1: Origins and Conflicts of Modern Politics
Kick off the course with a discussion of political philosophy's continuing influence in the world and its major concepts, including democracy, republicanism, and liberalism. Consider moral realism versus moral relativism, and learn how the history of modern political thought has evolved from its formation through its contemporary period.
2: Ancient Republics, Empires, Fiefdoms
Modern political philosophy emerged, along with the rise of modernity, out of medieval feudalism. Delve into the history of politics leading up to 16th-century Europe, including the development of ancient political organization, the ideas of Plato and Aristotle-the first Western political theorists-and the contributions of medieval philosophy, such as the notion of "just war."
3: Machiavelli's New Order
Does politics demand behavior that is ethically immoral? Do the ends justify the means? Explore the legacy of Niccolò Machiavelli, the first modern political philosopher and political scientist, who broke with the classical virtue politics of Plato, Aristotle, Rome, and medieval Christianity, establishing a new order of political thought that focused on politics in the real world.
4: Hobbes, Natural Law, the Social Contract
Explore the first version of social contract theory as espoused by Thomas Hobbes, who based his view on moral relativism and a pessimistic state of nature in which there is a war of all against all. Learn why for society to function, according to Hobbes, the people must give up control to the sovereign, upon which no limits can be placed.
5: Locke on Limited Government and Toleration
Turn to John Locke and his more "liberal" notion of the state of nature and the social contract, which reinterpreted civic republicanism in terms of the preservation of property. Follow the arguments he presented in his Second Treatise on Government and Letter on Toleration, which ultimately established the foundation of the Anglo-American version of modern republicanism.
6: Rousseau's Republican Community
As the Enlightenment's greatest champion of equality, Swiss writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau endorsed the social contract-but his ideas differed from Hobbes and Locke in critical ways. Here, examine Rousseau's legacy and thought, which sought to structure modern civil society in a way that might recapture what he saw as the independence and equality of primitive society.
7: Kant's Ethics of Duty and Natural Rights
Immanuel Kant is attributed with creating one of the two most influential theories of ethics, deontological ethics-the other being utilitarianism-each of which became the background for an enduring view of modern republicanism. In this lecture, examine Kant's fundamental arguments, which are key to understanding much of modern political theory....
8: Smith and the Market Revolution
Inspired by the commercial success of Holland and England, a number of 18th-century intellectuals argued that a society of self-interested producers is good, despite its flaunting of traditional, classical, and Christian virtues. Investigate these thinkers, including Voltaire and Adam Smith, who each believed commerce promotes liberty, peace, and prosperity.
9: Montesquieu and the American Founding
The complexities of the American Constitution and system of government are a consequence of disagreements between Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison. Look at their arguments and contributions to political thought-including the Declaration of Independence, parts of the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers-along with the ideas of Montesquieu, whose notion of the separation of...
10: Debating the French Revolution
As the greatest political event of the 18th century, the French Revolution inspired political thinkers around the world. In the first of three lectures tracing the uprising's philosophical impact, delve into the liberal, conservative, and proto-progressive arguments made during "the battle of the pamphlets"-the first intellectual feud over the meaning of the Revolution.
11: Legacies of the Revolution-Right to Left
Where do the political terms "right" and "left" come from? Find out here, in a lecture that explores powerful 19th-century thinkers on both sides of the spectrum, whose reactions to the polarizing French Revolution helped pave the way for more extreme conservatism and anarchist socialism that lasted throughout the century.
12: Nationalism and a People's War
Part of the legacy of the French Revolution was the development of two phenomena: nationalism and the modern way of warfare. Look at the philosophical work of military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, who distinguished between "real war" and "pure war" (the latter being the type ushered in by Napoleon), as you consider the novelty and significance of these changes.
13: Civil Society-Constant, Hegel, Tocqueville
Between the extremes of left and right, Benjamin Constant, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and Alexis de Tocqueville made major contributions to political theory by examining the idea of what a free republic can and should be. Examine their writing, which demonstrated that two kinds of republicanism exist: liberal and civic.
14: Mill on Liberty and Utility
Despite later declaring himself a socialist, John Stuart Mill is admired by neoliberals and libertarians for his "harm principle" and rejection of paternalism as expressed in On Liberty. Investigate Mill's doctrine of individual liberty and redefinition of utilitarianism, as well as his economic stance, all of which became crucial to subsequent political and economic theory.
15: Marx's Critique of Capitalism
German philosopher Karl Marx's critique of capitalism and vision of communism went unapplied until 1917 in Russia. By 1980, approximately one-third of the world's population lived in countries adhering to his work. Explore Marx's basic claims (formulated in conjunction with Friedrich Engels), which represented the most powerful version of socialism and the greatest threat to liberal capitalism.
16: Modern vs. Traditional Society
The modern world brought higher standards of living, unprecedented scientific knowledge, and widespread literacy, yet it also undermined tradition and, for many, led to a loss of community. Learn how figures from the newly emerging social sciences, including Max Weber, Sigmund Freud, and Friedrich Nietzsche, changed the intellectual environment in attempting to describe this shift.
17: Progressivism and New Liberalism
From 1900 to 1920, American progressives such as Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, and John Dewey argued for an "organic" view of society against the natural rights, atomistic individualism, and limited government of the 19th century. Understand the role, effects, and issues raised by progressivism and new liberalism in America, including the welfare state.
18: Fleeing Liberalism-Varieties of Socialism
Explore the growing variants of socialism, including a milder, "evolutionary" socialism in western Europe, an intermediate version of "Western Marxist" political theory, and a more radical, authoritarian communism in Russia. Look closely at the ideas of Vladimir Lenin and get a clear explanation of capitalism vs. communism.
19: Fleeing Liberalism-Fascism and Carl Schmitt
In the 1920s, opposition to bourgeois-led parliamentary democracy split between internationalist socialism and a new nationalist socialism, which came to be called fascism. Explore the roots of fascism and its most sophisticated political thinker, Carl Schmitt, who presents a deep philosophical critique of parliamentary democracy and liberal republicanism.
20: Totalitarianism and Total War
Explore the events surrounding World War II, including the role philosophers played and how political philosophers interpreted the new totalitarianism of Russia, Italy, and Germany. Grasp how this period produced our familiar spectrum of international politics, with communism on the far left and fascism on the far right.
21: Conservative or Neoliberal-Oakeshott, Hayek
Neoliberals and economic conservatives disagree widely on many points, but they share a common enemy: expansive, progressive government. See the two paths conservatism took in the post-WWII world and examine the thought these camps produced-all of which serves as background for today's arguments about government and economy.
22: Reviving the Public Realm-Hannah Arendt
Hannah Arendt, one of the 20th century's premier political philosophers, was critical of the modern dominance of economics over politics in both communism and liberal capitalism, and she called for a return to civic republicanism. Here, look closely at the ideas she puts forth in The Human Condition and related works.
23: Philosophy vs. Politics-Strauss and Friends
Now, turn to another German émigré philosopher who, like Arendt, probed further into the conflict between politics and philosophy while turning to the ancients for a political approach that avoids the mistakes of modernity. Examine Leo Strauss's work, which has significantly influenced American neoconservatives, and the related writings of his friend, Alexandre Kojève.
24: Marcuse and the New Left
Although the "old" left declined in the West after WWII, Frankfurt School thinker Herbert Marcuse was able to help create what was sometimes called a Freudian left through a psychological reinterpretation of Marxism. Delve into the New Left of the 1960s and Marcuse's ideas, which critiqued capitalism's seduction of society through the welfare state and culture industry.
25: Rawls's A Theory of Justice
Is it just for one man to drive a luxury car and eat at expensive restaurants while another goes homeless and hungry? Consider such questions of justice as you explore the views of John Rawls, whose 1971 A Theory of Justice became the most famous justification of welfare liberalism in the late 20th century.
26: Ayn Rand, Robert Nozick, Libertarianism
Take a nuanced look at libertarianism, starting with the views of novelist Ayn Rand, who defended laissez-faire and espoused a philosophy of "objectivism." Then turn to the work Anarchy, State, and Utopia, in which philosopher Robert Nozick provided a libertarian rebuttal to Rawls, laying the groundwork for future disagreements over the welfare state.
27: What about Community?
As Rawls's theory of distributive justice, and some libertarian critics, were dominating political philosophy, a new group of political theorists called communitarians emerged to critique their views. See how this diverse movement of thinkers concerned with community, civic republicanism, and civil society responded to the individualism and neutrality of Rawls and Nozick.
28: Walzer on Everything Money Shouldn't Buy
Michael Walzer created perhaps the most interesting alternative to the distributive justice theories of Rawls and Nozick in his Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality. Explore his more communitarian theory of distributive justice and the distinction he draws between "thin" and "thick" political discourse, in attempting to deal with criticisms of his view.
29: Identity Politics-Feminism
The personal is political. This phrase, coined by Carol Hanisch in her 1969 essay of the same name, succinctly describes how feminism forever altered the boundary between the private and the public, which liberalism has always tended to reinforce. Here, consider the feminist challenge to liberal republican political theory and look at the many versions of feminist philosophy.
30: Identity Politics-Multiculturalism
Is "color-blindness" inherently unequal? Does a cultural group have rights? Is the goal of liberal democratic equality to treat citizens indifferently with respect to their racial, ethnic, or cultural distinctiveness, or to take that distinctiveness into account and value it? Here, explore the question of how recognizing cultural differences changes liberal republicanism.
31: The Politics of Nature-Environmentalism
Environmentalism has been associated with the political left because it is often in the position of opposing major economic interests. Yet it's fundamentally conservative in that it wants to "go back" to an earlier time. Survey some of the ideas and arguments of this movement and gauge its effect on liberal republican political theory.
32: Postmodernism, Truth, and Power
Postmodern critique has changed the discussions of sociology, literature, philosophy, and political theory by pressing feminist and multiculturalist versions of egalitarian liberalism or progressivism in a radical, anti-Eurocentric direction. Explore some of the ideas-both leftist and conservative-behind postmodernism in politics, as put forth by Cornel West, Michel Foucault, Gayatri Spivak, and o...
33: Habermas-Democracy as Communication
No one has done more to give both a historical and a systematic philosophical defense of modern republicanism in the postwar period than Jürgen Habermas. Explore his philosophy of communication, as well as his arguments for liberal republicanism and social democracy against philosophical and theoretical attacks by conservatism, Nietzschean "will to power," and postmodernism.
34: The End of History? Clash of Civilizations?
The fall of communism and rise of economic globalization appeared to solidify the supremacy of liberal republicanism. Yet we have since witnessed a reassertion of ethnic nationalism and radical Islam, leading to an even more politically complex world. Is liberal republicanism destined to be universal, or is it inapplicable to some civilizations?
35: Just Wars? The Problem of Dirty Hands
Revisit the topic of the ethics of war, which was touched upon earlier in the course. First, review the three active philosophical positions-pacifism, realism, and just war theory-then look at Michael Walzer's version of just war theory and his take on recent wars from a moral perspective.
36: Why Political Philosophy Matters
Do we need more government or less? Will the liberal republican model stand up to and address the problems its ever-modernizing society will create? Professor Cahoone concludes by demonstrating how he would work through some of the issues covered. Also, see how Americans-while seemingly hopelessly divided politically-actually disagree less than we might believe.
The Great Courses deeply challenged my skills in teaching philosophy, while making it fun too.
About Lawrence Cahoone
Dr. Lawrence Cahoone is Professor of Philosophy at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, where he has taught since 2000. He holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. A two-time winner of the Undergraduate Philosophy Association Teaching Award at Boston University who has taught more than 50 different philosophy courses, Professor Cahoone is not only a skilled teacher, but also an author. With a background in recent European, American, and social and political philosophy, as well as interests in postmodernism, metaphysics, and the latter's relation to the natural sciences, he has written:
- The Orders of Nature
- Cultural Revolutions: Reason versus Culture in Philosophy, Politics, and Jihad
- Civil Society: The Conservative Meaning of Liberal Politics
- The Ends of Philosophy: Pragmatism, Foundationalism, and Postmodernism
- The Dilemma of Modernity: Philosophy, Culture, and Anti-Culture
He edited From Modernism to Postmodernism: An Anthology and his play, Wise Guys: A Philosophical Comedy, is available at HeartlandPlays.com