Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download campus access dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users: Please talk to your librarian about requesting this dissertation through interlibrary loan.

Dissertations that have an embargo placed on them will not be available to anyone until the embargo expires.

Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Political Science

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Nicholas Xenos

Second Advisor

Tom Dumm

Third Advisor

Jonathan Skolnik

Fourth Advisor

Angelica Bernal

Subject Categories

Political Theory


This dissertation project offers a critique of the ethical turn within contemporary political theory through the Frankfurt School tradition of critical thought. While many contemporary political theorists rely upon Freud’s distinction between mourning and melancholia in order to argue for forms of democratic political action, I examine the relationship between loss, mourning, melancholy, and temporality in the works of Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, Sheldon Wolin, and Theodor Adorno in order to think about the relationship between critical thinking and political action. Focusing on their different approaches to time, history, and loss in relationship to politics demonstrates how concepts like mourning and loss can be opened up in new and interesting ways.

Chapter one focuses on the work of Hannah Arendt and offers an account of her writings and reflections on the emergence of totalitarianism and the relationship between thinking and action. In thinking about the future of political resistance, Arendt turns towards the works of Franz Kafka and the French poet René Char in order to conceptualize the spirit of resistance in what she terms the lost treasure of the revolution. Her reflections on resistance, time, and the loss of tradition in modernity turn us towards the breakdown between language and thought.

Chapter two explores Benjamin’s conceptions of history and time through his discussion of Trauerspiel and sovereignty. Turning to Benjamin’s work in “Theses on The Philosophy of History”, The Origins of German Tragic Drama, and his reflections in Berlin Childhood Around 1900, I examine how he helps us to think about the relationship between our understanding of history, a critical temporality, and the politics of mourning.

Chapter three explores Wolin’s conceptions of democracy, democratic time, and his move from vocation to invocation in order to think about the ethical turn in contemporary political theory. In “Political Theory: From Vocation to Invocation” Wolin offers a critique of what he calls the “systematization of loss” that illustrates how theorists have conformed to rhythmic cycles of capitalist production and consumption. Wolin’s turn towards Adorno in his essay on invocation is a rejection of demands for democratic political action. Wolin’s understanding of invocation is akin to Adorno’s understanding of melancholia in Minima Moralia, which refuses what he calls a “vain hope” for redemption.