This fall, I will be teaching two sections of the “Modern Challenges to Governance” class (see below). Then, in the winter, I will be teaching:
Policy Institutions and Processes
This Ph.D. class is centred on the role of ideas, interests, and institutions in the policy world. I will be identifying this year’s readings throughout the fall.
Politics, Policy and Literature
I offered this in the winter of 2013, and an extraordinary group of students made it one of my favourite courses ever. The course uses works of literature to stimulate reflection on issues related to the world of politics and policy, and to gain an appreciation of the styles of persuasion and argumentation that can be used within literature. In 2013, students read authors such as Woolf, Kogawa, Sophocles, Némirovsky, and Bradbury.
In 2016-17, because of my responsibilities as Graduate Supervisor for our Master’s in Public Policy and Administration program, I had a reduced teaching load.
In the fall of 2016, Jay Drydyk and I co-taught a Ph.D. seminar in the Philosophy Department’s “Ethics and Public Affairs” program. Jay presented thinkers such as Rawls, Nussbaum, and Sen. I addressed Habermas, Piketty’s Capital, and, the day before the U.S. election, Gramsci’s writing on the relation of philosophy to political practice.
Modern Challenges to Governance
I gave this course for the first time in the winter of 2017. It covers a range of challenges, such as climate change, globalization, inequality, the influence of money on politics, and so on. Here’s the introductory blurb from the course outline:
“What is real is what you have to deal with, what won’t go away just because it doesn’t fit with your prejudices.”
Charles Taylor (Sources of the self, 59).
“I am not a great believer in man-made climate change. I’m not a great believer.”
Donald Trump (Interview with Washington Post, March 21, 2016)
“Nous courons sans souci dans le précipice, après que nous avons mis quelque chose devant nous pour nous empêcher de le voir.” [“We run carefree into the precipice, having put something in front of us to hide it from sight.”]
Blaise Pascal (Pensées, ¶183.)
“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”
Joni Mitchell (Big Yellow Taxi)
“Extend and pretend” describes a behaviour frequently used in financial markets. What happens, for example, when a borrower cannot repay a bank loan? If the bank classifies the loan as a bad one, it takes a loss on its books, and the officials who agreed to the loan look bad. What to do? One can extend: extend to the borrower a new loan to pay back the old one. And pretend: pretend that somehow or other the causes of the borrower’s failure will go away. And so the challenge of dealing with the problem is simply booted forward in time, for someone else to deal with, sometime or other.
The broader political analogies of this behaviour are clear. In the world of politics and policy many actors have an interest in simply extending current practices, and pretending that serious challenges aren’t real. And there are few incentives within the political and bureaucratic systems of modern democracies to encourage taking a long view, and building policy around that.
So one of the personal challenges you will face should you dwell in the world of politics and policy is that you may find there’s a “whole lot of pretendin’ going on.” You need to reflect upon how you will handle that. Much is at stake: the pretending can protect certain narrow personal goods: getting reelected, for the politician, staying out of trouble, for the civil servant. But it also threatens many things of great value. To counter this, you will need critical thinking, the ability to detect the many ways we refuse to engage with reality, and also appreciative thinking, the ability to identify those important goods that are worth defending.