George C. Comninel
Comninel Home Page
POLS 3020
Utopia, Power and

POLS 3025
A Century of Revolution

POLS 4030
Classical Political Theory

POLS 4090
Classical Marxist Thought

Recommended Bibliography
POLS 6030 / SPT 6101
Theory and Practice
of the State in Historical Perspective
(Not offered in 2017/18)

Recommended Bibliography
Main Politics Website
POLS 3020 3.0A
Fall 2017

Utopia, Power, and Sovereignty

Monday and Wednesday, 1:00-2:30
VH 3009
Professor George C. Comninel 
Hours: Tues. 3:00-4:00; Wed. 3:00-4:00
Phone: 416-736-5265 
N833 Ross Bldg. OR S646 Ross Bldg

This course offers an interdisciplinary approach to the major developments of European political thought in the sixteenth century. It emphasizes the widely divergent historical contexts and processes of social change in Italy, Germany, France and England during this period, in contrast to what is usually perceived to be a broad parallelism of Western European history. We begin with a brief consideration of the key dimensions of social transformation by which all contemporary Western capitalist societies have become qualitatively different from those of the late Middle Ages. We then turn to consider the particular patterns of political thought that emerged from the very different, and increasingly divergent, social and political contexts of Renaissance Italy, Reformation Germany, France during the Wars of Religion, and Tudor England. The authors to be considered in relation to these contexts include Sir Thomas More; Niccolo Machiavelli; Martin Luther and Jean Calvin; the “Monarchomach” theorists of the Huguenot resistance to royal authority, and their main opponent, Jean Bodin; and, finally, Sir Thomas Smith. Central to the point of view of this course is the idea that despite the continuities and cultural commonalities inherent in the development of "Western" political thought, these authors not only wrote to address very specific political issues and agendas, but did so in ways shaped by their own particular and quite distinct societies. Ultimately, this course seeks to understand why 16th century England produced both Utopia and the first work of political economy; why a Renaissance humanist like Machiavelli was preoccupied with power; and why the modern concept of sovereignty emerged in the midst of civil wars in France.

Course Assignments

2 essays (6-8 pages):              2 x 30%    = 60%
1 take home essay exam                          = 30%
class participation                                    = 10%

Required Reading

Thomas More, Utopia (Norton)
P. Bondanella and M. Musa, eds, The Portable Machiavelli (Penguin)
Ellen Meiksins Wood, Liberty and Property (Verso)
François Hotman, Franco-Gallia (Kindle - free edition)
Theodore Beza, The Rights of Magistrates (Kindle - $1)
Jean Bodin, Six Books of the Commonwealth
Sir Thomas Smith, De Republica Anglorum [aka A Discourse on the Commonwealth of England]
Sir Thomas Smith, A Discourse of the commonweal of this realm of England [a different book!!!]

Legal PDF files of most of the texts are posted on my web page, and are widely available elsewhere.

Students may already have another edition of Utopia, or Machiavelli's The Prince and The Discourses from another course, in which case it is not necessary to purchase the editions that have been ordered. It is essential, however, to read Machiavelli's Discourses; it is not sufficient to read only The Prince (that is a sure way to get a bad grade). All of the key works from this period are readily available on the internet, so it is not actually necessary to purchase books (though there is much to be said for having books, and some of these texts have recently been published in affordable editions). In order to provide a common set of readings for those who prefer to use on-line texts, I have prepared PDF files from editions in the public domain, and placed them on the course website. These files have been given a standard pagination to facilitate citation in papers. Among these readings are the key political works of Luther and Calvin ; the main works of the Protestant “Monarchomachs”; the complete text of an abridged translation of Jean Bodin's Six Books of the Commonwealth; the complete text of Sir Thomas Smith's De Republica Anglorum and an excerpt from his Discourse of the Commonweal of This Realm of England. Where appropriate, there is also a link to a reading accessible through Passport York.

Schedule of Lectures and Required Reading 

Sept 11/13       Introduction /Feudal Society and the Dawn of the Modern Era
George C. Comninel, “English Feudalism and the Origins of Capitalism,” J of Peasant Studies, 27:4, 1-27
English Feudalism
Sept 18/21       Transitions/Renaissance Italy
Ellen Meiksins Wood, Liberty and Property, pp. 1-37

Sept 25/27       Capitalism and Absolutism/Three (or more) Paths to Modernity
Comninel, “English Feudalism,” 28-53; Wood, pp 147-153; 211-220

Oct 2/4             More’s Utopia:  Conservative Satire as Social Critique
Sir Thomas More, Utopia

Oct 9                                 THANKSGIVING — NO CLASS

Oct 11               Florence, the Renaissance, and Machiavelli
Portable Machiavelli, pp. 9-40, 53-76, 548-574
Oct 16/18          The Pri
Wood, pp. 37-44; The Prince, in Portable Machiavelli, pp. 77-166
Oct 23/25          The Discourses
The Discourses, pp. 167- 306; 351-418 [Bk 1: Intro; Ch 1-14; 16-18; 25-29; 32-34; 37-55; 57-60. Bk 2: Intro; Ch 1-4. Bk 3: Ch 1; 3; 6-9; 16-29; 34-49]; Wood, pp. 44-55

Oct 30/Nov 1    The Reformation/Luther on the State              (First Essay Due Nov 1)
Wood, pp. 57-70;
Luther, from “On Secular Authority

Nov 6/8             Calvin and Resistance to the State
Calvin, from Institutes of the Christian Religion/Wood, 70-84
François Hotman, Francogallia

Nov 13/15          The Case Against and For an Absolute Sovereign
Theodore Beza, Right of Magistrates
Jean Bodin, Six Books of the Commonwealth, Bks. I-II, pp. 1-76

Nov 20/ 22          Bodin and the Modern State
Jean Bodin, Six Books of the Commonwealth, Bks. III-VI, pp. 77-212

Nov 27/29            Smith and the Modern State                           (Second Essay Due Nov 29)
Sir Thomas Smith, De Republica Anglorum

Dec 4                   The Modern State, Capitalism and Political Economy
Sir Thomas Smith, A Discourse of the Commonweal of This Realm of England, Second Dialogue

Dec 6                                     TAKE-HOME EXAM DUE