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POLS 2900.6A
  Perspectives on Politics

This course will introduce students to the development of political theory  from  Athens in the fourth century BCE through to the end of the nineteenth century in Europe by way of reading and interpreting  some of the most important works in the Western political tradition. Politics assumes the power of agents and institutions to maintain or change the manner and directions  in which human beings act. It therefore necessarily involves questions about what  is, but also about what is right, about what ought to be and about what is possible. This course will therefore  deal with the ways in which some of the greatest thinkers in the West approached questions of  knowledge, justice, freedom, human nature, history, community, individuality, leadership, citizenship, participation, oppression, liberation and revolution, among other topics. The aim is to give students not only a familiarity with several of the key traditions of political thought that remain  dominant in political discourse today, but to introduce them to a variety of ways in which such theories can be critically analyzed, questioned and built upon. We assume that holding and developing basic views about the nature and possibilities of politics is, no matter how tacit, something that is unavoidable for individuals in contemporary society.  Becoming clearer about one’s own fundamental beliefs and assumptions, and becoming aware of and confronting other, competing views and assumptions is a part of any practice of a politics able to call itself democratic.

Required Texts :

Plato, The Trial and Death of Socrates (Hackett)
Plato, The Republic , trans. G.M.A. Grube (Hackett)
Aristotle, Politics ( Oxford World Classics)
Machiavelli, The Prince (Penguin)
Machiavelli, The Discourses (Penguin)
Hobbes, Leviathan (Hackett)
Locke, Second Treatise of Government (Hackett)
Rousseau, The Basic Political Writings (Hackett)
Marx, Selected Writings (Hackett)
Mill, On Liberty (Hackett)

All of the original required readings are available in the Bookstore for purchase in paperbound editions, and are on two-hour reserve in the Scott Library. Three short readings are available on the web.

Students are expected to complete the required readings before the classes dealing with them.  We will be using the “lecture” hours to clarify the written lectures posted in advance to the web site, in addition to raising other questions about the relevant texts.  Students are encouraged to prepare any questions they might have in advance of the class. The large classes can also be used to continue discussions begun in the tutorials. It is therefore essential that students remain up-to-date in their preparation for both classes and tutorials.

Grade Breakdown:

Tutorial Participation


First term paper


Mid-term test


Second term paper


Take-home final


Please read carefully the materials on Academic Dishonesty appended to this course outline.
Violations are subject to very real penalties which can be avoided by observance of simple rules.
Please do not rely on web sites for any research outside the primary sources; at the very least check with the course director or your T.A. about the appropriateness of using a particular site.

General Histories / Interpretations of Political Thought

  • Asher Horowitz and Gad Horowitz, “'Everywhere They Are in Chains': Political Theory from Rousseau to Marx
  • George Klosko, History of Political Theory (2 Volumes)
  • L.C. Macdonald, History of Political Philosophy
  • George Sabine, A History of Political Theory
  • Quentin Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought
  • Sheldon Wolin, Politics and Vision
  • B.-A. Bar On, Modern Engendering: Critical Feminist Readings in Modern Western Philosophy
  • Diana Coole, Women in Political Theory
  • Lynda Lange, The Sexism of Social and Political Theory
  • Susan Moller Okin, Women in Western Political Thought

Fall Term Schedule

September 8, 10

Introduction to the course: why study political theory in its history?

Topic I – Historical/Cultural Background to Plato

Suggested Supplementary Reading

  • Cornelius Castoriadis, “The Greek Polis and the Creation of Democracy,” in his Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy
  • M.I. Finley, Democracy: Ancient and Modern
  • W.G. Forrest, The Emergence of Greek Democracy
  • A.H. M. Jones, Athenian Democracy
  • J. Ober and C. Hedrick, eds., Demokratia: A Conversation on Democracies Ancient and Modern
  • Eli Sagan, The Honey and the Hemlock: Democracy and Paranoia in Ancient Athens and Modern America
  • I.F. Stone, The Trial of Socrates
  • F.M. Cornford, Before and After Socrates
  • W.K.C. Guthrie, The Greek Philosophers
  • W.T. Jones, History of Philosophy, Vol I
  • G.B. Kerferd, The Sophistic Movement

Topic II – Plato’s Republic

September 24 Plato, Thrasymachus and the Crisis of Justice
  Read: The Republic, Book I
September 29 The Question of the Good Life and the City of Words
  Read: The Republic, Books II & III
October 1 The City of Words as Model; 2 Problems
  Read: The Republic, Books IV and V
  Read: Review Books III-V
October 8 The Theory of Forms and the Relation between Knowledge and Power
  Read: The Republic , Books VI and VII
October 15 How To Interpret Plato? Several Criticisms of the Republic
  Read: The Republic , Books VIII – X are recommended only

Suggested Supplementary Reading

  • Julia Annas, An Introduction to Plato's Republic
  • Ernest Barker, Greek Political Theory
    The Political Thought of Plato and Aristotle
  • Allan Bloom, “Interpretive Essay” in his translation of The Republic
  • David Grene. Greek Political Theory
  • G.M.A. Grube, Plato's Thought
  • T.A. Sinclair, History of Greek Political Thought
  • A.D. Winspear , The Genesis of Plato's Thought

TOPIC III - Aristotle’s Reforms of Platonism and The Politics

October 20 A. Aristotle's Reform of the Forms: Substance, Form and Matter
B. Aristotle on Reality, Nature and the Soul
October 22 A. Aristotle’s Ethics: Comparisons with Plato and the Sophists
B. Aristotle’s Ethics: On the Doctrine of the Mean and the Transition to Politics
October 27 "Man is a Political Animal": The Method of Aristotle';s Politics
  Read, The Politics , Book I
November 3 Discussion of slavery and gender in Book I
November 5 Aristotle’s Criticisms of Others Reveal his Intentions
  Read: The Politics , Book II, ch.s 1-8
November 10 Aristotle on Constitutions and the Best Constitution
  Read: The Politics , Books, III, chs. 1-17 and IV, chs. 1-13
November 12 Aristotle on the Ideal Constitution; A Further Criticism of Aristotle
  Read: The Politics , Books V, and VII, chs. 1-14

Suggested Supplementary Reading

  • D.J. Allan, The Philosophy of Aristotle
  • Ernest Barker, The Political Thought of Plato and Aristotle
  • J.B. Morrall, Aristotle
  • R.G. Mulgan, Aristotle's Political Theory
  • Mary P. Nichols, Citizens and Statesmen
  • E.M. Wood and N. Wood, Class Ideology and Ancient Political Theory , Ch. V
  • Bernard Yack, the Problems of A Political Animal

TOPIC IV – All You Need Is Nature: Diogenes the Cynic

November 17 Diogenes and The End of the Polis: Philosophy in the Shadow of Empires
  Read: Selections from Diogenes Laertius on Diogenes the Cynic here

TOPIC V – Machiavelli: Prophet of the Modern and Theorist of Republics

November 19 Machiavelli’s Break with the Tradition
  Read: The Prince , Ch.s 1-14
November 24 Machiavelli, Political Morality, and an "Economy of Violence"
  Read: The Prince , Ch.s 15-26
November 26 Machiavelli on Republics; Fortune
  Read: The Discourses, Book I, Introduction and ch.s 1-18, 34, 37, 55, 57-58;
Book II, Introduction; Book III, ch.s 7-9, 43

.Suggested Supplementary Reading

  • J.W. Allen, A History of Political Thought in the Sixteenth Century , Part IV, Ch.2
  • Isaiah Berlin , “The Originality of Machiavelli,” in his Against the Current
  • E. Cassirer, The Myth of the State , Ch.s 10-12
  • M. Fleischer, Ed., Machiavelli and the Nature of Political Thought
  • H.J. Laski, The Dangers of Obedience and Other Essays, Ch. 9
  • A. Parel, Ed., The Political Calculus: Essays on Machiavelli's Philosophy
  • Hannah Pitkin, Fortune is a Woman: Gender and Politics in the Thought of N.M.
  • Q. Skinner, Machiavelli
  • Leo Strauss, Thoughts on Machiavelli
December 1
December 3


Topic VI – Hobbes: Science, Sovereignty and the Market Society

January 5 Science and the Break with Tradition
  • Read: Leviathan, Hobbes’s Introduction, Chs. 1-6
January 7 Social Science as Scientific Materialism
  Read: Leviathan, chs. 8, 10, 11, 13-15
January 12 Hobbes’s Central Argument
  Read: Leviathan, chs. 17-24
January 14 A Theory for a Capitalist Market Society
  Read: Leviathan, chs. 26-31
January 19 Hobbes’s Strengths and Weaknesses
  Read: Leviathan, chs. 46 and Review and Conclusion

Suggested Supplementary Reading

  • D. Baumgold, Hobbes’s Political Theory
  • M.M. Goldsmith, Hobbes’s Science of Politics
  • Christopher Hill, Puritanism and Revolution, esp. ch. 9
  • C.B. Macpherson, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism
    Democratic Theory: Essays in Retrieval, Ch.s 13, 14
    “Introduction” to his edition of Leviathan (Penguin Books)
  • R. Peters, Hobbes
  • A. Rapaczynski, Nature and Politics
  • T.A. Spragens, Jr., The Politics of Motion: The World of Thomas Hobbes
  • Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History, Ch. 5A
    The Political Philosophy of Hobbes
  • H. Warrender, The Political Philosophy of Hobbes: His Theory of Obligation

Topic VII – Locke: The Patron Saint of Liberalism

January 21 Comparison with Hobbes; Locke’s Original Contribution
  Read: Second Treatise, chs. 1-5
January 26 Locke: The Short Uncritical Version
  Read: Second Treatise, chs. 6-8
January 28 Locke’s Contradictions and his Theory of Property
  Read: Second Treatise, chs. 9-14
February 2 Locke, Capitalism and Unequal Equality
  Read: Second Treatise, chs. 15-19

Suggested Supplementary Reading

  • Richard Ashcraft, Locke’s Two Treatises of Government
  • John Dunn, Locke
  • J.W. Gough, John Locke’s Political Philosophy
  • C.B. Macpherson, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism
  • G. Parry, John Locke
  • A. Rapaczynski, Nature and Politics
  • Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History, Ch. 5
  • Neal Wood, John Locke and Agrarian Capitalism

Topic VIII – Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Critic of Liberal Modernity

February 4 Rousseau’s Historical Anthropology: Some Basic Concepts
  Read: Discourse on the Origins of Inequality, Dedication, Preface, Introduction and Part I
February 9 Rousseau’s Critique of Liberalism and Modernity
  Read: Discourse on the Origins of Inequality, Part II
February 11 A New Social Contract: Democracy and the General Will
  Read: The Social Contract, Book I ; Book II, chs. 1-8, 11-12

February 14-20 READING WEEK

February 23 The Sovereignty of the General Will as a New Set of Problems
  Read: The Social Contract, Book III, chs. 1-6, 10-18; Book IV, chs. 1-2, 7-9

Suggested Supplementary Reading

  • M. Berman, The Politics of Authenticity
  • Ernst Cassirer, The Question of Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  • Lucio Colletti, “Rousseau as Crtic of ‘Civil Society’,” in his From Rousseau to Lenin
  • Alfred Cobban, Rousseau and the Modern State
  • L.G. Crocker, Rousseau’s social Contract: An Interpretive Essay
  • N.J.H. Dent, Rousseau
  • A. Horowitz, Rousseau, Nature and History
    And Gad Horowitz, Everywhere They Are in Chains, chs. 2 & 3
  • Jean Starobinski, Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Transparency and Obstacle
  • E. H. Wright, The Meaning of Rousseau

Topic IX – Marx and Modern Socialism

February 25 Marx on Nature, Labour and History: General Overview
  Read: The Communist Manifesto (Selected Writings, pp. 157- 186)
March 2 Marx’s Theory of Alienation
  Read: Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts (pp. 54-97);
Theses on Feuerbach (pp. 98-101);
Excerpt Notes of 1844 (pp. 40-53)
March 4 Marx on Exploitation and Commodity Fetishism
  Read: Selection from Capital, Vol. I, Ch. 1 (pp. 220-244)
March 9 Marx on Historical Materialism
  Read: Selection from the German Ideology, Part I (pp. 102-156); “Preface” to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (pp. 209-213)
March 11 Socialism or Barbarism
  Read: Critique of the Gotha Program (pp. 315-332)

Suggested Supplementary Reading

  • S. Avineri, The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx
  • H. Fleischer, Marxism and History
  • Carol Gould, Marx’s Social Ontology
  • G. Lichtheim, Marxism: An Historical and Critical Study
  • H. Marcuse, “The Foundations of Historical Materialism,” in his Studies in Critical Philosophy
  • D. McLellan, The Thought of Karl Marx
  • J. McMurtry, The Structure of Marx’s World-View
  • R. Miliband, Marxism and Politics
  • B. Ollman, Alienation, 2 nd. Ed.
  • M. Rader, Marx’s Interpretation of History
  • A. Schmidt, The Concept of Nature in Marx
  • R.C. Tucker, Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx
  • A.W. Wood, Karl Marx

Topic X– John Stuart Mill and Reform Liberalism

March 16 Liberalism, Democracy and John Stuart Mill
  Read: On Liberty
(suggested: Utilitarianism)
March 18 The Fear of Conformity and Mill’s Dillemma
  Read: On Liberty
March 23 A Utilitarian Argument for Freedom of Expression
  Read: On Liberty
March 25 Mill’s Liberty: A Friendly Ruthless Criticism
  Read: On Liberty
March 30 Mill on Representative Government
  Read: On Liberty
(Suggested: Representative Government, chs. 1-15)
April 1 Review

Suggested Supplementary Reading

  • Isaiah Berlin , “J.S. Mill and the Ends of Life,” in his Four Essays On Liberty
  • M. Cowling, Mill and Liberalism
  • G. Duncan, Marx and Mill: Two Views of Social Harmony and Social Conflict
  • G. Himmelfarb, On Liberty and liberalism: The Case of John Stuart Mill
  • C.B. Macpherson, The Life and Times of Liberal Democracy
  • H.J. McCloskey, John Stuart Mill: A Critical Study
  • Carol Pateman, Participation and Democratic Theory, Ch. 2
  • P. Radcliff, Ed., Limits of Liberty: Studies of Mill’s ‘On Liberty’
  • J.M. Robson, The Improvement of Mankind: The Social and Political Thought of J.S. Mill
  • A. Ryan, John Stuart Mill
  • D.F. Thompson, John Stuart Mill and Representative Government
  • R.P. Wolff, The Poverty of Liberalism, Ch. 1
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