Monday, May 19, 2008

Modern Political Thought, Winter, 2008

If I want my August to be free of hecticness, I ought to start thinking now about how to rework this. But here's what we did this past semester.

POLI 232: Modern Political Thought
Winter 2008, McGill University
Jacob T. Levy

This course provides an introduction to questions of morality and politics: what it is for a private person or an officeholder to act ethically in a political society, the degree to which an individual person ought to be free from political interference to follow his or her own moral understanding, what collective decisions ought to be made, and who ought to make them. Through analyses of some of the central ethical questions in politics (obedience, freedom, the use of bad means for good ends) and some of the central modern views about right and wrong in politics (liberalism, conservatism, socialism, and democracy) it will offer an introductions to key concepts in social science and in ethics.

1. January 4: Introduction

Part I. Ethics and Politics

2. January 7:
Thoreau, “Resistance to Civil Government” [appearing under the modern title “Civil Disobedience”]

3. January 9:
Max Weber, “Politics as a Vocation,” in Gerth and Mills, eds., From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, Oxford University Press, 1958 [1919] pp. 77-128

4. January 11:
Sophocles, Antigone, entire

5. January 14
Plato, “Crito” and “The Apology”

6. January 16-18
Machiavelli, The Prince, ch. 8-26

7. January 21:
Michael Walzer, “Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands” Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 2, No. 2. (Winter, 1973), pp. 160-180.
Stable URL:

8. January 23-25:
Bernard Williams, “A Critique of Utilitarianism,” in Smart & Williams, Utilitarianism, for and against, Cambridge University Press, pp. 93-118.
Williams, “Politics and Moral Character,” and Thomas Nagel, “Ruthlessness in Public Life,” in Stuart Hampshire, ed., Public and Private Morality, Cambridge University Press, pp. 56-73 and 75-91

9. January 28:
Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, University of Chicago Press, 1996, pp. 19-38
Thucydides, “The Melian Dialogue,” from History of the Peloponnesian War

10. January 30- February 1:
Robert Nozick, “The Tale of the Slave,” from Anarchy, State, and Utopia, pp. 290-2.
Robert Paul Wolff, In Defense of Anarchism, University of California Press, 1970, pp. 3-19
Aristotle, The Politics, Everson ed., Cambridge University Press, pp. 65-8 and 170-1

11. February 5:
F. A. Hayek, “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” The American Economic Review, Vol. 35, No. 4. (Sep., 1945), pp. 519-530.
Stable URL:
John Dewey, The Political Writings, Hackett, pp. 158-60, 169-72


12. February 7-9:
Michael Oakeshott, “Rationalism in Politics,” in Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays, Liberty Fund, pp. 5-43
Jeremy Bentham, Bentham’s Handbook of Anarchical Fallacies, pp. 43-51, 131-5, 193-205

Part II. Liberty

13. February 12.
Plato, The Republic, Allan Bloom trans., pp. 235-242 (557a-564a), 251-60 (571a-579e)

14. February 14-16.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, in Gourevitch,ed., The Social Contract and Other Later Political Writings, Cambridge University Press, pp. 49-54, 59-64, 121-2 (I.6-8, II.3-4, IV.1)
Benjamin Constant, “The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with That of the Moderns,” in Biancamaria Fontana, ed., Constant: Political Writings, Cambridge University Press, pp. 309-28

15. February 19.
Isaiah Berlin, “Two Concepts of Liberty,” in Four Essays on Liberty, Oxford University Press, pp. 119-54

16. February 21-23.
Berlin, “Two Concepts,” pp. 154-72.
Charles Taylor, “What’s Wrong With Negative Liberty,” in Philosophical Papers vol 2: Philosophy and the Human Sciences, pp. 211-29

Part III. Ideas, ideals, and ideologies: what shall we do?

19. March 3:
John Locke, Second Treatise of Civil Government, Cambridge University Press, pp. 269-78, 330-63, ch. 2, 8-11
Declaration of American Independence

21. March 5-7:
David Hume, “Of the Original Contract,” in Essays Moral, Political, and Literary, Liberty Fund, pp. 465-88
Hume, Political Writings, Hackett, pp. 51-73 [Treatise of Human Nature III.8-10]
Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Conservative,” in Essays & Lectures, Library of America, pp. 173-89

22. March 10:
Oakeshott, “On Being Conservative,” in Rationalism in Politics, pp. 407-37

23. March 12-14
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, ch. 1-2

24. March 17
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, ch. 3-5

25. March 19
John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Harvard University Press, 1971, pp. 3-33 and 54-65

28. March 26-28.
Karl Marx, “On the Jewish Question,” in Tucker, ed., The Marx-Engels Reader, pp. 26-52
“The Communist Manifesto,” sections 1 and 2, pp. 469-91

29. March 31.
Publius, The Federalist Papers, Rossiter ed., Signet, pp. 66-79, 297-322 (#s 9-10, 47-51
And review: Rousseau reading from February 14-16
Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen

30. April 2-4.
John Stuart Mill, Considerations on Representative Government, ch. 16, “Of Nationality.”

31. April 7
Isaiah Berlin, “The Pursuit of the Ideal,” in The Crooked Timber of Humanity, Vintage, pp. 1-19
George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language,” in The Orwell Reader, Harvest, pp. 355-66