Course Description

450.651 - Western Political Philosophy

This is intended as a broad survey of Western political thought, particularly as it developed in the European historical context from the classical era to the 20th century. The thinkers we will discuss can be thought of as engaged in what Robert Hutchins called a "great conversation" across the centuries on the central questions of political philosophy. These questions include: What are the purposes of government? What is the best form of government? How are justice and liberty best realized in a political system? What are rights - and where do they come from? What is sovereignty and in whom does it reside? What principles make political authority legitimate? Is disobedience to political authority ever justified? In many ways these questions are perennial ones, as relevant in our own time as in the distant past. Moreover the divergent systems of thought developed to answer these questions continue to shape much of contemporary political life - e.g. democracy, constitutionalism, liberalism, socialism, and conservatism. Among the political philosophers who will be examined are Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Machiavelli, John Locke, Edmund Burke, Thomas Hobbes, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Hannah Arendt, and Leo Strauss. (Available online) 450.656 "An American" in Literature (3 credits) What does it mean to be an American? Some scholars have found a national character; others have argued that national character does not exist; perhaps, given our diversity, we have multiple characters. In this course, we will use American fiction (novels) to find (if we can) the answer, an answer, perhaps many answers to this question. Likely, we will raise some questions of our own. Our Americans will be male and female, black and white, young and old, good and evil, rich and poor, and, well, Americans.