POLS 351: Liberalism and Its Critics

Northern Illinois University

Department of Political Science

Fall 2009


Instructor: Chris Thuot

Email: cthuot@niu.edu

Office: Zulauf 114 (*subject to change)

Office Hours:  Monday and Wednesday 5-6:30 (other times by appointment).  To be sure the instructor is going to be in his office, send him an email message to alert him that you will be coming at a specific time.

Class Time: Monday and Wednesday 3:30-4:45

Classroom: Art Building 102


** Students are advised that it is highly recommended (though not required) that they take POLS 251 (Introduction to Political Philosophy), either concurrently (i.e. at the same time), or prior to taking POLS 351.


Course Description


In this course we will study political philosophers whose works articulate the principles of classical liberalism, as well as some of the critics of this tradition.  Classical liberalism contends that the purpose of civil society and government is to secure the peaceful enjoyment of natural individual rights –life, liberty and property. Liberalism makes a distinction between private and public domains, and understands the public domain to be limited by and subservient to the private domain. This understanding constituted a major departure from all political thought that preceded it, from Greek, to Roman and Medieval Christian. The protection of one’s life, liberty and property became the goals of civil society; no longer was public life considered an important or legitimate component of striving towards “the good life.” 


Keeping in mind these changes, we will carefully examine two of the foundational texts of liberalism—Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan and John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government.  Subsequently, we will grapple with various criticisms of the liberal project.  First, we will explore Rousseau’s criticism of Hobbes and Locke as presented in his Discourse on the Origin of Inequality Among Men (Second Discourse).  Students will consider what Rousseau understands to be his correction of the Hobbesian/Lockean state of nature, as well as his scathing critique of the bourgeois man—a product of liberal thought.  Next, we will examine the thought of Edmund Burke, an Eighteenth-century British statesman, who, despite his quiet endorsement of natural rights, was critical of the French Revolution, which emphasized abstract principles of liberty.  Following Burke, whose thought is understood by some to imply a rejection of reason and an endorsement of what we might call the “historical sense,” we will move to Nietzsche’s critique of both radical historicism and modern culture. 

By the end of the course, students should be able to: 1) clearly articulate what is at stake in the battle between liberalism and the alternative points of view examined in the course 2) demonstrate significant progress in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of modernity; 3) offer thoughtful reflections about what this all means for us living in a democratic society.


Required Texts


****Please purchase the following editions.  We will make frequent reference to specific page numbers during class; thus, it is important that we are all using the same edition of each text. 


·         Edmund Burke Reflections on the Revolution in France edited by J.G.A Pocock (Hackett Publishing Company).

·         Thomas Hobbes Leviathan edited by Edwin Curley (Hackett Publishing Company).

·         John Locke Second Treatise of Government edited by C.B. Macpherson (Hackett Publishing Company).

·         Friedrich Nietzsche The Use and Abuse of History translated by Adrian Collins (Macmillan Publishing Company).

·         Jean Jacques Rousseau The First and Second Discourses translated by Roger D. Masters (St. Martin’s Press).


Recommended Text


A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy (ISI Books) by Harvey C. Mansfield is a brief (58 pages) and useful introduction to the study of political philosophy, especially for students who have not previously taken a course in the field.  It is available for a reasonable price on Amazon.com and other online booksellers.  Please consider ordering and reading it within the first two weeks of class.  

Attendance Policy

Please be advised that there is an attendance policy for this course that will be strictly enforced.  Attendance will be taken at the beginning of each class.  Attendance at each class meeting is both expected and required. Students who are habitually absent can expect extreme difficulty in this course.  Being in attendance is defined as “being present when attendance is taken at the beginning of each class and remaining until class is dismissed.”  Students with extended absences due to illness should notify the instructor as promptly as possible during the absence and produce appropriate documentation indicating the nature and duration of the illness.  This documentation should be provided to the instructor at the first class upon returning.  Whether or not an absence is “excused” is entirely up to the instructor’s discretion and will be determined on a case by case basis.  Extended absences are highly discouraged, as they will adversely affect the student’s grade.  The student’s final grade will be reduced half a letter grade for each unexcused absence over 3


Classroom Etiquette


Please do not come late to class, as this is both discourteous and disruptive.  Students who come to class after attendance has been taken, or leave during class without permission from the instructor, will be considered absent.  If there are special circumstances regarding this matter, please discuss them with the instructor as early as possible.  Students who simply cannot make it to class on time, for whatever reason, are strongly advised to drop this course .  In addition to coming to class on time, the instructor requests that students refrain from sleeping, text messaging, talking on cell phones, reading the newspaper, etc.  These things are discourteous and disruptive both to the instructor and to other classmates.  All cell phones, pagers, or any electronic devices which make noise are to be turned off before entering the classroom.  Any student whose phone rings during class will first be given a reminder of this policy. After this warning, if a phone rings again the student will be asked to leave the class.

Class Participation                                                                                                                                                                                                             

Proper participation in class is both required and rewarded.  As this is a course concerning the discussion of ideas, simple attendance without participating in discussion is insufficient.  The good student will not only be present and attentive in class, but will also actively participate in class discussion by answering questions about the assigned readings, raising questions, and volunteering thoughtful observations about the material.  Proper class participation also requires that the student behave with proper courtesy and regard for others’ comments.  Because most of our classes will involve reading and discussing passages from the assigned texts, the student should bring the appropriate readings to each class.  Frequent class discussion will foster a classroom environment that will be far more interesting and rewarding than one in which the instructor simply lectures every day.  The instructor will not give a formal grade for class participation, although he reserves the right to raise a student’s grade if he judges that student’s participation to have been exceptionally good.  Grades will not be lowered merely for lack of active class participation.




20%    Quizzes (There will be 5 quizzes throughout the semester.  The lowest quiz grade will be dropped)

45%    Essays (There will be 3 essays, which should be between 1000-1200 words in length.  Essay topics and further details will be provided on the dates indicated in the course schedule)

35%    Final Exam (The final exam will be cumulative and is scheduled for 12/7 from 4-5:50 p.m. at our regular meeting place)




NIU abides by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which mandates reasonable accommodations be provided for qualified students with disabilities. If you have a disability and may require some type of instructional and/or examination accommodation, please contact me early in the semester so that I can provide or facilitate in providing accommodations you may need. If you have not already done so, you will need to register with the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR), the designated office on campus to provide services and administer exams with accommodations for students with disabilities. The CAAR office is located on the 4th floor of the University Health Services building (815-753-1303). I look forward to talking with you soon to learn how I may be helpful in enhancing your academic success in this course.


 Academic Dishonesty


Plagiarism, cheating, and other novel forms of academic dishonesty will be dealt with seriously.  The instructor reserves the right to fail the student for the rest of the course in the event these offenses are detected.  Please do not purchase papers online or have others do the writing for you.  It is not at all difficult to detect writing that does not belong to you. For those students who are unsure how to cite, here is a helpful link: http://polisci.niu.edu/polisci/audience/plagiarism.shtml


Course Schedule 


The following is a tentative course schedule.  The instructor will likely make adjustments.





Course introduction



Introduction to Hobbes’ Leviathan.  Read Leviathan Introduction (pp. 3-5); chapter 6 (*paragraph 7 ONLY [pp. 28-29]); chapter 11 (pp. 57-63); and chapter 13 (pp. 74-78).  Hereafter specific assignments will be made in class for the next class. 



Hobbes cont’d



Hobbes cont’d

Quiz #1

*Essay Assignment #1 handed out (due 9/21 )



Labor Day: No class—University Holiday



Hobbes cont’d



Hobbes cont’d



Hobbes cont’d




Locke’s Second Treatise

Essay #1 due



Locke cont’d



Locke cont’d

Quiz #2



Locke cont’d



Locke cont’d



Rousseau’s Second Discourse



Rousseau cont’d

Quiz #3

*Essay assignment #2 handed out (due 10/26)


Rousseau cont’d



Rousseau cont’d




Rousseau cont’d



Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France

Essay #2 due



Burke cont’d



Burke cont’d




Burke cont’d



Burke cont’d

Quiz #4

*Essay assignment #3 handed out *(Due 11/23



Burke cont’d




Nietzsche’s Use and Abuse of History









Nietzsche cont’d

Quiz #5



Nietzsche cont’d

Essay #3 due



Thanksgiving Holiday—No Class



Nietzsche cont’d



Review/Catch up



Cumulative Final Exam: *4-5:50 PM