Political Science 251

Prof. Laurence Cooper

Fall 1999

Office: Willis 416, Ext. 4111

Hours: M W 3:30-5:00 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 its founding in Machiavelli's repudiation of classical and Biblical thought, through the rise of liberal political theory as seen in Montesquieu, to the powerful critiques and revolutionary alternatives of Rousseau and Nietzsche. One of our goals will be to understand the logic of this development and diversity. Another will be to uncover the unity within the diversity, a unity seen in the fact that none of modernity's major thinkers sought to undo the breach with pre-modern thought that Machiavelli wrought. 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 you've understood and prepared to ask about what you haven't understood. Course grades will be determined by two papers (30% each) and a final exam (30%). The exam will be offered at the regularly scheduled time, but you may self-schedule if you wish. 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:

Machiavelli, The Prince

Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws

Rousseau, The First and Second Discourses

Rousseau, On the Social Contract

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 13: Introduction

I. Modernity's War on the Old

A. Machiavelli's New Modes and Orders

September 15: Machiavelli, Dedicatory Letter and Chapters 1-6

September 17: Machiavelli, Chapters 7-11

September 20: No class

September 22: Machiavelli, Chapters 12-14

September 24: Machiavelli, Chapters 15-19

September 27: Machiavelli, Chapters 20-26

B. Moralizing Machiavelli: The Politics of (Bourgeois) Liberty

September 29: Hobbes, Leviathan, Chapters 13-15 and 17-19 (Chap. 19: first seven paragraphs only) (on reserve)

October 1: Locke, Second Treatise, Chapters 1-4, 7 and 11 (§§ 134-35) (on reserve)

October 4: Montesquieu, Preface and Book 1

October 6: Montesquieu, Books 2-4

October 8: Montesquieu, Books 5 and 8

October 11: Montesquieu, Book 11

October 13: Montesquieu, Book 12

October 15: Montesquieu, Book 19

October 18: Mid-term Break


October 20: Montesquieu, Books 20 and 24

II. Modernity's War on Itself: Liberalism and Its Discontents

A. Rousseau

October 22: Rousseau, Second Discourse, Dedication to Geneva, Preface and Part I

October 25: Rousseau, Second Discourse, Part II

October 27: Review previous reading, especially Dedication to Geneva

October 29: No class

November 1: Rousseau, On the Social Contract, Book I

November 3: Rousseau, On the Social Contract, Book II


November 5: Rousseau, On the Social Contract, Book III

November 8: Rousseau, On the Social Contract, Book IV

B. Nietzsche

November 10: Nietzsche handout

November 12: Nietzsche, Genealogy, First Essay

November 15: Nietzsche, Genealogy, Second Essay

November 17: Conclusion: The Arc of Modernity