Inspired by Sir Ian McKellan’s reflections on Richard III here and here, and this excellent resource on the historical Richard III, I’ve been thinking about designing a course around villains, moral monstrosity, and evil. Perhaps I’m just a nerd, but this is something I like to sit around doing: arranging texts and problems around a theme. Of course, I’ve also been trying to decide whether to respond to this irritatingly content-free hit piece on Arendt, Eichmann, and Heidegger from Slate. (The author seems to prefer vitriol to content in his scholarship, so I’m not sure whether it dignifies a response.)
So right there, we have two different villains to anchor a course. (Interestingly, another version of Eichmann, as told through the eyes of his interrogator, was recently made into a motion picture….) Then it’s just a matter of assembling the rest of the pieces: a counterpoint to Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, like Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men, and another kind of villain, like Jean-Baptiste from Albert Camus’s The Fall. Of course, Richard III fits quite well with Machiavelli’s The Prince.
We might also read something like Derrida’s Rogues or Agamben’s Homo Sacer, and finish up with some things on my favorite villain of all: Lucifer. You can’t go wrong with a little antihero worship. Perhaps we would read René Girard on scapegoating and then turn to something fun and light, like Shelley’s Frankenstein. Another way to end the course would be to look at some of the literature on the recent financial crisis, and identify the ways in which scapegoats and villains are picked out and held up for public shaming. A third way to conclude the course would be to reflect on punishment and vengeance, perhaps using my favorite Pettit book, Not Just Deserts.