The Politics and Philosophy of Kurt Vonnegut

Mark Lannigan
Mark Lannigan
Tufts University (Student Instructor)

Mark Lannigan is a Tufts University student currently working towards both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. He recently designed and taught the course “The Politics and Philosophy of Kurt Vonnegut” through Tufts University’s Experimental College: a unique institution which gives students the opportunity to teach unorthodox subjects. Mark works in political campaigns in Massachusetts and serves as a member of the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee.



July 8, 2022, 4:00 pm

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In 1982, postmodern fiction author Kurt Vonnegut proclaimed: “The Dark Ages—they haven’t ended yet.” What does his fiction have to say about the crises of modern America? Does he see any way out? Tufts University student and student teacher Mark Lannigan will probe Vonnegut’s corpus for an answer to these questions by establishing a Vonnegutian political theory unlike any other. In works like Cat’s CradleSlapstick, and Player Piano, the postmodern author engages critically with political theorists like Nietzsche and Marx before, in true philosophical spirit, constructing his own system on their backs.

This course will look briefly at some of the most interesting points of Vonnegut’s political theory: his identification of decay in modernity, his unique ideas regarding “spiritual socialism,” his advocacy for communitarianism, and a number more. We will dive into Vonnegut’s thoughts on the proper role of the individual in society, the value of religion, and what proper equality looks like. By the end of class, we will question whether the Vonnegutian political system adequately addresses the American crises he hopes to reverse, or if there are more problems to be found in the solutions posed by the author-philosopher.


Discussion Questions:

  1. What does Vonnegut identify as the defining issue of modernity?
  2. Where should the individual fit into the social, political, and economic systems of modern day, to Vonnegut?
  3. How does Vonnegut envision properly imbuing people with relationships and purpose?
  4. Does Vonnegut’s political theory address the correct problems, and if so, does it adequately solve them?





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