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The President, Democracy and Permanent War

Seminar Center for Global Humanities Lecture/Seminar Series

Dana D. Nelson

Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of English, Vanderbilt University

Our civically trained desire to see the US President as “the most powerful man in the world” has had the effect of allowing individual presidents incrementally, and steadily, to increase the power of that branch, most recently in the aftermath of 9/11, when Congress gave to the Executive their branch’s right to supervise war powers (a Constitutional power which Congress has in fact not exercised since December 8, 1941). Professor Nelson's talk focuses on how post-Reagan US Presidentialism promulgates war as a structure of democratic feeling. She develops her argument by looking at how the United States' military presidency has recreated politics as war and at the traction an extraordinary theory of executive power (the so-called "unitary executive") has been able to gain within our militarized political culture.


Dana D. Nelson is Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of English at Vanderbilt University and a prominent progressive advocate for citizenship and democracy. She is notable for her criticism in her books such as Bad for Democracy of excessive presidential power and for exposing a tendency by Americans to neglect basic citizenship duties while hoping the president will solve most problems, or presidentialism. Her scholarship focuses on early American literature relating to citizenship and democratic government.

Assigned Reading

Dana D. Nelson. Bad for Democracy: How the Presidency Undermines the Power of the People (University of Minnesota Press, 2008)


A reception will be held at 5pm at the UNE Art Gallery


Center for Global Humanities


(207) 221-4335

6:00 PM
WCHP Lecture Hall

Portland Campus

Free and open to the public