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The Modern Political Tradition: Hobbes to Habermas

The Modern Political Tradition: Hobbes to Habermas

Professor Lawrence Cahoone, Ph.D.
College of the Holy Cross

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The Modern Political Tradition: Hobbes to Habermas

Course No. 4750
Professor Lawrence Cahoone, Ph.D.
College of the Holy Cross
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4.4 out of 5
32 Reviews
81% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 4750
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  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. The video version contains more than 500 visual elements to fully immerse you in the learning experience. Featured are portraits or photographs of the great thinkers and historical events discussed, and 12 original diagrams designed by the professor especially for this course. On-screen text reinforces the names, places, and dates covered during each lecture.
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Course Overview

Liberty. Democracy. Rights. Community. The terms and concepts originated by political philosophers have become so ingrained in our global consciousness that politicians and ordinary citizens reference them with frequency and a sense of assuredness. Without even realizing it, we all use the fruits of political philosophy. The question is, are we using them well?

Many of us have an incomplete picture of how the ideas of political philosophy developed or their intentions and implications, despite their ubiquity. Complicating the matter, the meaning of many words in the political lexicon has evolved over time; “freedom,” “equality,” “liberal,” “conservative,” “neoconservative,” “libertarian,” “progressive,” “socialist,” “democratic,” and “republican” have each been used in a variety of ways.

Practically speaking, if we can grasp these concepts and understand their history, we are in a far better position to follow and evaluate political discussions in the media and among our social circles with discernment, so we can understand the terms as well as—if not better than—those who casually bandy them about.

In addition, tracing the origin of political thought and its execution on a grand scale allows us to develop big-picture awareness of political philosophy’s enormous influence throughout modern history, adding historical and philosophical depth to our understanding of both past and current events.

The Modern Political Tradition: Hobbes to Habermas is your opportunity to navigate the labyrinth of Western political and social theory. Guided by award-winning Professor Lawrence Cahoone of the College of the Holy Cross, these 36 eye-opening lectures reveal how political philosophers, in responding to the societal problems and changing conditions of their day in revolutionary ways, created virtual blueprints of action for leaders to implement—for good or ill. You’ll gain not only the tools necessary to comprehend and evaluate the omnipresent language of politics, but also a thorough understanding of the wellspring of thought that has emerged over centuries of political philosophy.

You’ll also gain knowledge of the intellectual origins of monumental historical events and developments from the Renaissance through the 21st century, such as

  • the creation of America’s political system, which was crucially influenced by John Locke and Montesquieu;
  • the French Revolution, which was influenced by Jean-Jacques Rousseau;
  • the formation of most capitalist contemporary societies, which have been guided by the theories of Adam Smith;
  • the invention of communist regimes, which is largely attributable to Karl Marx; and
  • the numerous reforms of progressivism, which include the eight-hour workday, minimum wage laws, worker’s compensation, voting rights for women, and social insurance for the elderly, disabled, and unemployed.

This ambitious course is a highly relevant exploration, with a third of it focusing on the very recent past and a great many lectures concerning events and ideas of the last century. By course end, you will have acquired the context necessary to appreciate how political ideas have developed over time, including many of the hot-button topics of today, from libertarianism and neoconservatism to feminism, multiculturalism, and environmentalism.

Connect Centuries of Western Political Thought

Offering impressive breadth and depth, The Modern Political Tradition has a scope you’re unlikely to find in a traditional university course. Here, you’ll trace the rise of movements including capitalism, liberalism, conservatism, nationalism, socialism, and communism; you’ll look at various incarnations of the social contract theory; and you’ll learn how disagreements between Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison influenced America’s Constitution and system of government.

As you immerse yourself in the politics of events such as World War II and the invasion of Afghanistan, as well as movements such as for civil rights and environmentalism, you’ll consider a range of fascinating topics:

  • Fundamental notions of freedom and rights
  • Moral realism versus moral relativism
  • Dangers and advantages of the free-market model of economics
  • Questions of distributive justice and the welfare state
  • “Just war” theory, which is currently being tested by the war on terror
  • The inequality of a policy of “color blindness”
  • Whether democracy or “liberal republicanism” is applicable to every civilization

You will also see how the French Revolution and its aftermath, the Napoleonic Wars, set up the international spectrum of conservatism on the right, some brand of socialism on the left, and a mix of liberal and civic republicanism in the middle—in addition to giving us the very terms “right” and “left.”

In Professor Cahoone’s treatment of everything from totalitarianism to postmodern critique, he provides a clear analysis of the defenses philosophers have used to support their ideas, critics’ arguments against those ideas, and how the two relate.

A major focus of this course is liberal republicanism, which you will come to realize is not only a unique and experimental concept in history, but a highly complex one. With several political, social, and economic principles and institutions woven into its fabric, liberal republicanism remains subject to a host of criticisms and questions that political philosophers are still attempting to address.

However, modern thought—and this course—are by no means limited to liberal republicanism. You’ll see other ways of imagining a free and equal society, as well as those of philosophers like Vladimir Lenin and Carl Schmitt, who reject the very idea.

Discover Philosophy for the Real World

Compared with more metaphysical realms of philosophy, political philosophy is the discipline’s most influential and tangible area. Broadly speaking, it attempts to answer the question of how human beings should live together in society. On a more granular level, it asks such questions as these:

  • What is justice?
  • What is the chief good of political society?
  • What kind of government is best?
  • What is a just distribution of goods, services, and income?

In The Modern Political Tradition, you’ll study individuals with clear vision in addressing these and other fundamental problems. Among the earliest is Niccolò Machiavelli, from whom we get the notion of “the ends justify the means” and his assertion that political actors will inevitably behave immorally, what later writers have called “dirty hands.”

You’ll also delve into the deontological ethics of Immanuel Kant and the utilitarianism of John Stuart Mill—ideas so influential that they are commonly referenced (albeit without attribution) during ethical controversies to this day.

In every lecture, you’ll meet revolutionary figures who have left an indelible mark on history and, in many cases, continue to influence political debate.

  • Mary Wollstonecraft: Responsible for the first feminist political theory in 1792, she called for a “revolution in female matters” from the “tyranny of man.”
  • Leonard Hobhouse: He was an Englishman whose arguments for a “new” liberalism reappeared throughout the 20th century as part of American progressivism, the Square Deal, the New Deal, and the Great Society.
  • Alexandre Kojève: He argued that Henry Ford was the greatest Marxist of the 20th century because he paid his workers enough to buy the Model T cars they produced.
  • Ayn Rand: The famous writer’s theory of “objectivism” and defense of laissez-faire has been cited as influential by a vice-presidential candidate and the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, among others.
  • John Rawls: A late 20th-century progressive, he reinvigorated the theory of distributive justice by arguing for an American form of European social democracy.

Join a Respected Philosopher and Author

Having penned several books on issues presented in this course, Professor Cahoone—a philosopher in his own right—delivers these lectures with remarkable insight, accessibility, and authority. His engaging teaching style, even-handedness, and ability to distill an array of multifaceted concepts have garnered raves from Great Courses learners and university students alike.

To enhance your understanding of the material, Professor Cahoone has created detailed diagrams, many of which have been animated, specifically for this course. Along with a variety of other on-screen graphics, these visuals illustrate complex points that arise throughout the lectures for those who choose video.

After completing The Modern Political Tradition, politics will come into focus like never before. Even America’s seemingly hopelessly stalemated politics will suddenly be viewed in an entirely new light.

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36 lectures
 |  30 minutes each
  • 1
    Origins and Conflicts of Modern Politics
    Kick off the course with a discussion of political philosophy’s continuing influence in the world and its major concepts, including democracy, republicanism, and liberalism. Consider moral realism versus moral relativism, and learn how the history of modern political thought has evolved from its formation through its contemporary period. x
  • 2
    Ancient Republics, Empires, Fiefdoms
    Modern political philosophy emerged, along with the rise of modernity, out of medieval feudalism. Delve into the history of politics leading up to 16th-century Europe, including the development of ancient political organization, the ideas of Plato and Aristotle—the first Western political theorists—and the contributions of medieval philosophy, such as the notion of “just war.” x
  • 3
    Machiavelli’s New Order
    Does politics demand behavior that is ethically immoral? Do the ends justify the means? Explore the legacy of Niccolò Machiavelli, the first modern political philosopher and political scientist, who broke with the classical virtue politics of Plato, Aristotle, Rome, and medieval Christianity, establishing a new order of political thought that focused on politics in the real world. x
  • 4
    Hobbes, Natural Law, the Social Contract
    Explore the first version of social contract theory as espoused by Thomas Hobbes, who based his view on moral relativism and a pessimistic state of nature in which there is a war of all against all. Learn why for society to function, according to Hobbes, the people must give up control to the sovereign, upon which no limits can be placed. x
  • 5
    Locke on Limited Government and Toleration
    Turn to John Locke and his more “liberal” notion of the state of nature and the social contract, which reinterpreted civic republicanism in terms of the preservation of property. Follow the arguments he presented in his Second Treatise on Government and Letter on Toleration, which ultimately established the foundation of the Anglo-American version of modern republicanism. x
  • 6
    Rousseau’s Republican Community
    As the Enlightenment’s greatest champion of equality, Swiss writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau endorsed the social contract—but his ideas differed from Hobbes and Locke in critical ways. Here, examine Rousseau’s legacy and thought, which sought to structure modern civil society in a way that might recapture what he saw as the independence and equality of primitive society. x
  • 7
    Kant’s Ethics of Duty and Natural Rights
    Immanuel Kant is attributed with creating one of the two most influential theories of ethics, deontological ethics—the other being utilitarianism—each of which became the background for an enduring view of modern republicanism. In this lecture, examine Kant’s fundamental arguments, which are key to understanding much of modern political theory. x
  • 8
    Smith and the Market Revolution
    Inspired by the commercial success of Holland and England, a number of 18th-century intellectuals argued that a society of self-interested producers is good, despite its flaunting of traditional, classical, and Christian virtues. Investigate these thinkers, including Voltaire and Adam Smith, who each believed commerce promotes liberty, peace, and prosperity. x
  • 9
    Montesquieu and the American Founding
    The complexities of the American Constitution and system of government are a consequence of disagreements between Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison. Look at their arguments and contributions to political thought—including the Declaration of Independence, parts of the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers—along with the ideas of Montesquieu, whose notion of the separation of powers was crucial for the American founders. x
  • 10
    Debating the French Revolution
    As the greatest political event of the 18th century, the French Revolution inspired political thinkers around the world. In the first of three lectures tracing the uprising’s philosophical impact, delve into the liberal, conservative, and proto-progressive arguments made during “the battle of the pamphlets”—the first intellectual feud over the meaning of the Revolution. x
  • 11
    Legacies of the Revolution—Right to Left
    Where do the political terms “right” and “left” come from? Find out here, in a lecture that explores powerful 19th-century thinkers on both sides of the spectrum, whose reactions to the polarizing French Revolution helped pave the way for more extreme conservatism and anarchist socialism that lasted throughout the century. x
  • 12
    Nationalism and a People’s War
    Part of the legacy of the French Revolution was the development of two phenomena: nationalism and the modern way of warfare. Look at the philosophical work of military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, who distinguished between “real war” and “pure war” (the latter being the type ushered in by Napoleon), as you consider the novelty and significance of these changes. x
  • 13
    Civil Society—Constant, Hegel, Tocqueville
    Between the extremes of left and right, Benjamin Constant, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and Alexis de Tocqueville made major contributions to political theory by examining the idea of what a free republic can and should be. Examine their writing, which demonstrated that two kinds of republicanism exist: liberal and civic. x
  • 14
    Mill on Liberty and Utility
    Despite later declaring himself a socialist, John Stuart Mill is admired by neoliberals and libertarians for his “harm principle” and rejection of paternalism as expressed in On Liberty. Investigate Mill’s doctrine of individual liberty and redefinition of utilitarianism, as well as his economic stance, all of which became crucial to subsequent political and economic theory. x
  • 15
    Marx’s Critique of Capitalism
    German philosopher Karl Marx’s critique of capitalism and vision of communism went unapplied until 1917 in Russia. By 1980, approximately one-third of the world’s population lived in countries adhering to his work. Explore Marx’s basic claims (formulated in conjunction with Friedrich Engels), which represented the most powerful version of socialism and the greatest threat to liberal capitalism. x
  • 16
    Modern vs. Traditional Society
    The modern world brought higher standards of living, unprecedented scientific knowledge, and widespread literacy, yet it also undermined tradition and, for many, led to a loss of community. Learn how figures from the newly emerging social sciences, including Max Weber, Sigmund Freud, and Friedrich Nietzsche, changed the intellectual environment in attempting to describe this shift. x
  • 17
    Progressivism and New Liberalism
    From 1900 to 1920, American progressives such as Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, and John Dewey argued for an “organic” view of society against the natural rights, atomistic individualism, and limited government of the 19th century. Understand the role, effects, and issues raised by progressivism and new liberalism in America, including the welfare state. x
  • 18
    Fleeing Liberalism—Varieties of Socialism
    Explore the growing variants of socialism, including a milder, “evolutionary” socialism in western Europe, an intermediate version of “Western Marxist” political theory, and a more radical, authoritarian communism in Russia. Look closely at the ideas of Vladimir Lenin and get a clear explanation of capitalism vs. communism. x
  • 19
    Fleeing Liberalism—Fascism and Carl Schmitt
    In the 1920s, opposition to bourgeois-led parliamentary democracy split between internationalist socialism and a new nationalist socialism, which came to be called fascism. Explore the roots of fascism and its most sophisticated political thinker, Carl Schmitt, who presents a deep philosophical critique of parliamentary democracy and liberal republicanism. x
  • 20
    Totalitarianism and Total War
    Explore the events surrounding World War II, including the role philosophers played and how political philosophers interpreted the new totalitarianism of Russia, Italy, and Germany. Grasp how this period produced our familiar spectrum of international politics, with communism on the far left and fascism on the far right. x
  • 21
    Conservative or Neoliberal—Oakeshott, Hayek
    Neoliberals and economic conservatives disagree widely on many points, but they share a common enemy: expansive, progressive government. See the two paths conservatism took in the post–WWII world and examine the thought these camps produced—all of which serves as background for today’s arguments about government and economy. x
  • 22
    Reviving the Public Realm—Hannah Arendt
    Hannah Arendt, one of the 20th century’s premier political philosophers, was critical of the modern dominance of economics over politics in both communism and liberal capitalism, and she called for a return to civic republicanism. Here, look closely at the ideas she puts forth in The Human Condition and related works. x
  • 23
    Philosophy vs. Politics—Strauss and Friends
    Now, turn to another German émigré philosopher who, like Arendt, probed further into the conflict between politics and philosophy while turning to the ancients for a political approach that avoids the mistakes of modernity. Examine Leo Strauss’s work, which has significantly influenced American neoconservatives, and the related writings of his friend, Alexandre Kojève. x
  • 24
    Marcuse and the New Left
    Although the “old” left declined in the West after WWII, Frankfurt School thinker Herbert Marcuse was able to help create what was sometimes called a Freudian left through a psychological reinterpretation of Marxism. Delve into the New Left of the 1960s and Marcuse’s ideas, which critiqued capitalism’s seduction of society through the welfare state and culture industry. x
  • 25
    Rawls’s A Theory of Justice
    Is it just for one man to drive a luxury car and eat at expensive restaurants while another goes homeless and hungry? Consider such questions of justice as you explore the views of John Rawls, whose 1971 A Theory of Justice became the most famous justification of welfare liberalism in the late 20th century. x
  • 26
    Ayn Rand, Robert Nozick, Libertarianism
    Take a nuanced look at libertarianism, starting with the views of novelist Ayn Rand, who defended laissez-faire and espoused a philosophy of “objectivism.” Then turn to the work Anarchy, State, and Utopia, in which philosopher Robert Nozick provided a libertarian rebuttal to Rawls, laying the groundwork for future disagreements over the welfare state. x
  • 27
    What about Community?
    As Rawls’s theory of distributive justice, and some libertarian critics, were dominating political philosophy, a new group of political theorists called communitarians emerged to critique their views. See how this diverse movement of thinkers concerned with community, civic republicanism, and civil society responded to the individualism and neutrality of Rawls and Nozick. x
  • 28
    Walzer on Everything Money Shouldn’t Buy
    Michael Walzer created perhaps the most interesting alternative to the distributive justice theories of Rawls and Nozick in his Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality. Explore his more communitarian theory of distributive justice and the distinction he draws between “thin” and “thick” political discourse, in attempting to deal with criticisms of his view. x
  • 29
    Identity Politics—Feminism
    The personal is political. This phrase, coined by Carol Hanisch in her 1969 essay of the same name, succinctly describes how feminism forever altered the boundary between the private and the public, which liberalism has always tended to reinforce. Here, consider the feminist challenge to liberal republican political theory and look at the many versions of feminist philosophy. x
  • 30
    Identity Politics—Multiculturalism
    Is “color-blindness” inherently unequal? Does a cultural group have rights? Is the goal of liberal democratic equality to treat citizens indifferently with respect to their racial, ethnic, or cultural distinctiveness, or to take that distinctiveness into account and value it? Here, explore the question of how recognizing cultural differences changes liberal republicanism. x
  • 31
    The Politics of Nature—Environmentalism
    Environmentalism has been associated with the political left because it is often in the position of opposing major economic interests. Yet it’s fundamentally conservative in that it wants to “go back” to an earlier time. Survey some of the ideas and arguments of this movement and gauge its effect on liberal republican political theory. x
  • 32
    Postmodernism, Truth, and Power
    Postmodern critique has changed the discussions of sociology, literature, philosophy, and political theory by pressing feminist and multiculturalist versions of egalitarian liberalism or progressivism in a radical, anti-Eurocentric direction. Explore some of the ideas—both leftist and conservative—behind postmodernism in politics, as put forth by Cornel West, Michel Foucault, Gayatri Spivak, and others. x
  • 33
    Habermas—Democracy as Communication
    No one has done more to give both a historical and a systematic philosophical defense of modern republicanism in the postwar period than Jürgen Habermas. Explore his philosophy of communication, as well as his arguments for liberal republicanism and social democracy against philosophical and theoretical attacks by conservatism, Nietzschean “will to power,” and postmodernism. x
  • 34
    The End of History? Clash of Civilizations?
    The fall of communism and rise of economic globalization appeared to solidify the supremacy of liberal republicanism. Yet we have since witnessed a reassertion of ethnic nationalism and radical Islam, leading to an even more politically complex world. Is liberal republicanism destined to be universal, or is it inapplicable to some civilizations? x
  • 35
    Just Wars? The Problem of Dirty Hands
    Revisit the topic of the ethics of war, which was touched upon earlier in the course. First, review the three active philosophical positions—pacifism, realism, and just war theory—then look at Michael Walzer’s version of just war theory and his take on recent wars from a moral perspective. x
  • 36
    Why Political Philosophy Matters
    Do we need more government or less? Will the liberal republican model stand up to and address the problems its ever-modernizing society will create? Professor Cahoone concludes by demonstrating how he would work through some of the issues covered. Also, see how Americans—while seemingly hopelessly divided politically—actually disagree less than we might believe. x

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Your professor

Lawrence Cahoone

About Your Professor

Lawrence Cahoone, Ph.D.
College of the Holy Cross
Dr. Lawrence Cahoone is Professor of Philosophy at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, where he has taught since 2000. He holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. A two-time winner of the Undergraduate Philosophy Association Teaching Award at Boston University who has taught more than 50 different philosophy courses, Professor Cahoone is not only a skilled teacher, but also...
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Reviews

The Modern Political Tradition: Hobbes to Habermas is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 32.
Rated 2 out of 5 by from tedious for beginners Whilst I can understand that this is an overview of world philosophy, the lectures are very tedious for someone who is unacquainted with the subject. The lecturer presumes that the viewer possesses a lot of prior knowledge on philosophy. Not recommended for beginners. My son, whom I purchased this for, could not get past the 2nd lecture.
Date published: 2017-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Now I Understand! This was a really fascinating course on political philosophy. Going through the course one can see the complex tapestry of thought that is the foundation for past and current "politics". Regardless of you personal beliefs and your position on governance, this course will provide you a much deeper understanding of each thread in that tapestry. I would recommend the course to anyone that really wants to understand how we got where we are now.
Date published: 2017-01-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Solid exposition of traditional political theory. Comprehensive, professional exposition of a complex subject. Well done.
Date published: 2017-01-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive in Depth and Breadth This is an amazing course. It's definitely of an academic nature. It's overwhelmingly informative. It's the type of course in which one may want to listen to each CD a couple times before moving on to the next one.
Date published: 2016-12-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course And Professor I have had the pleasure of completing both of Dr. Cahoone's courses and have found them informative, detailed and well presented. The subject matter is often complex and the philosophers and political authors difficult to follow, but Dr. Cahoone works hard to make the material understandable to the layman. I particularly enjoyed the final lecture in this course where the Professor expressed some of his beliefs and understandings. I only wish this could be a mandatory course for our modern day leaders.
Date published: 2016-10-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fine Course, but Not Entirely What I Expected I had great expectations for this course, I really enjoyed Professor Cahoone's course on the modern intellectual tradition, which was a wonderful overview of modern Western philosophy, with a nearly exclusive focus on epistemology and related subjects. So I expected that this course would be a similar exposition of major works and ideas of political philosophy. To be sure, there was a good deal of that in the course, but that was scarcely the sole or even primary focus. The course was more of a overview of specific political, economic, and cultural developments over the past 5 centuries that was presented within the framework provided by a discussion of major theories of political philosophy. There was thus a lot of discussion of of subjects that struck me as falling more in the category of economic, political, and cultural history than political philosophy under any definition of the latter term. For example, a good deal of time was spent discussing historical developments (such as the rise of Mussolini, Hitler, and fascism and the Russian Revolution and the conduct of Lenin and Stalin) that were quite familiar and that struck me as unnecessary digressions. And a major focus of the course was issues related to feminism, multiculturalism, assimilation, and other subjects that struck me as largely independent of the system of government that has been, could be, or should be adopted in any country and the philosophical premises underlying those decisions. For example, the system of government in the U.S. would work just fine if the roles of men and women were reversed and if the country hereafter embraced 10-15 significant discrete cultures (as it arguably at times in the past of our very pluralistic nation; as the professor states, representative republican governments always balance and accommodate interests, rather than arrive at "truth"). Other issues that were discussed struck me as more in the nature of current events or law, but not philosophy. For example, the penultimate lecture addressed how the principles of the Geneva convention and related treaties should be applied to a number of recent wars or events within wars. That certainly isn't an uninteresting subject to me (a lawyer), but that discussion struck me as matters for a course on international law, and not philosophy, at least as it was presented in the lectures. There similarly were discussions of various recent books that address the clashes between the West and Islamic and other cultures and whether the world is now converging on a single political and economic system of organization (an end to history). Again, an interesting subject, but more current events and not something that is terribly germane to a course on political philosophy. Perhaps the explanation is that the Professor's objective in the course wasn't solely to present a discussion of political philosophy, but to address all major forces that arguably bear on the choices of economic, cultural, and political systems that any country should make or support -- perhaps on the theory that these choices all bear on the western political tradition. If the course had been clearly advertised as doing that, I would not have had expectations that were not met. All this said, many lectures in the course were precisely what I had hoped to hear. The lectures on Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, Hegel, and Arendt were lucid and insightful. The lecture on post-modernism was a worthy supplement to the excellent lectures on Rorty, Derrida, and Foucault in this professor's course on the modern intellectual tradition. And there was a nice presentation on Habermas. I just wished that there had been more philosophy and less discussion of cultural history and the like. But even though the course did not meet my expectations, it was a very good course that I would recommend even to others who share my quirks!
Date published: 2016-09-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from not for the novice this course is stuffed to the gills with content in a way that’s not typical for the teaching company. this makes it extremely comprehensive, but at the same time unexpectedly dense and mentally demanding. on the plus side you’re introduced to all sorts of political thinkers who are rarely mentioned in popular culture, even though they’re the ones who began and contributed most cogently to the debates that we’re still having today. on the other hand the compact and often highly technical presentation makes the going hard, and so while i do feel that i learned a tremendous amount from this course, i wouldn’t say i particularly enjoyed it, and to be honest there were a few times i wasn’t entirely sure i was going to make it through. i think part of the reason i found this course so mentally challenging is because the professor, presumably wanting to include as much material as possible, often makes very cursory references to ideas and thinkers that, for a relative beginner, really need to be more fully unpacked. his attempt to summarize hegel’s philosophy in about ten minutes is an example of this. or to take a couple quotes from the lecture on hannah arendt, he says such things as, “[authority’s] proper location is outside politics in domains of ruling and being ruled,” and “arendt makes the point that legislating was not political for the greeks; it was a craft of making the polis.” someone unfamiliar with arendt’s work might reasonably ask how either of these things could be considered “not political” and would expect at least a paragraph in explanation, but instead we find ourselves moving right along, potentially to another complex idea tossed off in just as brief a fashion. in addition, as a philosophy professor he is very careful to discuss all concepts in as close as possible to the original language. a strong case can be made for this approach, but as it makes terms mean something other than what they normally do, sometimes even changing from one lecture to the next, what you gain in precision you lose in ease of comprehension. prof. cahoone does make an effort to explain these shifting meanings, but the fact that all these ideas are presented “in the original” rather than being translated into the modern vernacular inevitably creates an additional layer of difficulty. i think the problem is that this is really a third year philosophy course. it’s meant to be an introduction, but the professor speaks as if his listeners are already reasonably familiar with the philosophical world he’s discussing. this creates an existential tension in the course itself, because a person who could comfortably follow his terminology and shorthand references would presumably not need to take this course. in the end i rated this course “good” because there is a lot of valuable content here; just be aware that for most of us it won’t come easy. concerning the question of bias, prof. cahoone does an admirable job of suppressing his own. by the end of the course i was still debating what his views might actually be, which means you can feel comfortable with his presentation wherever you sit on the political spectrum. i regularly found myself arguing with the philosophers discussed, but i’m pleased to report that i almost never found myself arguing with the professor himself. i watched the video version of this course, but most of the useful visuals are simply text on the screen. the handful of helpful diagrams are reproduced in the guidebook, so unless you really like screen text the audio version should be fine.
Date published: 2016-09-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Provocative, Thorough and Extremely Relevant This is a stupendous achievement, a sophisticated recounting of the whole field of Western political philosophy in one course. And along with its scholarly virtues, it is highly relevant to vital economic, global and social issues in today's world. Where I went to undergraduate and graduate school, philosophy was taught in an ahistorical way, as a series of arguments that we needed to be able to analyze and critique. Professor Cahoone, however, sets the major figures in political theory, from Machiavelli to Marx to Marcuse and more, in their historical context. This was new for me. It enabled me to understand how each of these thinkers responded to the challenges of their time, and in many cases, influenced the course of human events as well. They weren't disembodied brains out of time. Each philosopher or thought movement was clearly presented, except perhaps for Hegel, who of course is hard for anyone to understand. Professor Cahoone was especially good at defining important concepts like nationalism, conservatism, liberal republicanism, progressivism, totalitarianism and so on. For me, the highlights included his discussion of the origins of nationalism, just war theory, the transcendentalism of fascism, John Rawls' theory of justice, and Leo Strauss's look back at Plato, among other segments. When I looked at the course outline, I was a bit skeptical about the last third of the course, which included feminism, multiculturalism and environmentalism, but Professor Cahoone related each of these modes of thought to the fundamental issues discussed throughout the rest of the course in insightful and interesting ways. He also touched on globalization, terrorism and religious fundamentalism and the challenges they may pose for cherished political ideas. Listening to this course during the US presidential campaign was an especially interesting experience because so many of the ideas discussed in it come up in the differences between today's left and right, Republicans and Democrats. Indeed, I had barely finished the lectures on fascism and totalitarianism when I came across a New York Times op-ed piece about Carl Schmitt and Hannah Arendt, two thinkers discussed at length in the course. As for presentation, the first couple of lectures were a little rough to listen to, because they seemed to be written in dense prose rather than crafted to be spoken. The professor's delivery got much better and much easier to understand by ear as the course went on. I listened to this course on audio and strongly recommend it for anyone who wants a systematic exposure to the main currents of political thinking.
Date published: 2016-07-27
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