Winter 2002
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. Topics will include revolution and the problem of political stability, the relationship between the citizen and the state, the virtues and vices of democracy, social contract and consent theory, gender as a category of political thought, and myriad others too numerous to mention.

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: 15%
Critique of Machiavelli: 15%
Comparison of Locke & Hobbes: 20%
Final Paper: 35%
Participation: 15%

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


  1. You must receive a "B" or better on all four papers.
  2. You must rewrite each paper at least once.
  3. You must meet with a writing tutor at least twice over the course of the term.
  4. You must inform me that you are attempting to fulfill the writing requirement.
  5. At the end of the term, please submit a request to receive credit for fulfilling the writing requirement, indicating (1) your grade on each paper, (2) when you met with the writing tutor, and (3) how many times you rewrote each paper.


For those of you 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

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.

Summary of Aristotle Bk I: You will prepare a concise, accurate summary of the text. You should identify and explain the theorist’s thesis and most important points. In all your papers, be sure to provide adequate support in the form of quotations and citations to the text. 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.

Critical evaluation of Machiavelli: Students have sometimes expressed concern that teaching the works of Machiavelli contributes to amoral and cynical approaches to politics. Others find him smart and insightful. Please write a short paper explaining your opinion of the value of Machiavelli’s ideas. You should consider both The Prince and The Discourses, and you may want to make use of the Pitkin reading as well.

You should write this paper in two stages. First, answer the following questions for yourself. Then write your critical evaluation highlighting the points that you think are the most important strengths and weaknesses of this author’s theory. Your paper does not need to address all these questions; they are simply to guide your analysis.

  1. Does the author make factual assumptions that may be incorrect, or at least questionable? Do those assumptions matter (does his argument depend on them)?
  2. Is the logic of the author’s reasoning persuasive? Do conclusions follow logically from premises? Does the author fail to consider important counterarguments?
  3. What would be the result if citizens or rulers accepted this theory as correct? What would be the consequences for peace, justice, equality, freedom and prosperity? (Note that the theorist may not care about all these values – but you might.)
  4. Can this theory be usefully applied to contemporary problems? Does it give us new insights into our political condition – a different, interesting (not necessarily correct) way of looking at things?

It is not enough to tell me that you like or dislike the theorist. You must provide compelling reasons for your opinion. I will be looking for evidence that you have a deep understanding of Machiavelli’s theories and that you can speculate on how such theories might work in practice. Your evaluation may not exceed 3 pages (12-pt font, 1" margins, double-spaced). Summarizing the argument is not necessary for this assignment.

Comparison of Locke and Hobbes: Both Hobbes and Locke begin with state of nature, but Hobbes ends up endorsing absolutism while Locke supports representative, limited government. Identify the key differences in their arguments that lead to this result. Note: it is not sufficient to list the differences between the theorists. You must also explain how certain differences in their assumptions or reasoning lead them to different conclusions.

As always, your paper should have a clearly stated thesis (e.g. "Locke and Hobbes reach different conclusions because….") This paper may not exceed 4 pp. (12-pt font, 1" margins, double-spaced). This exercise will develop your ability to understand the logic of complex arguments, explain that logic concisely and accurately, and relate texts to one another. Critical evaluation is not part of this assignment.

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

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 of the texts we examine in this course focus on the problem of political stability. Compare and contrast three texts on this question. Does the author consider political stability a problem? How does he propose we deal with it?
  2. Compare Locke, Hobbes and one republican theorist (Aristotle, Machiavelli, Rousseau) on the question of the citizen’s relationship to the state. What are the citizen’s duties, if any, toward the state? What is the state’s responsibilities, if any, toward the citizen?
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. What, if anything, is wrong with simple democracy? Consider the critiques and defenses of democracy offered by at least three of the writers considered in this class.
  6. One could argue that equality is a central value for all the theorists we’ve discussed. Consider how at least three of these theorists differ in their treatment of equality. What do they mean by equality and how do they differ on why equality is important?

Course Outline

Class 1: Why Plato and not Confucius?

Class 2: Introduction to Political Theory

Plamenatz/Skinner [Handout]

  1. Athenian Democracy
  2. Class 3: Sinclair, Democracy and Participation in Athens, pp. 1-34 [R]

    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: Trial of Socrates

    *short assignment due: 1-2 pp. brief for or against Socrates

    Class 7: Aristotle, The Politics, Bk I

    Class 8: Aristotle Bk III, ch. 1-13

    *Summary of Aristotle, Bk I due

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

    Class 10: Aristotle Bk V ch. 1-11

  3. The Florentine Republic
  4. Class 11: Machiavelli, The Prince

    Class 12: Pitkin, Fortune is a Woman, Ch. 6 [R]

    Class 13: Discourses on Livy, Bk I, Ch. 1 – 10, 17, 18

    Class 14: Bk II, Intro – Ch. 2; Bk III Ch. 1– 9

    *Critical evaluation of Machiavelli due

  5. The English Republic
  6. Class 15: Hobbes, Ch. 1-12

    Class 16: Hobbes 13-21

    *short assignment due: questions on Hobbes due

    Class 17: Hobbes, Ch. 29, 30

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

    Class 18: Lecture: The 17th-Century Debate Over Sovereignty

    *Final rewrite of Aristotle paper due

    Class 19: Locke, Second Treatise of Government, Ch. 1 - 10

    Class 20: Locke, Ch. 11 -16

    *Final rewrite of Machiavelli paper due

    Class 21: Locke, Ch. 17-19

    Class 22: Locke, Ch. 5

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

    Class 23: Lecture on natural rights

    *Comparison of Locke and Hobbes due

    Class 24: Declaration of Independence; Wesley, A Calm Address [Handout]

  7. The French Republic

Class 25: Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality, though Part One (pp. 4-34)

Class 26: Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality, Part Two

*Final paper due

Class 27: Rousseau, On Social Contract, Bk. I, Ch. 6, Bk. II, Ch. 1, 2, 3, 4, 6,7

Class 28: Yack, Longing for Total Revolution, pp. 3-27 [R]

*Final rewrites of Hobbes/Locke paper due

Final rewrites of final paper due Thursday, March 14, at noon.