Academic year
2023/2024 Syllabus of previous years
Official course title
Course code
LM6560 (AF:462517 AR:251538)
On campus classes
ECTS credits
Degree level
Master's Degree Programme (DM270)
Educational sector code
1st Semester
Course year
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The course is targeted at the students of the first year of the Global Studies path of the MA programme in Comparative International Relations (RIC). Thanks to its historical-conceptual layout, the course contributes to the achievement of the multidisciplinary objectives of the MA programme.
By the end of the course, students will have developed a thorough knowledge of the history of the political categories of Tyranny, Despotism, Absolutism, Napoleonism, Bonapartism, Caesarism, Charisma, Dictatorship, and Totalitarianism. In particular, students will be able 1) to recognise the unique features of each concept and its relationship with the others; 2) to grasp both the diachronic development and the synchronic dimension of this reflection; 3) to collocate in their historical and theoretical contexts the usages of these concepts made by the single authors mentioned.
More generally, the course aims at 1) strengthening the learning abilities of the students; 2) enhancing their capacity to tackle with complex theoretical issues; 3) developing a critical approach towards the secondary literature and stimulating the original thinking of the students.
No prior familiarity with the specific topic of the course is required.
The course is entitled: "'A Family of Political Concepts': From Tyranny to Totalitarianism".
It aims to offer an overview of the thinking about authoritarian regimes from the antiquity up to our times, by investigating a number of political categories which belong to the same ‘conceptual family’: Tyranny, Despotism, Absolutism, Napoleonism, Bonapartism, Caesarism, Charisma, Dictatorship, Totalitarianism. Attention will be also devoted to the concept of Populism in so far as the aforementioned concepts represent its ‘forerunners’.
The approach will be 1) philological, insofar as we will investigate the evolution of these categories in a lexical-diachronical perspective, highlighting the similarities and the differences between them and 2) historical, since the contextualisation in their given time will be an essential part of this reconstruction.
Investigating these political concepts will allow us to explore the works of some key figures of the History of Political Thought – from Montesquieu to Weber, from Tocqueville to Schmitt. Attention will be devoted to conceptual transfers and to authoritarian experiences in a global perspective, too.
- Baehr, P., "Caesarism, Charisma, and Fate: Historical Sources and Modern Resonances in the Work of Max Weber", Transaction Publishers 2008, pp. 32-45.
- Baehr, P., ‘Max Weber and the Avatars of Caesarism’, in Baehr P. and Richter, M. (eds.), "Dictatorship in History and Theory: Bonapartism, Caesarism, and Totalitarianism", Cambridge University Press 2004, pp. 155-174.
- Bell, D., "Men on Horseback: The Power of Charisma in the Age of Revolution", New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux 2020, Chapter I ('Mr. Boswell goes to Corsica'), pp. 19-52.
- Burns, J.H. ‘The Idea of Absolutism’, in Miller, J. (ed), "Absolutism in Seventeenth-Century Europe", Palgrave, London, 1990, pp. 21-42.
- Finchelstein, F., ‘Populism and Dictatorship’, in Corner, P., Lim, JH. (eds.), "The Palgrave Handbook of Mass Dictatorship", Palgrave, 2016, pp. 229-241.
- http://www.politicalconcepts.org/dictatorship-andreas-kalyvas/
- Kelly, D., ‘Carl Schmitt’s Political Theory of Dictatorship’, in Meierhenrich J., and Simons, O. (eds.), "The Oxford Handbook of Carl Schmitt", Oxford University Press 2017, pp. 217-244.
- Richter, M., ‘A Family of Political Concepts: Tyranny, Despotism, Bonapartism, Caesarism, Dictatorship, 1750–1917’, European Journal of Political Theory 4(3), 2005, pp. 221-248.
- Richter, M. ‘The History of the Concept of Despotism’, in "Dictionary of the History of Ideas", vol. 2, 1973, pp. 1-20.
- Richter, M. ‘Tocqueville on Threats to Liberty in Democracies’, in Welch, C. (ed.), "The Cambridge Companion to Tocqueville", Cambridge University Press, 2006, pp. 245-275.
- Rinke, S., ‘The Epitome of Modern Dictatorship in the Early Nineteenth Century: Dr. Francia in Paraguay or “The Chinese Emperor of the West”’, in Prieto, M. (ed.), "Dictatorship in the Nineteenth Century: Conceptualisations, Experiences, Transfers", Routledge, 2021, pp. 133-149.
- Traverso, E., ‘Totalitarianism Between History And Theory’, History and Theory 56, 2017, pp. 97-118.
- Turchetti, M., '“Despotism” and “Tyranny”: Unmasking a Tenacious Confusion’, European Journal of Political Theory 7(2), 2008, pp. 159-182.

Students unable to complete their preparation in the classroom should contact the teacher as soon as possible to agree upon a special programme.
The final examination will be oral and will be related to the topics investigated during the course (the teacher’s PPT presentations will be provided) and to the texts of the reading list.
The approximate duration of the oral exam is 25 minutes. Students will be asked to answer two or three questions (depending on their complexity), aiming at verifying the achievement of the expected learning outcomes (see above).

For students unable to complete their preparation in the classroom, the oral exam will be based on the special programme agreed with the teacher.
Academic lectures. Active participation by the students (questions, comments, etc.) is highly encouraged.
Definitive programme.
Last update of the programme: 30/05/2023