Spring 2003

Professor Kimberly Smith

Office Hours: MW 9-11, F 1-2

Office: Willis 418

Phone: 4123

e-mail: ksmith@carleton.edu


This course surveys Western political thought.  Our goal is to learn how to read, discuss, think about and write about problems of political theory, including:  how and whether to achieve political stability, what the relationship between the citizen and the state should be, whether democracy is a good idea, why or whether we’re obligated to obey the law, and many others too numerous to mention.  By the end of this course you should be able to explain these problems (even if you can’t yet solve them), as well as make sense complicated, hard-to-understand texts and explain those texts to other, less experienced readers.

This is a lecture and discussion course, with a strong emphasis on discussion.  You are expected to complete the readings before class and come prepared to participate in a lively and thoughtful manner. 




Four Texts on Socrates                                    

Aristotle, The Politics                                                   

Machiavelli, The Prince & Discourses on Livy  

Hobbes, Leviathan

Locke, Second Treatise

Ritter & Bondanella, Rousseau’s Political Writings


**Readings marked [R] are on reserve at the library



Your grade will be calculated as follows:

Summary of Aristotle: 
Analysis of Machiavelli:
Critique of Hobbes
Final Paper 35%


All papers may be rewritten as often as you like for a new grade.




If you’re working on a writing portfolio, the papers in this class will satisfy the following criteria:

1)      From a Social Science class;

2)      From a WR course;

3)      Provides interpretation of a text

4)      Shows ability to articulate and support a thesis-driven argument

Remember, if you are going to use a paper in your portfolio, you must have me fill out an authentication form!


Participation:  Your participation grade will be based on the frequency and thoughtfulness of your contributions to class discussion.  Attendance alone does not count as participation.


Papers:  Political theorists write about texts in order to explain them to less experienced or more confused readers.  You should write your papers with this goal in mind.  Since the goal is to communicate your ideas and insights successfully, you will be evaluated on:

·        how easy your paper is to read and understand, as well as

·        how helpful your insights are to gaining a deeper appreciation of the text. 


Note that you are not simply reporting your opinion or letting me know you read the text.  The task is more complicated:  You must engage the reader, educate the reader, and persuade the reader that your interpretation is correct (which will require anticipating objections that the reader may have to your interpretation). 


**In all your papers, be sure to provide adequate support in the form of quotations and citations to the text.


Summary of Aristotle:  You will prepare a concise, accurate summary of Aristotle’s views on slavery.  This will involve a very close reading of chapter 5 & 6 of book I.  In addition, your interpretation must be consistent with what he says elsewhere in book I.

Your summary may not exceed 3 pages (12-pt font, 1” margins, double-spaced).  This exercise will develop your ability to understand a complex text, identify its central arguments and communicate them simply and accurately.  Critical analysis of the text is not part of this assignment.


Analysis of Machiavelli:  Many people believe there are two Machiavellis: the cynical, amoral author of The Prince and the virtuous author of The Discourses.  Do you agree that the two texts are teaching fundamentally different lessons?  Or is there a common theoretical framework?  How do they relate to each other?  You should draw on Pitkin and/or Plamenatz as well as the two texts in answering the question. 

Your paper may not exceed 3 pages (12-pt font, 1” margins, double-spaced).  This exercise will develop your ability to go beneath or beyond the surface meaning of the text and to figure out the author’s general theory when it isn’t laid out systematically for you.  Summarizing the argument is not necessary for this assignment.


Critique of Hobbes:  Hobbes provides a compelling theoretical argument that rational people, having experienced the inconveniences of the state of nature, would consent to absolute government.  Your paper should take the position that Hobbes is incorrect, explain his reasoning and explain precisely where he goes wrong.  (Note: You might actually think Hobbes is right, but for the purposes of this assignment, make the best case you can that he is wrong.)  You may find it helpful to draw on Locke’s argument for limited government in order to make your case.  

            Note:  Your goal is to make a compelling case that Hobbes is wrong, so bare assertions that he’s wrong about human nature or the state of nature won’t do; you’ll have to offer a credible alternative account of those concepts, or demonstrate that even if his assumptions are correct, his reasoning is faulty.  Your paper may not exceed 4 pages (12-point font, 1” margins, double-spaced).  As always, you should have a clear, specific thesis statement (i.e. “Hobbes’ argument is incorrect because….”)  This exercise will develop your ability to critically evaluate an argument and to formulate your own views on basic questions in political theory.


Final Paper:  You may choose from among the suggested topics on the next page.  If none of these questions appeal to you, you should meet with me to discuss a different topic.  Guidelines:

·        Your paper should cover at least three of the assigned theorists. 

·        You should have a clearly stated and well-supported thesis.  That is, you should make an argument about what the texts are saying (who’s right, where they all went wrong, why they argue the way they do – something that illuminates the arguments for us), rather than just telling us what each author said.

·        You should demonstrate the ability to accurately summarize, compare and critically analyze the texts.

There is no page limit, but I expect this paper to be 7-9 pages.


*Note on documentation: no outside research is necessary for these assignments, so you do not need to include a bibliography.  However, when you refer to the text (with a quotation, for example) you must cite the page number.


Final paper suggested topics:


1.      Many political philosophers, such as Plato, Machiavelli, and Hobbes, have been criticized for undermining religious faith.  What do these theorists teach us about the relationship between religion and politics?  Is the criticism a fair one?    


2.      Does the ideal citizen have to be a man?  Consider how at least three of the following theorists would answer that question: Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau.


3.      Liberalism has been criticized on the grounds that it puts too much emphasis on individual property rights, which makes it difficult for liberal regimes to justify redistribution of wealth and regulations designed to protect the environment.  Drawing on Locke, MacPherson, and Rousseau, evaluate this argument.


4.      As many episodes in twentieth and twenty-first century history has taught us, one of the practical problems of setting up a new republic is ensuring it will be stable.  How important is a well-crafted constitution (compared to leadership abilities of rulers, the character of the people, and other factors) to political stability?  Consider what at least three theorists we have studied have to say about this issue, and draw some conclusions about the value of their constitutional theories to people trying to establish new regimes.


5.      The theorists we have studied differ in their conceptions of citizenship.  Consider how three of them have explained the source or nature of citizens’ obligations to the government and what constitutes good citizenship.  Draw some conclusions about what citizenship means and what it demands of us. 


6.      Many of the theorists we have studied are deeply skeptical that simple democracy would work, and favor monarchy, mixed government, or at least separation of powers.  What, if anything, is wrong with simple, direct democracy?  Consider the critiques and defenses of democracy offered by at least three of the writers considered in this class.  Are they right? 


7.      Although the official American political creed declares that all humans are created equal, it’s pretty obvious that some people have more natural gifts and talents than others do.  Consider what at least three political theorists teach us about the significance of natural inequality for politics.  Is natural inequality a political problem?  How should a political system deal with natural inequality?




Your papers will receive numerous comments, corrections and suggestions.  All of these comments should be taken as suggestions rather than instructions.  However, even if my comment doesn’t make any sense at all, you should take the mere fact that I commented as a strong indication that something about that sentence or passage is creating problems for the reader.  If you don’t change anything, I’ll feel ignored and start to wonder what I’m doing with my life.  You can always talk to me about your paper, but you should also make use of the Writing Assistant, the Write Place and other resources for writing on campus.


Your paper will also receive a letter grade.  You should interpret these grades as follows:


D  =  wholly inadequate.  The paper looks like a casual effort by someone who hasn’t

          taken the class.

C  =  partially adequate.  The writer achieved some of the objectives of the assignment,

         but the work has some major deficiencies.  These deficiencies may include the

         failure to summarize an author’s position accurately, the failure to state a thesis,

         serious organizational problems or particularly poor writing.

B =   nearly adequate.  The writer satisfied the objective of the assignment, but some

         problems (in the prose, structure or content) still need to be addressed. 

A =   satisfactory.  The writer develops the paper with assurance and elegance.  No

         obvious development in the argument or improvements in the quality of writing are



Plusses and minuses are based on more subtle distinctions in quality.  These distinctions derive from such considerations as the quality of the writing, the originality and sophistication of the argument, and how well the text is used to support the argument.


Pet peeves:


·        Failure to use specific, concrete language.  I particularly object to the verb “feel.”  I’m sure these authors were passionate people, but I don’t care what they feel.  I care what they argued, contended, asserted, etc.

·        Long introductions generously padded with clichés (like: “Since the beginning of time, people have debated the question of justice.”)

·        Passive voice:  It’s almost always better to write “Many theorists argue that….” rather than “It is commonly held that….”  Try to use active voice as much as possible.

·        Confusion over block quotes: the rule is to set the quote off from the text when it is over 50 words; the paragraph should be indented and single-spaced, and do not use quotation marks, like so:


As Rousseau put it:


But from the moment any one man needed help from another, and as soon as they perceived that it was useful for one man to have provisions for two, equality disappeared, property was introduced, work became necessary, and vast forests were changed into pleasant fields, which had to be watered with human sweat and in which slavery and misery were soon seen to spring up and grow with the crops.


·        Confusion over punctuating embedded quotes: You should use a comma before you quote a whole sentence (e.g.  Locke states, “The natural liberty of man is to be free from a superior power.”)  But you should not use a comma when the quote simply continues the sentence (e.g. Locke’s “natural liberty” is different from Rousseau’s.)  And never begin or end a quote with an ellipse: “…the warre of every man against every man” is wrong; it should be “the warre of every man against every man.”

·        Paragraphs that don’t have a topic sentence, or have more than one topic.

·        The words “within” and “exist.”  “In” and “is” are perfectly good words; use them.


Some notes on thesis statements:


A thesis statement tells the reader what you will argue.  It does not merely tell the reader what the essay is about.  In academic writing, you should not keep the reader guessing what your argument is.  The first paragraph should include a clearly stated position that the rest of the essay will support.  A strong thesis ties the essay together; it provides a structure.

In addition, the thesis should be interesting.  That is, it should be a point that isn’t self-evident or that takes a side in an on-going controversy.  A good approach is to set up a puzzle in the introductory paragraph – something confusing about the texts that you can explain.


Course Outline


Class 1:  Why Plato and not Confucius?


Class 2:  Introduction to Political Theory

 Plamenatz/Skinner [Handout]


Class 3:  Athenian Democracy

Pericle’s Funeral Oration, from Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War [Handout]


Class 4:  Plato, Apology

Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen, Ch. 2:  “Human Being and Citizen: A   Beginning to the

Study of Plato’s Apology of Socrates.” [R]


Class 5:  Plato, Crito

Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen, Ch. 16: “Citizen and Human Being:  

Thoreau, Socrates, and Civil Disobedience.” [R]


Class 6:   Aristotle, The Politics, Bk I


Class 7:  Aristotle Bk III, ch. 1-13


*Summary of Aristotle on slavery due


Class 8: Aristotle Bk IV ch. 2, 8, 9, 11


Class 9: Aristotle Bk V ch. 1-11


Class 10:  Machiavelli, The Prince, through ch. XIV


Class 11:  The Prince, to the end


Class 12:  Discourses on Livy, Bk I, Ch. 1 – 10, 16-18


Class 13:  Discourses, Bk. I, ch 11-15; Bk II, Intro-Ch. 5


Class 14:  Discourses, Bk III, Ch. 1– 9


Class 15:  Pitkin, Fortune is a Woman, Ch. 6 [R]

                  Plamenatz, In Search of Machiavellian Virtù [R]


Class 16:  Hobbes, Ch. 1-12


                *Analysis of Machiavelli due


Class 17:  Hobbes  13-21


*short assignment due: questions on Hobbes


Class 18:  Hobbes, Ch. 29, 30

                   Herzog, Happy Slaves Ch. 3, thru p. 99 [R]


*Final rewrite of Aristotle paper due


Class 19:  Locke, Second Treatise of Government, Ch. 1 - 7



Class 20:  Locke, Ch. 8 -15


Class 21: Locke, Ch. 16- end


*Final rewrite of Machiavelli paper due


Class 22:  Locke, Ch. 5

   MacPherson, Political Theory of Possessive Individualism, pp. 194-220 [R]


Class 23:  Lecture on Natural Rights


*Hobbes critique due


Class 24:  Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality, though Part One (pp. 4-34)


Class 25:  Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality, Part Two


Class 26:  Rousseau, On Social Contract, Bk. I, Ch. 6; Bk. II, Ch. 1, 2, 3, 4, 6,7; Bk III, ch. 16, 17


*Final paper due


Class 27:  Rousseau, On Social Contract, Bk. III, Ch. 1, 4-6, 8, 10, 11, Bk. IV, Ch. 7, 8


Class 28:  Lecture: Rousseau and the French Revolution


*Final rewrites of Hobbes critique due


Final rewrites of final paper due Monday, June 9, at noon.