History of Political Thought: Modern

Spring 2021
TuTh 12:30-2pm
Course Description

This course introduces some key works and ideas in modern political thought. The material is presented more or less chronologically in the form of six modules: (1) the French Revolution; (2) the division of labour and representation; (3) responses to capitalism and slavery; (4) Kultur and its discontents; (5) the Russian Revolution; and (6) interwar and postwar politics. While the list of authors we’ll read is long and varied (including geographically), excerpts will be short, and the instructor will provide all necessary context. There are no prerequisites, and in the hope of providing some fascinating mental fodder for anyone interested in politics today, newcomers to the world of political theory are very welcome.

Course objectives: familiarity with a wide variety of interesting and important texts in modern political thought, their contexts, and the relations among them; ability to analyze some of those texts closely and to discuss how they fit into the bigger intellectual and historical picture. 

Requirements: Four one-page, single-spaced reading responses (40%); four 15-20 minute one-on-one zoom chats with either your GSI or the instructor (20%); and a final paper, due May 14 (40%). Also, ideally at least one turn in the studio audience (see below), though it’s not required. 

Logistical details: All readings will be prepared by the instructor and posted to bCourses prior to lectures. Lectures will be produced as podcasts, each one featuring some portion of the class as a studio audience (rotating through volunteers). This is because the instructor really enjoys random questions while teaching, finding that they always trigger new thoughts and intellectual excitement. The audience is not expected to master the day’s material in advance; a first read-through of the texts will be fine. At the completion of each hour-long lecture/conversation, the audio recording and chat transcript will be posted to bCourses, as will the instructor’s notes (usually a single page of points not to miss, dates etc; often a bit different from the live lecture). 


Module 1. Intro and French Revolution

  1. Jan 20. Introduction: Revolutions and Constitutions.

  2. Jan 25. FR1. Rousseau, Sièyés, Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789), Constitution of 1791. 

  3. Jan 27. FR2. Burke, More, de Maistre, Paine, Wollstonecraft.

  4. Feb 1. FR3. Babeuf and the Constitutions of 1793 and 1795. 

  5. Feb 3. FR4. L’Ouverture and the Haitian Revolution. 


Module 2. The Division of Labour and Representation

  1. Feb 8. DLR1. Smith, Constant. 

  2. Feb 10. DLR2. Hegel, Tocqueville. 

  3. Feb 15. DLR3. Wollstonecraft, Stanton, Mill. 

  4. Feb 17. DLR4. Chartist petition of 1839, Reform Act 1867, Mill. 


Module 3. Responses to Capitalism and Slavery

  1. Feb 22. RCS1. Marx and Engels. 

  2. Feb 24. RCS2. Marx and Engels, FitzHugh. 

  3. Mar 1. RCS3. Jacobs, Douglass. 

  4. Mar 3. RCS4. DuBois, Washington. 

  5. Mar 8. Pitstop: the Story So Far. Discussion of questions posted in advance. 


Module 4. Kultur and its Discontents

  1. Mar 10. KD1. Nietszche (1887)

  2. Mar 15. KD2. Weber (1905)

  3. Mar 17. KD3. Freud (1929)


Module 5. The Russian Revolution

  1. Mar 29. RR1. Herzen, Marx, Zazulich, Emancipation of the Serfs Act (1861). 

  2. Mar 31. RR2. The 1905 revolution: Bernstein, Luxemburg, Lenin, Trotsky. 

  3. Apr 5. RR3. The 1917 revolutions: Luxemburg, Lenin, Trotsky. 


Module 6. Interwar and Postwar Politics    

  1. Apr 7. IPP1. Pareto, Schmitt. 

  2. Apr 12. IPP2. Schumpeter, Hayek. 

  3. Apr 14. IPP3. Gandhi, Nehru. 

  4. Apr 19. IPP4. Adorno, Horkheimer.

  5. Apr 21. IPP5. Ho Chi Minh, Mao, Guevara, Fanon. 

  6. Apr 26. IPP6. De Beauvoir, Friedan. 

  7. Apr 28. IPP7. SDS-Port Huron Statement and concluding discussion.