PS1130 Introduction to modern political thought
This course offers an introduction to some of the great texts of European political theory written since the seventeenth century. The period covers the rise and development of the modern state. This form of political association has come to dominate the modern world and continues to shape the structure of modern politics. These texts provide an insight into how this emerging political form is understood, defended and criticised. The course also covers the nature and purpose of political theory in a world of states.
The course begins with an overview of the political context from which modern political theory emerged. This covers the political context and the intellectual context of the European Enlightenment. This is followed by a discussion of the justification of state sovereignty and the legitimacy of absolutist rule. Students will consider the nature and rights of the individual, whether these are compatible with political rule; the use of social contract arguments to explain and justify political obligation; the nature and scope of natural law and the role of property in limiting sovereign power. The legacy of these ideas is explored through a discussion of utilitarianism and contemporary contractarianism.
The second part of the course covers the challenge to the voluntarist account of the state and its account of individuals as free and equal subjects. Rousseau and Hegel offer an alternative model of the state and its connection with freedom. Both of these thinkers develop some of the ideas at the heart of communitarian conceptions of politics and the state. Finally the course considers Marx's critique of the centrality of the state to modern politics.