The Modern Political Tradition: Hobbes to Habermas

Course No. 4750
Professor Lawrence Cahoone, Ph.D.
College of the Holy Cross
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Course No. 4750
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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
 |  Average 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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The Modern Political Tradition: Hobbes to Habermas is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 51.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course This is an excellent and entertaining course. The lecturer is almost always clear and understandable. The course is a gallop through the ideas of many important thinkers, so there is lots of tasting of different flavors but, to no surprise, the coverage of many is not in adequate depth to deliver a full meal. One could quibble with the choice of topics-not enough of Madison or Keynes, or with the opacity of some of the subjects – perhaps Leo Strauss is intrinsically opaque. But, in general, the syllabus seems carefully chosen and nicely arranged. The course does require some general intellectual literacy, perhaps at the level of a well-educated adult, roughly equivalent to a college sophomore or junior. Compared to other political science courses available as podcasts, I would place this a bit below the somewhat more demanding courses by Smith or Shapiro on the Yale Open Courses site, but above the famous though simple course on justice by Sandel. (Possibly Cahoone’s students at Holy Cross are more demanding than Sandel’s at whatever school he teaches.) It is hard to imagine an intelligent discussion of contemporary American politics without at least an implicit understanding of the ideas elucidated in this course – all that would be left is the unthinking selfishness of individuals or the corporate corruption of our politicians. Although I never posted a review of it, Prof. Cahoone’s other TGC course, Modern Intellectual Tradition, is very highly rated and also spectacular in delivery and content.
Date published: 2015-02-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Hobbes to Marx A very licid and great review of classical political philosophy. Having the course is a must. Hobbes is in fashion again esp since the marauding muslims are proving him right. But I eat this up. I think ,at this time in the world, we have to have a great grasp of our political philosophical history BTW this course is 100 time better than anything in college esp if the books are read or at least a significant chunk of the classical texts Highly recommended
Date published: 2015-02-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Political Science as Intellectual History Professor Cahoone's lectures on the modern political tradition are possibly the most thought provoking lectures I have encountered while viewing the Great Courses offerings. This is not intended to belittle his other course offering, “The Modern Intellectual Tradition”, which is still one of my particular favorites. The Professor brings life and continuity to the progression of western political philosophies from the classical base of ideas to the postmodern ideas proffered today. His lectures gave me a new appreciation for the classical political thinkers, while introducing me to a host of newer philosophers whose work had escaped my notice. He even offered new insights into those whose work is somewhat familiar, such as Hanna Arendt. There is some frustration due to the fact that 30 minutes is just enough time to generate an appetite for a topic, but is nowhere near enough to satisfy one's curiosity. This is not a criticism of the professor, but of the clock. My reading list exploded as a result of this course. In every course I've taken, I've found one lecture that left me feeling that the entire value of the course was covered even if I had only viewed that one lecture. This course is no different. In fact, there are two lectures in this sequence that are gems of value. One of them is his lecture on the state of world politics today. Those of us who lived through the last half of the twentieth century saw big, hopeful changes in how things operate. I, for one, was too young and inexperienced to understand what I was seeing. But one might notice that elementary school students no longer cower under desks waiting for a flash that would indicate the end of the world as they know it. And Canadians, Americans, Indians, Moroccans, Congolese, Vietnamese, etc. no longer consider ourselves under the economic and colonial bindings accepted by our grandfathers. And the second was his examination of the current political political scene in the United States. What I didn't expect was that he left me with a unified view of our current American political situation, even though the process appears fractured and chaotic. It's a gentle reminder that the vocal proponents of the first amendment, and those of the second amendment, are talking to the same group about the same document. The idea of the political and philsophical unity is introduced early in the course, but only made explicit in a later lecture.
Date published: 2014-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding! I have listened to many course from the Teaching Company (now Great Courses) and this may be the best. It is certainly the best in the category of politics and philosophy. Prof. Cahoone is brilliant in his ability to take complicated concepts of political philosophy -- and philosophers who are themselves borderline incoherent, like Marcuse -- and make these concepts and philosophers understandable. His selection of different philosophers is comprehensive, as he includes all the major points of view that form the body of modern political philosophy. He is also eminently fair in his descriptions of clashing ideologies and philosophies. When the course was over, I could not tell if he was on the left or right, he was so balanced and non-biased in his lectures. That alone is refreshing.
Date published: 2014-12-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course Really interesting!. I am listening to it for a third time!!
Date published: 2014-11-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting, but too ambitious The course takes on a very ambitious goal: to cover in 36 lectures all of modern political thought beginning basically with the renaissance up to this day. Naturally, it is hard to cover such a huge amount of material in any great depth, and indeed this is my main criticism. Still, as a survey course the material is extremely interesting, and Professor Cahoone did choose all of the most important and influential thinkers of this field, such as Marx, Hobbes, Locke, Kant and Rouseau to name only a few. The last lecture about Herbert Marcuse’s way of thought and the new left was absolutely fascinating, especially his concept about the totality of capitalism; that is to say that a state which is capitalistic is not totalitarian as Soviet Russia was, but instead it creates a way of thought in which thinking in terms that are not capitalistic is simply not imaginable. In his thought, everything becomes an agent of the capitalistic machine – even art; and in so doing art basically loses its essence and much of its cultural importance. Overall, I think the course is good as a survey course on the subject.
Date published: 2014-11-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Modern Politica Tradition Excellent. The concepts are clear, and historically in order.
Date published: 2014-10-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Cahoone at His BEST!! This course is outstanding. Professor Cahoone presents an overwhelming review of the modern political history and tradition. Previous reviewers (BGZRedux in particular) have elaborated in depth on the specifics of the course and I totally agree. I personally enjoyed his comparisons and intimate nuances of the political philosophers. There is significant depth of knowledge and Dr. Cahoone's presentation style, tone, and personalization is a real pleasure to hear. 36 lectures on this topic area is long but the professor makes it worthwhile. This course was a followup to Professor Cahoone's 36 lecture set on 'The Modern Intellectual Tradition' is equally outstanding. I would absolutely purchase future lectures from this professor.
Date published: 2014-08-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Fascinating and Important Tour de Force, For All This is an outstanding course, providing a fascinating and richly detailed survey of the past several centuries of (Western) political theory and political philosophy. I believe that anyone with an interest or stake in politics or civil society - that is, hopefully, all of us - would benefit from a thoughtful consideration of the many and varied ideas presented. Professor Cahoone is a wonderful guide - deeply knowledgeable, thankfully well-organized, and extremely clear given the depth (and occasional murkiness) of the works reviewed. His lecture style is admirably straightforward, comprising primarily crisp declarative sentences, and employing a notable paucity of subordinate clauses. This might be a drawback in a literature course; for philosophy it is perfect. Also extremely helpful, concrete examples are frequently given to illuminate the practical application of abstract ideas. The diversity of topics and views, and the sheer number of thinkers discussed, are remarkable and impressive. Individuals covered range from the likes of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, through Marx and Rand, to Rawls, Arendt, Walzer, and Habermas, and include dozens that I had never heard of before. This diversity, however, loudly begs the question of why there are so many, and such different, philosophical perspectives regarding the origins of, the moral and pragmatic justifications for, and the ideal or at least preferable forms of, society. The obvious, if trite, answer is that few if any of these thinkers have gotten it right, thus begging the additional question of why anyone should care about so many wrong systems of thought. I hope it will be be clear that the great benefit of studying this area (as is true of so much of philosophy) is not to find the "right" answer, but to expand our ability to look intelligently at these crucial issues from a wide range of perspectives, and thereby increase the likelihood that - as individuals and as cultures - we may choose a path that will tend more towards than away from human flourishing. As Nietzsche put it in one of his most insightful aphorisms: "precisely because we seek knowledge, let us not be ungrateful to such resolute reversals of accustomed perspectives and valuations...; to see differently in this way for once, to want to see differently, is no small discipline and preparation for future 'objectivity' - the latter understood not as 'contemplation without interest' (which is a nonsensical absurdity), but as the ability to control one's Pro and Con and to dispose of them, so that one knows how to employ a variety of perspectives and affective interpretations in the service of knowledge." Unlike Professor Cahoone, the philosophers discussed are not always straightforwardly comprehensible. I found it helpful to keep a number of questions in mind when evaluating their reflections: - is the philosopher being descriptive or normative?; that is, is she analyzing the way things are or prescribing the way things should be? - what are the underlying assumptions, or axioms, which are accepted - usually implicitly - as given without proof, and which then serve as the basis for the weaving of the system of thought? - in particular, when prescriptive moral values are being advanced, is the philosopher making the critical mistake, identified so clearly by Hume, of deriving an "ought" from an "is," of pretending that her moral views follow deductively from the facts of the world without a need for such indemonstrable axioms? - to what extent is the necessary abstraction from the infinite complexity of the real world justified and acceptable, and to what extend does it lose important and even determinative considerations and nuance? - does the thinker seem to be offering her best effort at a neutral and unbiased analysis, or is she rather choosing her arguments for their rhetorical effectiveness in support of her personally preferred end? and if the latter, does this detract from the value of her ideas? The visuals consist mostly of pictures of the individuals being discussed, quotations, and some very helpful lists and juxtapositions of the ideas presented. The Course Guidebook is one of the best I have seen - a very complete review of the lectures. It would be helpful - although certainly not necessary - to read it along with the course. There is also an extensive annotated bibliography. I only wish for a glossary and index. I can muster only two criticisms: The first is very minor, a not infrequent mispronunciation of foreign words and names. ("Medici," at least, ought to be said correctly.) More importantly, despite some quite good remarks on Nietzsche in Lecture 16, our professor then repeatedly refers to Nietzsche's thought as if Nietzsche's major concern and value were "power." This is just wrong, and is a gross injustice to a brilliant philosopher whose contributions continue to have a great deal to offer to society, if only the specious stereotypes could be dropped. So - a wonderful course, with my highest recommendation both for its inherent interest and for its importance for those who care about and would like to participate in their cultures, nations, and societies.
Date published: 2014-06-17
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