Power over People: Classical and Modern Political Theory

Course No. 443
Professor Dennis Dalton, Ph.D.
Barnard College, Columbia University
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Course No. 443
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Course Overview

Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Marx, Gandhi—these exceptional thinkers sculpted, piece by piece, Western political thought from its inception in 5th-century (B.C.) Athens.In so doing, they grappled with such imposing questions as:

  • What is the correct relationship of the individual to society?
  • What is the connection between individual freedom and social and political authority?
  • Are human beings fundamentally equal or unequal?

In 16 in-depth lectures, Professor Dennis Dalton puts the key theories of power formulated by several of history's greatest minds within your reach.

Dr. Dalton traces two distinct schools of political theory, idealism and realism, from their roots in ancient India and Greece through history and, ultimately, to their impact on the 20th century—via the lives and ideas of two charismatic, yet utterly disparate, leaders: Adolph Hitler and Mahatma Gandhi.

Explore the Fundamental Questions of Western Political Theory

Professor Dalton (Ph.D., Political Theory, University of London) was dubbed by Newsday "the guru of Barnard"; his courses are so popular that the Columbia Student Guide warns, "To get a seat in his class, you must arrive half an hour early (we're not joking.)"

The issues Professor Dalton addresses in these lectures—and in Western political theory generally—fall into three sets of fundamental questions.

His lectures show how these competing theories of political power address these three sets of questions. And the lectures show how those answers determine when it is legitimate for one person to have power over another.

The first set of fundamental questions involves the essential characteristics of human nature and the good society.

Is human nature essentially spirit or matter? Is it directed by reason or dominated by passion? Is it fixed or malleable? Is it innately sinful, aggressive, and violent, or is it fundamentally benign, cooperative, and nonviolent?

Will the good society be characterized by perfect harmony or by continued conflict? If conflict is inevitable in the good society, must it be controlled through the leader's discretionary use of coercive power, or can it be contained constructively within political institutions?

Are social unity and harmony achievable or even desirable? Do the progress and vigor of society depend, by contrast, upon some form of struggle?

The second set of fundamental questions involves the relationship between the individual and society.

What is the right relationship of the individual to society? What is the relationship of individual freedom to social and political authority?

What constitutes legitimate political authority? Does it come ultimately from God, the state, or the individual? Are human beings fundamentally equal or unequal?

The final set of fundamental questions involves theories of change.

Are there inexorable laws of history that produce change? What role is played by discretionary leadership or moral values in effecting change? Is an unchanging, enduring, universal system of ethical values possible? Must such a system be grounded in a theory of absolute truth?

If an enduring, universal system of values is possible, what precisely are those values, and what is their relevance for political and social action? Should transformative leadership be based on the hard facts of political reality and human weakness or on the knowledge of absolute truth? Is the most fundamental change ideological, economic, or psychological in nature?

Should agents of change pursue reform through gradual, evolutionary means, or should they pursue the total transformation of society and human nature through revolution? Should radical change be pursued through violence or nonviolence? Should it rely mainly on spontaneity or on authoritarian organization?

Are There Definitive Answers? Addressing Those Fundamental Questions

Those questions orient our study of a wide range of theories of power and its use. Professor Dalton contrasts Plato's idealism with Aristotle's realism, Marx's optimism with Freud's pessimism, and Hitler's exclusionism and exaltation of violence with Gandhi's inclusionism and insistence on nonviolence.

"For centuries such questions have eluded final solution, and we should not expect to answer them definitively here," says Professor Dalton. "The questions should prompt us, however, to think more deeply about ourselves, the standards that guide our behavior, and our obligations, if any, to society."

As Professor Dalton addresses these fundamental questions, you'll learn, for example, how Hindu idealism prefigured Socratic and Platonic thought in emphasis upon self-mastery and its focus on teaching by example.

You'll understand exactly how Plato's Republic set the parameters for subsequent Western political theory.

You'll examine how Machiavelli's brutally realistic theories about politics marked the transition between the classical and modern political traditions.

You'll study the Romantic idealism—the social and political utopias, if you will—of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Karl Marx.

Professor Dalton also shares several unique perspectives to better explain the realism vs. idealism debate.

You will, for instance, examine the writings of the Greek playwright Sophocles, whose long-celebrated work Antigone offers a literary context for Plato's philosophy, where the state is an agent of virtue.

You'll also explore psychiatrist Sigmund Freud's pessimistic vision of man, which contrasted sharply with those of Rousseau and Marx.

And, you learn how author Henry David Thoreau, in his timeless work, Civil Disobedience, echoed the Hindu tradition and emphatically rejected a fundamental contention of Plato and Aristotle that the state has any moral authority.

Finally, Professor Dalton takes you on an intellectual expedition that juxtaposes and explores Hitler's violent politics of exclusion with Gandhi's equally powerful, but strictly non-violent, politics of inclusion.

What You Will Learn

Through this course you will be able to:

  • Identify the fundamental questions and concerns that shape classical and modern political theory.
  • Explain the essential differences between the "idealist" and "realist" traditions in political theory.
  • Describe the influence of one's understanding of human nature upon one's vision of the good society.
  • Compare and contrast the views of theorists regarding the purpose of the state, the relationship between politics and ethics, and the qualifications for exercising political power.
  • Discuss views of leading political theorists regarding the meaning of freedom, the sources of legitimate political authority, the legitimacy of individual resistance against constituted authority, and the obligations of individuals to the state or society.
  • Distinguish among the differing attitudes toward the use of violence that are held by the theorists examined in this course.

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16 lectures
 |  Average 46 minutes each
  • 1
    The Hindu Vision of Life
    Professor Dennis Dalton discusses early Hindu philosophy and its values. Ancient India had separate castes for spiritual, or philosophical,leadership and political leadership. x
  • 2
    Thucydides and The Peloponnesian War
    This lecture examines the tragic history of Athens in the times of Socrates and Plato. x
  • 3
    Law and Rule in Sophocles’s Antigone
    Antigone is the story of a young woman risking her life by doing what is right and disobeying a powerful tyrant. It gives us insight into ideas about law and leadership in ancient Greece. x
  • 4
    Socrates and the Socratic Quest
    Socrates was Plato's teacher and the hero of many of Plato's dialogues. Plato portrays him as a man on a quest for truth. In Plato's Gorgias, Socrates asks the quintessential question of philosophy, "What course of life is best?" x
  • 5
    Plato—Idealism and Power, Part I
    The Republic—Plato's great work on politics—takes the form of a dialogue with Socrates as its hero. Plato seeks to define right conduct in a political sense and ties the state into the Socratic quest for the best course of life. x
  • 6
    Plato—Idealism and Power, Part II
    The Republic—Plato's great work on politics—takes the form of a dialogue with Socrates as its hero. Plato seeks to define right conduct in a political sense and ties the state into the Socratic quest for the best course of life. x
  • 7
    Aristotle’s Critique of Plato’s Republic
    Aristotle, Plato's student, attacks Plato's three waves of radical change: gender equality, the status of private property, and rule by philosophers versus the citizens. x
  • 8
    Machiavelli’s Theory of Power Politics
    Machiavelli's The Prince is the most extreme example of realism. Machiavelli lived in an Italy composed of war-torn city-states. He felt that power and the security it brings should be the ultimate goal of the prince and that ethics should not interfere with the ruthless pursuit of this goal. x
  • 9
    Rousseau’s Theory of Human Nature and Society
    Rousseau believed human nature was basically good. He saw modern society as corrupt and rotten, and believed that a political solution, a new social contract, could lead to the establishment of a civil state, his ideal society. x
  • 10
    Marx’s Critique of Capitalism and Solution of Communism
    Karl Marx's communism provided what is probably the best known ideal society. He blamed not only private property, but the entire institution of capitalism for the inequality and injustice in society. x
  • 11
    Freud’s Theory of Human Nature and Civilization
    Freud's dark view of the human psyche as divided into three parts, with conflicting drives, contrasts sharply with idealist philosophy's view of human nature as good. x
  • 12
    Thoreau’s Theory of Civil Disobedience
    Thoreau goes beyond the bounds of the liberal tradition established by John Locke in his essay "Civil Disobedience." Many Americans believed—and many still do—that government that governs least governs best, but by taking that belief to its logical conclusion and stating "that government is best that governs not at all," Thoreau shocked his contemporaries. x
  • 13
    Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor
    "The Grand Inquisitor" is a single chapter from Dostoyevsky's novel The Brothers Karamazov. It focuses on the concept that Satan has better understood human nature than Christ. This understanding says that humans fear freedom and seek the security from following and being dominated by someone who is stronger. x
  • 14
    The Idea of Anarchism and the Example of Emma Goldman
    The idea of anarchism started in ancient Greece and is illustrated here by the example of Emma Goldman, a 19th-century Russian-American woman, who was known for expounding that "women need not always keep their mouths shut and their wombs open." x
  • 15
    Hitler’s Use of Power
    How did Adolph Hitler come to power? How could the German people not only accept, but support, the actions of Hitler and the Nazi Party? Professor Dalton looks at two common explanations of Hitler's rise to power and then develops his own theory. x
  • 16
    Gandhi's Use of Power
    Gandhi is as uplifting as Hitler is terrifying. Gandhi leads a movement in India to end British rule, not by seeking power, but by promoting ideals. Professor Dalton explains five key concepts of Gandhi's idealist political thought. x

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  • 16 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 160-page printed course guidebook
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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 160-page printed course guidebook
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider
  • Bibliography

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Your professor

Dennis Dalton

About Your Professor

Dennis Dalton, Ph.D.
Barnard College, Columbia University
Dr. Dennis Dalton is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Barnard College, Columbia University. He earned his B.A. from Rutgers University, his M.A. in Political Science from the University of Chicago, and his Ph.D. in Political Theory from the University of London. Professor Dalton has edited and contributed to more than a dozen publications and has written numerous articles. He is the author of Indian Idea of...
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Reviews

Power over People: Classical and Modern Political Theory is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 67.
Rated 3 out of 5 by from An outdated misanthropic course Unfortunately, this well-presented course is not up to date, and presents excessively negative view of humanity. Too much gushing praise was given to the mostly irrelevant now Marx and Freud. The case of Kitty Genovese (murdered in NYC in 1964) illustrates astounding heartless indifference of humans, however most of the evidence were concocted by police and media (see the "Murder of Kitty Genovese" Wikipedia article), though these facts were not public at the time the course was created in 1991. Still, the pessimistic views of Prof. Dalton border on misanthropic. I regret I'll have to return this course.
Date published: 2016-03-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Surprisingly Relevant and Captivating Course This is one of the best (and relevant) Great Courses I have purchased (out of approximately 100 courses), which was a nice surprise for me. I actually listened to the entire course twice in a row (and some lectures 3 times), and was inspired to go back and re-listen to audios of some of the other courses (Plato's Republic and the History of Hitler's Empire, 2nd Edition). I found this course to be very thought provoking, especially in the midst of the launching of presidential candidates/campaigns for the 2016 election. I really liked the diversity of the various philosophies and the contrasts (the last two lectures were on Hitler and Gandhi two leaders with polar opposite world views and philosophies). I purchases this course because it was on sale and the subject matter was somewhat intriguing, but it really has got me thinking about the whole political process and how/why we choose our leaders and what we expect from them.
Date published: 2015-10-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic Course This is one of the first courses I ordered from the Teaching Company. Professor Dalton is a knowledgable and powerful teacher. I'm a social scientist. I listened to this course the summer before my masters comprehensive examines to remain sharp and articulate during a time of heavy reading and studious isolation. Since then, I've gone back to specific lectures on figures I'm interested in and had more of an opportunity to savor the lectures. The content is captivating. The lectures are engaging. I appreciate the fact that it's a political theory course in which "the people" take center stage, and includes a plethora of theorists from different areas and time periods. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2015-04-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful course Professor Dalton is powerful and clear in his presentation. I am gripped every time. I can't turn it off. It is great how he compares and contrasts Classical and Modern Political theory. I love how he reads directly from the books he is discussing. THIS NEEDS TO BE DONE MORE WITH THE Teaching Company. Please have professors read passages from the books they teach.
Date published: 2014-12-09
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing This course generally just concentrates on one aspect of the thinkers it discusses, with no attempt at a systematic presentation showing how that feature illuminates the rest of their philosophy. The professor often quotes long passages from the works of various authors, but offers surprisingly little critical commentary. The overall superficiality of the lectures is surprising compared to the usual high quality of the Great Courses, and it seemed to me that no difficult issues were addressed, no puzzles were solved, and no new insights were offered. Perhaps the worst aspect of the course is its digressive quality, with large amounts of time devoted to minor anecdotes such as the Kitty Genovese story, details about Marx's living arrangements in London, or directions on how to get to his gravesite, at the expense of any serious investigation of the ideas. Often the course seemed to lose all connection with its official topic of classical political philosophy and collapse into lessons about proper individual behavior. Everywhere Professor Dalton's bias was evident, and he seemed more interested in blackening the black hats of those he disliked and whitening the white hats of those he preferred, with no appreciation of the subtleties. The only good point was his effort to draw connections between the various views presented, though this never went very deep. Those interested in political philosophy would do better to buy Professor Cahoone's excellent 'Modern Political Tradition.'
Date published: 2014-10-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really Enjoyed This Lecture I found this lecture video tape while pet sitting at a client's house. I was so impressed by it that I had to buy a copy for myself. I recommend this lecture to others and I had the great pleasure of meeting Prof. Dalton a couple years ago out west. A delightful man!
Date published: 2014-05-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lots to Think About Dr. Dalton does a masterful job tying together the many approaches to power throughout the ages. His lectures on the Hindu Vision of Life and Gandhi's Use of Power are precious gems. The sequence of lectures was very thoughtful, giving the student the ability to build upon each one. Professor Dalton's lecture about Emma Goldman was fantastic and I learned a great deal from it. I'm hoping to see a new Great Course from Dr. Dalton expanding upon Gandhi's philosophy. Dr. Dalton's presentation style is excellent. Don't miss this wonderful course.
Date published: 2013-10-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding I took classes in college on all of these thinkers and philosophical positions, but this course far surpassed them all. The continuing thread of the course impressed me, as did each lecture on its own. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2013-09-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Eye Opener I have purchased and listened to a number of the available courses from TTC/ Great Courses. I would have to say this one is among the truly remarkable ones. For starters, the topic is refreshing. A wholly modern treatment of the works and lives classic and modern philosophers and leaders, through the lens of power and influence. The content is approachable for a beginner, yet not over-simplifying. The various lectures within are diverse (over time periods, personalities, and philosophical viewpoints) and yet briliantly unified (singular vantage of how great leaders viewed the role of power in society and government. ) Each lecture I found to be surprising and fresh. In these lectures, the approach of Dalton, who is a charismatic speaker and a good story-teller, reminded me a bit of the BBC Documentaries by film-maker Adam Curtis , such as "Century of the Self". In an case this course on "Power Over People" is highly recommendable.
Date published: 2013-07-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from excellent one of my favorite Great Courses. I like it when I get new ideas and insights, and with this course I did-actually went out and bought Plato to read with the new insights I gained. I do agree with other reviewers about selection-why no Hobbes, Locke, etc. but what is there is excellent.
Date published: 2013-02-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from very analythical Gem of a course, highly original and pleasure to listen to. Selection of topics (like Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor) is unusual and allows Dr.Dalton to go deeper into analysis of psychological origins of social behavior than it is usually done in political science. Bravo! I do not agree with all the points Dr. Dalton makes, (especially on Marx: how out of destructive power of having-nothing-to-lose proletariat Marx conjectures its ability to create an ill-defined perfect state?) But one does not need to agree to every point to appreciate this wonderful, intellectually stimulating course.
Date published: 2013-02-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not a favourite course DVD REVIEW: This course was recorded back in 1995 and I'm afraid the professor's delivery style rather thrwarted the sound engineer, for the audio quality is way below par and at times close to indistinct. Also, in the last few lectures, the good Dr Dalton seemed to be exhausted and was virtually whispering rather than speaking ~~ I suspect he may have recorded all 16 of the 45-minute lectures in one day! It has to be accepted that so relatively short a course (total 12 hours) could not cover more than a handful of characters from the available field, and I'm sure other professors would have had a rather different dramatis personae; I won't therefore complain about the important theorists he omitted. This is not the course for you if you seek an embracing introduction to political theory. Dr Dalton, when in his stride, has an easy-to-follow style, speaks with almost casual authority. However, he imposed his own biases into his talks. Clearly, he is very gung-ho on Hinduism and on Gandhi. The overall impact of the course is lessened owing to the fact that there is no thought-out organisation: the individual lectures are just that, rather than being strung together in a coherent form. This is not one of my favourite courses; I think it would be a wise idea for the Great Courses company to re-do it, perhaps expanding to 36 half-hour lectures.
Date published: 2013-01-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful course I am so pleased to find this course on DVD. I originally had my library buy this course by Professor Dalton more than 20 years ago on videotape. Needless to say, the videos are wearing out and becoming unusable. It was a wonderful surprise to find the course again, and on sale at that. His thoughts on Machiavelli are particularly profound. And his musings on Rousseau, relating the story of Kitty Genovese, are moving and memorable. Dalton is truly one of the Great Teachers.
Date published: 2012-09-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from by all means buy this if, like me, your idea of time well spent is immersion in sublime thought and intellectual excellence for 12.3 hours.
Date published: 2012-08-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from OK as far as it goes Content was lacking. We hear little if anything of Hobbs, Locke; nothing of the the Scottish Enlightenment - Hume or Smith; nothing of Montesquieu, of Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Adams, or of Tocqueville. Instead we get an unabashed glorification of Marx complete with a tourist guide to his London home and grave site. Not to mention full lectures on Freud and Hitler? And least we forget Gandhi? (I actually enjoyed the first lecture on Hinduism and its similarities to Greek ideas though) In all, the content seems to be heavily weighted to failed/debunked ideologies and systems with little comment on the greatest system yet devised (based on results anyway) or the ideas that lead up to it. I bought the download version which is cheaper, so the value was still good for what I got out of it.
Date published: 2012-06-19
Rated 2 out of 5 by from The Political Musings of Prof. Dalton It is probably maddeningly difficult for The Teaching Company to come up with a course on politics that can match the quality of its offerings in other fields of knowledge, hence the understandable shortage of courses in that particular area. TTC had even took a stab at such a course titled "Ideas in Politics" by prof. Shearmur. Here, in the course of 16 45min lectures (which amount to the same content as the more familiar 24 30min lectures) Dr. Dalton sets himself the task of surveying the thoughts of important political theorists of the west (and Gandhi). First, the choice of important theorists is, in my opinion, severely flawed. True, the usual suspects including Plato, Machiavelli, and Rousseau are here, but some important names such as Hobbes and Darwin are missing. The omission of the latter is especially baffling since, time and again throughout the course, Dr. Dalton insists that any political theory rests on a theory of human nature. Why the scientist that gave us our best current understanding of human nature is omitted, whereas (the important, but largely discredited psychology of) Freud is discussed amply, is beyond me. Second, Dr. Dalton tended to wander off quite often. I do not think the audience is particularly interested in the directions to these philosopher's tombstones in their respective cemetery, yet this takes up too much of the precious little time Dalton discusses thinkers like Marx and Thoreau. Third, Dalton sometimes goes on about Indian philosophy for so long (apart from the first lecture) that the lecture starts to sound like a crash course/preaching sermon on Hindu mystic. The only redeeming qualities of the course, content-wise, are Dalton's discussions of Thoreau and Goldman which were enlightening and informative. But my main bone of contention is this: It does not take a genius to look at the history of civilization in hindsight, and conclude that human beings are not nothing like the all-or-none depictions of Freud or Gandhi. If, as Dalton holds, the civil disobedience of Gandhi proves Freud wrong, we do not have to look far to find atrocities that prove Gandhi (or maybe simplistic readings of his politics) is not entirely right either. Preaching self-government based on Hindu concepts of self and world is not exactly what passes for "wisdom". Not to me.
Date published: 2012-04-30
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Acceptable intoduction to "Use of Powerr" This course is obviously one of TTC’s earliest productions and the somewhat under-produced audio CD version definitely shows it. Prof. Dalton is an accomplished lecturer in the raconteur mold, and as such has developed vocal patterns that vary in amplitude, tone, tenor and inflection; in other words an audio engineer’s nightmare. It is very difficult to assume a steady listening volume with such a lecturing style. Prof. Dalton is at times, for effect, nearly inaudible and at others, is virtually over-driving the speakers. The technical annoyances aside, the chosen course material is interesting and introduces an interesting character of whom I knew little, Emma Goldman. The professor does seem a bit old-school, as in earlier decades when one expected every professor to espouse ultra left and liberally avant-garde ideologies. And so it appears with Prof. Dalton as he goes from mere disclosure to near gleeful and gushing expository of Marx, Engels and Hegel. "Power over people" is a phrase that revolves around the core concept of government. Since the Enlightenment, a seductive notion has risen and re-arisen in political philosophies whereby it is fashionable to philosophize about the perfection of human nature and the ultimate perfection of government. To paraphrase more than one famous person; neither government nor human nature are perfectible. Many men of letters have spent a lifetime hypothesizing about these two subjects and proposing composite utopian alternatives to Western-style democratic, federal republicanism and capitalism. Apart from any attempt at conjuring a more perfect hypothetical system, these four Western-style building blocks have proven their unsurpassed workability and utility over and over again, certainly since the 17th century. So, it is with an understanding of these systems of "Power over People" which actually work, versus those seductively notional, failed and unproven utopian concepts, that I would recommend this course. Please be advised that Prof. Dalton seems to be among those pedagogues who have succumbed to that "seductive notion." In contrast to other reviewers, I find no fault with the professor's selection of notable personages. In only 16 lectures, it would be nearly impossible even to come close to a hint of a nuance of a scintilla of a comprehensive list. So, armed with the knowledge of the good professor’s apparent leanings and the necessarily small list of example exponents, I can, with only some reserve, recommend this course as an "introduction" to the concept of "Power over People".
Date published: 2012-04-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Political Science with humanity What a privilege to listen to Professor Dalton. This is a philosopher (in the true sense of a lover of wisdom)who clearly explores the humanity embedded in this subject area. I loved that the lectures were 45 minutes long too; it allowed the subject to be treated with more depth- the lecture on Sophocles was excellent as was the contrasting of Gandhi and Hitler. How we choose to organise our society is one of the most fundamental issues for humanities. I would love for Professor Dalton to come back and offer a 36 or even 48 course series that goes into more depth and covers the whole history of the subject up to the present era.
Date published: 2012-03-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Old school politics, clearly presented. Prof Dalton is a good communicator, knowlegeable in his subject. I enjoyed the overviews of ancient and non-modern political theories. But most of the world lives in a democracy now. Prof Dalton doesn't give much description to Churchill's mastery during wartime, through personal persuasion instead of Nazi or Soviet terror. Nor does he mention Noam Chomsky's work, especially his "Manufacturing Consent", which shows how political 'power over people' is done in the modern world. This is a good start, but it didn't give me the insights i was looking for in dealing with modern democratic bureaucracies and political parties. Two more 30min lectures on modern democratic leaders would add a lot of value.
Date published: 2011-10-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Power to the People! [Audio Version] Professor Dalton has a pleasant, charming, easy and disarming way of speaking that made me feel comfortable through all his lectures. This course was truly ‘easy listening.’ The content of the course is concerned with enormously important topics. The number one concern seems to be the eternal tension between freedom and equality. With equality, we may have less freedom; with more freedom, we may have less equality. I felt that Dr. Dalton may have injected his own biases at several points. In Lecture 2, we hear about the Greeks denying equal rights to women and slaves. Okay, that’s the way it was, and it was wrong. But the professor indulges in a tad too much finger wagging. I began to wonder if I were hearing a course on gender studies. Lecture 10, on Marx, was well done and objective. Marx could see how the routine jobs, required by capitalism, alienated workers who need ‘original and creative work’ to thrive naturally. It would be easy to complain about major theorists who were omitted, but this is a 16-lecture course, not 48 or 60 or 84. I’m happy I bought the course, and recommend it.
Date published: 2011-08-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Intro to Political Science Professor Dalton covers a breathtaking amount of ground in these 16 lectures. Tackling large subjects often can overwhelm the professor or his audience, but this course functions as an excellent introduction to political science. Each lecture covers a specific figure or school of thought such as Hinduism, Machiavelli, or Hitler. Given the great distance in time and culture between the 16 topics, I was quite impressed how Professor Dalton transitioned from one to the next maintaining relevance. My own training is in history, philosophy, and theology, but I felt comfortable listening to this course which is real political science. I particularly enjoyed lectures on the Greeks, Thoreau, and Machiavelli.
Date published: 2011-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Just Meet Him Halfway I completed this course some time ago, and am only now finding myself curious to read the reviews of others. I struggle to be polite to those who rail about Professor Dalton's omission of figures who might logically be discussed, or his presumed Eastern bias in his thematic approach. Look, folks, this course is not designed (nor was it nearly long enough) to be a meaningful survey in the broadest sense. I took one star away in recognition of this limitation. Professor Dalton's approach is discrete and narrow, but pulses with great integrity, intellectual rigor and enthusiasm. Also (and this is easy to forget), this course was a relatively early one in the Teaching Company canon, and, as some other early courses, was a bit more idiosyncratic and less "scripted" in its approach. I find Professor Dalton to have been a great treasure and lament that we will not be seeing more from him.
Date published: 2011-07-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from THOUGHT PROVOKING This review refers to the CD's. If one is looking for a complete survey of philosophical thinking about the subject, one may be disappointed as many reviews have indicated. However, the detailed discussions of the selected few are meaningful and stimulating. What we have here, I believe, is a idiosyncratic selection of thinkers on the subject which the lecturer uses as departure points for broad reflections on their ideas. It appears one of the principal themes among the ideas of the selections is how they bear on the issue of non violent solutions to societal tensions. There are other subjects, of course. Among the works of Dostoyevsky I read as an undergraduate, the encounter between the Grand Inquisitor and Christ in 'The Brothers Karamazov' has always stuck in my mind. Dr Dalton's comments about the one-sided conversation between the two is a searching discussion of the position of organized religion, the Catholic Church in this case, and Christ's teaching. It refreshed my memories of reading about it and broadened my understanding of what Dostoyevsky wrote. The discussion of Freud was particularly interesting when one considers how his theories have fallen into disfavor in today's psychological world. The analysis of Hitler's appeal because of how his deep anger resonated with the German people gave considerable insight into German behavior during Hitler's reign. Dr Dalton is a superb lecturer. I enjoyed his presentation style so much I put it on my Ipod to frequently listen to him while on the move. While his selection of thinkers and writers obviously would not please everyone, these lectures on a few individuals provide much material to ponder. They are recommended to those intrigued by this subject as well the general listener or viewer.
Date published: 2011-06-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding course I strongly disagree with the critics of this course. I found it to be one of the most valuable TC courses to which I have listened (and I have listened to a lot). To criticize Prof. Dalton for whom he leaves out (Locke, Montesquieu, etc.) would only be fair if this were a course consisting of 100 CDs. Yes, I would have liked to have heard lectures on Burke, Madison, Locke and others, but he can only cover so much in a given amount of time. His presentation is engaging, and he is able to present the ideas of Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, etc. in clear and understandable form.
Date published: 2011-05-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Overall Disappointing This is not a course for someone looking for a general overview of political theory. It is more a presentation designed to put forward the professor’s world view involving non-violence and ends not justifying means. I would recommend this course for someone already well grounded in political theory. Some of the lectures, such as the one on Goldman, were illuminating and the professor is an engaging speaker. Some other comments: I was dismayed by the absence of thinkers in the Conservative tradition, such as Burke, Von Mises, and Hayek. It was clear from the course outline, that no lecture was devoted to any of them. However, in the 16 courses, about 12 hours, not a single one of them was mentioned, even once. This seems like a significant oversight and limits the usefulness of the course. For example, although Rousseau was discussed in great depth, the natural reference to Burke’s critique of the French Revolution, as a counterpoint, was not made. Also, I agree with many of the previous criticisms of the course that the omission of the founding theories of the United States (and in my opinion the ideas of the intellectual giant among our ‘founding fathers’, James Madison) is incomprehensible. Additionally, (and this is a minor critiscism) I found some of the rhetoric to be a bit obvious and more suitable to a high school civics class. For example, the professor’s emotional condemnation of Hitler was not necessary. I think it can be taken for granted that we don’t approve of Nazi policies.
Date published: 2011-02-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Mentally Engaging While agreeing with the last two reviewers as to the deplorable omissions, I still found it to be an interesting and enjoyable course, well worth my time. I expected a recitation of the political thought of the standard political philosophers, instead I was treated to a thoroughly engaging, delightfullly idiosyncratic course. The lectures on Marx and Goldman were fascinating.
Date published: 2010-07-09
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Pass on This One Imagine a course on the history of political theory without mention of Locke, Montesquieu, Jefferson, Madison, Adams, or Hamilton, but with an entire lecture on the anarchist Emma Goldman. Impossible? Unfortunately, it is reality. Imagine that you sat down to devise a course to teach young minds about the history of how societies organize themselves. And you decide to skip over the line of thought and the actions that led to the design of a nation that changed the world in ways not seen before. Imagine further that but one of a group of a couple of dozen "reviewers" even notices the absence of this line of thought. The fact that this has actually happened is breathtaking. We need look no further to understand why we have produced a generation of vapid, mindless graduates with no sense of history, who we are, or how we got where we are today..
Date published: 2010-07-05
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A Very Weird Course AUDIO DOWNLOAD 16 Lectures This is a very weird, idiosyncratic course that ultimately fails due to its bizarre omissions and general incoherence. I find the positive reviews baffling. To begin, Prof Dalton is a good lecturer and his presentation style is fine. Some of the individual lectures contain thoughtful material within narrow constraints, and some of the contrasts he works with are indeed interesting. What I find bizarre is that he can propose a lecture series on classical and modern political theory centering on idealism and realism without mentioning 1) anything that happened between Aristotle and Machiavelli, and 2) anything to do with the founding of the United States, its founders and documents, and the political ideas that informed the founding of the flawed but still great American experiment. Furthermore, I found some of the lectures to be more caricature than full-bodied regarding certain people and subjects. For example, Plato and Aristotle are presented as people with very singular philosophies, without taking note of any progression or contextualizing of their works. Plato is an idealist with little evidence of realist thinking, and Aristotle primarily one who sees woman and slaves as lacking reason. Compare his lectures to those of Prof. Michael Sugrue's and you will see a distinct chasm between the two on Plato. The same is true of Machiavelli. I just completed Prof. Cook's superb course "Machiavelli in Context" in which he seeks to break up the caricature of Machiavelli that Prof. Dalton plays into. As I was working through the course, I tried to understand exactly what was Prof. Dalton's organizing principle. The course seemed incoherent in so many ways. With the final lecture on Ghandi, and recalling the peppering of Hindu references and comparisons throughout the lectures, I think it is probably safe to say that Prof. Dalton is firmly planted in the Hindu/Ghandi camp of non-violence and has constructed a course to make that case. (And hey, when you end contrasting Hitler and Ghandi, is there really a choice?) If I am wrong and Prof. Dalton is not using Hindu/Ghandi as the gravatational center of the course (they are the bookends), then I believe this course lacks real coherence. In any event, the omission of any discussion of the political theories of the founders of the U.S. without explanation does critical damage to the stated intentions of this course. I believe it will appeal primarily to those who do not much think about political theory and come to it without serious study of America's founding political thought. Not recommended. 2 Stars.
Date published: 2010-06-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Presentation of varied ideas This is certainly an interesting set of lectures. Professor Dalton is a very engaging speaker who delivers each lecture with passion. You certainly find yourself listening intently and taking in what he says. The content is solid and different from a lot of political philosophy courses containing material that you would not usually find such as Hindu thought, but also missing a comprehensive treatment of many key thinkers such as John Locke, John Rawls and Robert Nozick. I have given it four stars instead of five because I felt it lacked a coherent structure as a course. It was more a collection of interesting individual lectures than a course. The lectures on Thucydides and Sophocles’s play Antigone were very interesting (I happen to like Ancient history and Greek Tragedies) but to spend two lectures out of 16 giving the historic and cultural background to Plato's Republic was probably over the top. Overall very enjoyable and I would certainly recommend the course to anyone looking to learn more about political philosophy.
Date published: 2010-04-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very enjoyable This is a very enjoyable philosophical discussion. If you like philosophy, you will probably like these lectures.
Date published: 2010-03-12
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