Introduction to Western Political Thought

Course Level 2: Intermediate

Estimated Study Time: 120 hours

Course Number: POLSC201

Offered by: Saylor Academy

The following excerpt is from Saylor Academy’s course listing:

Political thought, or political philosophy, studies questions about power, justice, rights, law, and other issues related to governance. While some believe these concepts are static, political thought asks how they originated and to what effect. Just as Socrates’ question “how should we be governed?” led to his execution, the question “what makes a government legitimate?” can lead to political turmoil. What form should government take? What do citizens owe their government? When should citizens overthrow an illegitimate government?

In this course,we examine major texts in Western political thought, where authors pose difficult questions about the political community, social order, and human nature. How do our views about human nature and history inform government design? We explore how Plato, Machiavelli, and Rousseau, responded and how these philosophers contributed to the broader conversation about human needs, goods, justice, democracy, and the ever-changing relationship between the citizen and the state.

In our first unit, we address the polis, or political community, centered upon the texts of Plato and Aristotle. In the second unit we explore the modern state and constitutional government, featuring the work of John Locke, Niccolò Machiavelli, and Thomas Hobbes. Finally, we focus on democracy and a critique of liberal ideology, from the perspectives of the texts of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Alexis de Tocqueville, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Engels. These political philosophies have shaped various forms of government: from tyranny, to republican democracy, to welfare states.

Western political thought has served as a philosophical and ideological foundation for governments around the world, including the United States. We give you historical, social and cultural context to relate to contemporary political society.

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