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Misinformation and Democracy: Past and Present

Citizenship in the 21st Century

Ethics for Activists

Spring 2024

Modern Political Thought: Machiavelli to Marx and Mill (POLISCI 131L, ETHICSOC 131S)

Instructor: Alison McQueen

This course is an introduction to the history of Western political thought from the late fifteenth century through the nineteenth century. We will consider the secularization of politics, the changing relationship between the individual and society, the rise of consent-based forms of political authority, and the development and critiques of liberal conceptions of property. We will cover the following thinkers: Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Wollstonecraft, Mill, and Marx.

Selections in Modern Political Thought (POLISCI 432R)

Instructor: Alison McQueen

This graduate-level seminar explores selections from the canon of Western political thought from the late fifteenth through nineteenth centuries. Throughout the course, we will engage in close textual readings of individual thinkers and consider some of the larger questions raised by political modernity. The theme of the course differs from year to year.

The Presidency (POLISCI 220R, POLISCI 320R)

Instructor: Brandice Canes-Wrone

This course provides students with a comprehensive perspective on the American presidency and covers a range of topics: elections, congressional relations, public communications, unilateral action, influence over the bureaucracy, leadership in foreign policy, and much more. Throughout, the goal is to understand why presidents behave as they do and why the presidency as an institution has developed as it has, with special attention to the dynamics of the American political system and how they condition incentives, opportunities, and power.

Democratic Theory (POLISCI 234, ETHICSOC 234, PHIL 176P)

Brian Kenneth Coyne

Most people agree that democracy is a good thing, but do we agree on what democracy is? This course will examine the concept of democracy in political philosophy. We will address the following questions: What reason(s), if any, do we have for valuing democracy? What does it mean to treat people as political equals? When does a group of individuals constitute "a people," and how can a people make genuinely collective decisions? Can democracy really be compatible with social inequality? With an entrenched constitution? With representation?

Liberalism and its Critics (POLISCI 130, ETHICSOC 130, PHIL 171P)

Instructor: Brian Kenneth Coyne

In this course, students will learn and engage with the core debates that have animated political theory in modern times. What is the proper relationship between the individual, the community, and the state? Are liberty and equality in conflict, and, if so, which should take priority? What does justice mean in a large and diverse modern society? The title of the course, borrowed from a book by Michael Sandel, is 'Liberalism and its Critics' because the questions we discuss in this class center on the meaning of, and alternatives to, the liberal ideas that the basic goal of society should be the protection of individual rights and that some form of an egalitarian democracy is the best way to achieve this goal. The course is structured around two historical phenomena: one the one hand, liberal answers to these key questions have at times seemed politically and socially triumphant, but on the other hand, this ascendency has always been challenged and contested. At least one prior class in political theory, such as Justice (PS 103), Citizenship in the 21st Century ( College 102), or Democratic Theory (PS 234) is recommended but not required.

Ancient Greek Ethics and Contemporary Moral Theory (PHIL 112, PHIL 212) 

Instructor: Christopher Bobonich

Political Economy of Latin America (POLISCI 243)

Instructor: Javier Mejia Cubillos

This course offers a comprehensive overview of Latin America's political and economic development, exploring the factors contributing to the region's current situation. It examines why Latin America fell behind the United States, its high degree of political instability, and widespread inequality. The course analyzes Latin America's history, including the colonial period, and uses theories on democracy and development to interpret persistent economic inequality and political instability. Additionally, the course examines key features of Latin American democracies, including state weakness, clientelism, and corruption. By analyzing these factors, students gain an understanding of the challenges facing Latin American countries and potential solutions. The course provides a deep dive into Latin America's political and economic development, offering insights into the region's history and current circumstances, and how they inform potential future outcomes.

Wealth of Nations (POLISCI 244C)

Instructor: Javier Mejia Cubillos

Why are there economic disparities across countries? Why did some countries grow steadily over the past 200 years while many others did not? What have been the consequences for the citizens of those countries? What has been the role of geography, culture, and institutions in the development process? What are the moral dilemmas behind this development process? These are some of the questions we will discuss in this course. Following a historical and cross-cultural perspective, we will study the origins of economic development and the path that led to the configuration of the modern global economy.

Creation of the Constitution (HISTORY 153, LAW 7017) 

Instructor: Michael McConnell

The course begins with readings setting forth the intellectual and experiential background of the framing, including common law and natural rights theory, republicanism, economic & political scientific ideas, and colonial and post-Independence experience. We then study large parts of the debates at the Constitutional Convention, primarily using Madison's Notes. Major topics are the principle of representation, the extent and enumeration of national powers, the construction of the executive and judicial branches, and slavery. Next come the ratification debates, including readings from antifederalist writers, The Federalist, and speeches in ratification conventions. We conclude with the addition of the Bill of Rights. Classes consist of a combination of lecture and extensive participation by students. Elements used in grading: Class participation, final exam, supplemented by short take-home essay. 

Executive Power Under the Constitution (POLISCI 326, LAW 7107)

Instructor: Michael McConnell

This course, taught for the second time, will address the full range of issues involving executive power under the U.S. Constitution, including the process of election, impeachment, foreign affairs (including control of foreign relations, command of the military, and control over national security, surveillance, and the like), authority of the President over executive agencies (including the power of removal and the duty to enforce the law), congressional oversight and executive privilege, executive statutory and constitutional interpretation, the budget process, and litigation against the executive.

Hoover Institution National Security Affairs Fellows Mentorship Program (PUBLPOL 100)

Instructor: Amy Zegart

This course is designed to give Stanford undergraduates an introduction to civil-military relations, leadership development, and operational aspects of American foreign policy. Admitted undergraduates will be mentored by a distinguished leader from the Air Force, Army, CIA, Coast Guard, FBI, Marine Corps, Navy, Space Force, or State Department for the Fall, Winter, and Spring quarters of the 2023-24 academic year. Participation in all three quarters is required. These military leaders, diplomats, and intelligence professionals are part of the Hoover Institution's National Security Affairs Fellows program. The scheduled class time will be used for group activities, lectures from the National Security Affairs Fellows on their experiences in the U.S. government, small group meetings with mentees and mentors, and special sessions with senior American foreign policy leaders. At the end of each quarter, students write short reflection papers. No expertise in international affairs is necessary to apply and all majors are welcome. Selection is based on academic excellence, extracurricular leadership, and interest in international affairs. The program is directed by Dr. Amy Zegart. To apply, send a cover letter and resume to hoovernsaf@stanford.edu.

Workshop in Political Theory (POLISCI 433)

Instructor: Brian Kenneth Coyne

For graduate students. Faculty, guest speakers, and graduate students conducting research in political theory present works-in-progress. May be repeated for credit.

 

Winter 2024

Global Futures: History, Statecraft, Systems (POLISCI 116M, POLISCI 316M, INTLPOL 222, HISTORY 105F)

Instructors: Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Kotkin

Where does the future come from? It comes from the past, of course – but how? What are the key drivers of continuity or change, and how can we trace those drivers going forward, too? What are the roles of contingency, chance, and choice, versus long-term underlying structure? How can people, from whatever walk of life, identify and utilize levers of power to try to shift the larger system? What is a system, and how do systems behave? To answer these questions and analyze how today’s world came into being and where it might be headed, this course explores geopolitics and geoeconomics, institutions and technologies, citizenship, and leadership. We examine how our world works to understand the limits but also the possibilities of individual and collective agency, the phenomenon of perverse and unintended consequences, and ultimately, the nature of power. Our goal is to investigate not just how to conceive of a smart policy, but how its implementation might unfold. In sum, this course aims to combine strategic analysis and tactical agility. Syllabus available here.

Ethics for Activists (POLISCI 134, ETHICSOC 134)

Instructor: Emilee Chapman

Activists devote sustained effort and attention toward achieving particular goals of social and political change. Do we have an ethical obligation to be activists? And how should those who do choose to be activists (for whatever reason) understand the ethics of that role? Questions discussed in this course may include: When is civil disobedience appropriate, and what does it entail? Should activists feel constrained by obligations of fairness, honesty, or civility toward those with whom we disagree? Are there special ethical considerations in activism on behalf of those who cannot advocate for themselves? What is solidarity and what does it require of us? Students in this course will develop skills in analyzing, evaluating, and constructing logical arguments about ethical concerns related to activism, but class discussions will also address the potential limitations of logical argument in ethical and political reasoning. Syllabus available here.

The Rise of American Democracy (HISTORY 254E, HISTORY 354E)

Instructor: Jonathan Gienapp

Where did American democracy come from? Prior to and during the American Revolution, few who lived in what became the United States claimed to live in a democracy. Half a century later, most took this reality as an article of faith. Accordingly, the period stretching from c. 1750 to c. 1840 is often considered the period when American democracy was ascendant, a time marked by the explosion of new forms of political thinking, practices, and culture, new political institutions and forms of political organization, and new kinds of political struggles. This advanced undergraduate/graduate colloquium will explore how American political life changed during this formative period to understand the character of early American democracy, how different groups gained or suffered as a result of these transformations, and, in light of these investigations, in what ways it is historically appropriate to think of this period as in fact the rise of American democracy. Syllabus available here.

Research and Methods in Political Theory (POLISCI 333M)

Instructor: Alison McQueen

This seminar has two aims. First, we discuss both classic and recent scholarship that examines methodological approaches in political theory. Our focus this year will be on historical approaches. We will examine contextualist, conceptual history, Straussian, and genealogical approaches. Second, we discuss in an informal workshop setting the ongoing work of graduate students, considering how, if at all, the readings on methodology could inform this work. Depending on the number of students in the course, we may also devote some time to discussing examples of successful pieces of writing in political theory and political philosophy. The seminar is intended for graduate students in political theory and political philosophy who are working on a field paper, a dissertation prospectus, or writing their dissertation. Syllabus available here.

Democracy Ancient and Modern: From Politics to Political Theory (POLISCI 231A, CLASSICS 249, PHIL 176J, PHIL 276J, POLISCI 231A, POLISCI 331A )

Instructor: Josiah Ober

Modern political theorists, from Hobbes and Rousseau, to Hannah Arendt and Leo Strauss, to Sheldon Wolin and Robert Dahl, to Jacques Rancière and Cornelius Casotriadis (to name just a few), have turned to the classical Greek theory and practice of politics, both for inspiration and as a critical target. The last 30 years has seen renewed interest in Athenian democracy among both historians and theorists, and closer interaction between empiricists concerned with “what really happened, and why” and theorists concerned with the possibilities and limits of citizen self-government as a normatively favored approach to political organization. The ancient Greek tradition saw political theory and ethics as continuous intellectual enterprises. Greek ethical thought was concerned with happiness/flourishing (eudaimonia) rather than, e.g. “moral duty” or “aggregate utility.” Central to that tradition was the idea that happiness depends on being a citizen of a well-ordered state. The writers we will be concerned with in the course take up that connection - they are centrally concerned with political ethics because they are interested in relating the Greek political ethics tradition to modern political theory and practice. Syllabus available here.

Hoover Institution National Security Affairs Fellows Mentorship Program (PUBLPOL 100)

Instructor: Amy Zegart

This course is designed to give Stanford undergraduates an introduction to civil-military relations, leadership development, and operational aspects of American foreign policy. Admitted undergraduates will be mentored by a distinguished leader from the Air Force, Army, CIA, Coast Guard, FBI, Marine Corps, Navy, Space Force, or State Department for the Fall, Winter, and Spring quarters of the 2023-24 academic year. Participation in all three quarters is required. These military leaders, diplomats, and intelligence professionals are part of the Hoover Institution's National Security Affairs Fellows program. The scheduled class time will be used for group activities, lectures from the National Security Affairs Fellows on their experiences in the U.S. government, small group meetings with mentees and mentors, and special sessions with senior American foreign policy leaders. At the end of each quarter, students write short reflection papers. No expertise in international affairs is necessary to apply and all majors are welcome. Selection is based on academic excellence, extracurricular leadership, and interest in international affairs. The program is directed by Dr. Amy Zegart. To apply, send a cover letter and resume to hoovernsaf@stanford.edu. Syllabus available here.

Ethics in Society Workshop (ETHICSOC 195)

Instructor: Alison McQueen

Workshop for Ethics in Society seniors completing their honors thesis

Classical Seminar: Origins of Political Thought (POLISCI 230A, CLASSICS 181, CLASSICS 381, ETHICSOC 130A, PHIL 176A, PHIL 276A)

Instructors: Avshalom M. Schwartz and Josiah Ober

Political philosophy in classical antiquity, centered on reading canonical works of Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle against other texts and against the political and historical background. Topics include: interdependence, legitimacy, justice; political obligation, citizenship, and leadership; origins and development of democracy; law, civic strife, and constitutional change. Syllabus available here.

Goodness Ancient and Modern (PHIL 313W)

Instructor: Christopher Bobonich

In this course, we shall examine conceptions of goodness both ancient and modern. Things can be good or bad for people, for dogs, for trees, and so on. This is relational goodness. (Can things be good or bad for artifacts, e.g., books and paintings?) There can be good teachers and bad teachers, good poets and bad poets, good and bad oak trees and cats. This is attributive goodness. But is there also a kind of goodness that's a simple and intrinsic property of things? This would be absolute goodness. We shall read, among others, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, G.E. Moore, and Judith Jarvis Thomson. We shall examine questions including the following. What basic kinds of goodness are there (e.g. relational, attributive, absolute) and what are the relations among them? Is moral or ethical goodness a distinct kind of goodness? Are any kinds of goodness objective? Do non-moral or non-ethical goods benefit the unvirtuous as Plato denies and Aristotle (at least sometimes) accepts? Is Kant right that the only thing good without qualification is a good will? Graduate seminar. 2 unit option only for Phil PhDs beyond the second year. Syllabus available here.

Workshop in Political Theory (POLISCI 433)

Instructor: Brian Kenneth Coyne

For graduate students. Faculty, guest speakers, and graduate students conducting research in political theory present works-in-progress. May be repeated for credit.

Citizenship in the 21st Century (COLLEGE 102)

Citizenship is not just what passport you hold or where you were born. Citizenship also means equal membership in a self-governing political community. We will explore some of the many debates about this ideal: Who is (or ought to be) included in citizenship? Who gets to decide? What responsibilities come with citizenship? Is citizenship analogous to being a friend, a family member, a business partner? How have people excluded from citizenship fought for, and sometimes won, inclusion? These debates have a long history, featuring in some of the earliest recorded philosophy and literature but also animating current political debates in the United States and elsewhere. Syllabus available here.

Autumn 2023

Societal Collapse (POLISCI 44Q)

Instructor: Javier Mejia

Sustained economic growth is an anomaly in human history. Moreover, in the very long term, sustained economic decline is common. Following a historical and cross-cultural perspective, we will study the causes of economic decline, the social and political consequences of that decline, and the path that led to the collapse of some of the most prosperous societies in human history. Among the episodes we will cover are the Late Bronze Age collapse in the Eastern Mediterranean, the fall of the Western Roman Empire, and the Classic Maya collapse. We will compare these ancient episodes with recent cases of socioeconomic decline, including the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the downfall of Venezuela under Chavismo. We will use the past to reflect on the fundamentals of harmony and prosperity in our society and the challenges that they will face in the future. Syllabus available here.

Justice (POLISCI 103, ETHICSOC 171, PHIL 171, POLISCI 336S, PUBLPOL 103C)

Instructor: Brian Coyne

Justice, as we use the term in this class, is a question about social cooperation. People can produce much, much more cooperatively than the sum of what they could produce as individuals, and these gains from cooperation are what makes civilization possible. But on what terms should we cooperate? How should we divide, as the philosopher John Rawls puts it, “the benefits and burdens of social cooperation”? Working primarily within the Anglo-American philosophical tradition, we’ll discuss different answers to this big question as a way to bring together some of the most prominent debates in modern political philosophy. We’ll study theories including utilitarianism, libertarianism, classical liberalism, and liberal egalitarianism, and we’ll take on complex current issues like reparations for racial injustice, the gender pay gap, and responses to climate change. This class is meant to be an accessible entry point to political philosophy. No experience with political science or philosophy is required or assumed, and we will spend time on the strategy of philosophy as well: understanding how our authors make their arguments to better respond to them and make our own. Syllabus available here.

From Cold War to New Cold War: Politics and Political Theory in Contemporary China (POLISCI 235A)

Instructor: Simon Luo

“China lacks everything: middle managers, engineers and capital,” so wrote French political thinker Raymond Aron. That was the year 1950, three years after Harry Truman’s 1947 Address to Congress, which was usually considered the beginning of the Cold War, and months after the founding of the People’s Republic of China. More than seventy years later, and after a long, winding journey, China now has much more than middle managers, engineers, and capital. However, global politics seems to move towards another clash of two powerful countries with (at least seemingly) different ideological orientations as many now claim that a new Cold War is on the horizon.

How did China emerge as a global power from what Aron described in 1950? And more importantly, can we, and if so, how do we, understand the rise of China with a theoretical perspective? How do theory and real politics shape each other, as manifested in the history of contemporary China? In this class, we explore answers to these questions by reading political theory against history, sociology, and political science. Every week, we read texts that reflect both the social reality and theoretical concerns of a given period in contemporary Chinese history. By so doing, we seek to make sense of not only contemporary Chinese society but also the power and limits of ideas in political theory. Syllabus available here.

Misinformation and Democracy: Past and Present (POLISCI 235C)

Instructors: Avshalom Schwartz

Many today consider misinformation to be one of the most significant challenges faced by democratic societies. Some see this as a new phenomenon, arguing, for example, that modern technology—and, above all, social media giants like Facebook or Twitter—is responsible for this threat. Yet, the problem of misinformation and the challenges posed by ‘fake news,’ conspiracy theories, and lying in politics have a long history. In this course, we will ask whether and how misinformation threatens democracy and explore different potential solutions to this challenge. We will read various historical texts suggesting that misinformation is not a new phenomenon born in our digital age. Moreover, we will explore broader questions and issues around the topic of misinformation and democracy. We will ask whether democracies are particularly good at processing information or rather susceptible to mis/disinformation. We will further broaden the scope of misinformation to include discussions of the permissibility of lying in politics in antiquity, conspiracies during the late Roman Republic, and early modern debates about censorship and freedom of speech. We will see how several key figures in the history of political thought - from Plato and Aristotle to Hobbes and Mill - sought to deal with these problems. Combining close readings of historical texts with discussions of contemporary research, we will ask whether and how we might be able to utilize historical knowledge and experience to understand and address some of the most pressing challenges we face today. Syllabus available here.

Workshop in Political Theory (POLISCI 433)

Instructor: Brian Kenneth Coyne

20th Century and Contemporary Political Theory (POLISCI 437C)

Instructor: Emilee Chapman

This graduate seminar course provides a survey of some of the major contributions to (primarily Western) political thought in the past century. The course will place special emphasis on the development of theories of political authority and legitimacy in the context of the modern bureaucratic state and global order, as well as the connection between authority and other key concepts in normative political theory: freedom, justice, equality, and democracy. Syllabus available here.

Spring 2023

Democratic Theory (POLISCI 234, ETHICSOC 234, PHIL 176P)

Instructor: Brian Coyne

Most people agree that democracy is a good thing, but do we agree on what democracy is? This course will examine the concept of democracy in political philosophy. We will address the following questions: What reason(s), if any, do we have for valuing democracy? What does it mean to treat people as political equals? When does a group of individuals constitute "a people," and how can a people make genuinely collective decisions? Can democracy really be compatible with social inequality? With an entrenched constitution? With representation? Syllabus available here.

Political Memory and Democratic Citizenship (POLISCI 235B/335B)

Instructor: Simon Luo

We may not always realize it, but political discussions often invoke historical memory. As we debate about political ideas and praxes, we often draw on history to criticize our interlocutors and build our arguments. Meanwhile, historical memory also deeply shapes how we think about politics. For example, our rejection of Nazism is closely linked to memories of the Holocaust. Our debates about racial politics in the US are inevitably intertwined with historical readings of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. New politics often offers new historical readings and counters mainstream, commonsensical understandings of the past. Because historical memory is so crucial to politics, and because what is considered collective memory often varies from community to community, it is essential that we try to understand the relationship between memory, politics, and citizenship. In this class, we read texts written by thinkers such as Hannah Arendt, W. James Booth, Avishai Margalit, John Rawls, and Judith Shklar to discuss the following questions: How does memory form communal identity? How does memory shape our conception of justice, political agency, and legitimacy? Are there democratic ways of approaching history? Is remembering always good for democratic politics? As we come up with answers to these questions, we develop a better sense of how our identity as democratic citizens is linked to historical and collective memory. Syllabus available here.

Misinformation and Democracy: Past and Present (POLISCI 235C/335C)

Instructor: Avshalom Schwartz

Many today consider misinformation to be one of the most significant challenges faced by democratic societies. Some see this as a new phenomenon, arguing, for example, that modern technology - and, above all, social media giants like Facebook or Twitter - is responsible for this threat. Yet, the problem of misinformation and the challenges posed by 'fake-news,' conspiracy theories, and lying in politics have a long history. In this course, we will ask whether and how misinformation threatens democracy and explore different potential solutions to this challenge. We will read various historical texts suggesting that misinformation is not a new phenomenon born in our digital age. We will learn about various past experiences of misinformation, such as discussions of the permissibility of lying in politics in antiquity, rumors about the end of the world in the Renaissance, and early modern debates about censorship and freedom of speech. We will see how several key figures in the history of political thought - from Plato and Aristotle to Hobbes and Mill - sought to deal with these problems. Combining close readings of historical texts and discussions of contemporary issues, we will ask whether and how we might be able to utilize historical knowledge and experience to understand and address some of the most pressing challenges we face today. Syllabus available here.

Varieties of Conservatism in America (POLISCI 237)

Instructor: Peter Berkowitz

This seminar explores the conservative movement in America and its principal strands. It begins with an introduction to the modern tradition of freedom and America's founding principles since the understanding of conservatism - in the United States as elsewhere - requires some acquaintance with that which conservatives seek to conserve. The introduction includes study of Marx's classic critique of liberal democracy because the understanding of conservativism also requires an appreciation of the leading alternative. The seminar then turns to developments in the immediate aftermath of World War II, when a self-consciously conservative movement in the United States first emerged as a national force and concludes with an examination of the leading debates among conservatives today. The seminar meets once a week. It revolves around careful reading of assigned texts, robust discussion of the materials, and analysis from a variety of perspectives. Students will be required to submit one-page ungraded reflections in advance of each class, and a substantial final paper at the conclusion of the course. Syllabus available here.

Societal Collapse (POLISCI 244D, CLASSICS 187)

Instructor: Javier Mejia Cubillos

Sustained economic growth is an anomaly in human history. Moreover, in the very long term, sustained economic decline is common. Following a historical and cross-cultural perspective, we will study the causes of economic decline, the social and political consequences of that decline, and the path that led to the collapse of some of the most prosperous societies in human history. Among the episodes we will cover are the Late Bronze Age collapse in the Eastern Mediterranean, the fall of the Western Roman Empire, and the Classic Maya collapse. We will compare these ancient episodes with recent cases of socioeconomic decline, including the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the downfall of Venezuela under Chavismo. We will use the past to reflect on the fundamentals of harmony and prosperity in our society and the challenges that they will face in the future. Syllabus available here.

Winter 2023

Citizenship in the 21st Century (COLLEGE 102)

Citizenship is not just what passport you hold or where you were born. Citizenship also means equal membership in a self-governing political community. We will explore some of the many debates about this ideal: Who is (or ought to be) included in citizenship? Who gets to decide? What responsibilities come with citizenship? Is citizenship analogous to being a friend, a family member, a business partner? How have people excluded from citizenship fought for, and sometimes won, inclusion? These debates have a long history, featuring in some of the earliest recorded philosophy and literature but also animating current political debates in the United States and elsewhere. Syllabus available here.

Liberalism and its Critics (POLISCI 130, ETHICSOC 130, PHIL 171P)

Instructor: Brian Coyne

In this course, students will learn and engage with the core debates that have animated political theory in modern times. What is the proper relationship between the individual, the community, and the state? Are liberty and equality in conflict, and, if so, which should take priority? What does justice mean in a large and diverse modern society? The title of the course, borrowed from a book by Michael Sandel, is 'Liberalism and its Critics' because the questions we discuss in this class center on the meaning of, and alternatives to, the liberal ideas that the basic goal of society should be the protection of individual rights and that some form of an egalitarian democracy is the best way to achieve this goal. The course is structured around two historical phenomena: one the one hand, liberal answers to these key questions have at times seemed politically and socially triumphant, but on the other hand, this ascendency has always been challenged and contested. At least one prior class in political theory, such as Justice (POLISCI 103), Citizenship in the 21st Century (COLLEGE 102), or Democratic Theory (POLISCI 234) is recommended but not required. Syllabus available here.

Global Futures: History, Statecraft, Systems (POLISCI 216, INTLPOL 222, HISTORY 205F)

Instructor: Stephen Kotkin

Where does the future come from? It comes from the past, of course, but how? What are the key drivers of continuity or change, and how can we trace those drivers going forward, too? What are the roles of contingency, chance, and choice, versus long-term underlying structure? How can people, from whatever walk of life, identify and utilize levers of power to ty to shift the larger system? What is a system, and how do systems behave? To answer these questions and analyze how today's world came into being and where it might be headed, this course explores geopolitics and geoeconomics, institutions and technologies, citizenship and leadership. We examine how our world works to understand the limits but also the possibilities of individual and collective agency, the phenomenon of perverse and unintended consequences, and ultimately, the nature of power. Our goal is to investigate not just how to conceive of a smart policy, but how its implementation might unfold. In sum, this course aims to combine strategic analysis and tactical agility. Syllabus available here. 

Classical Seminar: Origins of Political Thought (POLISCI 230A, POLISCI 330A, CLASSICS 181, CLASSICS 381, ETHICSOC 130A, PHIL 176A, PHIL 276A)

Instructors: Josiah Ober and Avshalom Schwartz

Political philosophy in classical antiquity, centered on reading canonical works of Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle against other texts and against the political and historical background. Topics include: interdependence, legitimacy, justice; political obligation, citizenship, and leadership; origins and development of democracy; law, civic strife, and constitutional change. Syllabus available here. 

Wealth of Nations (POLISCI 244C, ECON 134)

Instructor: Javier Mejia Cubillos

Why are there economic disparities across countries? Why did some countries grow steadily over the past 200 years while many others did not? What have been the consequences for the citizens of those countries? What has been the role of geography, culture, and institutions in the development process? What are the moral dilemmas behind this development process? These are some of the questions we will discuss in this course. Following a historical and cross-cultural perspective, we will study the origins of economic development and the path that led to the configuration of the modern global economy. Syllabus available here.

Autumn 2022

The History of Ancient Greek Philosophy (PHIL 100, CLASSICS 40)

Instructor: Chris Bobonich

We shall cover the major developments in Greek philosophical thought, focusing on Plato, Aristotle, and the Hellenistic schools (the Epicureans, the Stoics, and the Skeptics). Topics include epistemology, metaphysics, psychology, ethics, and political theory. Syllabus available here.

Justice (POLISCI 103, POLISCI 336S, ETHICSOC 171, PHIL 171, PUBLPOL 103C)

Instructor: Brian Coyne

Justice, as we use the term in this class, is a question about social cooperation. People can produce much more cooperatively than the sum of what they could produce as individuals, and these gains from cooperation are what makes civilization possible. But on what terms should we cooperate? How should we divide, as the philosopher John Rawls puts it, "the benefits and burdens of social cooperation"? Working primarily within the Anglo-American philosophical tradition, we'll discuss different answers to this big question as a way to bring together some of the most prominent debates in modern political philosophy. We'll study theories including utilitarianism, libertarianism, classical liberalism, and egalitarian liberalism, and we'll take on complex current issues like reparations for racial injustice, the gender pay gap, and responses to climate change. This class is meant to be an accessible entry point to political philosophy. No experience with political science or philosophy is required or assumed, and we will spend time on the strategy of philosophy as well: understanding how our authors make their arguments to better respond to them and make our own. Syllabus available here. 

From Cold War to New Cold War: Politics and Political Theory in Contemporary China (POLISCI 235A/335A)

Instructor: Simon Luo

China lacks everything: middle managers, engineers and capital," so wrote French political thinker Raymond Aron. That was 1950, three years after Harry Truman's 1947 Address to Congress, which was usually considered the beginning of the Cold War, and months after the founding of the People's Republic of China. More than seventy years later, and after a long, winding journey, China now has much more than middle managers, engineers, and capital. However, global politics seems to move towards another clash of two powerful countries with seemingly different ideological orientations as many now claim that a new Cold War is on the horizon.How did China emerge as a global power from what Aron described in 1950? And more importantly, can we, and if so, how do we, understand the rise of China with a theoretical perspective? How do theory and real politics shape each other, as manifested in the history of contemporary China? In this class, we explore answers to these questions by reading political theory against history, sociology, and political science. In every week, we read texts that reflect both the social reality and theoretical concerns of a given period in contemporary Chinese history. By so doing, we seek to make sense of both the contemporary Chinese society and the power and limits of ideas in political theory. Syllabus available here.

Selections in Modern Political Thought (POLISCI 432R, ETHICSOC 432X)

Instructor: Avshalom Schwartz

This graduate-level seminar explores selections from the canon of Western political thought from the late fifteenth through nineteenth centuries. Throughout the course, we will engage in close textual readings of individual thinkers and consider some of the larger questions raised by political modernity. This offering will focus on Western political thought from the Renaissance through the turn of the 20th century. Thinkers covered will include: Niccolò Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Karl Marx, among others. Syllabus available here.

Autumn 2021

 

The History of Ancient Greek Philosophy (PHIL 100, CLASSICS 40)

Instructor: Chris Bobonich

We shall cover the major developments in Greek philosophical thought, focusing on Plato, Aristotle, and the Hellenistic schools (the Epicureans, the Stoics, and the Skeptics). Topics include epistemology, metaphysics, psychology, ethics, and political theory. Syllabus available here.

Justice (POLISCI 103, POLISCI 336S, ETHICSOC 171, PHIL 171, PUBPOL 103C)

Instructor: Brian Coyne

Justice, as we use the term in this class, is a question about social cooperation. People can produce much, much more cooperatively than the sum of what they could produce as individuals, and these gains from cooperation are what makes civilization possible. But on what terms should we cooperate? How should we divide, as the philosopher John Rawls puts it, “the benefits and burdens of social cooperation”? Working primarily within the Anglo-American philosophical tradition, we’ll discuss different answers to this big question as a way to bring together some of the most prominent debates in modern political philosophy. We’ll study theories including utilitarianism, libertarianism, classical liberalism, and egalitarian liberalism, and we’ll take on complex current issues of justice as well. This class is meant to be an accessible entry point to political philosophy. No experience with political science or philosophy is required or assumed, and we will spend time on the strategy of philosophy as well: understanding how our authors make their arguments to better respond to them and make our own. Syllabus available here.

Chinese Political Thought: 1895-2021 (POLISCI 235/335)

Instructor: Dongxiang Jiang

Everybody is talking about China now. The competition between China and the Western world is not only about economic growth, technological advancement, and military strength. What is ultimately at stake is a key theoretical question: Can China's political traditions and current practices (such as Confucianism and one-party meritocracy) offer a legitimate and desirable alternative to the ideal of liberal democracy? This course aims to approach this question through the lens of intellectual history and political theory. We will read important political writings in China between 1895 (the year marking the end of the First Sino-Japanese War) to our own time. We shall pay attention to the following questions: How do modern Chinese thinkers conceive of China’s place in the world? How do they use Western political ideas to transform China? How do they creatively transform Chinese traditions (especially Confucianism) to meet the challenge of modernity? Finally, how do Chinese thinkers advance political ideals that attempt to fix the problems in the West (such as imperialism, capitalism, and populism)? Syllabus available here.

Winter 2022

Ethics for Activists (POLISCI 134, ETHICSOC 134)

Instructor: Emilee Chapman

Activists devote sustained effort and attention toward achieving particular goals of social and political change. Do we have an ethical obligation to be activists? And how should those who do choose to be activists (for whatever reason) understand the ethics of that role? Questions discussed in this course may include: When is civil disobedience appropriate, and what does it entail? Should activists feel constrained by obligations of fairness, honesty, or civility toward those with whom we disagree? Are there special ethical considerations in activism on behalf of those who cannot advocate for themselves? What is solidarity and what does it require of us? Students in this course will develop skills in analyzing, evaluating, and constructing logical arguments about ethical concerns related to activism, but class discussions will also address the potential limitations of logical argument in ethical and political reasoning. Syllabus available here.

Political Thought in Modern Asia (POLISCI 235N/355N, CHINA 146/246, ETHICSOC 146)

Instructor: Dongxian Jiang

The study of political theory in the United States has been accused of being Western-centric: We tend to focus on intellectual traditions from Plato to NATO, while ignoring the vast world of non-Western societies and the ways they think about politics and public life. This course aims to fill this gap by exploring three Asian traditions and their perspectives on politics: Confucianism, Hinduism, and Islam. We will focus on the modern period (19th-21st centuries) and the ways intellectuals in these societies respond to the challenge of modernity and Western superiority. Special attention is given to how these intellectuals conceive of the relationship between modernity and their respective traditions: Are they compatible or mutually exclusive? In which ways do intellectuals interpret these traditions so as to render them (in)compatible with modernity? We will read academic articles written by Anglophone scholars as well as original texts written by non-Western thinkers. Syllabus available here.

Wealth of Nations (POLISCI 244C, ECON 134)

Instructor: Javier Mejia

Why are there economic disparities across countries? Why did some countries grow steadily over the past 200 years while many others did not? What have been the consequences for the citizens of those countries? What has been the role of geography, culture, and institutions in the development process? What are the moral dilemmas behind this development process? These are some of the questions we will discuss in this course. Following a historical and cross-cultural perspective, we will study the origins of economic development and the path that led to the configuration of the modern global economy. Syllabus available here.

Origins of Political Thought: Homer to Aristotle (POLISCI 230A/330A, CLASSICS 181/381, ETHICSOC 130A, PHIL 176A/276A)

Instructors: Josiah Ober and Jacob Abolafia

This course surveys the origins and development of political thought in ancient Greece through the work of poets, political philosophers, and historians. Some of the texts we will read are self-consciously philosophical in the contemporary sense of the term (Plato, Aristotle). Others are not (e.g. Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Thucydides, Demosthenes). “Philosophy” was a contested term in the Greek world, and the boundaries between philosophy and other forms of writing that approached politics in evaluative and normative terms were not as clearly drawn in classical antiquity as in modernity. This allows us to consider the political thought exemplified in epic, lyric, tragic, and comic poetry, along with historiography, polemical tracts, and biography. Syllabus available here.

Citizenship in the 21st Century (COLLEGE 102)

Citizenship is not just what passport you hold or where you were born. Citizenship also means equal membership in a self-governing political community. We will explore some of the many debates about this ideal: Who is (or ought to be) included in citizenship? Who gets to decide? What responsibilities come with citizenship? Is citizenship analogous to being a friend, a family member, a business partner? How have people excluded from citizenship fought for, and sometimes won, inclusion? These debates have a long history, featuring in some of the earliest recorded philosophy and literature but also animating current political debates in the United States and elsewhere. Syllabus available here.

Spring 2022

The Political Theory of Progress, Reconsidered (POLISCI 234S)

Instructor: Jacob Abolafia

This course will consider the origins and fate of Enlightenment theories of political progress. We will begin with the classic accounts of progress in Kant, Hegel, and Marx, before turning to conservative critics of progress (Burke, de Maistre), and non-conservative challenges to the idea of progress (Weber, Schmitt, Adorno, Arendt), before concluding with contemporary controversies around the idea of progress as it pertains to technology, the environment, and economic inequality. Syllabus available here.

Humanities Core: Great Books, Big Ideas -- Europe, Moderna (HISTORY 239C, FRENCH 13, HUMCORE 13, PHIL 13)

Instructors: Keith Baker and Dan Edelstein

What is a good life? How should society be organized? Who belongs? How should honor, love, sin, and similar abstractions govern our actions? What duty do we owe to the past and future? This course examines these questions in the modern period, from the rise of revolutionary ideas to the experiences of totalitarianism and decolonization in the twentieth century. Authors include Locke, Mary Shelley, Marx, Nietzsche, Primo Levi, and Frantz Fanon. Syllabus available here.

Varieties of Conservatism in America (POLISCI 237)

Instructor: Peter Berkowitz

This seminar explores the conservative movement in America and its principal strands. It begins with an introduction to the modern tradition of freedom and America's founding principles since the understanding of conservatism - in the United States as elsewhere - requires some acquaintance with that which conservatives seek to conserve. The introduction includes study of Marx's classic critique of liberal democracy because the understanding of conservativism also requires an appreciation of the leading alternative. The seminar then turns to developments in the immediate aftermath of World War II, when a self-consciously conservative movement in the United States first emerged as a national force and concludes with an examination of the leading debates among conservatives today. The seminar meets once a week. It revolves around careful reading of assigned texts, robust discussion of the materials, and analysis from a variety of perspectives. Students will be required to submit one-page ungraded reflections in advance of each class, and a substantial final paper at the conclusion of the course. Syllabus available here.

Democratic Theory (POLISCI 234, ETHICSOC 234, PHIL 176P)

Instructor: Brian Coyne

Most people agree that democracy is a good thing, but do we agree on what democracy is? This course will examine the concept of democracy in political philosophy. We will address the following questions: What reason(s), if any, do we have for valuing democracy? What does it mean to treat people as political equals? When does a group of individuals constitute "a people," and how can a people make genuinely collective decisions? Can democracy really be compatible with social inequality? With an entrenched constitution? With representation? By the end of the course, students should be able to recognize, analyze, and evaluate philosophical arguments in defense of democracy and to understand how differing accounts of the value of democracy lead to different conclusions about the kinds of institutions and social conditions that democracy requires. Ultimately, students should be able to form their own judgments about the kinds of political institutions we ought to have, and to persuasively support these judgments with analytically rigorous ethical arguments. Syllabus available here.

Ancient Greek Rationality, Public and Private (POLISCI 238R/438R, CLASSICS 395, PHIL 338R)

Instructors: Josiah Ober and Chris Bobonich

In this seminar, we'll consider ancient Greek views about and theories of practical rationality and compare and contrast them with some modern theories, especially theories of instrumental rationality. We'll consider both philosophic authors, especially Plato and Aristotle, but also Aeschylus, Herodotus, Solon, and Thucydides. Syllabus available here.

Societal Collapse (POLISCI 244D)

Instructor: Javier Mejia

Sustained economic growth is an anomaly in human history. Moreover, in the very long term, sustained economic decline is common. Following a historical and cross-cultural perspective, we will study the causes of economic decline, the social and political consequences of that decline, and the path that led to the collapse of some of the most prosperous societies in human history. Among the episodes we will cover are the Late Bronze Age collapse in the Eastern Mediterranean, the fall of the Western Roman Empire, and the Classic Maya collapse. We will compare these ancient episodes with recent cases of socioeconomic decline, including the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the downfall of Venezuela under Chavismo. We will use the past to reflect on the fundamentals of harmony and prosperity in our society and the challenges that they will face in the future. Syllabus available here.

Creation of the Constitution (HISTORY 153, LAW 7017)

Instructor: Michael McConnell

This is a detailed historical study of the intellectual, political, and legal issues involved in the creation of the original U.S. Constitution.  The course has four parts: (1) readings on the intellectual background (political philosophy, economic theory, and British constitutional law) that informed the debates over the Constitution, together with the experience under the state constitutions and Articles of Confederation between 1776 and 1787; (2) the framing of the Constitution in Philadelphia in 1787, including significant portions of Madison’s Notes on the convention; (3) the ratification struggle, including significant portions of The Federalist Papers, anti-Federalist writings, and materials from the Virginia ratifying convention; and (4) the decision to adopt of Bill of Rights, with particular attention to the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment. Undergraduates are welcome and will be graded on a separate curve from law students. Grade will be based on class participation and final exam. Syllabus available here.

Executive Power Under the Constitution (LAW 7107, POLISCI 326)

Instructor: Michael McConnell

This new course will address the full range of issues involving executive power under the U.S. Constitution, including the process of election (Electoral College; voting disputes, the Electoral Count Act), impeachment, foreign affairs (including control of foreign relations, command of the military, and control over national security), authority of the President over executive agencies, prosecution, congressional oversight and executive privilege, executive statutory and constitutional interpretation, the budget process, litigation against the executive, and the role of the Office of Legal Counsel. Each topic will include historical context, relevant Supreme Court and lower court opinions, legal materials, and commentary from outside the courts, and discussion of recent controversies. Class will meet once a week. Students will have the option of an open-book take-home exam or a 30-35 page research paper on a topic pre-approved by the instructor (eligible for R-credit). Syllabus available here.