Most years in the Germany section of our course, I show a brief scene from the film Cabaret, a classic 1972 musical about Weimar Germany, young love, and youthful exploration in those electric years. The film excerpt depicts youthful innocence, naivete, and the ways we can be manipulated, not only by politicians and propagandists, but by art, by music, and by song. For a long time I thought Cabaret too dated to speak to today's students, its window onto large events too small. The "big themes," I long had rationalized, for the most part elude the plot. But the scene made me consider anew the relationship of art to politics. As much as the parts of other good films we have viewed (e.g., Dr. Zhivago), or whole films that I often mention in this course but do not show (e.g., Fiddler on the Roof, The Nasty Girl, Reds, Little Vera, The Official Story), I again call the whole of the film "Cabaret" to your attention. Rent it, borrow it from a library, but see it. Make the effort to see the dazzling dance performances by Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey -- father of a recent winner on Dancing with the Stars, Jennifer Grey. Rent it for perspective that can come from realizing how modern issues such as the harassment of gay people actually have been a concern for several generations. But rent it most for the insights that can come from thinking about that beer garden serenade I showed-- it's late in the film. A blonde, blue eyed, clean shaven, youthful "role model" of maybe 17, breaks into song whose chorus goes: Tomorrow belongs, tomorrow belongs, tomorrow belongs to me. Then, nearly the whole beer garden full of diners, rapt in dewy-eyed attention, rises and gustily chimes in. Only after we have been drawn in by this stirring chorus does the camera pan down to his arm. The swastika emblem silently conveys the filmmaker's powerful message.
An appreciation of art --and film can be art-- can liberate us to see with new eyes that which has been all around us but which has remained unnoticed. Truly, tomorrow does not belong to those fictional celluloid images in that film: it belongs to you.
What sort of tomorrow will it be? This course, and my teaching as a whole, has an agenda on that matter. It aims to raise questions within you. I want your generation to think about what is the best way that humans can understand their freedom. I want us all to think about how freedom, and other important values -- order, security, justice-- can be achieved. It is not enough to skip lightly past these matters, or only to address them if they happen to come up as you fulfill, say a Humanities requirement, where you might just as well have studied Christian Scriptures as to have opened up to John Locke. (He's not just a loopy character on the television drama "Lost"!) Just because philosophers too abstractly and for long have wrestled with difficult things, and have come to no universally accepted answers, does not relieve us, now, of the need to try anew to understand freedom in our times. About freedom, human societies already have created so ample a track record of real evidence. The whole point of the social scientific approach to politics is to try to convert the eternal quandaries of philosophers into a somewhat more systematic search for answers, not for "pure knowledge," but to guide us. Through coming to know the patterns in the humans experience, political science basically asks: "What has helped, and what has hindered, particular human communities in their attempts to create and to preserve orderly freedom, justice without tyranny?" Amid what may have seemed merely to have been a blizzard of disorderly details, I hope that these larger concerns are what you take away from this course.
(1). I refer here specifically to the proven liar David Irving, who historian Deborah Lipstadt demonstrated to be just that in a London court in April 2000. Yet the appetite to indulge the proven liar, Mr. Irving, continued. In November 2007, the august Oxford University Union actually invited Irving to speak, but his presentation was cut short by protestors whose disorder stopped the show. (Professor Bowen wants specifically to disavow such tactics, even when confronting fools like Irving). But the problem of influential lies gaining hold on the minds of the next generation is most acute outside the West. See, for example, see the comments made in Fall 2003 by Dr. Yousef Ziedan director of the Alexandria, Egypt, Library. Or, for further example, see the related discussion on my weblog.
Works referred to in this lecture:
Gabriel A. Almond, "Capitalism and Democracy," PS: Political Science and Politics (Sept. 1991): 467-474.
Edmund Burke, "Letter to a Member of the National Assembly," in Edmund Burke, The Works of the Right Honorable Edmund Burke vol. 4, (Boston: Little Brown, 1866): 51-52.
Robert Dahl Preface to Democratic Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963)
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (New York: Bobbs-Merrill / Liberal Arts Press, 1958; originally published 1651).
Samuel P. Huntington, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (Norman OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993).
Robert D. Kaplan, The Coming Anarchy : Shattering the Dreams of the Post Cold War (New York: Vintage, 2001).
Deborah Lipstadt, History on Trial : My Day in Court with David Irving (New York: Ecco / Harper-Collins, 2005).
Deborah Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust : The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (Plume / Penguin Books, 1994).
James Madison, "Federalist Paper No. 10," in Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, The Federalist Papers (New York: New American Library, 1961; originally published 1787): 77-84.
James Madison, "Federalist Paper No. 51," in Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, The Federalist Papers (New York: New American Library, 1961; originally published 1788): 320-325.
Philippe Schmitter and Terry Lynn Karl, "What Democracy is... and is Not," Journal of Democracy (Summer 1991).
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