PLSC/PHIL 373 Modern Political Theory (Module)

In this course, we will read, discuss, and analyze a selection of especially significant works of modern political thought. These texts will provide the context for conversations on the key concepts of modern political thought—sovereignty, rights, freedom, revolution, rationality, legitimacy, constitutionalism, liberalism, conservatism, republicanism, equality, democracy, relativism, and self-making.

Students will examine these concepts, both as they are thematized in the texts and as they manifest themselves in contemporary political life. LEARNING OUTCOMES: Students will:

1. Demonstrate critical thinking and writing skills with respect to the fundamental works of modern political theory.

2. Demonstrate knowledge of the fundamental political theories of the modern period.


Some course readings can be accessed through Blackboard. In addition, the following books must be purchased. They are widely available online (please use the links given below).

Texts IN HARD COPY must be brought to class on the day they will be discussed. Students will be considered absent if they do not bring the reading to class on the day it is discussed.


This course will emphasize critical reading and analysis of the assigned texts. The reading load will be approximately 75 pages per week. Class meetings will be a combination of lectures and discussions. Readings should be completed before the class meeting in which they will be discussed. This enables students to get the most out of the lectures and to participate effectively in discussion.

Discussion: During class discussion you are not expected to have fully developed points of view about the course materials, but you are expected to participate. You will be rewarded for trying; you will not be penalized for being wrong or unclear, but it should be clear that you have done the readings and are working toward mastery of the material.

Aggressive Reading: Unlike other courses in which you read to complete an assignment—in which you read in order to read every word—you will benefit most from this course by reading aggressively. Rather than attempting to read every word, you should attempt to understand and ponder every idea. That may allow you to skim/skip repetitive paragraphs, or you may need to read some sections two or three times. The key is that you read for understanding, not completion. You are most likely to do this if you read with a pen and paper in which you write down ideas, questions, quotes, points of confusion, and points of disagreement.

Hybrid Structure: This course will meet in person (60%) and online (40%). We will select a time for remote sessions that allows all students to attend.

Questions: None of us, myself included, knows everything about the topics of this class. It is our responsibility to ask others who may know the answer, either in class, in office hours, or over dinner. I expect that you are learning the material, not that you know it. As much as possible, try not to be shy or embarrassed about what you don’t yet know. The biggest failure in learning any material, in college or in life, is to fail to ask questions about things you do not know.

Availability: I expect that all of you, either alone or in groups, will contact me at some point during the semester. I am available to discuss the course material, either during office hours, at other times, over the phone, or through email.  If you would prefer to schedule a time during non-office hours, simply contact me by phone or email and we will schedule an appropriate time.

Course Conduct: In order to build and maintain a supportive and productive learning community, students and instructors must treat one another with respect. For students, this includes but is not limited to:
  • Being prepared to discuss the assigned readings each day;
  • Regular attendance;
  • Notifying the instructor of any scheduling conflicts;
  • On-time arrival to class;
  • Minimizing trips in and out of the room during class;
  • Minimizing side-conversations;
  • Refraining from use of cell phones, tablets, and laptops. Neither laptops nor tablets may be used in class.  Cell phones must be turned off AND put away during class meetings.  Students who use laptops, tablets, or cell phones will be considered absent.
Failure to adhere to these expectations – especially if students are disrupting others’ learning or creating an unwelcoming environment – will result in disciplinary measures. For more on University policies on appropriate classroom conduct, see the University of La Verne Catalog. For instructors, responsibility for building and maintaining a supportive and productive learning community includes but is not limited to:
  • Being accessible to students;
  • Communicating clear expectations for student success;
  • Addressing students respectfully, including use of preferred names and pronouns;
  • Returning graded work in a timely fashion;
  • Creating a open exchange of ideas to which all students are encouraged to contribute;
  • Facilitating the interrogation and critical analysis of ideas, including interrogation of the instructor’s views, biases, and values.
Students are encouraged to report violations of University policy, including sexual misconduct and social justice incidents here: EVALUATION CRITERIA:
  • Weekly Assignments: 20%
  • Quizzes:  10%
  • Essay Exams:  30%
  • Final Exam:  30%
  • In-class participation:  10%
Think Pieces: On the Schedule of Meetings (below), you will find study questions for each class session. Twice a week, students are responsible for writing one double-spaced page on one or more of these questions. Think pieces must be written on readings scheduled for the following class meetings. The think pieces will be due by 6:15 pm on Wednesday and 3:45 pm Friday (uploaded to SafeAssign on Blackboard). No think piece is required on the week before essay exams are due. The think pieces will be assessed on a scale of 1-20.  A 17 indicates that the student has accurately grasped the reading.  An 18 is indicative of a grasp of the reading with some critical reflection.  A 19-20 indicates critical reflection as well as specific reference to the text.  Under 15 indicates that the answer misrepresents the text in some way or fails to answer the question
Quizzes:  Quizzes will be given at the end of class on randomly selected days.  I will write a question on the board.  These questions will reflect our discussion and/or the assigned reading for the day.  Students will have ten minutes to answer these questions. The quizzes will be assessed on the same basis as the think pieces. EssaysOn the dates listed on the schedule below, 5-page (1250-word) essays will be due.  These essays must answer one of several prompts that will be distributed a week in advance. Students must submit their exams to SafeAssign by 11:59 pm on the day they are due.  Late papers will be penalized at the rate of one grade per day. The exams will be graded based on the following criteria:
  • Does the paper demonstrate knowledge of the course materials?
  • Does the paper have a clear thesis?
  • Is the paper’s thesis supported consistently and coherently?
Click here for a helpful guide to structuring and writing essays in political theory. Essay exams must be submitted to SafeAssign on Blackboard. All papers must be submitted in Microsoft Word. No PDFs. Both essay exams must be completed in order to pass this course. Final Exam: The final exam will be composed of a variety of short-answer and essay questions. If you need disability accommodations for an exam or other assignment, please see the instructor as soon as possible. Information regarding disabilities, including learning disabilities, will remain confidential. If you are not sure whether you need special accommodations, please contact the Accessibility Services Department. Information about location and contact numbers can be found here: Attendance and Participation:  Attendance and punctuality are basic requirements for a productive discussion. Beyond that, each student’s frequency and quality of contribution to the class discussion will be assessed and reflected in the class participation score. Attendance policies:
  • Students who attend classes in person will receive full credit for attendance. Students who attend classes by Zoom with a valid medical excuse will receive full credit. Students who attend classes by Zoom without a valid medical excuse will receive 3/4 credit for attenance.
  • Students may miss up to three classes without penalty. Students who miss more than three classes will suffer a deduction of one-third of a grade (e.g. a B+ becomes a B). Students who miss more than five classes will suffer a full grade deduction (e.g. a B+ becomes a C+).
  • Students who are in class but do not have the assigned reading will be considered absent.
  • Multiple instances of tardiness may result in a deduction of one-third of a grade.
Late Assignments: Late assignments may be submitted for partial credit, but no assignments will be accepted after the last day of finals week. SCHEDULE OF MEETINGS, REQUIRED READINGS, AND ONLINE LECTURES (OPTIONAL): Feb. 1-2: Introduction Feb. 3-4: Machiavelli, The Prince, pp. 1-105; Steven Smith Lecture I, Steven Smith Lecture II
  • Is Machiavelli moral, immoral, or amoral? Marcela
  • Machiavelli wants to teach practical lessons for morality and politics through the use of history.  Why is history the best method? Aaron
  • What is the virtue of the new prince?  How does it differ from conventional notions of virtue as Machiavelli presents them? Ariana
  • Machiavelli argues that it is more difficult to maintain a state than it is to conquer one.  What steps should a prince take to maintain control over newly conquered states? Michael
  • What is Machiavelli’s view of human nature? Jack
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of using mercenaries versus auxiliaries versus one’s own arms? Jesse
  • Why is it better to be feared than loved? David
  • Should the new prince encourage his subjects to be religious? Victor
  • What is the relationship between fortune and virtue?  Can fortune be overcome? Erick
Feb. 8-9: Hobbes, Leviathan, ch. 46, Introduction, chs. 4-6, 11-16; Steven Smith Lecture
  • According to Hobbes, what are the characteristics of philosophy?  How does it differ from what Hobbes calls “Aristotelity?” Sheccid
  • Why does Hobbes discuss metaphysics (the nature of reality) in a book on politics? Ariel
  • What is the difference between prudence and science?  Which does Hobbes prefer? Marcela
  • According to Hobbes, what is happiness? Aaron
  • Why does Hobbes spend so much time defining terms? Ariana
  • How does Hobbes’ method of inquiry differ from Machiavelli’s in The PrinceMichael
  • What is learned by looking into oneself (pp. 4-5)? Jacques
  • On what grounds does Hobbes argue that all people are by nature equal? Jesse
  • Does materialism necessarily eventuate in a theory of men as free and equal? David
  • What qualities or behaviors follow from human equality? Viktor
  • What is the natural condition of human existence? Does Hobbes say that this is a good condition? a bad condition? a desirable condition? an undesirable condition? a necessary or unavoidable condition? Erick
  • Is it possible to overestimate the value of peace? Scheccid 
Feb. 10-11: Hobbes, Leviathan, chs. 17-21, 29-30; Steven Smith Lecture
  • How can one get rid of a right that one possesses? Ariel
  • Must one keep one’s promises? Always? When? Marcela
  • Under what conditions is one obligated to obey authority? Aaron
  • What is law? Ariana
  • What is natural law? Is it binding? Michael
  • What are the first two laws of nature for Hobbes? Explain why he thinks they are laws of nature. Jacques
  • Under what conditions, if any, could we describe the sovereign’s actions as unjust? Jesse
  • When, if ever, is it permissible to disobey the sovereign?  Why? David
  • What is the origin of religion? Victor
  • What is freedom, according to Hobbes?  What freedoms do citizens retain in the commonwealth?  Is there freedom of expression in the commonweatlh? Eric
  • What is the difference between a good law and a just law? Sheccid
Feb. 15-16:  Mary Astell, Some Reflections Upon Marriage (Blackboard); Locke, Second Treatise of Government, chs. 1-9 (READ THE SECOND TREATISE, NOT THE FIRST TREATISE); Steven Smith Lecture I, Steven Smith Lecture II On Astell:
  • What is Astell’s reason for writing anonymously? Ariel 
  • What is the basis for the argument that women are inferior to men? How does Astell respond to this argument?
  • How does Astell compare the rule of husbands to the rule of monarchs?
  • How do men and women compare in “sense?” How do they compare in “learning?”
  • Why is there little chance of a feminine rebellion? Marcela
On Locke:
  • According to Locke, what is freedom?  How does Locke’s understanding of freedom differ from Hobbes’?
  • Why, according to Locke, are human beings naturally free and equal? Aaron
  • What is life like in Locke’s state of nature?  How is this different from Hobbes’ account of the state of nature?
  • Does Locke’s political theory depend on the existence of a deity? Ariana
  • What is the definition of the state of war?  How does it arise? 
  • What gives property its value? Michael
  • What’s so great about money?
  • What is the purpose of the social contract? Jacques
Feb. 17-18: Locke, Second Treatise of Government, chs. 10-11, 18-19; Steven Smith Lecture
  • What is the purpose of civil society?
  • Does Locke favor limitations on sovereign power?  What type? Jesse
  • When, if ever, is it permissible to revolt against the sovereign?

Rousseau, Discourse on the Arts and Sciences

  • How did the arts and sciences develop? David
  • What’s wrong with the arts and sciences?  Are they all bad?
  • Describe Rousseau’s conception of virtue. Victor
  • Why does Rousseau prefer the ancients to the moderns?  
  • What effect do the arts and sciences have on love of the fatherland?  Why? Eric
  • Does Rousseau wish to return to the dark ages? to antiquity? to barbarism?
Feb. 22-3: Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Preface, Epistle Dedicatory, Exordium, Parts I and II; Steven Smith Lecture I, Steven Smith Lecture II; ESSAY EXAM DISTRIBUTED
  • What stands in our way when we try to discover human nature? Sheccid
  • What kinds of human “inequality” does Rousseau recognize and what kind will the 2nd Discourse focus on?
  • Why do writers go back to a “state of nature”? How will Rousseau’s inquiry differ from that of others? Ariel
  • What is the difference between men and animals? Is it human intelligence?
  • What moral standards are applicable to primitive man living in a state of nature?
  • Does inequality exist in the state of nature? In other words, is inequality “natural”? Explain Rousseau’s view at the end of the First Part.
  • What forced man out of his simple animal existence? Marcela
  • What consequences for the human condition followed from man’s new mode of life? Aaron
  • What are the origins of morality and law?
  • What role did inequality play in the development of society? Was it a cause? an effect?  both cause and effect? Ariana
  • Why is Rousseau so worried about dependence — i.e. personal dependence? Do you think such dependence is as much a danger as Rousseau makes it out to be? Michael
Feb. 24-5: Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (Blackboard)
  • Why, according to Wollstonecraft, are women’s minds “not in a healthy state?” (p. 9)
  • What’s wrong with “susceptibility of heart, delicacy of sentiment, and refinement of taste?” (p. 11) Jacques
  • What is the relevance of the “distinction of sex?” David
  • Why, according to Wollstonecraft, will both men and women be vicious if women are not permitted to enjoy legitimate rights?
  • What does Wollstonecraft propose to do about the problem she identifies? Jesse
Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, pp. 1-8; “Immanuel Kant: The Great Synthesizer;” “Immanuel Kant: Metaphysics
  • What are ‘pure theoretical’ and ‘pure practical reason’? (p. 1) Victor
  • What is the good will?  How do we know it?  How is it different from a holy will?
  • Why, according to Kant, are people moral (when they’re moral)? Eric
March 1-2: Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, pp. 8-30;Immanuel Kant: The Great Synthesizer;” “Immanuel Kant: Metaphysics” “Kant’s Moral Philosophy;”
  • Is it possible for an action to be both pleasant and moral? Ariel
  • What is the difference between a hypothetical and a categorical imperative?
  • What is the source of happiness? Marcela
  • What is the categorical imperative? Aaron
  • Is the categorical imperative a guarantee of morality?
  • Can actions always be organized into maxims? Ariana
  • What is the difference between a hypothetical and a categorical imperative? Michael
  • Can the categorical imperative be known prior to experience?
March 3-4: Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, pp. 30-48
  • Are Kant’s examples all required by the categorical imperative? Jacques
  • How does Kant understand freedom?  How does his understanding differ from Hobbes’, Locke’s, and Rousseau’s? David
Marx, Selected Writings, pp. 1-26, 209-213; “Lecture on Karl Marx
  • What is the “legal and political superstructure”?  How is it related to the “mode of production of material life”? (p. 211)
  • What is the “Jewish question”? Jesse
  • What was Bruno Bauer’s argument?  On what grounds does Marx reject it? Victor
  • Was Marx an anti-semite?  What does he mean when he says society must “eliminate the Jewish element”?
  • What is the difference between ‘political emancipation’ and ‘human emancipation’? Eric
  • What do religion and capitalism have in common, according to Marx? Ariel
  • What’s so bad about capitalism?

March 8-9: Marx, Selected Writings, pp. 54-101 “Marx

  • Describe Marx’s conception of our ‘species-being’?  What are its characteristics?  How does it differ from previous accounts of ‘human nature’? Marcela
  • What are alienation and objectification?  How are they related? Aaron
  • What are the four different forms of alienation? Ariana
  • Is capitalism dehumanizing? Michael
March 10-11: Marx, Selected Writings, pp. 157-186
  • By what process does the bourgeoisie ‘produce its own gravediggers’? Jacques
  • What is communism? David
  • What is the process by which societies move from capitalism to communism? Jesse
  • What, according to Marx, is the function of the state? Victor

Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, pp. 15-56; “Nietzsche on Power, Knowledge and Morality

  • What is Nietzsche’s opinion of his contemporaries? Eric
  • What is genealogy? Ariel
  • How is the distinction between good and bad different from the distinction between good and evil? Marcela
  • What’s wrong with morality? Aaron
  • Describe ‘knightly-aristocratic values? Ariana
  • What is slave morality?  How is it related to ‘ressentiment?’ Michael
  • Why does Nietzsche believe it is important to know how to forget? Jacques

March 15-16: Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, pp. 56-96; “Nietzsche on Morality

  • What is the purpose of punishment? David
  • Why does Nietzsche wish to eliminate the concept of sin from the world? Jesse
  • What is ‘bad conscience’?  What effect does it have on human beings? Victor
  • According to Nietzsche, what is justice? Eric
  • Does Nietzsche have anything to teach us about designing political institutions? Ariel

Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, pp. 1-41; “Nietzsche

  • What would it mean for philosophy to “descend into the depths” (section 23)? Marcela
  • Does Nietzsche establish or presuppose perspectivism? Aaron
March 17-18: Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, pp. 41-56, 119-141; ESSAY EXAMS DISTRIBUTED
  • What are the characteristics of the “philosopher of the future” and the “free spirit?” Ariana
  • Describe the difference between the good skepticism and the bad skepticism? Michael
  • Does Nietzsche have anything to teach us about designing political institutions? Jacques


March 22-23: Freud, Civilization and its Discontents; “Freud on Sexuality and Civilization;” “Freud: Civilization and its Discontents

  • What is the origin of religion? David
  • What is sublimation?  How do societies sublimate instincts? Jesse
  • How did civilization begin? Victor
  • What is the purpose of civilization? Eric
  • What is the pleasure principle? Ariel
  • What are eros and thanatos?
  • What are civilization’s discontents?
ADVICE CARDS March 24: Final Exam STYLE GUIDE: The Department of History and Political Science mandates that all submitted work adhere to the Turabian/Chicago style delineated in Kate Turabian, et. al., A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, University of Chicago Press (available at the Wilson Library Reference Desk). Here you can access the online version of the Chicago Manual of Style. Here are a couple of websites that will automatically format citations in Chicago style for you: and EXAM PROCTORING GUIDELINES:
  1. One seat space between students when possible.
  2. No bathroom breaks except in the case of illness or emergency.  Student should discuss this circumstance with the proctor prior to the start of the exam.
  3. No materials on the desk except for pens/pencils, bluebook or writing paper and exam.
  4. Under no circumstances can students access electronic devices during the exam.
  5. Exam proctors will note any violation of these rules and those will be considered in the final grade.


Your work will be evaluated according to the following criteria:

A—designates work of extraordinarily high quality; reflects unusually thorough and comprehensive understanding of issues at hand; presents a clearly identifiable thesis and argument that demonstrates cogent and creative development and support of ideas.

B—designates work of high quality; reflects clearly organized and comprehensive understanding of issues and hand; presents substantive thesis and argument with evident development and support of ideas.

C—designates work which minimally meets requirements set forward in assignment; reflects some organization and development of ideas, but develops argument in superficial or simplistic manner; may only address part of the assignment or be otherwise incomplete.

D—designates work of poor quality which does not meet minimum requirements set forward in assignment; demonstrates poor organization of ideas and/or inattention to development of ideas, grammar, and spelling; treatment of material is superficial and/or simplistic; may indicate that student has not done reading assignments thoroughly.

F—designates work that does not meet ANY of the standards set above or which is not handed in.


Plagiarism is a prevalent but highly unethical practice. Plagiarism will result in the immediate failure of this course and disciplinary action which could lead to expulsion from the University. If you are having problems in the course please come and talk to me about it rather than doing something that could put your entire college career in jeopardy.

Plagiarism includes, but is not limited to the following:

  • The direct copying of any source, such as written and verbal material, computer files, audio disks, video programs or musical scores, whether published or unpublished, in whole or part, without proper acknowledgment that it is someone else’s.
  • Copying of any source in whole or part with only minor changes in wording or syntax, even with acknowledgment.
  • Submitting as one’s own work a report, examination paper, computer file, lab report or other assignment that has been prepared by someone else. This includes research papers purchased from any other person or agency.
  • The paraphrasing of another’s work or ideas without proper acknowledgment.
ACADEMIC SUCCESS CENTER The Academic Success Center provides free one-on-one peer tutoring to graduate and undergraduate students in a wide variety of courses and subjects. Please make liberal use of the ASC if you need assistance with any of the assignments for this course. To make an appointment, use the quick start guide, stop by ASC on the second floor of the Campus Center, or call (909) 448-4342. Answers to frequently asked questions are available here.