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Josef Korbel School of International Studies


Fall 2019 Political Theory Courses

Core Courses

19th Century Political Theory

This course explores the impact on political theory in the 19th-Century. The focus is on reading the main authors whose work reshaped political theory in response to the emergence of capitalism: Smith, Hegel, Marx, and Mill. The emphasis in the course is on the way in which debates over market economy begun during this period continue to shape thinking on the vital issues of political theory and the design of political institutions, issues such as: equality, inequality and poverty; the consequences of economic growth; the ethical meaning and significance of individual choice; the importance of a vibrant civil society; the implications of the liberal ideal of individual choice; the importance of a vibrant civil society; the implications of the liberal ideal of individual self-determination; and the debate over the role of government in securing welfare.

Ancient Political Theory/Thought

Ancient political thought will focus on Socrates as a model of what we call satyagraha or civil disobedience. It will read the Apology and the Crito including Gandhi's 1908 translation and commentary and Martin Luther King's Letter from the Birmingham City Jail. We will then study Plato's Republic in depth, exploring the influence of an understanding of Plato via Leo Strauss, on contemporary notions of commander-in-chief or executive power and Thucydides of the Peloponnesian War with a particular emphasis on how democracies which engage in imperial enterprises abroad undermine themselves at home (we will look at W. Robert Connor's account of Vietnam and Thucydides as well as the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan).
Both themes fit strongly with security or international relations, as well as comparative politics and political theory.

Contemporary Political Thought

Globalization may well be repeating debates of the early part of twentieth century history. The main events of the last century have shaped both past and current discourse in political theory. Imperialism, fascism, and colonialism prompted the main political discourses of the first half of the century, just as existentialism, post-modernism, feminism and globalization helped shape political thought during the second half. Those themes will guide our understanding of the evolution of important political theory debates throughout the last hundred years. This course is structured as follows: Part I. The World Wars: Imperialism, Fascism and Colonialism; Part II: The Aftermath of World War II: Existentialism, Post-Modernism and Feminism; Part III: The Post-Cold War: Globalization and Empire.

Methods Courses

Epistemology: Philosophical Foundations of History

This course explores the relationship between theory and practice as foundations of historical interpretations. It challenges the rigid split between empirical and normative theory through the works of Kant, Marx, Nietzsche, Foucault, and others. This course represents an opportunity for students who want to acquire a preliminary yet rigorous training in the foundational principles of social science and historical approach. Epistemology is required for all PhD students and is recommended for advanced MA or students interested in Political Theory. Other students may take this course only with Instructor Permission.

Philosophy of Social Science

What is the nature of social science and the knowledge that it produces? This course, which is intended to complement INTS 4500 Social Science Methodology and INTS 4010 Epistemology, introduces students to the leading mainstream perspectives on the philosophy of social science. Special attention is given to Positivism and Post-Positivism, Post-Structuralism, Pragmatism, and Scientific Realism.

Electives Courses

Classics in Comparative Politics

Weber and Durkheim The works of Emile Durkheim and Max Weber are the basis for most 20th century social theory in the non-revolutionary (post-Marxist) tradition. The two thinkers are in many respects rivals in their attempts to comprehend industrial capitalist society in the generation after Marx. The larger context is the whole developing tradition of modern social theory going back to Hobbes, Locke and other 17th century theorists. This course consists of intensive reading of the works of Durkheim and Weber, some reading about them, about the emergence of sociology as a discipline, and about how social theory illuminates the broader discourse of political theory and comparative politics.

Classics of International Theory

Professor will choose various books by classic political theorists for students to read and discuss in class.

Early Modern Political Theory

This course seeks to provide an historical introduction to Western political thought in the early modern and Enlightenment eras. More particularly, we will focus on the development of "modernity" in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the development of social contract theory in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In addition, there will be somewhat more emphasis on international relations than is typical in political science courses of a similar nature. No previous background in political theory (or international relations) is assumed.  

Foundational Ideas in Social Science: Marx and Weber

This course will study and criticize Marx's economic and social (and by implication political) theory in depth, focusing on the first volume of Capital in the context of his activity in the International Workingmen's Association and the link between abolition in the Civil War and the American movement for the 8 hour day (as Marx puts it in chapter 10, "labor cannot be free in the white skin where in the black it is branded. Out of the death of slavery a new life arose...). It will also examine Marx's own philosophy of science (a study of the revolution in chemistry, represented by Lavoisier's discovery of oxygen and Darwin on evolution) as well as historical explanations (the 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon) and offer an account in today's debates in philosophy of science. It will contrast Marx's arguments on the rise of capitalism with Max Weber's striking Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, focus on the contrast of Weber's theory of class and status with Marx's, study Weber's notion of ideal types and neo-Kantian methodology in social science (Objectivity in Social Science, Science as a vocation), and contrast Weber as a great power realist and Monarchist, privileging German state power (Politics as a Vocation, Inaugural Address at Freiburg) and Marx as an internationalist (Weber viewed his entire sociological account as fundamentally governed by great power realism; Marx saw his economic theory as internationalism through and through). It will also consider whether either Marx's metaethical views of justice and Weber's types of legitimate government are plausible accounts of their own moral positions. Weber's views have shaped mainstream American sociology and political science. But it is not clear that Weber's commitments are, in any obvious sense, liberal or even conservative as a supposed antidote to Marx's (there is nothing universal about – German - nationalism...). This course will suggest a conversation about and critique of some of Weber's influence in today's political science.

Introduction to Human Rights

To assess contemporary human rights debates, this course introduces students to the main historical human rights perspectives -- as understood throughout history by its chief adherents, and as represented by major legal documents. It also highlights the contradictions within human rights projects, contradictions that can also be reflected in human rights discourse and international law.

Modern Islamic Political Thought

This course is an introduction to modern Islamic political thought. It seeks to provide both an overview of key ideas and themes that have informed mainstream Muslim politics during the 20th century as well provide an engagement with influential thinkers and texts that have shaped Muslim political behavior during this period. We will examine the tension between tradition and modernity, the debate on God's sovereignty versus popular sovereignty and more broadly the moral bases of legitimate political authority. We will also explore how prominent Muslim thinkers have sought to engage with and respond to the rise of nationalism, socialism, capitalism, democracy, human rights, colonialism, imperialism and Zionism. The approach that this course will take to the study of political thought is derivative of the Cambridge School of Western political theory, in particular the work of Quentin Skinner. According to this school, classic texts are not monolithic or free-standing but must be understood by focusing on the historical, economic and political context in which they were written. Similarly, unearthing the author's intentions in the study of political tracts/treatises is critical to the more general understanding of political thought regardless of the civilizational tradition under investigation. While this is an introduction to modern Islamic political thought this is not an introductory course in Islamic theology, Middle East politics, or contemporary Muslim political sociology. Previous knowledge is assumed. Students without a background in political theory, the modern Middle East or Islamic history are asked to consult with the instructor before enrolling in this course.

Revolutions and State Building: Forgotten Movements for Emancipation

Starting from Barrington Moore, Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy and Theda Skocpol's States and Social Revolution focused on Europe and then Russia and China, this course will look to at the "forgotten" revolutions of black and brown people in America and to the South. The latter involve an international uprising against bondage, a movement as great as the movement for independence, and one largely shaping it in the United States. We will discuss the sources of international solidarity against slavery among sailors, artisans, Christians and many others. The revolution for emancipation was, of course, a movement for the recognition of the universality of human rights. Readings will include Alan Gilbert, Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War of Independence, Robin Blackburn, The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, particularly the chapters on North America and on Haiti and Venezuela, CLR James, The Black Jacobins, and Christopher Brown, Moral Capital (on British abolitionism including in Sierra Leone), and Adam Hochschild, Bury the Chains.

Theories of Non-violence

Can a state be non-violent? Course explores topics such as the distinction between power and violence; whether nonviolent politics is possible; the distinction between an ethic of responsibility and an ethic of intention; is capitalism consistent with democracy? This seminar is interactive and class participation is required.