Writing in 1848, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels captured something essential about the modern condition: “All fixed, fast-frozen relations,” they write, “are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air.” Arguably, the term “modernity” signifies flux above all. Spanning approximately 400-500 years, it seeks to make sense of a relatively sudden and relentless upheaval in every sphere of human endeavor—both unsettling and, as yet, unsettled. It is a period of great scientific and cultural achievement, from the Age of Enlightenment to the Industrial Revolution. It is also a period of great political innovation, from the emergence of the modern state to radical new ideas about democracy, equality, and liberty. Such ideas challenge earlier assumptions about the nature of political power and inspire a number of revolutions. This course will trace important shifts in European political thought, beginning with Machiavelli, proceeding with the social contract theorists—Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau—and the emergence of classical liberalism, to the progression of these ideas in the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche. In considering the range of issues to which these canonical texts extend insight, we must remain attentive to the ways in which modern political theory is entangled with European colonialism and the global slave trade. In the twentieth century, moreover, it was “modern” political ideas that made possible some of the worst atrocities of all time. Hence, we will not read these texts uncritically, but as fellow thinkers engaged in an intellectual conversation across the centuries. Through close readings of primary texts and a consideration of contemporary responses, we will question our own political sensibilities and the very foundations of the political world we inhabit.
- Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, ed. Wayne A. Rebhorn (New York: Norton, 2020).
- Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. David Johnston (New York: Norton, 2020).
- John Locke, The Selected Political Writings of John Locke, ed. Paul E. Sigmund (New York: Norton, 2005).
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Basic Political Writings, ed. Donald A. Cress (Bloomington, IN: Hackett, 2012).
- Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York: Norton, 1978).
- Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo, ed. Walter Kauffman (New York: Vintage, 1989).
Political Theory & Modernity
- Sheldon Wolin, “Political Philosophy and Philosophy” in Politics and Vision (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), 3-26. (Recommended)
- Jane Bennett, “Modernity and Its Critics,” in The Oxford Handbook of Political Theory, ed. John S. Dryzek, Bonnie Honig, and Anne Phillips (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 211–24.
- Chandan Reddy, “Modern,” in Keywords For American Cultural Studies, ed. Bruce Burgett and Glenn Hendler (New York: New York University Press, 2007), 160-164.
I. The Modern State
- Machiavelli, The Prince, 3-84.
- Machiavelli, selections from Discourses on Livy, in The Prince, 106-135.
- Machiavelli, “Letter to Francesco Vettori,” in The Prince, 168-173.
- Paul Thomas, “State,” in Keywords For American Cultural Studies, ed. Bruce Burgett and Glenn Hendler (New York: New York University Press, 2007), 233-236.
- Isaiah Berlin, “The Question of Machiavelli,” in The Prince, 179-193.
- Hanna Fenichel Pitkin, “Machiavelli’s Gendered Politics,” in The Prince, 226-243.
- Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. David Johnston (New York: Norton, 2020)
- Michel Foucault, “Society Must Be Defended” Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-76, eds. Mauro Bertani and Alessandro Fontana, trans. David Macey (New York: Picador, 2003), 239-263.
II. Life, Liberty, Property
- Locke, “The First Treatise on Government,” in The Selected Political Writings of John Locke, 5-16.
- Locke,“The Second Treatise on Government,” in The Selected Political Writings of John Locke, 17-125.
- Nikhil Pal Singh, “Liberalism,” in Keywords For American Cultural Studies, ed. Bruce Burgett and Glenn Hendler (New York: New York University Press, 2007), 139-145.
- Richard Ashcraft, “Radicalism and Lockean Political Theory,” in The Selected Political Writings of John Locke, 354-357.
- Mark Goldie, “Conservative Revolutionary or Social Democrat?” in The Selected Political Writings of John Locke, 357-360.
- James Farr, “‘So Vile and Miserable an Estate’: The Problem of Slavery in Locke’s Political Thought,” in The Selected Political Writings of John Locke, 374-379.
- Thomas Jefferson, “The Declaration of Independence”
- Steven M. Dworetz, “Locke, Liberalism, and the American Revolution,” in The Selected Political Writings of John Locke, 388-398.
- Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, The Federalist Papers, ed. Lawrence Goldman (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 48-55.
III. Revolution & Reaction
- Rousseau,“Discourse on Inequality,” in The Basic Political Writings, 3-57.
- Rousseau,“On Social Contract,” in The Basic Political Writings, 3-57.
- Robert Paul Wolff, In Defense of Anarchism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 48-58.
- Judith N. Shklar, “Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Equality,” Daedalus 107, no. 3 (1978): 13–25.
- “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen,” in The French Revolution, ed. Paul H. Beik (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 1970), 94-97.
- Maximilien Robespierre, “On the Principles of Revolutionary Government,” in Robespierre: Virtue and Terror, ed. Jean Ducange, trans. John Howe (New York: Verso, 2017), 98-107.
- Maximilien Robespierre, “On the Principles of Public Morality,” in Robespierre: Virtue and Terror, 108-125.
- Edmund Burke, selections from The Portable Conservative Reader, ed. Russell Kirk (New York: Penguin, 1982), 3-47.
- Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, ed. Janet Todd (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 84-104; 280-283.
IV. Lineages of the Modern
- Friedrich Engels, “Speech at the Graveside of Karl Marx,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, 681-682.
- Karl Marx, “Marx on the History of His Opinions,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, 3-6.
- Marx, “For a Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, 12-15.
- Marx, “On the Jewish Question,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, 26-46.
- Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, 143-145.
- Marx, selections from The German Ideology, in The Marx-Engels Reader, 147-175.
- Marx, selections from Capital, v. 1 in The Marx-Engels Reader, 294-329; 361-376.
- Marx, “The Communist Manifesto,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, 473-500.
- What if Marx Was Right?, directed by Ilan Ziv (Icarus Films, 2015).
- Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo, ed. Walter Kauffman (New York: Vintage, 1989), 34-112; 120-136; 145-156; 159-163.
- Melvyn Bragg, host “Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality,” In Our Time (podcast), January 12, 2017, https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b087rt4z.