SECRETS & LIES - Syllabus

Submitted by Theresa A. Laizer on Friday, 9/16/2011, at 10:02 AM



FALL 2011

Professor Austin Sarat

101 Clark House

Office Hours: Tuesday 1-2, Thursday 1-2, Friday 1-2, and by appointment

Office: 542-2308                                                                               

Politics seems almost unimaginable without secrecy and lying. From the noble lie of Plato's Republic to the controversy about former President Clinton's “lying” in the Monica Lewinsky case, from the use of secrecy in today's war against terrorism to the endless spinning of political campaigns, from President John Kennedy's behavior during the Cuban missile crisis to cover ups concerning pedophile priests in the Catholic church, 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 political systems than in others?  As we explore those questions we will discuss the place of candor and openness in politics and social life; 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 the domains of national security and law enforcement.  We will examine the treatment of secrecy and lying in political theory as well as their appearance in literature and popular culture, for example Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Primary Colors, Schindler's List, and The Insider.

The following books, marked with a (P) on the syllabus, are available at the Jeffrey Amherst Bookstore.

Machiavelli, The Prince

Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon

John Mearsheimer, Why Leaders Lie

Toni Morrison, Beloved

All other readings are available on line through the CMS Course Listing for our course.

There are seven films scheduled for this course.  Those films are also available on line. They should be seen prior to the class in which they will be discussed



1.      On the “Right” to Conceal and Deceive: What We Get to Know About Those    Who Govern (Sept. 7)

Michael Sandel, “White Lies”

Anthony Lewis, “Sex and Leadership”

Andrew Sullivan, “Lies That Matter”

Michael Russnow, “Should Anthony Weiner Resign for Lying?; If So, Lots More Congressmen Should Go for Their Lies and Deeds”

Kristin Powers, “Anthony Weiner’s Ex: He Lied to Me”

2.      On the “Necessity” of Secrecy and Deception: What The Government Gets to Know About us and What We Get to Know About What Our Government Does-I—Wiretapping and the War on Terror (Sept. 12)

Thomas Powers, ‘The Biggest Secret,’ 53 New York Review of Books (Feb. 23, 2006)

Richard Posner, “Wire Trap: What if Wiretapping Works?” The New Republic (Feb. 6, 2006), 15-16

Center for National Security Studies v. DOJ, No 02-5254 USDC for the District of Columbia, June 17, 2003

Geoffrey Stone, “Our Untransparent President,” The New York Times (June 26, 2011)

FILM: Collateral Murder  -

3.      On the “Necessity” of Secrecy and Deception: What The Government Gets to Know About Us and What We Get to Know About What Our Government Does-II--The WikiLeaks Controversy (September 14)

Yochai Benkler, “A Free Irresponsible Press,” Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review (forthcoming, 2011), 1-32

Noah Feldman, In Defense of Secrecy,” New York Times (February 15, 2009)

Jeffrey Rosen, “Words and Consequences,” The New Republic (February 17, 2011)

Glenn Greenwald, “WikiLeaks Reveals More Than Just Government Secrets,” Salon (November 30, 2010)

Shougat Dasgupta, “A Beautiful Anarchy,” Open (December 23, 2010)

FILM:  Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

4.       Politics and Lost Innocence (Sept. 19)

Michael Walzer, “Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands”

FILM: Primary Colors

5.      Virtue in Politics: Learning Not to Be Good (Sept. 21)

Machiavelli, The Prince (P)


6.      On the Quest for “Truth” (Sept. 26)

Plato, The Apology and the Crito, 49-96, 189-195

FILM:  Schindler’s List

7.      Does Anything Justify the Lie? (Sept. 28)

Immanuel Kant, “On the Supposed Right to Lie From Altruistic Motives”

Henry Sidgwick, “The Classification of Duties-Veracity”

8.      Publicity and the Possibilities of Democracy-I (Oct. 3)

Jeremy Bentham, “On Publicity”

Lawrence Lessig, “Against Transparency: The Perils of Openness in  Government,” The New Republic (October 9, 2009)

John Stuart Mill, “On the Liberty of Thought and Discussion” in On Liberty


9.      Democracy and Distrust (Oct 5)

The Declaration of Independence

The Federalist Papers 10 and 51

10.    Rewriting History-I (Oct.12)

Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, “Pericles Funeral Oration”

Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address

Gary Willis, “The Words That Remade America”

11.     Rewriting History-II (Oct. 17)

Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon (P)


A.      National Security

12.    The Enemy Within (Oct. 19)

Haupt v. US, 330 US 631 (1947)

Korematsu v. United States, 65 S.Ct. 193 (1944)

Gary Gerstle, “Pluralism and the War on Terror,” Dissent  (Spring, 2003)

13.     State Secrets-I (Oct. 24)

John Mearsheimer, Why Leaders Lie (P)

New York Times v. United States, 403 US 713 (1971), 713-720, 724-730,752-759

14.    State Secrets-II (Oct. 26)

Hannah Arendt, Crisis of the Republic, 3-47

In Re, Grand Jury Subpoena, Judith Miller USCA, District of Columbia, February 15, 2005 39t F.3d 964, 1-9, 23-25, 27-39

B.      Fighting Crime

15.    Is Anyone Above the Law?: On the Claims of Executive Privilege     (Oct. 31)

United States v. Nixon, 418 US 683 (1974), 683-690, 703-716

In re Grand Jury Proceedings, 1998 US Dist. Lexis 7736, 1-8

FILM: The Conversation

16.     Ferreting Out Sin and Corruption: Surveillance, Duplicity, and Entrapment as Law Enforcement Techniques (Nov 2)

Sorrells v. United States, 287 US 435 (1932)

United States  v. Williams, 705 F2d 603 (19), 603-616


17.    Responding to Accusations: On the Obligations of Candor (Nov. 7)

People v. Brooks, 51 Ill. App.3d 800 (1977)                              

Brogan v. United States, 118 Sct 805 (1997)

18.    Responding to Accusations: The Lawyer/Client Privilege (Nov. 9)

Monroe Freedman, Lawyers Ethics in an Adversary System, 1-8, 27-41, 43-49, 51-57

Swidler & Berlin et al. v. United States, 97-1192, (1998)

FILM: Capturing the Friedmans

19.    On Danger, Suspicion, and Community Notification of the Presence of Sex Offenders (Nov.14)

E.B. v. Verniero, 119 F. 3d (1997) 1077-1090, 1092-1093, 1096-1105, 1112-1129


20.    Privacy and Intimacy (Nov. 16)

Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 US 479 (1965), 479-486, 507-527

Stanley v. Georgia, 394 US 557 (1969)

Michael Sandel, “Privacy Rights and Family Law,” 91-119

21.    Privacy and Sexual Pleasure (Nov. 28)

Lawrence v. Texas, US Supreme Court, No. 02-102 (2003), 1-15, 20, 24-28, 30-32

Goodrich v. Dept of Public Health, 440 Mass. 309 (2003), 1-47, 51-62

FILM: 1000 Acres


22.     Family Secrets (Nov. 30)

Barbara Whitehead, “Dan Quayle Was Right”

Ellen Lupton, “In Praise of the Broken Home,” NY Times (August 2, 2010)

Letty Pogrebin, “To Tell the Truth” New York Times Sunday Magazine (Nov. 29, 1992)


23. To Know or Not to Know?: Truth as a Response to Injustice(Dec.5)

Michael Ignatieff, “Digging Up the Dead”

Timothy Garton Ash, “True Confessions”

24.    A Truth Too Painful? (Dec. 7)

Toni Morrison, Beloved (P)

FILM: The Insider

25.    The Fate of the Truth Teller (Dec. 12)

26.    Conclusion (Dec 14)