Smolny Beyond Borders

A Liberal Arts Initiative

When the People Rule: Popular Sovereignty in Theory and Practice



Course Schedule:

Spring 2023 | Tue 9:45 AM – 12:05 AM EST

Professors: Ewa Atanassow (BCB, Berlin) and Thomas Bartscherer (Bard, NY)
Semester: Spring 2023; Monday, January 30 – Tuesday, May 23
Schedule: Tue 9.10 – 11.30 AM EST
Language of Instruction: English
Course Prerequisites: English B2 / Equivalent or higher
Subject: HR (Human Rights) | Cross-Listing(s): N/A
Distribution Area: MBV (Meaning, Being, Value) 
Max Enrollment: 18
Course Time Zone: Eastern Time (US/NY)

Course Description
“Democracy” in its root sense in Ancient Greek, signifies that the people have the power to rule. Yet what does it mean for the people to rule? This question is at the heart of many contemporary geopolitical battles, not least, the ideological and material war between Vladimir Putin’s Russia and the Western liberal alliance led by the United States. It is also a question with a long and complex history. Our aim in this course will be to interrogate popular sovereignty as a principle, examining its origins in antiquity; the philosophical arguments, both ancient and modern, that have been advanced for and against it; and the relationship between this principle and the practice of self-governance in two particular cases: the early American republic, and modern Russia. Questions we address include: what constitutes “a people,” in what sense can it be regarded as sovereign, and how is inclusion within, or exclusion from, the sovereign people determined? How has rule by the people been understood historically? Why has it been regarded as legitimate or good? How is the will of the people conceptualized and expressed? What is the relationship between “public opinion” and popular sovereignty? The course will encompass theoretical accounts as well as empirical and policy analysis, aiming to bring diverse discourses into conversation. This course will be taught simultaneously at Bard College Berlin and Smolny Beyond Borders, with occasional joint meetings and student collaboration across campuses. We will also host several guest speakers.

Registration is closed.