Noah R. Eber-Schmid is Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania where he teaches political theory. He completed his P.h.D. in political science, specializing in political theory and international relations, at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey in 2016. His research in political theory focuses on applying contemporary democratic theory and critical theory to issues of citizenship and political extremism in the history of American political thought and contemporary democratic societies.
Extremism and the foundations of American democracy
(completed book manuscript)
Democracy's Fanatics is a work of historical and contemporary political theory that looks to the American Founding era (1770-1800) to explore the messy and sometimes troubling shape of popular democratic thought and practice during times of intense political conflict. While many scholars have acknowledged the crooked path taken by the development of American democracy, few have recognized that moments of tension, violence, and extremism have in some cases served the pursuit of political equality. Democracy’s Fanatics addresses the important but under-examined question of how extremism, fanaticism, and zealotry shaped popular democratic politics (i.e., practices that aim to deepen and expand political equality) in the American Revolution and early Republic. Through studies of the early memorialization of the Boston Massacre, popular debates over Shays’s Rebellion, the thought and practices of the Democratic Societies, and the use of the French Revolution in American political debate, this work challenges conventional interpretive approaches to the history of the American democratic tradition and draws out new implications for theoretical approaches to contemporary American democracy.
Since the American Revolution, democratic theorists have often presupposed that dispassionate rationality, reciprocity, and nonviolent tolerance are necessary conditions for the sustained development of democracy. Intractable oppositional parties that reject frameworks of consensus, terms of mutual respect, and use force to accomplish their political goals are often excluded as irrational anti-democratic extremists outside the bounds of legitimate political contest. My book problematizes this exclusion, offering new insights into the divisive and violent nature of democratic politics in the early American polity. I argue that the development of American popular democracy during the Founding era, and the continual struggle to deepen and expand political equality today, relies in part on the efforts of democratic extremists, zealots, and fanatics who have tactically resorted to political extremism in their efforts to pursue political equality. My work demonstrates that American democratic theorists and citizens must recognize the historical and potential contributions of extremism to the practice and expansion of popular democracy in the United States and address the theoretical question of what role a democratic politics shaped by extremism plays in the democratic life of the American polity.
political extremism & contemporary democratic theory
(article in progress)
Contemporary democratic theorists have tended to neglect the practices of political extremists, focusing instead on conflicts between competing parties that are not irreconcilably opposed to each other and which accept frameworks of mutual respect, reciprocity, and consensus. In this paper, I argue that democratic theorists must address practices that take the form of political extremism. Rather than treating extremists as inherently irrational and anti-democratic, extremism should be approached as a tactical form of political activity used on behalf of both democratic and anti-democratic claims. By ignoring or theoretically excluding extremism, democratic theorists neglect the ways in which extremists can aid, as well as threaten pursuits of democratic political equality. After clarifying the meaning of “extremism,” and reviewing its neglect in democratic theory, I engage commentaries by Thomas Jefferson, William Manning, and Martin Luther King Jr. to suggest how democratic extremism can contribute to the democratic life of a polity.
patriots in the court of pandæmonium
Massacre Day & the making of american zealots
(article under review)
Political theorists and historians of political thought have often studied how institutions and social practices shape the subjects of politics. They have paid less attention, however, to the ways that actors fomenting political crises have also used institutions and practices to promote normative models of political subjectivity as tools of contestation. Between 1771 and 1783, prominent New England patriots delivered passionate orations to memorialize the Boston Massacre on the annual observance of “Massacre Day.” Examining this neglected political holiday through the lenses of affect, ritual, performance, and narrative, I argue that Massacre Day orators promoted an affective model of zealous patriotism on the eve of the American Revolution. Studying the performance of Massacre Day orations helps us, then, to understand how public rituals and performative speech are used by political actors to shape identities and promote models of subjectivity that intensify existing political differences and motivate extreme political action.
Loyalists and Royalists
Toward an anglo-American theory of political loyalty
(Andrew R. Murphy, co-author)
(article in progress)
Civil wars and revolutionary movements raise powerful questions of political loyalty and attachment, of social and political identity. Those leading such movements often articulate their reasons for making a sharp political break with past practice in highly public, principled documents (e.g., the Declaration of Independence). Much of the canon of modern political thought consists of conceptual or philosophical efforts to elaborate such movements. But what about those who seek not to achieve independence, but rather to maintain the (territorial or political) integrity of an already-existing order? What might we say about their arguments in favor of the status quo, or their defenses of incremental change over radical disruption? In this paper, we offer a preliminary exploration of this phenomenon by looking at two historical cases in the Anglo-American tradition. In the great English conflict of the mid-1600s, royalists rallied to the defense of their king as he faced off with Parliament. A century or so later, American Loyalists articulated a positive and substantive vision that posed fundamental questions to the American revolutionaries’ efforts to advance independence from Great Britain. This paper represents our first pass at a large body of discourse in early modern England and revolutionary-era America. We sketch out some of the broad contours of royalist and loyalist thought during times of great upheaval, providing a broad overview while acknowledging internal variations. Loyalty only becomes an explicit political position, one might say, when its “taken-for-grantedness” can no longer be taken for granted. Thus defenses of established order and constitutional forms rarely appear in isolation, and tend not to be theorized in their own right, but define themselves over and against revolutionary movements. Through our comparative examination, we rescue the analysis of loyalty from its shallow appreciation as the negation of rebellion, demonstrating that political loyalty is as much the product of systematic political thought and a response to the crucible of political crises as are calls for revolution. The scholarly attention lavished upon rebellion and revolt, upon those who brought down regimes and sought to erect new ones, in both the English and American cases, has obscured the fact that loyalty is, in a sense, the default setting in political behavior for most people most of the time. The vast majority of seventeenth-century English and eighteenth-century Americans, after all, were not revolutionaries, and a political theory that speaks to the political experience of ordinary individuals must somehow come to grips with that reality.
Dept. of Political Science
American Political Thought (Spring 2018)
American Political Thought provides a one semester exploration of some of the many ways in which Americans from the colonial era to the present have thought and fought about the meaning and shape of their community, its members, and its purpose. Since before the founding of the republic, Americans have had to grapple with these issues amid significant technological, cultural, economic, and political transformation. This course will help you to formulate your own positions on the enduring and evolving questions of American political life by providing a historical and intellectual overview of some of the ways that American political thinkers have sought to address a variety of important issues, including: the rights that Americans ought to enjoy; who should count as a citizen and what citizenship means or requires; the place of religion in public life; the relationship between labor and capital, as well as the way this relationship has and should shape American lives and politics; and the qualities (if any) that make the United States distinct among the nations of the world.
Class will be run as a mix of lecture, seminar discussion, and in-class exercises. Readings will consist of primary sources drawn from throughout American history to show the diversity of American political thought, reflecting both the dominant political ideas of elites, as well as popular political thought from below. To this end, we will read, interrogate, and engage core canonical texts, as well as other equally important, but historically marginalized and excluded voices of American political life. At the heart of this exploration is a critical examination of what is distinctly American in American political thought.
Political Theory (Bucknell University, Spring 2018)
This course will introduce students to core concepts and enduring debates in political theory by exploring selected texts from across the canon of Western political thought. Throughout the semester we will use these texts to investigate a variety of political questions including: what do we mean by “politics?” how do we do political theory or think politically? what is the function of government and what should guide how we govern? how should political communities be organized? what does it mean to be a citizen? what are liberty, justice, and equality? are political questions ethical questions? and how do politics and economics shape each other? This course will help you to formulate your own positions on these important questions by using key works of historical and contemporary political thought as a foundation to clarify the meaning of some of the key concepts we use to think about politics, and to critically examine and normatively reevaluate the political world around you.
Dept. of Political Science
Dept. of Political Science
New Brunswick, NJ
Contemporary Democratic Theory (Fall 2017)
This course will provide students with a critical exploration into contemporary theories of democracy and democratic politics. Through a variety readings, written assignments, and in-class discussions we will examine some of the major questions and concepts of modern democracy, and explore key theoretical approaches to contemporary democratic thought. Students will investigate the meaning of democracy by engaging works of political philosophy and political theory that seek to define democracy as an ideal, theory, and reality, and which aim to address some of the fundamental tensions and persistent problems in modern democratic life. We will begin by thinking broadly about the meaning and significance of democracy. We will then spend much of the semester interrogating different contemporary theoretical approaches to (and critics of) democracy, as well as the implications for modern democracy and democratic politics of each approach. The remainder of the semester will be spent examining some of the fundamental concepts of democracy, as well as tensions facing contemporary democratic politics. The goal of this course is for students to gain a deeper understanding of contemporary democratic theory, its significance, its critics, and the fundamental tensions between freedom, equality, and popular sovereignty at the heart of democratic life. Syllabus.
Political Theory (Fall 2017)
The Western Tradition: From Machiavelli to Marx (Spring 2017)
This course surveys the development of central political concepts and core texts in modern Western political thought from the early sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. Proceeding relatively chronologically, we will focus on the development and influence of key themes, questions, and concepts that have been central in the history of modern political thought, including: the origins of the modern state; the nature of political obligation, legitimacy, and authority; the relationship between religion and the state; the development of modern social contract theory; as well as the historical rise of capitalism and its influence on the shape of modern political thinking. Syllabus.
The Nature of Politics (Spring 2017, Fall 2016, Spring 2016, Fall 2015)
This course will introduce students to core concepts and enduring debates in political thought by exploring selected texts from across the canon of Western political theory. Syllabus.
American Political Thought From 1865 (Spring 2016, Spring 2014)
"American Political Thought From 1865" explores some of the many ways in which Americans from the end of the Civil War down to our own day have thought and fought about the meaning and shape of their own community. These debates have covered a variety of important topics, including the rights that Americans ought to enjoy; who should count as a citizen and what citizenship means; the appropriate relationship between religion and politics; the relationship between labor and capital, as well as the way this relationship has and should shape American lives. At the heart of this exploration is a critical examination of what is distinctly American in American political thought. Syllabus.
Democratic Political Philosophy (Fall 2015, Spring 2013)
This course will provide students with a critical exploration into the historical emergence of modern democracy as political philosophy, theory, and practice. Through readings, written assignments, class discussions, and in-class simulations and exercises we will examine historical and contemporary democratic thought. Students will investigate the meaning of democracy by engaging works of political philosophy and political theory that seek to define democracy as an ideal, theory, and philosophy. They will explore the classical origins and criticisms of democratic thought, the development of democracy and republicanism as a revolutionary political philosophy in the American and French Revolutions, the debates between supporters and critics of democratic political philosophy, as well as engage contemporary democratic political thought in light of modern considerations and lessons from history. The goal of this course is for students to gain a deeper understanding of democratic political philosophy, its significance, its critics, and the fundamental tensions between freedom, equality, and popular sovereignty at the heart of democracy. Syllabus.
Dept. of Political Science
St. Joseph's University
English Writing Program
New Brunswick, NJ
Introduction to Political Thought (Fall 2016)
Special Topics in Political Science: Political Violence (Fall 2016)
What is violence? Is violence always physical or can it be a form of speech? Is violence distinct from politics or, to paraphrase Carl Von Clausewitz, is violence a continuation of politics by other means? Can violent warfare be considered morally just? What makes terror and terrorism different from war or crime? How should we think about violence as democratic citizens today? This course examines scholarly ideas about the nature of political violence and its relationship to political order, as well as the morality, legitimacy, and meaning of using different forms of political violence. Students will work to define violence as a category of action, examine philosophical arguments about the ethics of violence, interrogate political theories about the role and meaning of political violence, and develop theoretical tools to better analyze and participate in both historical and contemporary discussions about political extremism and violence. Using primary texts in the history of moral and political thought, as well as contemporary scholarly works in international relations, history, political theory, and philosophy, students will examine different ways of thinking about violence as a form of human action and the implications political violence may have for how we think about contemporary issues such as inequality, war, terrorism, revolution, democracy, public health, security, and community. Syllabus.
Expository Writing 101 (Fall 2013, Fall 2012)
In this course you will read and write about a variety of nonfiction texts that cover a wide range of fascinating, relevant, and contemporary issues. Course goals include helping you to read deeply, think critically, and write interpretively and effectively, creating your own independent argument that synthesizes multiple sources. This course is designed to prepare you for the writing you will do at the university and in your professional lives.The critical thinking and analytical writing skills which this course seeks to foster are founded on teaching the practice of careful and close reading. This approach is collaborative and emphasis will be placed on learning how to closely read complex texts in order to better understand complex issues, and develop the skills necessary to effectively communicate your critical understanding to others. This course will focus on reading, interpretation, connecting texts and ideas to each other, and learning how to effectively use textual evidence in your writing. The classroom practices and assignments are designed to promote your ability to think complexly and to communicate this complexity with clarity. To this end, students will also focus on developing structure, style, and grammar in their writing, learning the mechanics necessary to achieve a clarity of presentation as well as a complexity and depth of thought.