last updated: 2/24/2018 12:18 PM

Professor Jacinda Swanson

PSCI 3610

3412 Friedmann

Spring 2018

Office Hours: MW 12:30-1:45 & 5-5:15pm & by appt

MW 2-3:15pm


Dunbar 3212



Modern Political Thought


Overview and Objectives:

This course is intended to provide students with an introduction to some of the key texts and themes in the modern period, roughly the 16th through the 19th century, of the approximately 2500-year history of Western political theory. (Western political theory first emerged as a field of inquiry in ancient Greece.) Even within the time period we are studying, we will not be able to discuss most of the relevant theorists and ideas. We will, though, cover a few of the more important texts in the emergence and development of liberalism and social contract theory, as well as examples of two of the major critical reactions to liberalism: conservatism and Marxism. Consequently, we will begin to get some sense of the wide range of ways in which politics has been theorized. Moreover, we will read some of the texts that have shaped how later political theorists and citizens today think about politics.


As we will see, even in the Western world, theorists have thought about politics and government in very different ways. Yet, there are numerous themes or topics that recur throughout the history of political thought, including the following: the characteristics of human nature; the relationship between the citizen and the state/government; the origin of government; the ends or purposes of government; freedom; rights; equality; legislation; justice; political obligation/duty; citizenship; the different types of political regimes/forms of government; the powers and functions of government; revolution or rebellion; property; and economics. Studying some of the history of political theory allows us to see how issues like freedom or the purpose of government can be thought about in different ways and what the strengths and limitations of each of these different ways are. As a consequence, we can begin to think critically about our own views on politics, the assumptions and consequences of these views, whether alternative ways of thinking about political issues might be worth adopting or at least considering, and why some (well-intentioned and reasonable) fellow citizens (or global neighbors) may hold views very different from our own about some of these issues.


Reading many of the texts in the history of political theory can often be challenging, but given time, persistence, and patience, it can also be rewarding and help clarify our own thinking about politics, as well as our understanding of the diversity of ways of theorizing political phenomena. Consequently, this course also seeks to improve students’ skills in carefully reading and systematically analyzing texts. Analyzing texts involves, for example, determining a writer’s assumptions, how she/he defines key political concepts, the logical steps in her/his argument, how her/his different ideas fit together, etc. It is far more than just summarizing the text. These are skills that are useful in countless aspects of academic and non-academic life, and arguably are important skills in being a responsible and active member of a free and democratic society. Because these skills are often further improved by writing and because writing skills are themselves important, this course also aims at expanding students’ analytical writing skills.


This course is approved as a general education course in Distribution Area II: Humanities: “Humanities courses should offer the opportunity to study some of the forms by means of which human beings have reflected upon and represented human experience and the varieties of the human condition…. Sources studied… should be presented in ways that develop appreciation for their intellectual… integrity and their imaginative scope. They should be studied in ways that require effort of response and reflection, and expand the students’ critical and empathic capacities.”


Required Texts:

Please purchase the specified edition of these books, so that everyone in class is using the same translation and books with the same pagination, which is CRUCIAL for class discussion and for your paper citations. It is IMPERATIVE that you ALWAYS bring the relevant book or reading to class. We will often read and analyze passages from the readings in class.


I have deliberately made an effort to keep the costs of the readings affordable. I STRONGLY advise against taking this course and spending thousands of dollars on tuition if you do not plan to purchase and print out ALL of the readings—you need them to learn the material. POINTS WILL BE DEDUCTED FROM QUIZZES AND EXAMS IF YOU DO NOT HAVE A HARD COPY OF THE RELEVANT READINGS WITH YOU IN CLASS. If you find yourself unable to purchase or print a specific reading, I may be willing to forego the point deduction if you provide me with a typed, printed explanation of why you do not have the specific reading and how you plan to do the reading on time (not late).


·         Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, revised student edition, ed. by Richard Tuck, Cambridge University Press, 1996

·         John Locke, Second Treatise of Government, ed. by C. B. MacPherson, Hackett, 1980

·         Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Basic Political Writings, 2nd ed., trans. Donald A. Cress, intro. David Wootton, Hackett, 2012

·         Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, Penguin Classic, 1982

·         Karl Marx, Selected Writings, ed. by Lawrence H. Simon, Hackett, 1994 

·         Reading available through WMU library’s e-reserve system,, under the listing for this class (see below). You are REQUIRED to print out a hard copy of this reading to bring to class.

·         Reading available on the internet (see below). You are REQUIRED to print out a hard copy of this reading to bring to class.

·         THREE 8-1/2” x 11” green or blue books, which can be purchased at the bookstore, for your exams.


Phones are NOT allowed out during class, meaning that you will NOT be able to access readings via your smart phone during class. Students should have PRINTED, PAPER COPIES OF ALL READINGS and should not count on being able to access them via their computer during class, especially since laptops will be banned from the classroom if their use becomes disruptive or distracting (see below).


Course Requirements: Assignments and Grading

Please notify me if you have a documented disability that requires accommodation (see It’s crucial that you do so during the FIRST WEEK of the semester so that we can make appropriate arrangements.


Please see the university’s religious observance policy at


Students and instructors are responsible for making themselves aware of and abiding by the “Western Michigan University Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment and Violence, Intimate Partner Violence, and Stalking Policy and Procedures” related to prohibited sexual misconduct under Title IX, the Clery Act and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and Campus Safe. Under this policy, responsible employees (including instructors) are required to report claims of sexual misconduct to the Title IX Coordinator or designee (located in the Office of Institutional Equity). Responsible employees are not confidential resources. For a complete list of resources and more information about the policy see


Western Michigan University recognizes that some students use first names other than their legal names to identify themselves. As an inclusive and diverse community, WMU allows students to use a preferred first name different than their legal name for certain purposes and records in the course of university business, communication, and education. Please refer to the preferred name policy and LGBT resources page at and


A complete and updated copy of this syllabus should be consulted online, at the link for this class at Assignments and study guides will be posted on the online syllabus. In addition, you should check your official WMU email account regularly, since I (as well as the political science department and university) will use that email address to email out announcements regarding class, changes to my offices hours, and so forth. Feel free to contact me via email with questions about the readings, assignments, and so forth.


Students are expected to do the assigned readings for that day BEFORE they come to class and to participate actively in class discussion. You will get more out of class and it will be more interesting for all of us, if you are an active listener (both to me and your classmates) and thoughtful and respectful discussion participant, rather than a passive attendee. You are expected to act civilly and respectfully towards your classmates and me, and to respond to others’ comments in an intellectual and courteous manner and without hostility, even when you disagree (which may often be the case). Regular attendance is REQUIRED, but if you have to miss class, YOU are responsible for finding out from a classmate what you missed and for getting copies of the notes and any class handouts. I STRONGLY advise against taking this course and spending thousands of dollars on tuition if you anticipate missing more than one or two classes; class attendance is crucial for learning this material.


Please always bring a copy of the syllabus with you to class so that you know which readings we are discussing in class that day. When you do the assigned readings, you should do more than just read the material, you should also REFLECT on it and take a few (or more) notes on the main arguments and concepts/terms employed by the author. Taking your own notes on the readings will make doing well on the quizzes, studying for exams, and writing your papers easier, in addition to helping you make sense of what each theorist is up to overall. The study guides for the exams are posted on the on-line syllabus. I STRONGLY recommend looking over the relevant portion of the study guide before doing each of the assigned readings, which will help you make sense of the important points in the reading and do well on the quizzes.


Responsibility for leading class discussion:

In order to encourage ALL students, rather than just a handful of students, to participate in class discussion, all students will be assigned to “lead” class discussion 3-6 times during the semester. For each regular class session, approximately 5-7 students will be assigned to make at least 1-2 substantial contributions to class discussion, where substantial means informed and thoughtful (NOT long-winded) and contributions can be in the form of answers to questions or thoughtful questions about the meaning or implications of an author’s arguments. On the days students are assigned to lead discussion, they will be evaluated with a plus, check, or minus, which will factor into their overall class participation grade (after class, they should quickly check in with me to make sure I noted and evaluated their participation); this does NOT relieve these students of their obligation to participate in class discussion regularly on other days. In other words, ALL students should be regularly participating in class discussion, regardless of whether they are assigned to lead class discussion. If you have a last minute emergency or illness on your assigned day, you MUST inform me of the emergency ASAP, and you will be expected to lead class discussion during the next regular class session. A schedule of class sessions and assigned students will be posted on the online syllabus on Wed., Jan. 17.


Your grade for the course will consist of the following:

·         syllabus assignment (see below; no quizzes will be accepted for credit until this is turned in), 2%

·         in-class discussion participation, 8%. Attendance will be taken each class to help me keep track of participation—you can’t participate if you’re not in class.

·         short, unannounced open-book & open-note pop-quizzes at the beginning of class, 16% total. You MUST arrive to class on time in order to take them; missed quizzes will only be excused if you have an excused absence; no make-up quizzes will be administered; your lowest quiz grade will be dropped. Points will be deducted if you do not have a hard copy of the relevant reading(s) with you in class (see above).

·         take-home and in-class analytical writing exercise (see below), 5%

·         1-2 analytical papers: 29% total; two papers will be assigned, but you are only REQUIRED TO TURN IN THE FIRST PAPER; you will not be allowed to submit the second paper if you have not turned in the first paper; if you choose to write the second paper, your overall paper grade will consist of the average of your first and second paper grades. The papers will be written on assigned topics and will be based on the assigned readings and class discussion; they do not require outside reading or research.

·         first exam, 16%. The exams will be short, medium, and/or long answer. Points will be deducted from the exams if you do not have a hard copy of the required reading(s) with you (see above and respective study guide).

·         second exam, 8%

·         cumulative final exam, 16%


You are to hand in a hard, paper copy of assignments. Unless you have specific permission from me, you are NOT to email me your written assignments. If you receive such permission, it is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to make sure I received the assignment (I will send you an email indicating whether or not the file came through successfully); DO NOT assume I have received it just because the email apparently went through. 


You are responsible for making yourself aware of and understanding the policies and procedures in the Undergraduate Catalogs that pertain to Academic Honesty. These policies include cheating, fabrication, falsification and forgery, multiple submission, plagiarism, complicity and computer misuse. (The policies can be found at under Academic Policies, Student Rights and Responsibilities.) If there is reason to believe you have been involved in academic dishonesty, you will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct. You will be given the opportunity to review the charge(s). If you believe you are not responsible, you will have the opportunity for a hearing. You should consult with me if you are uncertain about an issue of academic honesty prior to the submission of an assignment or test. A finding of responsibility for academic dishonesty on any assignment will result in failure of this course (see the Undergraduate Catalog).


To avoid disrupting class discussion, please turn off and PUT AWAY cell phones, beepers, and other electronic devices before you come into class and refrain from chatting with your neighbor or eating anything in a noisy wrapper. Laptops will be banned from the classroom if their use becomes disruptive or distracting; computers should ONLY be used for taking notes. Students are NOT allowed to text, email, etc. during class.


YOU ARE EXPECTED TO ARRIVE TO CLASS ON TIME. If you need to leave class early because of an important, unavoidable appointment, please let me know before class and minimize the disruption to the class when you leave.


Late assignments and make-up exams:

All papers are due at the beginning of class. You are discouraged from handing the analytical papers in late, but if you do, points will be deducted accordingly: one grade (5 points) will be taken off if you turn it in within 3 days of the due date; two grades (10 points) will be taken off if you turn it in within 7 days. NO PAPERS WILL BE ACCEPTED MORE THAN A WEEK AFTER THE DUE DATE.


Make-up exams will be given for excused absences only; in such cases, you must notify me well in advance of the exam and arrange to take it before the day of the exam. Only in the most dire or unusual circumstances will you be allowed to make up an exam without penalty if you have not made arrangements for doing so before the day of the exam.


Grading scale:












The professor reserves the right to revise assignments, deadlines, and other course requirements and schedules based on enrollment and for other pedagogical reasons.


Course Outline:

Jan. 8

Introduction: Overview of course and its objectives



Jan. 10

Analyzing political theories & overview of different political theories/ideologies:


Terence Ball and Richard Dagger. 1995. Political Ideologies and the Democratic Ideal, 2nd ed., “The Democratic Ideal,” “Liberalism,” & “Conservatism,” 24-9, 31-5, 51-63, 93-9. New York: HarperCollins. (e-reserves; PRINT out a hard copy to bring to class)



Jan. 15

NO CLASS: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day recess, convocation and activities,



Jan. 17

Franklin D. Roosevelt. 1932. “Commonwealth Club Address,” paragraphs 15-44, [PRINT out a hard copy to bring to class; number the paragraphs as you read it, starting with the paragraph beginning “I count”]


recommended reading on major US political parties:

excerpts from 2016 Republican Party platform (link to pdf)

excerpts from 2016 Democratic Party platform (link to pdf)


SYLLABUS ASSIGNMENT DUE (link to assignment; no quizzes will be accepted for credit until it is turned in)



Jan. 22

Hobbes, Leviathan, Hobbes’ dedication & introduction, pp. 23, 28, 31, 33, 39, 64; ch. 11-12



Jan. 24

Hobbes, Leviathan, ch. 13-16



Jan. 29

Hobbes, Leviathan, ch. 16-18





Jan. 31

Hobbes, Leviathan, ch. 19-21



Feb. 5


TAKE-HOME & IN-CLASS ANALYTICAL WRITING EXERCISE ON HOBBES: link to exercise; bring TWO copies of your paper, your Hobbes’ book, and your notes on Hobbes to class. This exercise may NOT be turned in late.



Feb. 7

Hobbes, Leviathan, ch. 26, 28-29



Feb. 12

Hobbes, Leviathan, ch. 30-31, “A Review and Conclusion”





Feb. 14

Locke, Second Treatise, preface, ch. I-IV; paragraph 54



Feb. 19

Locke, Second Treatise, ch. III-IV, VII-VIII



Feb. 21

Locke, Second Treatise, ch. IX- XIV



Feb. 26

Locke, Second Treatise, ch. XVII-XIX







Feb. 28

FIRST EXAM: bring green book (link to study guide)


(no class Mar. 5 & 7, spring break)



Mar. 12

Rousseau, On The Social Contract, Book I



Mar. 14

Rousseau, On The Social Contract, Book II; Book III, ch. 1



Mar. 19

Rousseau, On The Social Contract, Book III



Mar. 21

Rousseau, On The Social Contract, Book IV





Mar. 26

SECOND EXAM: bring green book (link to study guide)



Mar. 28

Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, 83-120



Apr. 2

Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, 121-34, 138-41, 148-54, 169-72, 186-200



Apr. 4

Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, 265-70, 275-285, 371-7



Apr. 9

Marx, The Communist Manifesto (157-176)



Apr. 11

Marx, “On the Jewish Question” (1-2 [editor’s intro], 5-10, 13-21); Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, “Private Property and Communism” (70-9); first 2 paragraphs of The Eighteenth Brumaire (187-9)



Apr. 16

Marx, Capital, Vol. I, ch. 1, 4, 6 (214-6 [editor’s intro], 220-43, 255-73)



Apr. 18

Marx, Capital, Vol. I, ch. 7, 26, 32 (274-300)



Apr. 26

FINAL EXAM (Thurs., 12:30-2:30pm): bring green book (link to study guide)