Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Political Science


Thomas Halper


Benedetto Fontana

Committee Members

Benedetto Fontana

David Jones

Subject Categories

American Politics | Other American Studies | Political Theory


Authenticity, Theatricality, Politics, Arendt, Rousseau, Thoreau


This dissertation details the ways in which two distinct models of politics — the politics of authenticity and the politics of theatricality — have influenced political rhetoric and activity in America and beyond. The focus on authenticity in politics goes back to the ancients, yet it has taken on greater political significance in the modern era. Morally-charged language of “telling the truth”, or “being oneself” in politics has meant that public judgment and analysis has increasingly focused on the interiority of the speaker: one’s intentions, feelings and consistency, rather than on the persuasive case one is attempting to communicate. In the extreme, this has led to some nefarious actions and political regimes in the modern world (e.g. the Terror of the French Revolution and twentieth century totalitarianism) as well as less severe but still troubling results (the lack of a dynamic public sphere in which our everyday political discourse takes place). To combat the theory that led to these developments, I offer an analysis of theatrical politics which sees politics as something existing “outside and between us” rather than “within us.” At the same time, I acknowledge the ways in which authenticity in politics has led to emancipatory movements of oppressed persons and groups (e.g. abolitionism and civil rights, especially in America). The main representative of authentic politics I employ in this dissertation is Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and for theatricality, I detail the arguments of Hannah Arendt. I argue that we can find a proper balance between the two models in the politics of Henry David Thoreau. Ultimately, I explain the potential for a politics in which the best elements of each model could be practiced.