POLS 352

Nietzsche and Postmodern Politics


Fall 2008



Prof. Ross J. Corbett                                815-753-7044                                     rcorbett@niu.edu

Tue., Thu. 3:30–4:45 pm                        Office Hours:                      Tue., Thu. 10:00–11:30am

DuSable Hall 452                                                                                                     Zulauf Hall 412



This course centers on the profound impact that Friedrich Nietzsche had on the course of political philosophy.  It was Nietzsche who taught the West to speak in terms of “values.”  It was Nietzsche who inspired Freud and was responsible for splitting the psyche into the “id” and the “ego.”  It was Nietzsche who caused theorists to put scare-quotes around “truth,” or to distinguish between “truth” and “the Truth” with a capital T — for a time, it simply wasn’t respectable to speak about the Truth, a sign of naïveté.  The song “Mack the Knife” is based upon a Nietzschean character.  More than any other thinker, it was Nietzsche who made the Crisis of Modernity an inescapable fact.


Nietzsche has inspired those who support the radical leftist politics of absolute toleration and multiculturalism.  He has left his mark on Marxist scholarship, feminist deconstructions of gender, and Green movements to preserve our ecology.  He has also been a darling of the right.  German authorities quoted him with approval during both the First and Second World Wars.  He has been appropriated by just about every political ideology imaginable other than classical liberalism — the ideology that best defines the United States of America.


Attentive students can expect to leave this course with a greater understanding of the fundamental political problems as a result of a searching encounter with perspectives very different from their own.  Students will have a deeper knowledge of what was said in the works which we will study, and will have the tools to be able to profitably read other books of philosophical interest.

Required Readings

Martin Heidegger.  The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays.  Trans. William Lovitt.  New York:  Harper Perennial, 1982.  ISBN:  0061319694.

Karl Marx.  Selected Writings.  Ed. Lawrence H. Simon.  Indianapolis:  Hackett Publishing Company, 1994.  ISBN:  0872202186.

Friedrich Nietzsche.  Beyond Good and Evil.  Trans. Walter Kaufmann.  New York:  Vintage Books, 1966.  ISBN:  0679724656.

Friedrich Nietzsche.  On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo.  Trans. Walter Kaufmann.  New York:  Vintage Books, 1967.  ISBN:  0679724621.

Coursepacket containing:

Immanuel Kant, Idea for a Universal History with Cosmopolitan Intent

Immanuel Kant, Answer to the Question:  What is Enlightenment?

Friedrich Nietzsche, Preface to Thus Spoke Zarathustra

John Rawls, “Justice as Fairness:  Political not Metaphysical,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 14, no. 3 (Summer 1985):  223–51.

Richard Rorty, “The Contingency of Liberal Community,” in Contingency, irony, and solidarity, (New York:  Cambridge University Press, 1989):  44–69.

Leo Strauss, “What is Political Philosophy?” in What is Political Philosophy, and Other Essays (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1988 [1959]):  9–55.

Leo Strauss, “Note on the Plan of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil,” in Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1983):  174–91.


10%     Weekly Papers, no more than 300 words in length, due by the beginning of each Thursday seminar on topics assigned in class.  There will be no paper due in weeks where you hand in an essay or any cancelled class.  The lowest paper will be dropped (i.e., nine papers, eight of which count).

25%     Attendance & Class Participation.

20%     First Essay, due September 18 by 5:00pm.  Essays should not exceed 1000 words.

20%     Second Essay, due October 23 by 5:00pm.  Essays should not exceed 1000 words.

25%     Third Essay, due November 25 by 5:00pm.  Essays should not exceed 1500 words.


While NIU does not allow for final grades that have plusses or minuses, work during the semester will be assessed with plusses and minuses.  I will convert these grades to number scores, and convert them back at the end of the semester (stripping all plusses and minuses from the grade).  I use the following scale:


























Course Expectations & Policies

APPOINTMENTS:  I can arrange to meet students by appointment if the above office hours are inconvenient.  Students are encouraged to come to office hours to further discuss course material or any problems they might be having in the course.  It is best to discuss incipient problems before they become large ones.


PREPARATION:  This course centers around ideas that are found in classic texts of political theory.  We will treat not only these ideas but also how to find them in the text itself.  It is vital, therefore, that you read the assigned texts at least once before I discuss them in the lectures.  It is best to focus on what is confusing or counterintuitive, as this will help you participate in the class discussions.  Do not worry if you did not see everything in the book that I go over in lecture when you were reading it — that is what the lecture is for.  Worry if you still do not see it in the text after my lecture, or call me on it.


ATTENDANCE:   It is expected that you attend every scheduled lecture and participate knowledgably.  Attendance will be taken before the start of each class.  Students not in their seats when attendance is taken will be considered absent.  Students who leave class early without prior permission will also be considered absent for that class.  Attendance counts for a full half of your attendance and participation grade.


THANKSGIVING:  Thanksgiving break begins on November 26; we will hold our scheduled class on November 25.  Students absent on this day of class without a documented excuse of an emergency nature will be treated as though they had cut five classes.


CANCELLATIONS:  If I am more than fifteen minutes late to class, you may assume that I have been delayed and that class is cancelled.  Leaving earlier than this risks being marked absent.


PARTICIPATION:  Classes will largely follow a lecture format, and will supplement (but not replace) what is in the text.  I will interrupt my lectures to ask the class questions, and you are encouraged to interrupt me to ask questions of your own.  Fruitful participation includes answering questions intelligently, probing and challenging what is said in a manner that shows knowledge and understanding of the text, and otherwise advancing the level of discourse in the class.  Students with perfect attendance who do not participate cannot receive more than 50% on their attendance and participation grade.


DECORUM:  Use your common sense.  Turn off your cell phones.  Do not insult or threaten anybody, or use abusive language.  Do not eat — it only makes the rest of us hungry.  Refrain from private discussions, interrupting people, and in general anything that would disrupt the class.


WEEKLY PAPERS:  The weekly papers are intended to guide you in your reading, and will form the basis for discussion in the class.  Topics will always be on what we will discuss in an upcoming session, never on what we have already gone over in the past.


WRITTEN WORK:  Papers and Essays will be graded on the ideas they contain, but good organization and grammar are essential to getting those ideas across.  All written work should conform to the rules of standard English, and students should also expect that better-written work will get a higher grade.  Poorly-written work will suffer.  It is expected that students will cite the texts we are using in class, and they are the only authority in this course:  students who make use of secondary literature must cite that literature, but cannot rely upon it to prove whatever point they wish to make.  All work must be submitted via Blackboard, and will be run through SafeAssign.


LATE ESSAYS:  No weekly papers will be accepted if submitted late.  Late essays will be penalized 5% per day (including holidays and weekends).


INCOMPLETES:  Incompletes will only be given in rare circumstances, such as illness, death in the immediate family, or other unusual and unforeseeable circumstances.  Incompletes are given at the discretion of the instructor and only when it is possible that the completion of the remaining work could result in a passing grade. An incomplete must be resolved within the appropriate time limit or it will automatically be changed to an F.  The student is responsible for seeing that incompletes are made up before the expiration date.


ACADEMIC DISHONESTY:  All work must be the product of the student’s own original effort.  It is the student’s responsibility to familiarize him- or herself with university policy regarding plagiarism and academic dishonesty.  Students should take the university’s Academic Integrity tutorial (http://www.ai.niu.edu/ai/).  All work will be run through SafeAssign.  All infractions will be severely punished:  a failing grade for the course and possible disciplinary action by the university.


DISABILITIES:  Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, NIU is committed to making reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities.  Students who believe that their disability may have some impact on their coursework and for which they may require accommodations should notify the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR) on the fourth floor of the Health Services Building.  CAAR will assist students in making appropriate accommodations with course instructors.  It is important that CAAR and the instructor be informed of any disability-related needs during the first two weeks of the semester.


AWARDS:  The Department of Political Science will recognize, on an annual basis, outstanding papers written in conjunction with 300-400 level political science courses or directed studies.  Authors do not have to be political science majors or have a particular class standing.  Winners are expected to attend the Department’s spring graduation ceremony where they will receive a certificate of $50.00.  Papers, which can be submitted by students or faculty, must be supplied in triplicate to the department secretary by the end of February.  All copies should have two cover pages – one with the student’s name and one without the student’s name.  Only papers written in the previous calendar can be considered for the award.  However, papers completed in the current spring semester are eligible for the following year’s competition even if the student has graduated.


POLITICAL SCIENCE WEBSITE:  Students are encouraged to consult the Department of Political Science website on a regular basis.  This central source of information will assist students in contacting faculty and staff, reviewing course requirements and syllabi, exploring graduate study, and researching career options.  Undergraduates may find this website especially useful in tracking down department events and for accessing important details related to undergraduate programs and activities.  To reach this site, go to http://polisci.niu.edu/.

Tentative Class Schedule




Kant, Idea for a Universal History with Cosmopolitan Intent, Answer to the Question:  What is Enlightenment?; Strauss, “What is Political Philosophy?” Part III.


Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, Communist Manifesto


Marx, Selection from Part I of The German Ideology; Weekly Paper Due


Nietzsche, Zarathustra’s Prologue to Thus Spoke Zarathustra; Ecce Homo, “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” and “Beyond Good and Evil;” Preface to Beyond Good and Evil; Strauss, “Note on the Plan of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil


Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Part I; Weekly Paper Due


Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Parts I–II


Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Part II; First Essay Due


Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Part III


Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Part IV; Weekly Paper Due


[Class Cancelled]


Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Part V; Weekly Paper Due


Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Part VI


[Class Cancelled]


Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Part VII


Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Part VIII; Weekly Paper Due


Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Part IX


Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, “Genealogy of Morals;” On the Genealogy of Morals, Preface, First Essay; Second Essay Due


Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, First Essay


Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, Second Essay; Weekly Paper Due


Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, Second Essay


Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, Second Essay; Weekly Paper Due


Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, Third Essay


Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, Third Essay; Weekly Paper Due


Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology”


Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology;” Weekly Paper due


Rawls, “Justice as Fairness;” Rorty, “Contingency of Liberal Community;” Third Essay Due


[Thanksgiving Break]


Strauss, “What is Political Philosophy?” Parts I & III


Strauss, “What is Political Philosophy?” Part II