As we move into the final weeks of our seminar (and as you write your papers), I want to share some ideas that should help you synthesize the “comparative” aspects of the course. We are beginning to look for commonalities among those philosophers with dictatorial sympathies, such as Gentile, Lukacs, and Schmitt and, depending upon your interpretation, even thinkers like Marx (perhaps others, too). It’s good to recall, however, that this is not the first time we have encountered this theme. If you turn back to our initial readings in the seminar, you’ll see that there are at least two ways in which scholars have sought to identify currents of philosophical thought that facilitate authoritarian thinking.

One group, epitomized by Karl Popper, has traced dictatorial thinking all the way back to Hegel and even Plato. A different group, epitomized by Hannah Arendt, has sought to “save” classical western philosophy from these sorts of accusations. So, who is right? Ultimately this debate boils down to a single challenge. Can we identify strains of philosophizing that are characteristic of authoritarian proclivities and thereby distinguishable from the more respectable traditions of post-Enlightenment thought that we have been investigating? Or, in the case of our readings, is the 19th and early 20th century tradition of continental idealism one big blur leading ineluctably to pro-fascist and pro-Stalinist sympathies?

Personally, I believe that one can live up to Arendt’s challenge of drawing a line between the “good” and the “bad,” the defensible and the indefensible strains of thought. But this is not enough. Even if one agrees with this position, a variety of political theorists (e.g., Holmes, Wolin) show us that there is room for continuing debate about where and how this line should be drawn.

Your charge is to decide where you stand.