Political Theory

What does a decent society look like? This course is designed to introduce students to some of the most influential responses to this question from prominent thinkers within the Western canon. Many political philosophers depict a perpetual struggle between authority on the one hand and the individual on the other. Indeed, so much of what we consider to be issues worthy of serious consideration today are, at core, related to this basic tension. This includes fundamental concepts like freedom, liberty, and justice—as well as issues of racism, sexism, war, political economy, and the nature of democracy itself. The modern state comes embedded with particular ideas and interpretations of all these notions. In tracing the lineage of our own ideas and preconceptions about politics, we’ll consider what political philosophers have had to say about some of the most persistent and abiding human concerns for over four millennia.

Required Texts

  • Mitchell Cohen and Nicole Fermon, eds. Princeton Readings in Political Thought (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996).
  • Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988).
  • Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto 2nd Norton Critical Edition (New York: W.W. Norton, 2012).

Course Plan

Week 1: What is Political Theory?

  • Sheldon Wolin, “Political Philosophy and Philosophy”

Week 2: The Political

  • Plato, The Apology
  • Plato, The Republic
  • Aristotle, The Politics

Week 3: The City of God

  • St.  Augustine, City of God
  • Aquinas, Politics and Law

Week 4: Fortune & Virtue

  • Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

Week 5: The Modern State

  • Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

Week 6: Liberalism

  • John Locke, Second Treatise of Government
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract

Week 7: Revolution & Reaction

  • Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen
  • Maximilien Robespierre, “On Political Morality”
  • St. Just, “On the King’s Fate”
  • Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France

Week 8: The Woman Question

  • Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
  • John Stuart Mill, “On the Subjection of Women”

Week 9: Give Me Liberty

  • Thomas Paine, Common Sense
  • The Federalist 1, 6, 10, 51

Week 10: The Specter of Communism

  • Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto

Week 11: Beyond Good & Evil

  • Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals

Week 12: Socialist Visions

  • V.I. Lenin, “What Is To Be Done?”
  • V.I. Lenin, “The State and Revolution”
  • Emma Goldman,  “Victims of Morality”
  • Emma Goldman,  “Anarchism:  What it Really Stands For”

Week 13: Fascism

  • Benito Mussolini, “Fascism”
  • Adolf Hitler, “Emergency Government”
  • Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

Week 14: Feminism

  • Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex
  • Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique
  • Audre Lourde, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”

Week 15: Post-Colonialism

  • Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter From Birmingham Jail”
  • Malcolm X, “The Ballot or the Bullet”
  • Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth