Political philosophy is distinguished by its dedication to two particular questions: first, what is the nature of the best regime?; and second, what is human excellence? But political philosophers can hardly claim an exclusive right to answer such questions, for in fact these same questions animate some of the seminal novels in the Western canon. This class will focus on seven such novels in an effort to uncover how they contribute to our understandings of virtue and of the best regime or form of social order. In so doing we will particularly focus on how certain of the central political experiences of modernity – ranging from the commercial revolution of the Enlightenment to the democratizing industrial revolution of the nineteenth century to the tyrannies of the twentieth century – have inspired and influenced these literary investigations. Finally, by reading brief selections from canonical works of political philosophy alongside these novels, we will also critically examine the advantages and disadvantages of presenting political teachings through art.
Attendance at every meeting is expected. But students are also expected to do more than simply attend class; adequate preparation prior to each class and active participation in class are also necessary if one hopes to master the material and receive a high grade. While preparing for class you should read assignments with the maximum possible care. In class you are expected to listen carefully to the contributions of your colleagues and to engage them through your own contributions. Those inexperienced in or uncomfortable with talking in class are encouraged to come to see me early in the semester so that we can together develop useful strategies for effective participation.
The final course grade will be comprised of four components: one 4-6 page paper due at midterm (20%), one 8-12 page paper due at the end of term (40%), one in-class presentation of approximately 10-15 min. length on assigned readings (20%), and class participation (20%). Late papers will be marked down. Early in the semester we will discuss the elements of a solid in-class presentation, and prior to the distribution of topics for the first paper we will extensively discuss the elements of a good analytical essay.
All books are available at BookMarq. In addition to these primary readings, I will also on occasion distribute or make otherwise available short (usually less than 5 page) readings by various political philosophers which will supplement our study of literature.