PSCI 432
Senior Seminar: Critical Theory Spring 2023
Division II
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This course takes a critical look at the nexus of money and political power in the United States and world politics, using the concept of “racket society” to guide our inquiry. The theory of “rackets” was first put forward by Frankfurt School theorists in the 1940s as a way of analyzing linkages among organized crime, cartels, monopolies, corporate interests, and political institutions. Their project, which we will recreate in this course, was to trace the effects of the adaptation of the legal system (and other state institutions) to the conglomeration of capital and the concentration of wealth in a few hands. The flow of money offers insights into these deeper trends. Course readings begin with the work of Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Franz Neumann, Friedrich Pollock, and Herbert Marcuse, paying special attention to their discussion of the anti-democratic effects of money on political institutions. We will also look carefully at their critique of legal frameworks that protect the wealthy while criminalizing the poor. Although these concerns were not exclusive to the Frankfurt School, the approach they took had some unique features. Having fled Nazi Germany and re-established their research institute in exile the United States, Horkheimer and his colleagues brought an outsider-insider perspective to the problem. Among our questions are the following: How did the intellectual heritage of the Frankfurt School and their experiences in Germany shape their analysis of racket society in 1940s America? Does the theory of rackets still have analytical power today? Given the massive expansion of the U.S. economy and the role of transnational capital in driving economic globalization in recent decades, what insights might the early Frankfurt School offer critics of anti-democratic tendencies in world politics today?
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 12
Expected: 12
Class#: 3931
Grading: no pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: regular class participation, short (1 pg) response papers, and drafts leading up to a 15-page final essay
Prerequisites: junior or senior standing required; in addition, prior coursework in political theory, cultural theory, philosophy, or permission of instructor
Enrollment Preferences: Senior Political Science majors with concentration in Political Theory, then other Political Science majors
Distributions: Division II
Attributes: PSCI Political Theory Courses

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