University of Montana Department of Political Science



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University of Montana

Department of Political Science
Political Science 550 Spring 2015

Office Hrs MWF 10-11 or by appt. Dr. Grey

LA 351A Phone: 243-2702

Email: ramona.grey@umontana.edu


Political Theory Seminar:

Approaches to Political Theory

Course Description:

Beginning in the late 1950s, many commentators wondered whether political theory (or political philosophy—I shall not distinguish between them), as it had been traditionally practiced and taught, was “in abeyance.” Whether we have reached ‘the end of political theory,’ is a question that continues to plague political theorists. Political theory’s impeding demise is, however, complicated by the fact that political theorists have never agreed to what it is they do, or should be doing, and their disagreements affect the way they approach political questions. But rather than rehashing an old debate, one that resurrects what John Gunnell has called ‘the myth of the tradition of political theory,” perhaps we ought to consider applying a different conceptual framework for understanding political theory, one that does not focus on the causes that political theorists have championed or condemned, or on how political theory has been affected by specific events (real or imagined). Instead, I propose this semester that we raise an even more fundamental question: what is the purpose of political inquiry? A fundamental question precisely because what people take to be the purpose of political theory determines what they study, who they study, and how they study it.


Course Objectives: after successfully completing the course work, the student should be able to:

1. Distinguish between a normative, a scientific/historical, and an analytical approaches, and recognize how political theorists often combine each of these approaches in their work.

2. Develop concise, analytic essays on the assigned readings. Specifically with regards to an analytic perspective, students will consider their own position with respect to different approaches to studying political theory (for instance, what consequences follow when one emphasizes text over context when studying political theory?)

3. Evaluate a political theory in terms of its analytic, empirical, and normative claims, and its strengths and/or weaknesses.


Course Grading:

PS 550 will be taught as a seminar. Short essays of 4-5 double-spaced pages (about 6 essays per student) will be assigned and critiqued in class (50% of course grade.) Class participation (20% of course grade) will evaluated according to each student's contribution to discussions on reading assignments. The final paper (30%) will be 10-12 pages.

In addition, students will be expected to assess the merits and weaknesses of their colleague's essays. To give us time to prepare questions, copies of your essay must be distributed before you are scheduled to orally present it (please see schedule). Late essays will not be accepted. Each Political Science M.A. graduate student must also complete a political theory field exam. All students will complete a take-home final. The final & field exams will be take home & due on Tuesday May 12th by 5 pm.

Accessibility and Students with Disabilities

The University of Montana assures equal access to instruction by supporting collaboration between students with disabilities, instructors, and Disability Services for Students. If you have a disability that requires accommodation, please present the instructor with a letter from Disability Services for Students (DDS), Lommasson Center 154 (243-2243), indicating the existence of a disability and suggested accommodations.

The instructor has attempted to make all course materials accessible. If you find course material that has barriers to accessibility, please notify the instructor as soon as possible so the oversight can be corrected as quickly as possible.
Required Tests:

Joseph Wood Krutch, The Modern Temper

Leo Strauss, Natural Right & History

B.F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom & Dignity

Erich Fromm, The Sane Society

John Gunnell, Political Theory & Interpretation

Isaiah Berlin, Liberty

Wendell Barry, Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community

Arendt, The Human Condition

M. Ignatieff, The Needs of Strangers



* Classical works of: Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, Machiavelli, Locke, Burke, Rousseau, Hobbes, J.S. Mill, Marx—to be assigned on an individual basis.

John Rawls, Political Liberalism selected readings

Quentin Skinner, Visions of Politics, selected readings
January 26th Introduction to the Course: Approaches to Political Theory

Read: Andrew Hacker, “Capital and Carbuncles: The ‘Great Books’ Reappraised,” American Political Science Review, (September 1954): 775- 786;

Sheldon Wolin, “Political Theory: Trends & Goals,” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, vol. 12, 1968.


Recommended Readings:

Judith N. Shklar’s After Utopia: the Decline of Political Faith, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1957.

Alfred Cobban, “The Decline of Political Theory,” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 68, no. 3 (September 1953), 321-337

February 2rd “Classical” & “Theory & Justice-Seeking: Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas

Review: Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Politics, St Augustine’s City of God, St. Thomas Aquinas, Treatise on Law, Summa Theologica, Questions 90-97, Rousseau’s The Social Contract, or Principles of Political Right, and Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women.
Essays (due Sunday 2/1 by 12 pm): Please describe what constitutes ‘justice’ for one of these theorists, and how and where does he suggest we might find a standard of justice? Taking his work as one example, what do it suggest are some characteristics of a justice-seeking approach in classical theory?
February 9th ‘Modern’ Justice-Seeking & Knowledge-seeking: Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Burke, Rousseau, J.S. Mill, Marx

Review: Machiavelli’s The Prince, Hobbes’ Leviathan, Locke’s Two Treatises on Government, Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, J.S. Mill’s On Liberty, and Marx’s Communist Manifesto.

Essays (due Sunday 2/8 by 12pm): Please describe what constitutes ‘knowledge’ for one of these theorists, and how and where does he suggest we might gain political knowledge? Taking his work as one example, what do it suggest are some characteristics of a knowledge-seeking approach in “modern” theory?

Essays (due Sunday 2/2 by 12pm): Please describe what constitutes ‘justice’ for one of these theorists, and how and where do they find this justice? Please identify at what point the theorist shift from questions of ‘justice-seeking’ to questions of ‘knowledge-seeking?’
* * * * * February 17th President’s Day No Class * * * * * * *
February 23rd Strauss: the Conservative Justice-seeker?

Read: Strauss, Natural Right & History; Choose one of the recommended readings as well.
Essays (due Sunday 2/22 by 12pm): What for Strauss is the purpose of political theory? According to Strauss, what is ‘historicism’ and how has it harmed political theory? What does he identify as genuine “justice-seeking” and what does it assume about meaning & nature of justice?

Essays (due Sunday 2/22 by 12pm): It’s argued that the Bush administration neo-conservatives are students of Leo Strauss. In what sense, can we say they understand and/or misunderstand Strauss’s conception of “natural right”?


Recommended Readings:

Q. Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought



Strauss, What is Political Philosophy?, see title chapter

"Strauss, Philosophy, and Politics," (Symposium) Political Theory, August 1987



***Rothman, Stanley, ‘The Revival of Classical Political Philosophy: A Critique,’ The American Political Science Review, 56 (June 1962), 341-52.

Herbert Storing (ed.) Essays on the Scientific Study of Politics

A. MacIntyre, After Virtue

Ernest Fortin, "Gadamer on Strauss," Interpretation, Jan. 1984

Shadia Drury, The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss (1988)

Drury, Leo Strauss and the American Right (1997);

George Bruce Smith, “Leo Strauss and the Straussians: An Anti-democratic Cult?”, PS: Political Science & Politics, vol. 3 No. 2 (June 1997);

Seymour Hersh, “Selective Intelligence,” The New Yorker, 12 May 2003;

David Schaefer, “The Legacy of Leo Strauss: A Bibliographic Introduction,” The Intercollegiate Review, Summer 1974: 139-148.

March 2nd Liberal Justice-Seeking

Read: J.W. Krutch, The Modern Temper, Choose one of the recommended reading as well; and Rawls, Political Liberalism, lecture I all; lecture II all; lecture IV all; lecture VI, §6-7; lecture VIII, §3-5, §13-14
Essays (due 2/23): What does Krutch's account of modern art, modern science and modern knowledge suggest about human dignity? Does it make sense, according to Krutch, to speak of individual "freedom" or "rights" or “justice” given what we’ve learned from modern science, history, and philosophy?
Essays (due 2/23): Rawls could be characterized as the contemporary theorist and a ‘liberal justice-seeker.’ How does his form of justice-seeking contrast with, say, a Plato? What aspects of Krutch’s account of ‘modernism’ does Rawls appear to embrace and what does he reject?
Recommended Readings:

Cowley, Exile's Return, 1959

Diggins, Up From Communism: Conservative Odyssey In American Intellectual History, 1975

Frankel, The Case for Modern Man, 1955

Grey, "Modern Liberalism & Despair, The Pilgrimage of J.W. Krutch," American Studies, Spring 1997

Goodwin, The Lottery State

Perry, "The Modern Distemper," Saturday Review of Literature, June 1929

Kateb, Utopia & Its Enemies, 1963

Locke, Second Treatise on Government

Margolis, Joseph Wood Krutch: A Writer's Life, 1980

Nash, The Nervous Generation: American Thought, 1917-1930, 1970

Slater, "The Negative Secularism of The Modern Temper: Joseph Wood Krutch, American Quarterly, Summer 1981



March 9th Justice Seeking & Empirical Inquiry: Scientific Approach

Read: B.F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity; Choose one recommended reading below.

Essays (due 3/2): Is Skinner a political theorist?, and if he is, what makes him so?


Essays: (due 3/2): What claims (findings/hypothesis/laws/arguments) does Skinner make that may be called scientific? What claims (etc.) does he make that he calls scientific, but are anything but?

Recommended Readings:

J. Weinberger, “Science and Rule in Bacon’s Utopia: An Introduction to The Reading of the New Atlantis,” American Political Science Review, vol. 70 (September 1976): 865-85

Steven Smith, “Political Science and Political Philosophy: An Uneasy Relation,” PS: Political Science and Politics, vol. 33 (June 2000): 189-91

William O’Donohue, and Kyle Ferguson, The Psychology of B.F. Skinner, 2001


March 16th Justice Seeking & Empirical Inquiry cont.

Read: Fromm, The Sane Society; Choose one of the recommended readings as well.
Essays (due 3/9): "What is good or bad for man is not a metaphysical question, but an empirical one that can be answered on the basis of an analysis of man's nature and the effect which certain conditions have on him." (266 -Escape From Freedom)What difficulties are involved in making an "empirical" view of human nature the basis of a political theory?
Essays (due 3/9): Both Fromm and B.F. Skinner seek “a science of man,” but they mean very different things by it. Discuss with reference to what each thinker hopes such a “science” will achieve for society (for us?)
Recommended Readings:

Richard Ashcraft, “Political Theory and the Problem of Ideology,” The Journal of Politics, vol. 42, no. 3 (August 1980): 687-705.

Bartlett & Schodall, "Fromm, Marx, and the Concept of Alienation, Science and Society, Summer 1963

Fromm, Man For Himself; Anatomy of Human Destructivenes

Kariel, "The Normative Pattern of Erich Fromm's Escape From Freedom," Journal of Politics, vol. 19, 1957

Marcuse, One Dimensional Man

Schaar, Escape From Authority: The Perspectives of Erich Fromm, 1961

Wells, The Failure of Psychoanalysis: From Freud to Fromm, 1963

Briggs, "From Slaves to Robots," New Statesman and Nation, 23 June 1956

Burston, The Legacy of Erich Fromm, 1991

Ellul, The Political Illusion; The Technological Society

H.P. "The Insane Society," Dissent, vol. 3, Winter 1956

Spitz, "The Appeal to the Right Man," in Democracy and the Challenge of Power, 1958

Sykes, "The Americanization of Erich Fromm," The Hidden Remnant, 1962



March 23rd Wendell Berry & Justice-Seeking

Read: Wendell Barry, Sex Economy, Freedom & Community; Choose one of the recommended readings as well.
Essays (due 3/16): “There are two kinds of freedom: the freedom of the community and the freedom of the individual. The freedom of the community is the more fundamental and the more complex.” What Barry understands here, Carter takes for granted.
Essay (due 3/16): Both Arendt and Barry associate ‘justice-seeking’ with identifying a ‘genuine’ community of citizens. They do not, however, necessarily agree on what constitutes a genuine community. Compare and contrast what for each of them characterizes a genuine community, and what benefits they claim that an individual gains from living in it. Finally, is it Arendt or Barry who most closely follows the teachings of Aristotle, and explain why.
Recommended Readings:

W. Barry, What Are People For

Lewis Mumford, The Human Condition


* * * * * * March 30th – April 5th * * * * *Spring Break * * * * * * *

April 6th Arendt’s Justice-seeking Inquiry into Political Theory

Read: Arendt, The Human Condition; Choose one recommended reading below.
Essays (due Sunday 4/5 by 12pm): Arendt argues that in the beginning of the modern period, work had displaced both contemplation and action in the hierarchy of men's activities; but by the nineteenth century labour had replaced work as the supreme activity. How did this triumph of animal laborans come about according to Arendt?

Essays (due Sunday 4/5 by 12pm):What would Quentin Skinner make of Arendt’s interpretation of the ancient Greek polis? Would he find that her diagnosis of modern alienation is prone to certain analytic &/or empirical weaknesses? Explain



Recommended Reading:

Special Issue on Hannah Arendt, Social Research, 1977

Kateb, "Freedom & Worldliness in the Thought of Hannah Arendt, " Political Theory, Spring 1977

Kateb, Hannah Arendt

Canovan, "The Contradictions of Hannah Arendt's Political Thought," Political Theory, February 1978

Levin, "On Animal Laborans and Homo Politics in Arendt, Political Theory, November 1979

Arendt, On Revolution

Between Past and Future

The Life of the Mind

Young-Bruehl, "Reflections on Hannah Arendt's Life of the Mind," Political Theory, May 1982

Whitfield, Into The Dark: Arendt and Totalitarianism



Dallmayr, "Ontology of Freedom," Political Theory, May 1984

Arendt, Lectures on Kant's Political Philosophy

Raaflaub, "Democracy, Oligarchy and the Concept of the Free Citizen in Late Fifth Century Athens," Political Theory, November 1983

Canovan, "A Case of Distorted Communications," Political Theory, February 1983



April 13th Arendt’s Justice-seeking Inquiry cont.

Read: The Human Condition
Essays (due 4/6): How does Arendt's distinction between public and private relate to her distinction between work and labor. . .or does it?

Essays (due 4/6): What do you see as the analytical weaknesses of Arendt’s distinction between public and private? On the other hand, what do you find are the strengths of her distinction?



Recommended Readings:

Emily Hauptmann, “A Local History of ‘The Political,” Political Theory, vol. 32, no. 1 (February 2004): 34-60.

Pitkin, "Justice: On Relating Private and Public," Political Theory, August 1981

April 20th Quentin Skinner & Historical Inquiry in Political Theory

Read: Quentin Skinner, Visions of Politics, 2004 (available as ebook at UM library webpage) Regarding Method, vol. 1, Chaps. 3-4; Renaissance Virtues, vol. 2, Chaps. 6-7.

Essays (due 4/13): What does Quentin Skinner suggest is purpose of studying political theory? What does he find wrong with the justice-seeking and analytical approaches? Please describe Quentin Skinner’s historical approach to political theory. What are its strengths and weakness?

Essays (due 4/13): Does he avoid blending his historical approach with justice-seeking into his own studies of Machiavelli? What ‘analytical’ problems to you find in his interpretation of Machiavelli’s political ideas?
Recommended Readings:

Q. Skinner, “The Ideological Context of Hobbes’s Political Thought,” The Historical Journal, vol. 9, 1966: 286-317.

Q. Skinner, “Meaning & Understanding in the History of Ideas,” History & Theory, vol. 8, 1969: 3-53.

Q. Skinner, “Inside Story: Rev. of Isaiah Berlin, ‘Against the Current’,” New Statesman, 9 June 1979, 830-1.

John Dunn, “The Identity of the History of Ideas,” Philosophy, vol. 43: 85- 104.

K.R. Massingham, “Skinner is as Skinner does,” Politics, vol 16: 124-9. Kari Palonen, “The History of Concepts as a Style of Political Theorizing: Quentin Skinner’s and Reinhart Koselleck’s Subversion of Normative Political Theory,” European Journal of Political Theory, vol.1, 2002: 96-111.

Kari Palonen, Quentin Skinner, History, Politics, Rhetoric, Cambridge: Polity-Blackwell Publishing, 2003.

Bhikhu Perekh & R.N. Berki, “The History of Political Ideas: A Critique of Q. Skinner’s Methodology, Journal for the History of Ideas, vol. 34, 1973: 163-84.

J.G.A. Pocock, “Reconstructing the Traditions: Quentin Skinner’s Historians’ History of Political Thought, Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory, vol. 3, 1979: 95-113.

Melvin Richter, “Reconstructing the History of Political Languages: Pocock, Skinner and Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe,” History and Theory vol. 29, 1990: 38-70.

James Tully ed. Meaning & Context: Quentin Skinner and His Critics, Cambridge: Polity, 1988.

April 27th Analytical Inquiry & the Critical Critic: Isaiah Berlin

Read: Berlin, "Introduction" and "Two Concepts of Liberty"; Choose one of the recommended readings as well.

Essays (due 4/20): Berlin’s contribution to our understanding of freedom, as many have noted, is to demonstrate the error of assimilating liberty to morality, and of supposing that morality forms ‘a coherent system.’ But while it seems dangerous and paradoxical to attach freedom to a particular ‘moral’ end, yet it seems trivial and hopelessly incomplete to leave it purely negative.

Essays (due 4/20): What is Berlin's analytical critique of positive liberty? Does his analysis of the two concepts of liberty lead him into the position of defending the status quo? Explain

Recommended Readings:

Zygmunt Bauman, Freedom, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Pres, 1988.

Crowder, G. "Negative and Positive Liberty, Political Science, Dec. 1988

John Gray, Isaiah Berlin, Princeton: PUP, 1996.

Kristjansson, K. "What Is Wrong with Positive Liberty?," Social Theory and Practice, Fall 1992

S. Hayman, "Positive and Negative Liberty," Chicago-Kent Law Review, 1992.

Gerald MacCallum, “Negative and Positive Freedom,” reprinted in David Miller’s Liberty, Oxford: OUP, 1993, pp. 100-122.

Judith Shklar, “Positive Liberty, Negative Liberty in the United States,” in Redeeming American Political Thought, Chicago: Chicago UP, 1998.



May 4th Analytical Inquiry & Contemporary Theory: A Moderate Justice- seeking?

Read: M. Ignatieff, The Needs of Strangers & John Gunnell, Political Theory & Interpretation; Choose one of the recommended readings below.
Essays (due 4/27): While are the key characteristics do you find in Gunnell analytical approach to political theory? What, if any, kind of ‘justice’ or moral values can be derived from his theory?
Essays (due 4/27): Ignatieff appears to move between all three approaches to political inquiry. How so? Also what kind of ‘justice’ does Ignatieff appear to be seeking and where does he propose we look for it?

Recommended Readings:

John Gunnell, “Desperately Seeking Wittgenstein,” European Journal of Political Theory, vol 3, no. 3, (January 2004): 77-98.

Marc Stears, “The Vocation of Political Theory, European Journal of Political Theory, vol. 4, no. 4 (October 2005) 325-350.

George Sabine, “What is a Political Theory,” The Journal of Politics, vol. 1, no. 1 (February 1939): 1-16.

Sheldon Wolin, “Political Theory as a Vocation,” American Political Science Review, vol. 63, no. 4 (December 1969): 1062- 1082.

Judith Shklar, “Review.” Political Theory, vol. 1, no 15 (February 1987).






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