Political Science 201: Introduction to Political Theory
The University of Washington, along with many university campuses across the country, is currently embroiled in debates about contentious speech, the status of undocumented students, and the inclusion of marginalized students into the fabric of academic institutions. Each of these issues touches on the core question of human freedom in a diverse, democratic society and the conflicts which arise between competing claims and conceptions of what freedom is and what it requires. Together, they also raise the spectre of freedom’s dangers--that the freedom of some will come at the expense of the freedom of others, that freedom may explode into disorder and violence, and that free societies may devolve into tyranny.
In order to assess and rethink freedom’s promise as well as its perils, this course provides an opportunity to explore the concept of freedom across a selection of core texts and debates in Western political theory, spanning from the thought of Ancient Greece to the Twentieth Century. In addition, it covers a selection of “contextual studies,” drawn from American political thought. Through these texts, we will explore a central thematic question: Are we free? The claim to human freedom is fundamental to our lives under a democratic government and to the legitimacy of democratic rule, but, by exploring a broad span of political thought, we can recover notions of freedom that expand upon or trouble our sense of our own freedom and whether we can reasonably or meaningfully claim to be free.
Each of the authors we consider throughout the course has an answer to the central question of freedom, but they also offer different conceptions of and criteria for what human freedom is, whether it is possible or even desirable, and what would constitute liberation. Thus, we will also consider: What forces constrain or support our exercise of freedom? What is the relationship between the freedom of the individual and the freedom of others? Are other human values--justice, equality, the good--in tension with freedom, or are they necessary components of a free society?
The course proceeds in two units, which consider the relationship between freedom and: (I) law and the state and (II) society and the economy.