Political Science | History of Political Theory II
Y382 | 3728 | Kersey
This is a course on modernity; specifically, it is a survey of the
main philosophical and political issues that have been generated by
the enlightenment and the emergence of the modern nation-state.
Authors within the modern Western philosophical tradition have raised
a variety of normative and empirical questions regarding the nature
of the individual and social relations as well as the nature of the
state and of political relations, many of which still resonate with
the political issues that we encounter today.
Are rights a natural possession of humans or determined by law? What
is the nature of individual freedom? What happens when the freedom
of the individual comes into conflict with the interests of the
state? What is the foundation of the state, and why do we obey its
laws? How far does the jurisdiction of the state extend? --To the
realm of individual action? --To the realm of social and economic
interactions? --To the realm of individual thoughts and beliefs?
How do we evaluate the state, and how do we hold it accountable?
These are a few of the questions that we will be addressing in this
We will start by looking at the (social contract) theories of Hobbes,
Locke, and Rousseau, and the ways in which their writings have set
the intellectual agenda for much of the modern period as well as
influenced/inspired such important political movements as the
American and French revolutions. Next we will take a brief interlude
and focus on the issue of rights: on what they are based, to whom
they extend, how far they extend, how they are to be protected,
and what consequences individual rights have on the social whole. We
will next look at the political thought of Marx, both as a humanist
critique of modern society and as a critique of capitalist conomics.
Afterwards, we will re- examine revolutions in light of Marx. We
will wrap up the course by focusing on two specialized topics within
modern political thought: the state’s role in maintaining the
economy, and the Weberian conception of the rational-legal society;
the course will conclude with some general thoughts about the limits
and unintended consequences of modernity, and how they re-emerge in
contemporary political thought.
Upon completing this course, you should have a diverse understanding
of modern conceptions of the state and the individual, as well as an
awareness of the implications for contemporary political issues that
are generated by these conceptions.