POLITICAL SCIENCE 325, Political Thought, Summer 2015


This is a guide to learning objectives to accompany the course texts, Sheldon Wolin's Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought, expanded edition (Princeton University Press, 2004), and other assigned readings. 

The chapter questions are offered to help you identify the main claims of the authors. 

Š      Please prepare answers to all questions.  If you wish to more carefully consider a question, or if you are not sure about the item, ask.  Bring the question to your assigned study group or to the general class discussion board.

Š      Submit the underlined questions in writing to your assigned study group or to the general class discussion board, as indicated. 

Š      Submit all assignments on the assigned day.

Unit One:  General Course Introduction.  [video, preliminary reading]


Unit Two:  Introduction to Critical Reasoning

Lesson 1: How do we know things?  Representing the world.

   Knowledge is not a storehouse of facts.  Rather, humans enter a situation with complex representations of the world, acquired throughout a life.  We act with others to use ideas to adapt to or modify a situation.  The actions test these representations.  Knowledge consists of testing, correcting, and improving these representations.  We use knowledge to detect and correct mistakes. 

   At the end of this lesson students should be able to give examples of their existing representations of some part of the world, and examples of instances of improving or discarding one or more of them. 

Lesson 2:  Development of the theory of knowledge.

   In order to purposefully engage in critical thinking, students need to understand the theory of knowledge referred to in lesson 1 above.  We identify the pieces of that theory of knowledge.  The basic pieces are concepts, variables, and the rules that link them.  When we act, we produce results.  We compare those results with our intentions for acting.  This comparison, a measurement of some kind, indicates the reliability of our representations of the world.  The usual rules of methodology apply to our tests of knowledge, along with our usual ways of criticizing and debating reasons why we have particular beliefs.  

   At the end of this lesson students should be able to write out examples of concepts, variables and linking rules that are part of one of their representations of the world, and give an example of changing their mind based on tests of these elements of knowledge.

Lesson 3:  Apply the theory of knowledge. 

   If students are able to recognize, construct, and apply the theory of knowledge they are doing applied epistemology.  Students who can do this are able to conduct independent research and evaluate other's claims to know something.  Learning is not primarily a matter of memorizing or repeating what is found in a text; instead, students learn when they begin to recognize and doubt their representations of the world. 

   At the end of this lesson students should be able to identify the elements in a knowledge claim offered by a political philosopher we will read later in the course.  Students will work with each other to produce their responses to prompts.  Several rounds may be required before students are comfortable with this way of identifying and testing claims to know something. 


Unit Two Summary:  Applying critical reasoning to reading political philosophy.  Here is a chart that summarizes the critical reasoning process. 


Unit Three:  Basic Concepts. 

Wolin, Chapter One:  Political Philosophy and Philosophy. 

1.   What is political philosophy?  (p. 3-4)

2.   How do political philosophers go about defining what is political, and what is not?  Give a couple of examples of what you believe to be political, and what is not.  (4-7)

3.   Wolin writes (p. 9) that “most of the great statements of political philosophy have been put forward in times of crisis; that is, when political phenomena are less effectively integrated by institutional forms.”  Then read how Wolin ends that paragraph, and how he begins the first complete paragraph on p. 12.  This is a section about “order” and the work of the political philosopher.  What is the argument here?  Is it convincing? 

4.   Is political philosophy scientific?  (12-17, and 21-23.) Note in particular the claim in the first sentence of the last paragraph on p. 14.  This section is closely tied to the argument about order in the previous section. 

5.   What does it mean to say political philosophers offer a “vision” of politics? (17-20)  What is the “transforming” version of vision? (p. 20)  Is the argument convincing?  Why or why not?  One possible criticism, for example, is that this section justifies lying in pursuit of the order mentioned in earlier section. 

6.   The last section of the chapter, pp. 23-6, contains a description of the activities of political philosophers as somewhat heroic.  Is this convincing?  Why or why not?


Susan Mollar Okin, "Are Our Theories of Justice Gender-Neutral?", from Rbt. K. Fullinwider and Claudia Milla, The Moral Foundations of Civil Rights, Rowman & Littlefield, 1986.  [Available through Sakai]

1.    Okin says there are four types of thinking about women in theories of justice.  What are they?  

2.    Pick two of the philosophers she includes and describe the particular ways they make justice claims about women.  


Unit Four:  Plato

Wolin, Chapter Two—Plato.

1.    On pp. 27-31, Wolin describes what he calls the great achievement of the Greek political thinkers.  What was it

2.    pp. 33-4.  What was Plato’s “vision”?  Why should we pursue it?

3.    pp. 35-7.  What is the role of knowledge in the reform of society and the moral improvement of its members?

4.    pp. 37-9.  What was Plato’s indictment of politicians?  For an example of a politician’s approach to events, see Pericles’ funeral oration

5.    pp. 40-1.  How did Plato’s sense of the political link to his desire for order?

6.    pp. 42-7.  You might think of this section as an account of how Plato conceives of the claim, “desire is the enemy.”  In the good community, what is to be done with desire? 

7.    pp. 47-9.  The topic of question 6, just above, is continued here.  Wolin criticizes Plato’s approach, and yet concludes with a recognition of a “great contribution.” How are these related to each other?  The point at the bottom of p. 49 is continued through the top of p. 51.  Note this is a repeated and enduring theme in political philosophy.

8.    In pp. 49-53 Plato discusses the motivation of philosophers, and contrasts that with a brief comparison with Aristotle.  What, according to Wolin, was the central disagreement between these two positions? 

9.    pp. 54-58.  This section is entitled “political knowledge and political participation.”  What, according to Wolin, is the difficulty in thinking clearly about these concepts?

10.  pp. 58-61.  Wolin accuses Plato of a fatal defect.  What is it?  What did he mean, on p. 60, by “(i)ts tutelary deity is Proteus, not Procrustes”?

11.  pp. 61-2.  If Plato had that fatal defect, why does Wolin suggest we should not dismiss him?


Unit Five: Stoics

Read Epictetus, The Enchiridion, found in Sakai.  Write answers to these questions:

(1) Is philosophy open to all of us? 

(2) What can it do for us?

(3) Do you agree with Wolin’s account of the Stoics, particularly about their limitations? (He discusses Stoics at pp. 71-5.) 

   For a more supportive reading of Epictetus for comparison, see this document (A link to Stockdale's account of Epictetus). 


Unit Six: Aristotle

Read the excerpts from the Nichomachean Ethics and from Politics, found in Sakai.  The excerpts cover 22 pages.  These reading notes refer to the page and, on a particular page, other numbering that may guide you. 


1.    pp. 1-2, up to section “12”—How are the ends of the city connected to the ends of the individual?  Is happiness part of a good life?  What helps us get there, what keeps us away from it? 

2.    p. 2, starting at section “12,” to p. 4, up to “2”—How does Aristotle introduce his concern with the soul?  How is it a part of the good life? Notice his claim that habits matter.  This will appear at critical points later. 

3.    p. 4, starting at “2” (which is Bk IV, Ch. 2) up to p. 5, end of 1st column—How are rich and poor people different when it comes to the good life? 

4.    p. 5, middle column—What is justice?  Compare it to Plato’s definition. 

5.    p. 5, at “Book VI,” to end of p. 6—Notice there are distinct capacities of the soul.  How does knowledge fit into this?  What kind of knowledge confers wisdom?  Again, compare this to Plato. 

6.    p. 7 at Book VIII, up to section “10”—Friendship is the glue that holds cities together.  What is a friend?  What doe friends do to our lives? 

7.    p. 7, at section “10,” up to p. 8, up to section “9”—Here A. enters into a discussion of political systems, a topic developed later in the Politics.  How does this classification compare to Plato’s?  Why do you suppose he is doing this?  Note also the comments about women in this section.  Why would he even ask if it is virtuous for women to inherit property? 

8.    p. 8, section “9,” through all of p. 9—notice the structure of the argument here.  Knowledge is instrumental.  We all have moral capabilities, which can be developed by certain means.  Political science, like other areas of study, requires experience.  Why do we learn?  Notice the importance of cultivating the right habits.  Also notice that he does not answer the question of how we cultivate the right habits.  For that, we need to study politics.  Keep in mind that connection between the N. Ethics and the Politics.



9.    p. 10, through the second column on p.12— In chapters 1 and 2, note his account of how city states are constituted, and how he defines human beings.  An expansion of this idea is offered in chapter 5, where he explains natural hierarchies.  What all occurs in natural hierarchies, according to Aristotle?   What is the account of slavery?  This will show up again in the course. 

10.p. 12, starting at “Book III”— In Book III we get an account of citizens.  In chapter 1 he defines a citizen.  What is it?  In chapter 4 (middle of p. 13) he connects the excellence of a citizen to a constitution.  Why does he develop this connection?  Toward the end of chapter 4 he adds more comments comparing men and women.  Please not his method of argument here. 

11.p. 15— In chapters 6, 7 and 8 A. describes constitutions.  What is a constitution?  What are the types of constitutions?  Note the role of interest in chapter 7. 

12.p. 16, at “Bk IV, Chapter 9”— Aristotle considers the constitutional form called a polity.  What is that?  Notice also in chapter 9 his discussion of the importance of the mean.  This is a central idea for Aristotle.  One modern, liberal way to summarize this argument is to claim Aristotle extols the virtues of a middle class (continuing up to p. 18, section that ends at “Book VII.”). 

13.p. 18— In Book VII A. brings together several themes.  In chapter 1, what is the role of the soul in the good life?  What does a happy city state look like? 

14.p. 18— At the start of chapter 2, what is his claim about levels of analysis?  At the end of chapter 2 is his account of the role of the military in a city state.  What is it? 

15.p. 19, starting at “Chapter 3”— Aristotle discusses the pursuit of the best life.  What is the best life?  What does it mean to be happy?  The argument is continued through “Chapter 13,” on p. 20 continuing on to p. 21.

16.Chapter 13 also brings us back to the issues raised at the end of the N. Ethics.  Given that he has answered most of the questions about constitutions, here he asks how, in practical terms, we cultivate the excellence necessary for the best life and for happiness.  How do we do that?  What is the role of education in building the virtues in a person? 

17.The rest of your excerpts deal with the contents of education, and how that leads to creation of virtuous people.

18.Has Aristotle adequately addressed the issues raised in the N. Ethics? 


Unit Seven:  The Rise of Empires and Political Philosophy

Wolin, Chapter Three—Age of Empire

1.    Wolin suggests that this age can be interpreted as a shift of political philosophy from the municipal to the imperial level.  What does this mean?

2.    What makes something political?  (63-4)

3.    How does the “new spatial dimension” affect our thinking about politics?  (65-7)  Does this seem to have implications for our own situation?

4.    One development (at p. 69) was the rise of personified power.  This will show up in a later section. 

5.    On p. 70 Wolin begins a section on the Cynics, Epicureans, and early Stoics.  What does he mean by “a minimal commitment to an association of limited value”?  (p. 71)

6.    What, according to Wolin, was the failure of the Stoics?  (73)

7.    What, according to Wolin, was “the important development” that had taken place since the time of Aristotle?  (74)

8.    The Romans were important for political theory, in large part, because of their use in managing politics through institutional forms.  How did they do this?  (75-8)

9.    What, in this Roman conception, was justice?  (78)

10.There is a trap in the politics of interest—making politics about interests gets away from some sources of conflict, but, according to Wolin, this route carries a great peril.  What is it?  (79-82)

11.What does Wolin mean by a “power organization”?  (82)  What becomes of citizenship in a power organization?  It is in this section that we revisit that idea of politics becoming identified with the personal qualities of a leader.

12.What does Wolin mean by the decline of political philosophy, in the section beginning on p. 85?


Unit Eight:  Early Christian Era

Wolin, Chapter Four: The Early Christian Era: Time and Community

1.        Wolin claims that, despite a common depiction of early Christianity as being above politics, it “fell to Christianity to revivify political thought.”  How did it do that? (86-8)

2.        What did early Christians mean by “community”?  (90-1)

3.        Wolin claims the early Christian view of obligation was “truly revolutionary” compared to the classic era.  How so? (92)

4.        Why does early Christian thought emphasize political order?  (93-5)

5.        Section II (95-103) is about the ways political philosophy in the church was a part of its institutionalization, justifying authority and particular doctrines.  What were the main issues in building the new institution?

6.        What does Wolin mean when he writes (at 105) that “Apostasy is rebellion written in a theological key”?

7.        Why does a church need to encounter the question of how much force or compulsion is required?  (106-8)

8.        When an empire embraces a religion, does the church community lose something?  How did Augustine address this?  (108-11)

9.        What was the distinct Christian contribution to the idea of time?  (112)  [Note its connection to the idea of hope.]

10. In Augustine’s view of politics, what was possible?  [Another way of saying it:  In politics, what can we hope for?] (113-15)

11. On 115 you will find a reference to fortuna, which suggests why Machiavelli (chapter 7) presented such a challenge to the Church. 

12. What was the relationship of church to society?  What was the relationship between society and politics?  [This distinction is more aggressively developed in chapter 9.] (116-18)

13. Wolin claims that we can see several dimensions of modern nationalism in the issues that faced the medieval Christian church.  What are they?  (119-121)

14. Wolin claims that one accomplishment of the Church was that it taught people to once again think politically.  Describe how.  (122-6)  [Note also that he asserts an understanding of this is important to recognizing Machiavelli’s contributions.]


Unit Nine:  Modern Christian Thinkers.

Wolin, Chapter Five: Luther: The Theological and the Political. 

1.    Wolin tells us a revolution in political thought occurred in the sixteenth century, and that Luther is a part of it.  What was Luther’s particular political project?  (128-9) 

2.    Wolin asserts (130) that it is misleading to say Luther regarded politics as alien or secondary.  What does he mean? 

3.    With regard to authority, what are the main differences between the early and the later Luther?  (131-3)

4.    In the previous chapter, Wolin tells us the early to medieval Christian church joined political and religious concepts.  Here, he tells us Luther dissolved the alliance.  How?  (134-5)

5.    On pp. 136-9, Wolin describes an egalitarian element in Luther.  What does this have to do with his political ideas? 

6.    Are political leaders necessarily outside the church?  (139-42)

7.    Wolin claims that Luther created a personalized concept of authority, and this, among other things, contributed to his thin analysis of politics.  Explain how Wolin reaches this conclusion.  (143-7)


Wolin, Chapter Six: Calvin: The Political Education of Protestantism.

1.    Wolin tries to draw a sharp line between Luther and Calvin.  What, according to him, was Calvin’s political task?  (150)

2.    Wolin claims (152-3) that Calvin developed an institutional understanding of power.  What does that mean?  How is that distinct from Luther, and with what consequences? 

3.    The distinctions between Luther and Calvin are further spelled out on pp. 156-7.  Can he have it both ways—a community of believers and the political authority to enforce membership? 

4.    In section three, what are the main ideas of the ‘political theory of church government’?  How are these connected to each other?  (If successful, it should provide a way to work with the dilemma suggested in question 3.)  (158-60)  These ideas are further developed on pp. 166-9. 

5.    How does Calvin explain that fallen creatures may be ready to engage in politics?  Is there something here Luther did not see?  (162-4)

6.    What can we know about politics, according to Calvin?  (165-6)

7.    According to Wolin, what were Calvin’s significant contributions to political theory?  (171-2)  Do these appear to be important for liberalism?  Wolin suggests in the next pages that this is a more significant contribution (to modern political theory) than Machiavelli and Hobbes.

8.    Also, read God_Caesar_America.pdf, found in Sakai.  In about one page evaluate the argument from Calvin’s perspective.

Unit Ten:  Machiavelli. 

Wolin, Chapter Seven:  Machiavelli. 

1.    Wolin describes a distinct contribution by Machiavelli, and conditions conducive to doing so in the Italy of his time.  Describe these.  (176-9)

2.    What was the center of Machiavelli’s political morality?  (186-7)

3.    How was Machiavelli’s concept of power distinct from what came before?  (187-93)

4.    For Machiavelli, violence is at the center of the state.  Is this an unusual claim, according to Wolin?  (197-8)  The significance of Machiavelli might be that he theorized violence in order to control it.  How so?  (198-200)

5.    Is Machiavelli a relativist?  (200-205)  [Please use this definition of relativism:  Moral judgments are not true, except within the practices and beliefs of particular groups of people.]

6.    According to Wolin, what role is played in his theory by the mass (of humans)?  (205-211)

7.     How does Machiavelli propose that a society controls the excesses of factions? (211-13) 


Unit Eleven:  Hobbes. 

1.    What hallmarks of the new scientific age are evident in Hobbes?  (214-18)

2.    For Hobbes, what is political knowledge?  (220-1)

3.    Wolin claims that geometry, not science, is Hobbes’ model for knowledge.  What is the distinction?  (224)

4.    What is “private reason”?  (231) Why is it dangerous?  What is the alternative for politics?  Wolin lists this as an important original contribution of Hobbes.

5.    How does Wolin suggest we interpret state of nature arguments?  (235-6)

6.    How did Hobbes define the problem of justice?  (241-3)

7.    Hobbes’ view of religion in politics differed from that of Machiavelli. How so?  (244-6)  Are there machiavellian attributes of religion in this recent survey of young people’s religious experience in the US? 

8.    Wolin accuses Hobbes of having a very limited understanding of interests.  What did Hobbes miss about interests?  (248-51)

9.    What made the Hobbesian view of power “hollow”?  (255)


Unit Twelve:  Liberalism. 

Wolin, Chapter Nine: Liberalism and the Decline of Political Philosophy.

1.     Wolin begins the chapter with a description of a broad trend: “the erosion of the distinctly political.”  (p. 260)  In these first few pages, what does he say that Hobbes ‘missed’?  What did Hobbes ‘get’?  He repeats this comparison with a description of how the social sciences are commonly with respect to traditional political theory.  What is this distinction? 

2.     One interpretation of the central argument of this chapter: it is about how liberals killed political philosophy.  (see p. 261)  What, for example, was the contribution of Adam Smith in the diminution of political philosophy? 

3.     Wolin tells us (262-3) that it is not just political philosophy that has been encroached upon by other disciplines.  This happened to philosophy, as well.  He suggests that Locke was the pivotal figure in this shift.  How so? 

4.     Wolin describes an important liberal notion of the limits of reason (pp. 266-8).  How do liberals differ from more radical democrats?  What is Wolin’s claim that Calvinists underwent a similar shift (to that of liberals) in focusing attention to the practical details of living in the here and now?  (He describes this, at p. 268, as “turning philosophy outwards”. 

5.     What, according to Wolin, was truly radical about liberalism?  (p. 270)  Note a point of emphasis a little further down on the page, a favorite quote:  “[I]t is not justice which has a real existence, but injustice.” 

6.     Why does the new emphasis on the central role of economic activity reduce the scope of (or even eradicate) political concepts?  (pp. 271-3)

7.     How does Locke’s “state of nature” argument depreciate the status of the political?  (pp. 274-7)  What is the significance of claiming that the society and a majority within it are prepolitical? 

8.     Very significant section:  According to Locke, what is the importance of the institution of property in liberalism?  (pp. 278-81)

9.     The section from pp. 282-292, “Liberalism and Anxiety,” deserves to be considered as an argument all on its own.  Write an abstract of the argument.  When going through the argument, consider the basic assumptions about the relationship between humans and “nature.”  What did people like Malthus, Dewey, Freud and Mill have to say about this relationship?  Note that liberals need to find a way to soften the consequences of scarcity (288-9).  What, according to Wolin, are the main avenues for this? 

10. In the section on “the problem of pain” (292-7) Wolin claims that liberals worried a great deal about uncertainty (uncertainty about pain, and about status), and not so much about equality.  Why?  From a different perspective, one could say that this feature of liberalism is about turning away from the suffering of others, and emphasizing the possible suffering of the self.  Is that a fair judgment? 

11. An enduring theme in western political philosophy, as the tradition is usually conceived, is that “desire is the enemy.”  (Please recall the chant.)  Liberals generally acknowledge that human passions play a large and usually dominant role in our thinking.  How does this idea emerge in Locke?  (pp. 297-300)  What are the consequences of the Lockean position that human reasoning is, for most of us, corrupted?  (see note 157 on p. 300; and remind yourself of Locke’s Second Treatise, paragraphs 124-5, 136)

12. What does Wolin mean when he says that conscience became social, rather than individual?  (near the top of 303.  The argument runs from p. 301-7.)

13. Wolin describes three elements of liberal conformity (on p. 307).  What are they?

14. Conformity becomes, for liberalism, a way to make sense of authority and legitimacy.  How so?  (p. 308-11)

15. Wolin closes the chapter by describing Mill’s encounter with social conformity, and his inadequate response to it.  For those of you familiar with the communitarian approach to political philosophy, the charge is often made that ‘liberals don’t do community.’  Wolin suggests that if Mill could not adequately confront the problem of social conformity, we should not expect others to do it very well.  What does Wolin mean by his charge that liberals have lost a sense of community?  (314) 

Unit Thirteen: Modern Organization.  [Remember this part of the book was written in 1960.]

Chapter Ten: The Age of Organization and the Sublimation of Politics

1.  Wolin begins the chapter with a warning.  What is it? (315)  Considering claims in section I, we see he hit some (social classes and equality not important to us, 317 & 319) and missed some (close collaboration of administrators and scientists, 317; a wholesale reaction to the politics of interest, 319).  Remember this chapter was written before the development of the conservative reaction to activist government, among other developments (a reference to the theme of Pierson and Skocpol, The Transformation of American Politics, Princeton 2007).  Wolin does address these many themes in the new chapters.

2.  How do ideologies keep us from seeing?  (320)  In section II, list the ways that the concept of “society” was “glorified.”  What did this keep people from seeing?  (319-325)

3.  Theorists of very different persuasions have focused on the importance of “organization.”  Why?  (325-9)  Note, in the middle of p. 329, that this presents a theoretical problem remarkably similar to the one Calvin tried to resolve.  (See chapter 6 question 4, above.) 

4.  Rousseau (and later, others) is used by Wolin to show that in the modern era theorists are concerned that the moral person is not the individual.  What is it? What does that mean?  (330-4) 

5.  Wolin describes what Rousseau meant by ‘freedom.’  What is it?  334-6.  What is the problem of freedom for which this is an answer? 

6.  Wolin notes that a tight focus on organization is a shift away from the then-current preoccupation of Western political theory with equality.  (337-8)  Why?  (up to 341)

7.  This new answer to an old question (about that it means to be rational, pp. 341-2) appears to be similar to the point raised back in chapter 9, at p. 303.  Do you agree? 

8.  Section VII (342-7) invites you to consider the similarities between organization theory and social science methodology.  What does methodology do to our thinking?  (344)  Note he claims, p. 345, that one feature of methodology “might not appear at all odd” (start of last full paragraph).  Should this seem odd?  Why?  One consequence of the approach is what Wolin calls, at 347, an “Olympian ruthlessness.”  Is this an essential part of the theorists he refers to? 

9.  According to Wolin, what do constitutions do?  Which of these elements is the main focus of modern theories?  (348)

10.  What is missing from modern theories of constitutionalism, according to Wolin?  Why?  (349-52)

11.  You can tell that Wolin finds some theorists more persuasive than others.  What does he mean by referring to Utopian Socialists’ “pathetic attempts to unite the incompatibles of power, desire, and community”?  (353)  You can see the importance of the point when he describes the modern direction of coping with these ‘incompatibles,’ mainly through a focus on using power over people to promote stability.  (356-9)  [And, the first typographical error I found is on page 359, at the end of that first paragraph. ]

12.  Section X describes a shift from a focus on economic rationalism to one of social systems.  How are individuals and organizations viewed in these two concepts?  (360-4)

13.  Section XI and XII (364-76) are focused on an issue that seemed more at the forefront in the political theory of 1960.  You will perhaps see that the tendencies Wolin describes (a Hobbesian view vs. an organic view of authority) is still alive in organization theory, although its connections to political theory have faded.  The last chapters of the book shows a different view of organizations.  An important part of it is the observations on a retreat from political categories, without much concern for how this would dramatically increase the power of the state.  (372-4)

14.  Wolin suggests the importance of the connection between organization theory and political theory in the penultimate section (376-84).  The leading organization theory of the time seemed “post-Marxian” in the sense that the view of regular people is more Leninist than Marxist.  What does that mean?  (376-9)

15.  What is the “nostalgia” in Weber that Wolin refers to?  (380)

16.  Wolin suggests that modern organization theory, at least in Selznick, is Lenin turned upside down.  What does that mean?  (383)

17.  The themes in previous 50 pages are summarized on pp. 384-9.  Read through this section and keep a list of items that seem to have been overcome by history—things that, 50 years later, just don’t ring true.  We will discuss the patterns in our lists. 


Unit Fourteen:  Locke. 

Many editions of Locke's Second Treatise of Government are available, and most editions follow a standard format for numbered paragraphs.  A version is available in Sakai. 

In Locke’s Second Treatise, Read paragraphs 1-51, 72-3 (optional: 52-76, chapter on Paternal Power), 85-91, 94-99, 119-168, and 196-end.


1.     What is the distinction between the state of nature and civil society?  Note that by paragraph 13, most of the essential assumptions of the argument are asserted. 

2.     The state of nature is NOT the state of war (compare to Hobbes).  How is Locke’s state of nature different from Hobbes’?  See para 13, and also 124-7. 

3.     The central human motivation is self-preservation, and this is based on reason. It is a law of nature (but note that it is a natural right).  How so?

4.     Locke’s argument on slavery is brief—see paras. 22-4, and also 85, 172, 180, and 182.

5.     What are the beginnings of property for Locke?  Why is this one of his central ideas?: After the discussion of the value of nature, accumulation of property has a limit in the SN—the limit of spoilage. Why?  What is the significance of the way he overcomes this limit?  This chapter is quite important.  By the time you are up to para. 36, we have the beginnings of the argument about consent.  On that concept, see also paras. 45, 67, 74, 95, 112, and 134.  A closely related concept is obligation; see paras. 72-3, 97, and 116-120. 

6.     How does money change property?  What is the justification for inequality of possessions?

7.     Locke’s chapter on the family, “of paternal power,” is oblique but interesting.  Note, at para. 57, that liberty has implications for the family.  Note also, paras. 63-5, that the family has a natural origin—but, as Rousseau asked, if families are regarded as natural, why isn’t politics regarded as natural?  We see what he is doing by para. 66—the mother’s share in family power shows us, he asser4ts, that paternal power in no way leads to political power.  This is linked to his argument in the first treatise.  Note, at paras. 72-3, that inheritance is an important part of families, and that it confers a political obligation.  You might also see: para. 80, the family is natural; para. 82, the husband rules the wife (but what about those earlier exceptions?); para. 118, children are subject to the father; and para. 158, economic power is joined to political power. 

8.     Why do people form societies?  What are the signs that Locke believes humans are naturally inclined towards virtuous behavior?  When dealing with the argument, starting in para. 87, remember the great role of government, at paras. 42, 124. 

9.     What are the deficiencies of the state of nature?

10.  All are bound to the political order, which is governed by majorities. Why?  Perhaps the central ingredient is at para 119, about express and tacit consent.  See para. 97 as well. 

11.  The legislative is the primary political power. Why?  At paras. 136-140, we see several limits to the state.  See also paras. 163-4. 

12. Read para. 158 carefully.  Who all should be able to have a say in this political order? 

13.  Resistance to tyrants is a right. Why?  See para. 203, 235.  Note carefully what all gets changed in a revolution—at 211.  Also see paras. 222-225.  Does some of this language seem familiar? 


Unit Fifteen:  Postmodernism. 

Wolin, Chapter Eleven: From Modern to Postmodern Power

Here is a website about the concept “postmodern.” 

1.    This chapter takes the form of a series of meditations on the development of the concept power. You will need to have some clarity about power to fully understand the argument.  Take what you find in sections I-IV of the chapter (393-400) and write out one-line descriptions of 3 views of power: premodern, modern, and postmodern.  You might find useful the extensive references to other uses of power in the book. (757)  And, your list will be a helpful bookmark in several upcoming chapters. 

2.    In section V (400-402) Wolin describes “constituent elements” of modern power.  What are they?  Can you point to current empirical signs of each?  Recall how this chapter started: with a warning that membership in a collective (such as a nation) is based on a rearranging of remembrance, and, perhaps more significantly, selective memory loss. 

3.    How have we tried to contain power in the modern era?  (402-5) 


Unit Sixteen:  Marx. 

Marx: Theorist of the Political Economy of the Proletariat or of Uncollapsed Capitalism?

1.    Note Wolin’s summary comparison of Marx and Nietzsche: “Both were critical of the liberal and democratic conception of politics that legitimates opposition and differences.”  (407) With respect to its view of power, what is wrong with liberalism? 

2.    What was Marx’s contribution to our understanding of power?  (408-9)  Note Wolin’s claim about what overwhelmed Marx’s hopes for power, top of 410. 

3.    In the early literature of political economy, why did the development of capitalism seem to be necessarily accompanied by the development of bureaucracy?  (410-413)

4.    According to Wolin, what did Marx find inadequate about democracy?  (413-14)

5.    What did Marx believe could be achieved through theory?  (415-6, also back at quote on p. 409)

6.    Wolin says Marx’s EPMss “marks the moment when Western theory embraces power without any accompanying inhibitions or apprehensions or emphasis upon limits.” (417)  What does this mean, in practical terms?  (As a reminder, the EPMss contain Marx’s early writing on alienation.) 

7.    The next section, up through p. 424, describes Marx’s view of power and compares it with that of Hobbes and Machiavelli.  What are the chief distinctions? 

8.    See the second quoted passage on p. 426.  Note it is the same passage used back on p. 416 (with different use of italics….).  Here it has something to do with being able to conceive of power.  According to Marx, how do you see power?  (426-7)

9.    In what ways does Wolin present the narratives of Marx and Locke as parallel?  427-30)

10. According to Marx, why did the Communist Party carry such a heavy burden in creating a revolution in power?  (432-5)  This theme is further developed in pp. 440-5, in Marx’s ideas about dictatorship.  Wolin ends this latter section with a suggestion that Marx’s late 19th century view of power was ambiguous in significant ways. 

11. Note the importance in Marx’s thought of ending scarcity.  (437)

12. Did Marx seek to abolish the power system of capital?  (436-9)

13. Wolin’s account of Marx and technology is on pp. 439-40.  We can develop this further in class. 

14. In the section leading up to p. 452, Wolin develops the idea that Marx pursued lines of theory that could not be reconciled (and, at top of 452, suggests Marx understood this at some point).  Describe the gap between these distinct emphases in his thought. 

15. The last brief section of the chapter contains a brief assertion about the power of ideology under capitalism.  What is the claim?  Draw a diagram that illustrates this claim, and in your diagram clearly distinguish the concepts used to arrive at the claim.


Unit Seventeen:  Nietsche.

Wolin, Chapter Thirteen:  Nietzsche. 

1.    Wolin begins the chapter with the claim that, among 19th century theorists on the topic of culture, “Nietzsche above them all”….  What did he do?  Note, in part II, that N. is credited with influencing an extraordinarily wide range of thinkers. (454-6)

2.    Read section III carefully—Wolin claims “an older, less presentable Nietzsche had to be suppressed….  Does he offer any evidence?  (457-8)

3.    Wolin asks us to consider 20th century totalitarianism in classic terms—like Aristotle, to see forms of constitutions as ideal types which may occur in good or perverted forms.  If we go along with this suggestion, what is totality or totalitarianism as a form?  (458-60)  See also question 11, below. 

4.    Nietzsche’s “distinctive conception of politics” (460) consists of several features.  What are they?  What is the connection between those and the analysis of culture?  (the latter, the frequent focus of contemporary readers of Nietzsche)

5.    Wolin begins section VI with these words:  Nietzsche justifies the politics of evil….”  (462)  Where did Wolin come upon the concept of evil, as used here?  Note it is part of Nietzsche’s question to overturn virtue, truth, and the way conventional politics restrain the “few.”  (462-4)

6.    What does Wolin mean by “critical totalitarianism”?  Make a list of its features.  (464-8)

7.    Wolin makes an argument about the totalitarian dynamic, and the role of totalitarian theorists.  (468-73)  What are the essential features of totalitarianism? (469-70) Note the metaphor of inversions, continued on p. 473.  A good but obscure book that develops this theme is Burt Alpert, Inversions.  Hard to find, worth it. 

8.    Nietzsche’s inversions are described in more detail from pp. 474-90.  The argument follows the subsection headings—a comparison to Marx, as a way of explaining nihilism; in ‘the politics of culture’ a reminder of N’s originality; an account of the importance of intellectuals (N’s conceit, perhaps); and, a new claim about what truth is accessible to us.  Note this culminates at the start of section XVII: Rediscovering Myth.  Why does Myth need rediscovering? 

9.    Wolin takes us back to Nietzsche’s starting place, on 484-9.  What role did Myth have in N’s thinking?  What did philosophy’s pursuit of truth do to that? (485)  What was so wrong about philosophy and science? (487)  Wolin ends these section with a reference to “the intellectual’s oldest fantasy….”  What was it? 

10. Wolin claims N. was more prescient than Marx.  How?  (490)  Over the next two pages Wolin recounts some claims made by N. that seem to have been prescient.  What are they? 

11.What is the “totality” of the twentieth century, revisiting that concept of the form of totality?  (492-4)  See question 3, above. 


Unit Eighteen: Liberalism and Rationalism. 

Wolin, Chapter Fourteen: Liberalism and the Politics of Rationalism

1.    Note the theme of this chapter—it starts by contrasting two books which help us trace liberalism’s “triumph over Fascist statism” and “its temporary embrace of the Welfare State.”  Wolin warns us that neither book is sufficiently robust theoretically—why not?  Then, why use them?  (495-6)

2.    What did Popper mean by “the open society”?  (496-7)

3.    Popper argued that the social sciences could play a limited but important role.  What, and why limit it in this way? (498-500)

4.    Wolin poses a big question about Popper’s argument, second complete paragraph on p. 500.  What happens if an answer to this question ignores (at the bottom of the page) “policy as it might emerge from the political contests… (between) rival political parties”?  Is it plausible that this is the general obstacle to resolving political conflicts through recourse to science? 

5.    At the end of section III, on p. 502, Wolin essentially accuses Popper of having significant reservations about democracy.  What is the substance of this claim? 

6.    Wolin claims that John Dewey did political theory, not political philosophy.  What’s the difference?  (504)  Note, at 506, that ‘action’ is at the heart of democratic theory, which is a particular way of defining theory. 

7.    What is the claim of section VII, 506-7?  Is this a way of saying that the point of democratizing science is to influence who benefits from it?

8.    In a subtle argument, Wolin suggests that Dewey envisioned a social quality to science, which in turn served as a response to questions about the role of government in economic affairs.  (508-10)  Can you outline the steps in this argument?

9.    Wolin tells us that Dewey saw the ways that ‘the economic’ was similar to totalitarianism (see Qs 3 & 11 for chapter 13, above).  Did his idea of democracy offer an answer to totalitarianism?  (510-14)

10. How did Dewey use science to reconceptualize democracy?  Was this convincing, or successful?  (514-19)

11. Section XV, on 519-20, presents an argument that helps specify that comparison in chap. 13 between the benign and pernicious forms of totalism.  Wolin labels this as the connection between technology and totalitarianism.  In an amusing concatenation of events, today’s New York Times carried two stories about jobs in the economy—one a celebratory piece about the private sector on a steady beat of job creation, and the other about most of those jobs paying too little to live on.  Sometimes it is dreary to see when Wolin calls it right. 

12. Section XVI contains a claim that is an important part of the concept “inverted totalitarianism,” which Wolin will present about 70 pages from now.  He says that elitism has been recast to fit a liberal narrative.  What are its constituent parts?  520-2.  

13. According to Wolin,  did the anti-war, civil rights and ecology movements produce significant expansions of political space?  [Recall the argument in chapter 9, referred to in question 6.]


Unit Nineteen:  Liberalism and Justice  

Wolin, Chapter Fifteen:  Liberal Justice and Political Democracy

1.    Wolin claims (at 525) that “liberalism practically disappeared as a publicly professed ideology….  Here is the Guardian review of Krugman’s Conscience of a Liberal, and here is a critical review of the critical review of the same book in the NYT.  Does Wolin’s claim suggest an interpretation of these reviews? 

2.    What is “the liberal dilemma”?  (525-8)  Consider this possibility:  The needed liberal challenge mentioned at the top of p. 527 was delivered in a speech by Martin Luther King Jr., often referred to as his VietNam speech.  Does the speech address the ideas mentioned on 527?  If the challenge was there, does Wolin help us understand why it did not ‘take’?  (You might look ahead, to the last para. on p. 555.)

3.    How does John Rawls fit into liberal political theory, according to Wolin?  (529-31)  How is it a “new kind of public philosophy”?  (530)

4.    Wolin claims (533-4) that contemporary liberal theories’ incoherent accounts of power means they are not critical theories, but are instead legitimizing theories.  Specifically, how does he say Rawls commits this conceptual product?  (531-6) (And, linger over his short account of how to think about justice, bottom of 531) 

5.    In the chapter Wolin reviews two of Rawls’ books, A Theory of Justice and Political Liberalism.  Concerning the first, what experience is expunged from his account of justice?  (536-8)  On this score compare the argument to Nussbaum, Sex and Social Justice, at 38, 48, and 54.

6.    What does Rawls try to solve through his proposal to have reasonableness as the core feature of the political and the citizen?  (539)

7.    Why does it make a difference where Rawls marks the beginning of liberalism?  (540-2)  At that penultimate paragraph on 541, recall the claims about Calvin’s contributions to our modern ideas, at pp. 171-3.  And, note your response to that second paragraph on 542. 

8.    Wolin further develops the idea referred to in question 6, in section IX.  In particular, he claims (544) that under Rawls’ suggested constraints the Civil Rights movement could not have happened.  Why? 

9.    In section X, Wolin says that Rawls discovers power in a political culture.  He suggests this is, in his theory, tautological.  How so?  And note the joke at the end:  “Nietzsche would have smiled…  Why?  (recall chapter thirteen) 

10.What is ‘public reason’?  (548)  Note the way the idea plays out on p. 549.  What are the “repressive elements in Rawls’ liberalism”?  Wolin further develops the point on 550. 

11.The last two sections of the chapter, pp. 551-6, spell out the features of what Wolin calls inverted totalitarianism.  What are those features?  What makes them totalitarian?  What makes them inverted?  (Recall what you came up with for chapter thirteen, questions 3 & 11, and chapter fourteen, question 12.)


Unit Twenty:  Another Look at Power. 

Wolin, Chapter Sixteen: Power and Forms

1.    The chapter begins with a reminder of the classic archetypes of constitutions, “signifying the predominance of the one, the few, or the many.”  Why, according to Wolin, is this no longer useful?  (557)

2.    The remainder of this first section introduces a new category to types of constitutions:  superpower.  What is it?  And why does this new category not fit into the traditional theory of forms (the “formless” claim)?  (558-9)  And, do linger over Wolin’s suggestion about the way we regard elites in our time, top of p. 558.

3.    How is superpower different from other sovereign states?  (559-60)

4.    On pp. 560-1 Wolin provides a list of five elements of the way superpower and terrorists feed off of each other (seven, if you count those last two points on the bottom of p. 561).  Within these elements, describe the role played by the “mythical past” claim. 

5.    In section III Wolin claims that in this postmodern era power has been transformed.  How? (562-3)  [Recall he introduced the idea of postmodern power back in chapter eleven.]

6.     Wolin says (p. 563) that “(a)n advanced economy is a profoundly anti-political site….”  What is the argument here?  Note this is about the core of “inverted totalitarianism” (see above, chapter fifteen question 11).  It builds on earlier chapters that described rationalism.  It also contains claims about the limited quality of democracy, citizenship, and civic culture. 

7.    In section V, Wolin offers a paradox of Marx’s predictions about capitalism.  What is paradoxical here?  (565-6)  You might recall the last section of the Wolin chapter on Marx, pp. 450-3. 

8.    In section VI, any doubts about Wolin’s view of self-styled postmodernists are put to rest.  He claims they “function as support rather than opposition.”  How so?  (566-7)  It is such a cascade of criticism that this older reader wishes one of you younger readers will be able to mix this section into a rap.  Seriously. 

9.     Wolin closes section VII  with the claim that “under the conditions of contemporary capitalist socieities there seemed to be no obvious vehicle of the political.” (568)  What possible vehicles were eliminated?  How? 

10.Sections VIII through X, pages 568 to 575, are aimed primarily at people interested in the discipline of political science.  Graduate students should read these, along with accounts of Wolin’s influence in the field (for example, John G. Gunnell’s The Descent of Political Theory, and the pieces by Wolin and Schaar in the New York Review of Books).  The sections contain claims that some people in the discipline will regard as jokes and insults.  People are trained in the work of William Riker, for example, are likely to be dismissive about section IX. (haha…. “so instrumental and morally empty a goal….”)  Enjoy.

11.What does Wolin mean by “the economy of opposition”?  (p. 575)  How is this supposed to have figured into the US’s abandonment of the welfare state?  (576)  What is anti-political about this? (577)  Readers may wish to compare this section with the one in the Machiavelli chapter that describes “the economy of violence,” pp. 197-200. 

12.The last two sections of the chapter, 578-80, describe a couple of more features of the emerging new form of constitution, a new form of totalism.  What are they?  Do you find these sections convincing?  Remember:  If he argument is right, this revision of concepts about constitutions should enable us to more clearly theorize power and politics. 


Unit Twenty-One:  What Is Possible?  Political Philosophy In Our Time. 

Wolin, Chapter Seventeen, Postmodern Democracy: Virtual or Fugitive?

1.    This chapter opens with a focus on postmodernism.  Review pp. 562-3, and visit the commentary on postmodernism.  What does he add to that here?  (581-2)

2.    Section II (582-3) offers a variant of the inversion argument.  As to what is being inverted, recall p. 473, and pp. 489-92.  What does it mean to say that Nietzschean pessimism is now inverted?

3.    Years ago a Christian writer said the self is a poor locus for meaning in life.  Wolin presents a version of this claim on p. 584.  What is the individual’s place in this postmodern superpower?

4.    Section IV (585-6) contrasts our current esteem of democracy with the long-held skepticism about the concept among political philosophers.  Here Wolin develops the point by describing a “centrifugal” force that redefines citizenship.  How does this work?

5.    Wolin does not accept the claim that capitalism and democracy are natural companions (see bottom of p. 596).  What are the features of the contemporary addition of capitalism to democracy?  (587-90…. I count five distinct developments he describes.)

6.    If you have followed the argument so far (up to 590), what are the consequences for theory?  When he says the “traditional categories of citizen, democracy, state, and power desparately need reformulation,” does he say how?  (590-4)

7.    As part of that previous section, note the “most revealing inversion” (593) and his brief discussion of racism (591-2).  What is his account of the role of racism in superpower?  Is it robust—that is, does it help us to explain our politics? 

8.    Why is media concentration the “most ominous development” in inverted totalitarianism?  (594) Note this observation came several years before the Citizens United case. 

9.    In section IX (594-5) Wolin revisits the idea that inverted totalitarianism is a new constitutional form, and suggests we then need to ask the classic questions about constitutional forms.  What are they?  What are the answers to those questions?  (That is the subject until the end of the chapter.)

10.Much of the argument in the remaining pages has been suggested in Chapter Sixteen.  Among the things you might note:  How has citizenship changed?  597  What is the form of elitism today?  599  The connections between government and citizen have become attenuated—How?  599-600 

11.“A democratic theory should be able to describe or prescribe a conception of democracy that exposes the shallowness of Superpower’s claims.” (601)  OK, challenge accepted.  Does Wolin do that?  (601-606)  You might note his claims about the content of democratic governance (602-3—and note the similarity to the “Iron Law of Oligarchy” argument in Robert MichelsPolitical Parties.) 

12.Note on p. 605 Wolin mentions that technological change is not neutral, and needs to be part of a theory of postmodern democracy.  A student of Wolin, Professor Larry D. Spence of Penn State U., developed this idea.  If you can find it, see his “An Introduction to a Theory of the Politics of Technology,” paper presented at the Instituto de Estudios Superiores de Administracion, Caracas, Venezuela, March 29, 1976.  I attempted to apply Spence’s ideas is in The Making of Telecommunications Policy (Boulder: Lynne Reinner, 1999), pp. 16-24.  See also Larry D. Spence, “Political Theory as a Vacation,” Polity Vol. 12, No. 4 (Summer, 1980), pp. 697-710.