Political Science | What is Modernity? The case of Leviathan (3 cr)
Y675 | 3331 | Chabot


Modernity began when reason replaced religion as the basis for taming
passions, maintaining order, and organizing society.  But what is reason?
Does it refer, as Kant thought, to certain principles that are indispensable
to life as we know it?  Or is it, as Marx thought, a kind of self-discipline
that we impose on ourselves to maximize productivity?  Or is the
"decentering" of reason--the fragmentation of unitary reason into multiple
rationalities--its distinguishing feature, as Weber believed?
The purpose of this course is twofold.  It is, first, to become familiar
with rival theories of modernity.  Rather than considering these theories in
the abstract, however, we will examine them in light of the contributions
each makes to understanding a text that was written at the beginning of the
modern era and helped to shape it: Thomas Hobbes' "Leviathan."  While
neither Kant, nor Marx, nor Weber wrote an interpretation of "Leviathan,"
theorists inspired by them have done so, as have postmodern theorists and
theorists (such as Quentin Skinner) who seek to problematize "grand
theorizing" about modernity.  Thus "Leviathan" lends itself to the business
of scrutinizing assumptions and ideas about modernity.
It is, moreover, a text worthy of close study in its own right; and the
interpretations we will read (by Strauss, MacPherson, Skinner, Johnston,
Dietz and others) constitute useful guides to the understanding of Hobbes'
ideas.  Our second objective, then, is to work through a variety of
interpretations of Hobbes, the better to understand one of the canonical
figures in political science.  When you have completed this course, you
should be conversant not only with the text of "Leviathan," but also with
various strategies for interpreting the text, and with the ideas about
modernity that inform these strategies.
Requirements for the course include a midterm exam and a final paper.  The
midterm will ask you to consider the role that religion plays in Hobbes'
thought, and in the theories of modernity we have studied to that point.
Fully one-half of "Leviathan" concerns the idea of a "Christian
commonwealth;" why did Hobbes devote so much attention to something he is
widely thought to have had no interest in?  The final paper, on a topic of
your choosing, should critically evaluate one of the theories of modernity
we have studied, both in light of its interpretation of Hobbes and more
generally.  Class participation will also be a component of your final
grade.