Modern Political Thought

Modernity—the age of individualism, increasing social autonomy, and political self-determination—was an era of enormous progression and novelty in political thinking. In it we find new conceptions of political rationality and affect (how to think and feel about politics), as well as re-conceptualizations of such key concepts as equality and liberty, the state and civil society. Such changes held much promise, shaping institutions that seemed destined to improve economic and social conditions for rapidly increasing populations. Yet the politics that ensued from such ‘modern’ thinking sometimes proved disastrous: The 20th Century – once thought to fulfill the promise of modernity—has been the most violent in history. This course surveys the development of political concepts in modern Western thought. We will trace paradigmatic shifts in political ideas as they begin to surface in 17th and 18th century European thought, evidenced in the writings of Hobbes, Locke, Machiavelli, and Rousseau. And we will examine the progression of these ideas into the 19th century, particularly in the writings of Karl Marx. Through close textual readings and considering of contemporary responses to each of these thinkers, we will engage in a systematic questioning of our assumptions about politics. We will attempt to further our understanding of contemporary politics and the problems that attend to our own political practices.

Week 1: Modern(ity)

  • Marshall Berman, All That is Solid Melts Into Air, selections.
  • Lisa Lowe, “The Intimacies of the Four Continents,” in Haunted by Empire, ed. Stoler

Week 2: Thomas Hobbes

  • Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, selections.

Week 3: Contemporary Responses to Hobbes

  • Michel Foucault, Society Must be Defended, selections.
  • Su Fang Ng, “Hobbes and the Bestial Body of Sovereignty” in Feminist Interpretations of Thomas Hobbes.
  • Carole Pateman, The Sexual Contract, selections.

Week 4: John Locke

  • John Locke, Second Treatise, selections.

Week 5: John Locke

  • John Locke, Second Treatise, selections.

Week 6: Contemporary Responses to John Locke

  • Uday Singh Mehta, “Liberal Conventions and Imperial Inclusions”; “Liberalism, Empire, and Territory” in Liberalism and Empire.
  • Carole Pateman, The Sexual Contract, selections.

Week 7: Niccolò Machiavelli

  • Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince.

Week 8: Niccolò Machiavelli

  • Niccolò Machiavelli, The Discourses On Livy, selections.

Week 9: Contemporary Responses to Machiavelli

  • Hanna Pitkin, Fortune is a Woman, selections.
  • Cary J. Nederman and Martin Morris, “Rhetoric, Violence, and Gender in Machiavelli,” in Feminist Interpretations of Machiavelli, ed. Falco.
  • Yves Winter, Machiavelli and the Orders of Violence, selections.

Week 10: Jean-Jacques Rousseau

  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origins of Inequality.
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, selections.

Week 11: Jean-Jacques Rousseau

  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, selections.

Week 12: Contemporary Responses to Rousseau

  • Charles Mills, “Rousseau, the Master’s Tools, and Anti-Contractarian Contractarianism,” in The CLR James Journal 15, no. 1 (2009): 92-112.
  • Leah Bradshaw, “Rousseau on Civic Virtue, Male Autonomy, and the Construction of the Divided Female,” in Feminist Interpretations of Rousseau, ed. Lange.

Week 13: Karl Marx

  • Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto.

Week 14: Karl Marx

  • Karl Marx, Capital I, selections.

Week 15: Contemporary Responses to Marx

  • Silvia Federici “The Reproduction of Labour-Power in the Global Economy and the Unfinished Feminist Revolution” in Revolution at Point Zero.
  • Sheldon Wolin, “Marx: Theorist of the Political Economy of the Proletariat or of Uncollapsed Capitalism?” in Politics and Vision, selections.
  • David Leopold, ‘Socialism and (and the Rejection of) Utopia,” Journal of Political Ideologies, 12, no. 3 (2007): 219-237.