History 487/POLS 490 Democracy’s Discontents: Challenges to Liberal Democracy in Europe


Welcome to our Spring 2014 class about anti-liberal democratic thought at movements at the turn of the Twentieth Century!


News related to our class: study finds that the United States, despite its commitment to democratic principles, is an oligarchy.  Check out this United Press article about the study:


Take a look at this great reading response by Ryan Gorman on Gustave Le Bon’s 1895 social psychology classic The Crowd:

The portion of Gustave Le Bon’s The Crowd assigned for this week’s reading was a forceful, passionate critique of how individuals behave in a crowd. While Le Bon does point to the crowd’s “heroic” potential as well as its more destabilizing qualities, he nonetheless appears profoundly fearful of what an uncontrolled crowd may be capable of when ignited by some incendiary spark. What struck me thus far about Le Bon’s work was his reliance on unconscious mechanisms to explain crowd behavior (he makes several references to hypnotism, also frequently discussing the importance of “innate” instincts and “racial” characteristics). I also made a mental note, while reading the assigned portion, that Le Bon is the first work we have looked at that falls into the “elites-criticizing-the-democratic-masses” category. Alternative, bottom-up views from those experiencing the crowd firsthand would likely moderate and alter Le Bon’s analysis. But of course, such views had no chance of actually penetrating the intellectual environment of Le Bon’s time.


Check out this great reading response by Zhaoxiang Zhang about Steven E. Aschheim’s The Nietzsche Legacy in Germany, 1890-1990:

Aschheim’s view on Nietzsche’s influence in Europe and subsequent intellectual movements is rather revoluntionary. First, he refused to analyze Nietzsche’s legacy in a static picture or to give it moral judgement. Aschheim tried to understand it as ‘ a product of dynamic interaction’ and, more importantly, he criticized a number of historians’ views on labelling Nietzsche as ‘aristocratic, antidemocratic, illiberal and reactionary’ by arguing that Nietzsche was actually opposed to the ancien regime and many of the texts represented anti-Christian immoralism. Aschheim discovered inner liberal thoughts from Nietzsche and claimed that subsequent movements like socialism, anarchism and feminism actually touched the Nietzsche philosophy and carried on the idea of the rejection of a ‘fixed system’. I once read Nietzsche’s work a while ago but most of the reviews I read heavily focused on aristocratic and reactionary explanation. Aschheim’s work really opened another door for me to get know the often misunderstood philosopher.


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