Democracy, Fascism, Communism - PHIL6270

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2022 to 2023.


All things considered, liberal democracy is the best political system we know of. Nevertheless, it has always been in peril, attacked by totalitarian ideologies and undermined by self-destructive forces from within. In this module, we will investigate the essence and value of democracy, and the character and aims of its enemies. To this end, we will study an important theory in modern political philosophy, formulated in Ernst Cassirer's The Myth of the State. Cassirer explores the explosive problem of political myth in our day, and reveals how the myth of the state evolved from ancient times to prepare the way for the rise of the modern totalitarian state. He shows how the irrational forces symbolised by myth and manipulation by the state constantly threaten to destroy our civilisation. This major contribution to political theory will help us understand the problems our societies face today, including questions relating to truth and falsehood in politics, and, of course, 'fake truth’. We shall also look at a related text, Hans Kelsen’s The Essence and Value of Democracy.


Contact hours

Total Contact Hours: 40


Also available at Level 6 (PL626)

Method of assessment

Essay (3,000 words) – 70%
Summary of weekly reading (300 words) – 20%
Seminar Performance – 10%

Indicative reading

Indicative Reading List

Cassirer, E. (2009), The Myth of the State, New Haven: Yale University Press
Hart, H.L.A. (1976), The Concept of Law, Oxford: Oxford University Press
Kelsen, H. (2013), The Essence and Value of Democracy, Rowman
Kenny, A. (2012), A New History of Western Philosophy, Oxford University Press
Rawls, J. (1971), A Theory of Justice, Oxford: Oxford University Press

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

On successfully completing the module Level 5 students will be able to:

Articulate and critically discuss the main ideas in the text;
Articulate and critically discuss the main arguments for those ideas;
Show some understanding of the main intellectual environment in which the text was written;
Show appreciation of the questions that were raised in the text and why they were important, and, connect these points to the above;
Show understanding of some of the criticisms of the text and analyse them.


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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