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Modern Political Theory: Rise of the Individual & Problems of Authority  

David Peritz Political theory consists in a discourse of thinking about the nature of political power, the conditions for its just and unjust use, the rights of individuals, minorities and majorities, and the nature and bounds of political community. Rather than tackling pressing political problems one at a time, political theorists seek systematic solutions in overall visions of just societies, or comprehensive diagnoses of the roots of oppression and domination in political orders. We will trace the course of modern political theory, our focus will be modern writers who shaped the terms and concepts that increasingly populate political imaginations the world over, that is, the conscious and unconscious ideas about rights, power, class, democracy, community and the like that we use to make sense of our political lives. In this course, we will examine the theory of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, the great originators of the social contract tradition, a troika of thinkers who agreed that, in order for it to be just and stable, modern political order had to be justified to the individuals whose loyalty it claims—a right to consent captured succinctly in the metaphor of the social contract in which each is free to accept or reject the basic terms that structure their association. While Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau agree on the necessity of individual consent, they disagree markedly on the reasons persons have for consenting (are they rationally self-interested, strongly communally oriented, or somewhere in between) along with the kind of society they would agree to join to (highly authoritarian, liberal, or radically democratic). We will seek to understand central texts from these profoundly original political philosophers each on their own terms and then to place them in dialogue with each other. Week 1: HOBBES’ PHILOSOPHICAL ANTHROPOLOGY & STATE OF NATURE Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, Dedication and Introduction, Chs. 1-19. Week 2: HOBBES’ SOCIAL CONTRACT, ACCOUNT OF STATE POWER, AND REPLY TO THE RELIGIOUS Hobbes, Leviathan, Chs. 21, 24, 30, 32, 41, 43, 46, and Conclusion. Week 3: LOCKE’S STATE OF NATURE, ACCOUNTS OF PROPERTY, THE SOCIAL CONTRACT AND REVOLUTION John Locke, Two Treatises of Government: First Treatise, ‘Preface,’ & paragraph 106; Second Treatise, Chs.I-VII, VIII (paragraphs 95-100; 119-122). X-XIII, , IX-XIII XIV, XVIII, XIX (paragraphs 211, 223-233) Week 4: ROUSSEAU ON HUMAN NATURE, (IN)EQUALITY, AND WHY HIS PREDECESSORS MISCONSTRUE THE STATE OF NATURE Jean Jacques Rousseau, A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, entire Week 5: ROUSSEAU ON AUTONOMY, CONSENT & THE GENERAL WILL Jean Jacques Rousseau, On The Social Contract, entire NOTE: Readings are only for the sake of reference. No prior familiarity with any of these works is assumed in any of these lectures. For anyone interested in going into greater depth on any of these topics. many of these works can be approached on one’s own with patient concentration, but probably not at the pace in which they will be covered in these lectures. David Peritz has a Doctor of Philosophy in Politics from Oxford University, where his studies were supported by a Marshall Scholarship. He is Co-Chair of the Politics Department at Sarah Lawrence College, and a regular visiting faculty member in the Master of Arts of Liberal Studies program at Dartmouth. He has also taught at UC Berkeley, Harvard, Cornell and Deep Springs, and was a visiting scholar at Erasmus University in Rotterdam and the London School of Economics. His research specialization is modern and contemporary political philosophy, especially contemporary theories of democracy and justice and their relations to issues of diversity and inequality.