POSC 251: MODERN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY

FREEDOM, NATURE, AND HISTORY

 

Laurence Cooper
Fall 2001
Willis 416
x4111
Office Hours: Mon. & Fri. 2-4
and by appt.

I. Purpose and Scope

In this course we will examine modern political philosophy through a careful reading of several classic texts. These texts do not tell the whole story of modernity, but they do tell an important part of it, and a part of special concern to those of us who live in liberal societies. Pre-modern political thinkers, especially those of ancient Greece, oriented their political inquiries toward discovering the principles and conditions of the best possible regime. They sought to discover and promote the Good -- the good life and the good society -- and the virtues that were necessary to that end. Modern political thought, by contrast, began with the premise that the ancient orientation was unrealistic and that only a new orientation, one that emphasized security or freedom instead of virtue or the Good, could succeed in improving the human condition. Yet modern thought has itself gone through several phases, and what seemed good to early modern thinkers was to be severely challenged by later ones. Accordingly, we will examine the development of modern political philosophy, tracing it from Montesquieu, who can be seen as the culminating figure of early modern thought with its emphasis on security, to the powerful critiques and revolutionary alternatives of Rousseau, Marx, and Nietzsche, whose critiques and prescriptions, however divergent from one another, are all based on the idea that human nature and the human good vary with and are even determined by their historic epoch. Political radicalism, we will see, owes much to this discovery (or invention, as some would have it) of History. One of our goals will be to understand the logic of this philosophic development and diversity. Another will be to uncover the unity within the diversity, a unity seen in the fact that none of modernityís major thinkers sought to undo the breach with pre-modern thought and return to the classical approach. Among other things, our study of these texts should allow us to weigh the merits and failings of the modern age and thus to consider the claims of those who argue either for an advance into post-modern politics or for a return to pre-modern political thought.

II. Course Requirements

By far the most important requirement is that you read all assigned passages closely and before class. The readings are not long but they will often be difficult, and they demand -- and success in the course will demand -- careful attention and frequent rereading. You should come to class prepared to discuss what youíve understood and prepared to ask about what you havenít understood. Course grades will be determined by two papers (30% each) and a take-home final exam (30%). Class participation will count for 10%.

III. Academic Honesty

In accordance with Carleton policy, strict standards of academic integrity will be upheld in this class. Your signature on a test or assignment means that you have neither given nor received unauthorized aid. Students who are found to have violated this standard can expect severe sanctions.

IV. Assigned Texts

The following books are available for purchase at the bookstore:

Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws

Rousseau, The First and Second Discourses

Rousseau, On the Social Contract

Tucker, ed., The Marx-Engels Reader

Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals

V. Class Schedule

(Note that this is an approximate schedule. We may depart from it if class discussions, etc. so require.)

September 11: Introduction

1. Liberal Republicanism: The Best of All Possible Worlds?

September 13: Montesquieu, Preface and Books 1-4

September 18: No class

September 20: Montesquieu, Books 5 and 7

September 25: Montesquieu, Book 11, chapters 1-7 and 20; Book 12, chapters 1-13 and 19; Book 19, chapter 27

September 27: No class

October 2: Montesquieu, Book 20, chapters 1-4 and 7; Books 24-25

2. Rousseau and the Discovery of History

A. The Problem: History and the Fall from Nature

October 4: Rousseau, Second Discourse, Dedication to Geneva, Preface and Part I

October 9: Rousseau, Second Discourse, Part II

B. A Solution

October 11: Rousseau, On the Social Contract, Book I

FIRST PAPER DUE FRIDAY, OCTOBER 12, 5:00 PM

October 16: Rousseau, On the Social Contract, Book II

October 18: Rousseau, On the Social Contract, Book III

October 23: Rousseau, On the Social Contract, Book IV

3. Marx and the End of History

October 25: Theses on Feuerbach (pp. 143-45) and The German Ideology: Part I (pp. 146-75)

October 30: Engelsí Speech at the Graveside of Karl Marx (pp. 681-82), Wage, Labour, and Capital (pp. 203-17), and Capital, Volume One, Part I, Chapter 1, sections 1, 2, and 4 (pp. 302-12 and319-29)

November 1: Manifesto of the Communist Party (pp. 469-500)

SECOND PAPER DUE FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 2, 5:00 PM

4. Nietzsche and the Attempt to Overcome History

November 6: Nietzsche, Genealogy, First Essay

November 8: Nietzsche, Genealogy, Second Essay

Conclusion: The Arc of Modernity

TAKE-HOME FINAL EXAM DUE MONDAY, NOVEMBER 19, 5:00 PM