One of the most enduring controversies in Western political thought is how to conceptualize the relationship among freedom, economics, and citizenship. Aristotle sharply distinguished the economic and political realms, and held that humans experienced freedom—which consisted in civic activity—only in the latter. The English philosopher, John Locke, however, saw freedom, economics, and citizenship as integrally interrelated: government exists to protect not only persons but also property, and freedom largely consists in the ability to accumulate and enjoy property without the threat of either anarchy or tyranny. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels agreed with Locke that freedom, economics, and citizenship were integrally interrelated, but Marx and Engels thought private property was antithetical to freedom, and reconceived citizenship as revolution against capitalism. The twentieth-century political theorist Hannah Arendt sought to transcend the legacies of Locke, on the one hand, and Marx and Engels, on the other, and to reformulate the Aristotelian conception of freedom as primarily political, existing entirely beyond the economic realm—that is, beyond the realm of material necessity.
This course introduces you to political theory by tracing the history of the philosophical debate over the proper relation among freedom, economics, and citizenship. Though Aristotle, Locke, Marx and Engels, and Arendt figure most centrally in the storyline, we will also consider works by Pericles, Plato, Thomas Hobbes, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Constant, G. W. F. Hegel, Eugene Debs, Herbert Marcuse, and Wilson Carey McWilliams. Heavy emphasis will be placed on enhancing your skills in writing and argument.
1. To learn about the nature of political theory and the ways political theoretical thinking can enhance our capacities for critical reflection and democratic citizenship.
2. To understand how the concepts of freedom and citizenship have had multiple and sometimes conflicting meanings in the history of Western of political thought.
3. To understand how the meanings of freedom and citizenship have varied in response to changing understandings of economics.
4. To strengthen our argumentative writing and command of English prose through careful practice.