The early modern era was a time of great change. The Enlightenment values of reason and individualism were gaining legitimacy. This shift had enormous political consequences, making it possible for the emergence of a state legitimated not by divine will or dynastic habits but by consent of the governed.
Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Victoria, and Spinoza were all influential political writers without political influence. This class looks at how two teachers, two exiles, and an ex-communicant changed the way we think about political reasoning and social relationships. Along with studying their ideas we'll look at how each one of them spoke to the power from a position of powerlessness, bringing the West into the modern era of politics with their words.
This class will offer an opportunity to read difficult writers without losing one's bearing or aspirations. It will also be an opportunity to use an early thinker's logic to address the political troubles of late capitalism.
Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince
Niccolo Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy
Francisco de Vitoria, Political Writings
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan
John Locke, Second Treatise of Government
Baruch Spinoza, A Theological-Political Treatise
Over the course of the semester, you'll write three short essays. These are not research papers, and they should not be summaries. They are thoughtful, organized responses to the work under discussion. They should delineate issues, propose interpretations, raise questions, and provoke thought.
I'll be looking at all your papers and getting them back to you with comments in a timely fashion. Any paper can be resubmitted for another look. This is what I'll be looking for:
In other words, the writings should be engaged and honest; written with a reader in mind and full of all your brilliance.
Show up. Write. Read with a pen in your hand. Have a thesauraus near by. Let your brain stretch in new directions. Consider changing a deeply-held belief. Develop a political vocabulary. Cultivate an aesthetic for justice.
Class attendance is crucial. If you have to miss a class, please let us know. Students who miss more than two classes will see a drop in their grade. Failing to pass in one of the three essays translates into a D. Don't take this class if you can't stay on top of the daily assignments.