Fall 2009

Secrets and Lies

Listed in: Political Science, as POSC-03


Thomas L. Dumm (Section 01)


[AP] Politics seems almost unimaginable without secrecy and lying. From the noble lie of Plato’s Republic to Oliver North’s claim that he lied to Congress in the name of a higher good, from the need to preserve secrets in the name of national security to the endless spinning of political campaigns, from President Kennedy’s behavior during the Cuban missile crisis to current controversies concerning lies by the tobacco industry, from Freud’s efforts to decode the secrets beneath civilized life to contemporary exposés of the private lives of politicians, politics and deception seem to go hand-in-hand. This course investigates how the practices of politics are informed by the keeping and telling of secrets, and the telling and exposing of lies. We will address such questions as: When, if ever, is it right to lie or to breach confidences? When is it right to expose secrets and lies? Is it necessary to be prepared to lie in order to advance the cause of justice? Or, must we do justice justly? When is secrecy really necessary and when is it merely a pretext for Machiavellian manipulation? Are secrecy and deceit more prevalent in some kinds of regimes than in others? As we explore those questions we will discuss the place of candor and civility in politics; the relationship between the claims of privacy (e.g., the closeting of sexual desire) and secrecy and deception in public arenas; conspiracy theories as they are applied to politics; and the importance of secrecy in resistance and revolutionary movements. We will examine the treatment of secrecy and lying in political theory as well as their appearance in literature and popular culture, for example, King Lear, Wag the Dog, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Year of Living Dangerously, and Quiz Show

Limited to 30 students. Fall semester. Professor Dumm.


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021