mammone, “Europe’s Nationalist International”

Federico Finchelstein and Pablo Piccato, “Trump’s Macho-populism,”

Henry A Wallace, “The Dangers of American Fascism”

Henry Scott Wallace, “American Fascism, in 1944 and Today

Jan-Werner Mueller, “Claims to Populism, Danger to Democracy?”

Jeffrey C. Isaac, “Trump is an Authoritarian,”

“Is There a Crisis Of Democracy?”

“Thoughts on Putin and Trump,”

“The Politics of Disclosure in the Face of Trump’s Dangerous Authoritarianism,” How the Trump Administration is waging war against the Media,”

Hannah Leffingwell “White European Women’s Rights”

Michael Ure, “Trumps Gothic Populism”

Viktor Orban Hungary and the Crisis of Europe?

Lev Marder “What Does Draining the Swamp Really Mean?”

Ertug Tombus, “The Fall of Turkish Democracy”

Tomasz Kitlinski “Far Right Uber Alles”

Sławomir Sierakowski “The Illiberal International”

David Ost, “Thoughts on the Hungarian and the Polish New Right in Power’

Janos Kis, “Orban’s Politics of Fear and Hatred in Hungary”

Goldfarb, “Have Europeans Learned from the 20th Century for the 21st?

Philippe Gonzalez “Banning the Minarets in Switzerland”

11. Alternatives to the New Authoritarianism

Arendt, On Revolution, p. 215 – 281, “What is Freedom?”

Goldfarb, The Politics of Small Things, Chapter 5.

Nuri Can Akin, “What Hannah Arendt Really Wants”

Havel, “The Power of the Powerless”

Gerbaudo, Tweets and the Streets, Introduction and Conclusion

Roger Cohen, “L’Etat, C’est Trump!”

Liz Sayd, “The Real Power of Journalism”

Todd Gitlin, “The Right’s Walls and the Left’s Commons”

Adam Michnik, “Vilnius and Warsaw Our Common Cause”

Timothy Snyder, “Twenty Twentieth Century European Lessons for Americans to Consider”

12. Conclusions: Black, White and Grey

Murtaza Hussain, “Eliminating the Grayzone”

Goldfarb, “D.Y.I. Terrorism, and ISIS and Osama, Bin Laden on the Gray Zone”, “Standing on the Barricades”