West European Studies | History of Political Theory II
W405 | 0675 | Hoffman

10:20-11:35a WH121
Meets with POLS Y328
Obtain Online Authorization from Department

This course surveys some of the classic texts in the tradition of
Western political thought since the time of the Italian Renaissance.
It will familiarize students both with the diversity of concerns
specific to individual thinkers in the modern era and some of the
themes that unify them (and make plausible the idea of a
single "tradition" of thought within which these individuals might be

The question of recognizing and obeying government -- called the
problem of "political obligation" by philosophers -- will be one
major unifying theme through which the various thinkers examined will
be compared and contrasted. The issue of obligation is arguably the
most basic question in political philosophy. Through direct readings
and lectures the succession of arguments for political obligation
offered by thinkers such as Niccolo Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, John
Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, David Hume, J.S. Mill and Karl Marx
will be articulated. Both problems and valid insights attributable to
each thinker will be identified. More specific concerns raised by
participants in this tradition include the idea of a political
morality (Is there a type of morality appropriate for political
leaders as opposed to citizens?); the issue of political rationality;
the concept of natural rights, the ideal of democracy, and the
historical determinants of social and political institutions.

It is expected that students will take from this course:
* an enriched understanding of key problems that continue to occupy
political thinkers today and that provide the background for much
contemporary political action and debate;
* a stronger sense of the social contexts in which key political
arguments were developed;
* strengthened critical thinking and communication skills.

Previous exposure to political theory or philosophy is helpful, but
is not a prerequisite.  The reading schedule will be rigorous and
challenging (up to 200 pages per week), but rewarding.  The texts we
will read have a rich history and have long been seen as basic to an
educated person's background in Western culture.