Joshua Foa Dienstag

Professor of Law
Shapiro Family Chair Professor of Modern Political Theory
On Leave, University of Wisconsin Madison

  • B.A. Harvard, 1986
  • M.A. Princeton, 1989
  • Ph.D. Princeton, 1993
  • UCLA Faculty Since 2010

Professor Dienstag is on Leave at University of Wisconsin Madison.

Joshua Foa Dienstag’s work focuses on the intersection of politics with time, history, memory and narrative. Professor Dienstag teaches classes on the political theory of the Founders and other topics at the intersection of law, politics and philosophy.

Originally from New York City, he received his doctorate from Princeton University and taught at the University of Virginia for 13 years before moving to UCLA. His research focuses largely on European political theory between the 17th and 19th centuries but he has also written about the American Founding, film and Wittgenstein. His articles have appeared in American Political Science Review, Polity, Political Theory, Journal of Politics, History & Memory and New Literary History among other places. He has held fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. His second book Pessimism: Philosophy, Ethic, Spirit (Princeton U.P., 2006) won the Award for Excellence in Philosophy from the American Association of Publishers. His most recent book Cinema Pessimism: A Political Theory of Representation and Reciprocity (Oxford U.P.) appears in the fall of 2019.


  • Books
    • Cinema Pessimism: A Political Theory of Representation and Reciprocity. Oxford Univ. Press (2019). Book Info
    • Cinema, Democracy and Perfectionism: Joshua Foa Dienstag in Dialogue (edited by Joshua Foa Dienstag). Manchester University Press (2016). Critical Power Series. Feature Essay and response to five scholars.
    • Pessimism: Philosophy, Ethic, Spirit. Princeton University Press (2006). Winner of the 2006 Book Award for Excellence in Philosophy from the American Association of Publishers.
    • Dancing in Chains: Narrative and Memory in Political Theory. Stanford University Press (1997).
  • Articles, Essays, Book Chapters
    • The Example of History and the History of Examples in Political Theory, 48 New Literary History (2017).
    • Hans-Georg Gadamer: ‘Truth and Method’, in The Oxford Handbook of Classics in Contemporary Political Theory (edited by Jacob Levy, Oxford University Press, forthcoming). Published online March 2016.
    • On Political Theory, the Humanities and the Social Sciences, 48 Perspectives on Politics 1083 (2016).
    • Nietzsche’s Pessimism in the Shadow of Dostoyevsky’s, in Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky: Philosophy, Morality, Tragedy (edited by Jeff Love and Jeff Metzger, Northwestern University Press, 2016).
    • The Tragedy of Remarriage: Letter to M. Cavell About Cinema (A Remake) , in Cinema, Democracy and Perfectionism: Joshua Foa Dienstag in Dialogue (edited by Joshua Foa Dienstag, Manchester University Press, 2016).
    • Blade Runner’s Humanism: Cinema and Representation, 14(2) Contemporary Political Theory (April 2015). Published online May 2014.  Winner of the 2014 Wilson Carey McWilliams Award for Best Paper in the Politics, Literature and Film Section (APSA 2013).
    • Evils of Representation: Werewolves, Pessimism and Realism in ‘Europa’ and ‘Melancholia’, 18(2) Theory & Event (April 2015). Special Issue edited by Bonnie Honig and Lori Marso. Reprinted in Politics, Theory and Film: Critical Encounters with Lars von Trier (Oxford University Press, 2016).
    • A Storied Shooting: Liberty Valance and the Paradox of Sovereignty, 40(3) Political Theory (June 2012). Abstract
    • Postmodern Approaches to the History of Political Thought, in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Political Philosophy (edited by George Klosko, Oxford University Press, 2011).
    • Connollyism, What, 12(4) Theory & Event (Dec. 2009). Review Essay. Review of Pluralism And Capitalism And Christianity, American Style, by William Connolly (Duke Univ. Press, 2005 & 2008) and The New Pluralism: William Connolly and the Contemporary Global Condition, ed. David Campbell and Morton Schoolman (Duke Univ. Press, 2008).
    • Man of Peace: Hobbes Between Politics and Science, 37(5) Political Theory (Oct. 2009). Review Essay. Review of Hobbes and Republican Liberty, by Quentin Skinner (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2008), and Lessons from a Materialist Thinker: Hobbesian Reflections on Ethics and Politics, by Samantha Frost (Stanford Univ. Press, 2008).
    • Pessimistic Realism and Realistic Pessimism, in Political Thought and International Relations: Variations on a Realist Theme (edited by Duncan Bell, Oxford University Press, 2009).
    • Cervantes as Educator: Don Quixote and the Practice of Pessimism, in Between Terror and Freedom: Philosophy, Politics and Fiction Speak of Modernity (edited by Simona Goi and Frederick M. Dolan, Lexington Books, 2006).
    • Nietzsche, Tragedy, Pessimism in Rethinking Tragedy, 35(1) New Literary History (2004). Special Issue: Rethinking Tragedy, edited by Rita Felski. Also reprinted in 54 Cogito (2008).
    • Nietzsche’s Dionysian Pessimism, 95(4) American Political Science Review (Dec. 2001).
    • Nietzsche’s Friends and Enemies, 62(2) The Review of Politics (2000). Review Essay. Review of Nietzsche and The Vicious Circle, by Pierre Klossowski, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997); Nietzsche and Wagner: A Lesson in Subjugation, by Joachim Köhler, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998); Nietzsche Contra Democracy, by Fredrick Appel, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999).
    • What Is Living and What Is Dead in the Interpretation of Hegel?, 29(2) Political Theory (April 2001). Review Essay. Review of Hegel and the State, by Eric Weil (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998); Hegel’s Ethics of Recognition, by Robert R. Williams (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997); Hegel’s Idea of a Phenomenology of Spirit, by Michael Forster (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998); Idealism and Modernism, by Robert B. Pippin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).
    • The Pessimistic Spirit, 25(1) Philosophy & Social Criticism (1999).
    • Wittgenstein Among the Savages: Language, Action and Political Theory, 30(4) Polity (Summer 1998).
    • Between History and Nature: Social Contract Theory in Locke and the Founders, 58(4) The Journal of Politics (November 1996).
    • Serving God and Mammon: The Lockean Sympathy in Early American Political Thought, 90(3) American Political Science Review (September 1996).
    • ‘The Pozsgay Affair’: Historical Memory and Political Legitimacy, 8(1) History & Memory (Spring/Summer 1996).
    • Building the Temple of Memory: Hegel’s Aesthetic Narrative of History, 56(4) The Review of Politics (Fall 1994).
  • Shorter Essays & Other Writing
    • Hart and Cohle: The Hopeful Pessimism of True Detective, in True Detective and Philosophy (edited by William Irwin, Jacob Graham and Tom Sparrow, Wiley Press, 2017).
    • “George Kateb” and “Pessimism”, in Encyclopedia of Political Thought (edited by Michael Gibbons, Wiley-Blackwell, 2014).
    • “Arthur Schopenhauer”, “Pessimism”, and “Nihilism”, in Encyclopedia of Political Theory (edited by Mark Bevir, Wiley-Blackwell, 2010).
    • Reflections on Sheilaism: A Response to Robert Bellah, 4(1) The Hedgehog Review (Spring 2002).
  • Book Reviews
    • Book Review, Perspectives on Politics (2018). Review of Nietzsche's Final Teaching, by Michael Allen Gillespie (Univ. of Chicago Press, 2017).
    • Book Review, European Journal of Philosophy (2016). Review of Weltschmerz: Pessimism in German Philosophy, 1860-1900, by Frederick C. Beiser (Oxford University Press, 2016).
    • Book Review, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (May 2016). Review of Nietzsche’s Culture of Humanity: Beyond Aristocracy and Democracy in the Early Period, by Jeffrey Church (Cambridge University Press, 2015).
    • Book Review, Political Theory (February 2006). Review of The Open: Man and Animal, by Giorgio Agamben, (Stanford University Press, 2004).
    • Book Review, The Journal of Politics (May 2000). Review of Myths and Nationhood, ed. by Geoffrey Hosking and George Schöpflin, (Routledge, 1997).
    • Book Review, The European Legacy (June 1999). Review of Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes, by Quentin Skinner, (Cambridge University Press, 1996).
    • Book Review, German Politics & Society (Winter 1996). Review of The Hegel Myths and Legends, ed. by Jon Stewart, (Northwestern University Press, 1996).
    • Book Review, National Political Science Review (1996). Review of Politics, Sociology and Social Theory, by Anthony Giddens, (Stanford University Press, 1995).
    • Book Review, American Political Science Review (June 1996). Review of Theories and Narratives: Reflections on The Philosophy of History, by Alex Callinicos, (Duke University Press, 1995).
    • Book Review, The Review of Politics (Fall 1995). Review of Alexandre Kojève: The Roots of Postmodern Politics, by Shadia Drury, (St. Martin’s Press, 1994).
    • Book Review, German Politics & Society (Fall 1993). Review of Posthistoire: Has History Come to an End?, by Lutz Niethammer, (Verso Press, 1992).
  • Op-Eds, Blogs & Interviews
    • Cioran and the Tradition of Pessimism, [Cioran şi tradiţia pesimismului], Cultura (December 18, 2014).
    • Why Be a Pessimist Like Rust?, (August 2014). Expanded and reprinted as “Hart and Cohle: The Hopeful Pessimism of True Detective” in True Detective and Philosophy, Wiley Press, 2017. Blog Post
    • On Pessimism, This is Life (July 17, 2009). Interview on KFNX (Phoenix).
    • Just Asking: You See a Doughnut, He Sees a Hole, Chronicle of Higher Education (June 1, 2007). Interview
    • A Dose of Pessimism, UK Guardian (December 7, 2006). Online commentary.
    • Using the Power of Negative Thinking, Dallas Morning News (November 5, 2006). Interview.
    • A Philosophy of Pessimism, On Point (September 14, 2006). Interview on WBUR (Boston).
    • The Importance of Being Pessimistic, L.A. Times (Op-Ed page) (September 3, 2006). Reprinted, Bergen County Record, September 7, 2006; San Jose Mercury-News, September 8, 2006; Delaware News Journal, September 10, 2006.
    • Thinking Allowed, BBC Radio 4 (July 6, 2006). Interview.