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Seminars in Political Theory and Public Law

86.01 Multiculturalism

This course explores the topic of multiculturalism in the context of contemporary debates in political theory. Students will examine the arguments of authors advocating special political and legal treatment for cultural groups, integrated with responses from liberal, conservative, and feminist critics of multiculturalism. The course is designed to provide students with an understanding of central issues in multicultural debates; but its principal aim is to inspire students to think deeply about the principles, values, and institutions that democratic societies might affirm. Among the questions students consider will be the following: Is a multicultural society desirable or workable? Should government provide minority cultures with special recognition, legal exemptions, or group rights? Is multiculturalism bad for women or harmful otherwise? Could any form of multiculturalism adequately emphasize the values of personal autonomy, equality, and fairness? Prerequisite: one course in political theory or political philosophy. Dist: SOC; WCult: CI.

86.02 Political Speech

This class focuses on political speeches from Cicero to Obama—but mostly on speeches drawn from American politics over the past 100 years. The class aims to answer two basic questions: what is a great speech, and what is so great about political speech? It is often said that what distinguishes and elevates human beings among the animals is the capacity for speech: speech, Aristotle argued, is what makes us “political animals.” What is it about speech that is so special? The answer is found not in every sort of utterance, but in a distinctive kind of speech—political speech. Political speech is believed to distinctly reveal (and betray) our freedom and dignity. We will listen to, read, and evaluate a number of speeches, each of which vies for the status of “great speech.” In addition to reading a number of allegedly “great” political speeches, we will also read classic accounts of political rhetoric found in Plato and Aristotle, and some contemporary accounts of political rhetoric. Dist: SOC; WCult: W.

86.03 Contemporary Political Theory

Students in this course examine important ideas and trends in contemporary political theory. The course focuses on the works of such theorists as Friedrich Nietzsche, Hannah Arendt, Michel Foucault, and recent advocates of related positions. This course has two aims: first, its object is to foster an understanding of the different writers' conceptions of, inter alia, freedom, persons, power, and action. Second, and more importantly, the course invites students to assess the viability and relevance of the various views considered, with regard to contemporary politics, institutions, and society. Prerequisite: one course in political theory or political philosophy. Dist: PHR / TMV.

86.04  Left and Right in American Politics

86.05 Constitutional Crisis in the U.S.

86.06 Toqueville's Democracy in America

86.07 Morality of Capitalism

Is capitalism moral? Do the qualities of character that conduce to success in a capitalist economy also contribute to becoming a good person? Are the goals of a capitalism economy primarily material (the production of wealth), or should capitalist markets also aim to elicit, recognize, and reward admirable qualities of mind and character? Readings will be drawn from the history of moral and political thought, including Machiavelli, Locke, and Smith. Topics will also include contemporary controversies such as commodification and the distribution of income. Assignments will include short papers, presentations, and a long paper. A background in political philosophy (such as Gov 6) will be very helpful.

86.08 International Relations in Political Theory

Like all branches of political science, the study of international relations began with political philosophy: the first theorists of international relations were the classic political philosophers, Thucydides, Aristotle, Augustine, Machiavelli, Hobbes,  and Kant.  Even today, the different schools of international relations, such as realism, liberalism, and constructivism stem from different philosophical traditions.  Indeed, the main concepts of international relations theory— such as sovereignty, law, self-interest, power, order, war and peace— all find their origin and meaning from the work of the great political philosophers.  Yet the teaching of international relations in political theory has been stymied by the fact that theories of international relations usually embedded in the larger treatises of the classic political philosophers.  But now Chris Brown, Terry Nardin, and Nicholas Rengger have performed an invaluable pedagogical service by creating an anthology of the classic theories of international relations.  This anthology combines a rich array of classic texts, each introduced with a discussion of its historical and theoretical context. Dist: PHR or INT, TMV; WCult: EU and W.

86.09 Leadership:  Ancient and Modern

86.10  Order and Justice: Greek Perspectives

Greek playwrights, historians and philosophers thought deeply about the nature of justice and order, and the relationship between the two. Only tyrannies -- which Plato and Aristotle described as the shortest lived of all regimes -- did not appeal to some concept of justice. Other regimes had to live up to their principles to some degree, or convince their citizens that they did or would. Greek understandings of justice were varied, but for the most part rest on the principle of ontological equality;: recognition of the inherent equality of all citizens, if not all human beings. In practice, justice was more often framed around the principle of fairness, defined as those set of institutions and practices that served the interest of the community as a whole, and all of its members. Equality in practice was expected to govern relations within a given status, less than it was across them. We will explore Greek conceptions of order and justice through the writings of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Thucydides, Plato and Aristotle, and examine their motives in writing about these questions, the similarities and differences between them, and the tensions and contradictions present in their conceptions.

Ancient perspectives on order and justice offer an interesting vantage point to assess modern conceptions of justice founded largely on equality and related understandings of the nature of order. I intend to teach a follow-on seminar on contemporary understandings of these problems. In the course paper, students can write about either ancient or modern thought (the latter as understood through ancient conceptions). Dist: PHR/TMV.

86.11 American Political Thought

In this course, we explore American political thought since the Founding, tracing the ways in which liberal democratic theories have been challenged, abandoned, defended, or refined over the years. first, we will explore tensions among the divergent influences and ideas in circulation in early America:? Puritanism and religious freedom, natural aristocracy and radical democracy, federalism and states, rights. then, through topics such as slavery, racial and economic inequality, and education, we examine ways in which American political thinkers have decried (or advocated for) illiberal elements in an ostensibly liberal system. Dist:PHR/TMV, WCult: NA/W.

86.12  Political Violence: Theory and Practice

Genocidal wars, firebombed cities, nuclear explosions, concentration camps, institutionalised torture: the 20th century has seen more than its share of planned and unplanned violence, with prospects of still more to come. This course attempts to come to terms with the meaning and justification of violence. After exploring a number of philosophical questions about violence (can the concept of violence be defined? Is all violence necessarily intentional? Do omissions count as acts of violence? Can violence be justified?), the course will switch to a detailed analysis of different types of violence, including revolutions, civil disobedience and terrorism. Students will be expected to give an oral presentation based on their research on an aspect of violence. Dist: PHR/TMV.

86.13   Partisanship and Ideology

86.14  Wittgenstein and Political Philosophy

This seminar focuses on the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein and its use in contemporary political thinking.  There are two goals of the seminar.  The first is to read and discuss Wittgenstein’s philosophy as it evolved from the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus to the Philosophical Investigations.  The second goal is to explore how Wittgenstein has been put to use by contemporary political theorists.  We will read James Tully, Strange Multiplicity and Cressida Heyes, The Grammar of Politics: Wittgenstein and Political Philosophy. Students will write a series of weekly 1-2 page short papers and a longer 20-page philosophy paper due at the end of the exam period.  This seminar involves a lot of difficult reading and students are expected to have some familiarity with twentieth century philosophical thought.  Students are expected to have read Ray Monk’s The Duty of Genius before the start of the seminar.

86.15 Tocqueville and His Critics

How should resources be distributed within a society and between societies?  This course will examine contemporary theories of distributive justice, focusing on egalitarianism, libertarianism and utilitarianism. Readings by John Rawls, Robert Nozick, Peter Singer and others. Dist: PHR, TMV WCult:  NA or EU, W

86.16 Contemporary Aboriginal Politics in Canada

In this seminar we will examine contemporary Aboriginal politics in Canada.  The seminar will be broken up into three sections.  In the first part we will explore the history of the Aboriginal-European newcomer relationship.  Once we have a better understanding of how Canada became a state we will be in a better position in the second part to investigate the meaning and content of Aboriginal rights as it has evolved since confederation in 1867.  We will focus particularly on the evolving debate over the meaning of Aboriginal title.  Finally, we will focus on pressing contemporary issues affecting communities themselves such as: economic development, education, health, women, and youth. Dist: SOC; WCult: CI and NA.

86.17 Against the Tide:  Excellence in a Democratic Age

86.18  Contemporary Readings on Justice

This seminar covers some of the main contemporary readings on justice. Justice entails the justification of power. Readings include works from Ackerman, Nozick, Rawls, Singer, Young, Walzer, and West. Offering varying accounts of justice, each author attempts to justify power in a particular way. These justifications include utilitarianism, liberal egalitarianism, libertarianism, communitarianism, multiculturalism, and feminism. Active, sustained, and insightful participation is required. Background: one course in political theory/philosophy. Dist: TMV.

86.19 Race, Law and Identity

The Constitution of the United States says that no state shall deny to any person “equal protection of the laws.” How do we interpret this commitment to equality? This course will explore this question by drawing on Supreme Court decisions, political philosophy, constitutional legal theory, and American history. The seminar will critically analyze the law’s use of identity to ensure equality. As race is the paradigmatic identity category off limits to state regulation, our study will begin with it. We will then move to contemporary debates over same sex marriage, sex equality, and disability law. The aim of the seminar will be to examine the relationship among equality, identity, and democracy. Dist: SOC; WCult: NA and W.

86.20 Ideology and Intellectuals

What is ideology?  Who, if anyone, is responsible for creating it?  And can we live without it?  Beginning with its origins in Enlightenment science, this course will trace the development of the concept of "ideology" through the 19th and 20th centuries, paying special attention to the role that intellectuals have been said to play in the formation, dissemination, maintenance, criticism, and dissolution of ideological systems.  Authors will include Marx, Gramsci, Mannheim, Kuhn, Skinner, Bell, Althusser, Habermas, and Foucault.  Dist: SOC; WCult: W

86.21 Republicanism and its Critics

86.22 Rousseau

86.23 The Bible as Political Theory

The Political Theory of the Bible: No book in world history has been more influential on human life than the Bible. Within the various books of the Bible, we find a wide range of views about gender equality, the relations of the rich to the poor, the morality of war and other kinds of killing, slavery, toleration, marriage, family, governmental authority, liberation, and revolution. We read a selection of key biblical stories from Genesis all the way to Revelation and we consider carefully the relation of the Hebrew to the Christian Bible. We also read important moral and political commentaries on these biblical stories. We organize our discussions and paper around three kinds of questions: What does the Bible say about morality and politics? Do these ideas in the Bible apply to modern life? Are the political ideas of the Bible good and sound ideas, or not? Dist: TMV.

86.24 Machiavelli (formerly Dirty Politics and Machiavelli and Machiavellianism)

Machiavelli is famous for instructing princes about the need to be deceitful, unscrupulous, manipulative, and even cruel if they want to maintain their power. In this class we will talk about why Machiavelli has this reputation and whether or not he deserves it. Topics will include the relative importance of force and persuasion in political life; the proper relationship between ethics and politics; the meaning of republican liberty; civil conflict; and gender. Dist: TMV; WCult: W.

86.25  Plato Versus Nietzsche

86.26 Great Trials in History

We shall be studying the most famous courtroom dramas in world history: the trials of Socrates, Jesus, Joan of Arc, Thomas More, Galileo, Oscar Wilde and John Scopes. We shall be comparing the historical account and a literary account of each trial: do we find truth best in history or in literature? Each of these trials raises profound questions about the relationship between law and justice. Why are these most famous trials also the most infamous? In every case, someone widely regarded as innocent was convicted. Do law and legal procedures promote justice? Or is law just another tool used by the powerful to suppress the weak?  Dist: SOC

86.27 Gender and Family Justice

86.28 Montesquieu

Last Updated: 3/19/14