POL S 201 A: Introduction To Political Theory

Meeting Time: 
TTh 10:00am - 11:20am
* *
Prof. Noga Rotem
Noga Rotem

Syllabus Description:

Introduction to Political Theory:

Insiders, Outsiders and the Perspective of Political Criticism

Spring 2021

Tu, Th 10:00-11:20

Zoom link for lectures:  https://washington.zoom.us/j/95063913882


Professor: Noga Rotem


Office hours: Thursday 1-3 pm, or by appointment



Teaching assistant: Mathieu Dubeau


Office Hours: Wednesday 10:00 am-12:00 pm, or by appointment


Who is best situated to theorize about and criticize a society? an insider or an outsider? Can a foreigner or a newcomer be a good lawgiver in a society that she or he is not intimately familiar with? Does being an exile rob one of a perspective? Or does distance illuminate flaws in society that one would not have noticed otherwise? This selective survey of major texts in the history of western political thought, will explore these questions and others, focusing on the role of the political theorist as a spectator and as a critic of society. How do different thinkers establish their impartiality? Does it require abandoning one’s standpoint? Is it identical to being a “voice from nowhere”?


Most of the thinkers that we will read negotiated at least two identities, two loyalties, or two places, with one foot in and one foot outside of the political context about which they wrote. To give a few examples: Aristotle was a foreigner in Athens, Machiavelli an exile who was banned from political office in Florence, Arendt was a stateless exile who fled Nazi Germany and wrote most of her political works after migrating to the US. Fanon and Beauvoir were both foreigners in their own societies—both describe in their writings the immense pain and psychological damage that result from their striving to be included—to be insiders—in societies that nevertheless forcefully and violently rejected and excluded them because of their race or gender.

How did the doubling of place and identity of all these thinkers affect their perspective and their political insight? And what do they have to say about the conditions that enable political critique? In sum: what are the worldly (i.e., cultural, institutional, economic, political) conditions of political theory?


This is a reading and writing intensive course. Students are responsible for all of the assigned reading as well as active participation in quizzes and three written papers.



*=on canvas


The schedule is subject to change, based on the pace of the class.





Reading assignment


Week 1

Tue, March 30th

Introduction: what is political theory? How do we form a critical perspective?


Thu, April 1st



Sonali Chakravarty, "Derek Chauvin and the Myth of the Impartial Juror," Boston Review, March 17th 2021


Audre Lorde, “The Master’s Tools will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”*



Week 2

Tue, April 6th

What is justice;

The analogy of the city and the soul



Plato, Republic, Books 1 & 2

Read: pp. 1-15; 36-56

(327a-339b; 357a-376d2)


Thu, April 8th

The poets and their expulsion;

The just order in the city and in the soul


Plato, Republic, Books 3 & 4

Read: 56-61; 70-73; 79; 96-105; 112-122; 126-135

(376d3-379b2; 389d8-392c5; 397e10-398b5; 411e3-422a3; 427e6- 435c2; 439a9- 445e3)



                       April 8th: first assignment circulated


Week 3

Tue, April 13th

The philosopher-king;

The world as it appears inside and outside of the cave


Plato, Republic, Books 5, 6 & 7

Read: 164-169; 181-195; 198-204; 208-214; 236-7

(471b6-476b7; 487e3-501a6; 504a4-508c2; 514a-520e; 540c9-541b4)



Thu, April 15th


Moral virtue;

Practical knowledge;

Critique of Plato


Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics*

Read: books I & II



                    Sunday, April 18th: first assignment due


Week 4

Tue, April 20th

Good man vs. good citizen;

What does it take to make a good ruler


Aristotle, Politics*

Read:  book III (chapters 1-13, 15-18), book IV (chapter 1)


Thu, April 22nd

A science of politics I:

The best perspective of an adviser to the prince;

Machiavelli’s realism;

Virtue and morality;


Machiavelli, The Prince: Dedicatory letter, chapters 1-10 (pp. 3-39)


Week 5


Tue, April 27th


Appearance vs. Reality; 

Fortune and its role in politics


Machiavelli, The Prince: chapters 12-25 (pp. 42-87)



                      April 27th: Midterm assignment circulated



Thu, April 29th


A science of politics II:

Hobbes as a ‘textual bureaucrat’

Hobbes’s theory of the passions





Hobbes, biographical poem*, Leviathan, vol I

Read: introduction, chapters 1,2, 4, 6, 10 (only pp. 150-152)



Week 6


Tue, May 4th


The state of nature;

Hobbes’s theory of representation


Leviathan, vol II Read: 160-170, 183-210, 216-222




Thu, May 6th


Hobbesian sovereignty


Leviathan, frontispiece, volume II

Read: 223-238; 260-266; 271


Week 7


Tue, May 11th


General will; sovereignty; the lawgiver


Rousseau, The Social Contract*

Read: Books I & II, pp. 156-191


                         May 11th: midterm assignment is due



Thu, May 13th


Historical materialism; theory and action


Marx, Communist Manifesto*



Week 8

Tue, May 18th



Marx, On the Jewish Question*




Thu, May 20th


Outsiders in their own world:



Beauvoir, The Second Sex*

Read: 3-17; 46-48; 148-152; 208-209; 279; 283; 294-295; 311-312


Week 9


Tue, May 25th


Outsiders in their own world:



Fanon, Black Skin White Masks,* intro, chapter 5



Thu, May 27th



Fanon, continued



Week 10

Tue, June 1st

The banality of evil and the failure to put oneself in the other person's shoes


Arendt Eichmann in Jerusalem* (selections)



                          June 1st: take-home exam circulated


Thu, June 3rd


The worldly conditions of political theory; plurality


Arendt, The Human Condition*

Selections from the “Work” section



                      Tues, June 8th: take-home exam is due




Catalog Description: 
Philosophical bases of politics and political activity. Provides an introduction to the study of politics by the reading of books in political philosophy. Organized around several key political concepts, such as liberty, equality, justice, authority, rights, and citizenship. Offered: AWSpS.
Department Requirements: 
Introductory Courses
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
January 20, 2021 - 10:17am