Political Philosophy II

Welcome to Political Philosophy II

This course is oriented around several core questions in political philosophy and theory:

  • What is the ideal form of government?
  • What justifies political authority and the use of political power?
  • What freedoms should government protect?
  • What freedoms can it abridge, and when?

A nation’s answers to these questions are often encoded in its constitution and founding documents. This is the case in the United States: its founders wrote extensively in defense of the democratic republic form of government, on the appropriate use of political power, and on which freedoms would be preserved by such a state, and when state interference with freedom would be justified.

The US founders drew heavily on, or reacted to, the ideas of European political philosophers, like Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Immanuel Kant. We can see echoes of their arguments in the US Constitution, and the Federalist Papers authored by some of its signatories; we see in these founding documents, too, a hope that the government it establishes will uniquely embody the ideals set out by the political philosophers of 16th and 17th century Europe.

In this course, we will raise and seek answers to core questions about political authority and liberty. We do so alongside, and through the texts of, those thinkers who proved so influential in the formation of our government.

We will not limit ourselves to these prominent thinkers or their questions. Many other, important perspectives on political authority, power, and freedom were left out in the founding of the United States. We will examine the alternative views they present as well as new questions they introduce:

  • What are the main deficiencies of our social-political institutions?
  • How does oppression figure in the structure of our political system?

We’ll discuss how our government and history has been shaped not only by the voices of those early modern European philosophers, but by the absence of other voices.