This course provides an overview of major works of social thought from the beginning of the modern era through the 1920s. Attention is paid to social and intellectual contexts, conceptual frameworks and methods, and contributions to contemporary social analysis. Writers include Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Adam Smith, Marx, Weber, and Durkheim.
01 - Introduction
Professor Szelényi introduces the course to the students. Then he introduces each social thinker we will cover in the course: Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Weber, and Durkheim. He provides an overview of their biographies, their major works, and their major contributions.
02 - Hobbes: Authority, Human Rights and Social Order
An examination of Hobbes's lifetime reveals that the uncertainty of the British monarchy during his life (1588-1679) inspires Hobbes's social and political thought, especially regarding the role of the sovereign to provide for the security of his subjects. We consider the major elements of Hobbes's political and social thought including the state of nature, equality of men, the social contract, the strong sovereign, and legitimate rule. Hobbes's work privileges security of individuals through a strong sovereign but also asserts the right of subjects to transfer their allegiance to a new sovereign if the ruler does not provide for their security; this element of his work in particular and others made him a controversial thinker who was forced into exile for a time. His work has been rediscovered in recent years by economists and other social scientists who see him as the first rational choice theorist.
03 - Locke: Equality, Freedom, Property and the Right to Dissent
John Locke, a liberal thinker and near-contemporary of the conservative Hobbes, disputes Hobbes's thinking in some keys ways and builds on it in others. Locke starts his political theory with a notion of individuals in the state of nature being free, equal and reasonable; the state of nature is not synonymous with the state of war for Locke as it is for Hobbes. Locke argues that states should protect the property of individuals and must govern with the consent of subjects. Unlike Hobbes's strong, unitary sovereign, Locke envisions a separation of the powers of the state into executive, legislative, and federative powers. We examine how Locke's political and social thought assumes an abundance of resources while Hobbes's thought is predicated on an assumption of scarcity.
04 - Montesquieu: The Division of Powers
We shift from seventeenth-century England to eighteenth-century France and from the methodological individualism of Hobbes and Locke to the methodological collectivism of Montesquieu and Rousseau. Working from a perspective that there is a general will apart and above the sum of the opinions of individuals, Montesquieu's work focuses primarily on the law and on manners of governing rather than the question of who governs. Like Locke, Montesquieu argues that the powers of government should be separated. Montesquieu's plan of separation between executive, legislative, and judicial powers is what the United States Constitution follows. Montesquieu asserts that the climate and environment affect men as individuals as well as society. Although many of his specific ideas seem quite silly now, we must give credit to Montesquieu for being perhaps the first social and political thinker to seriously consider the environment.
05 - Rousseau: Popular Sovereignty and General Will
Jean-Jacques Rousseau had a colorful early life. Orphaned at ten, he moved in with a woman ten years his senior at sixteen. Their probable love affair is the subject of Stendhal's book Le Rouge et la Noir. Rousseau was friends and sometimes enemies with many major figures in the French Enlightenment. Although he did not live to see the French Revolution, many of Rousseau's path-breaking and controversial ideas about universal suffrage, the general will, consent of the governed, and the need for a popularly elected legislature unquestionably shaped the Revolution. The general will, the idea that the interest of the collective must sometimes have precedence over individual will, is a complex idea in social and political thought; it has proven both fruitful and dangerous. Rousseau's ideas have been respected and used by both liberals and repressive Communist and totalitarian leaders.
06 - Rousseau on State of Nature and Education
The general will--dangerous if taken too far--operates in many elements of our social and civic life. Immunizations that are compulsory for living in dorms serve the common good--the general will--regardless of individual will. The general will operates in society when individuals develop not only amour de soi, selfish love, but also amour propre, love of self in relation to others. Rousseau distinguished between bourgeois individuals who have amour de soi and citizens who exemplify amour propre. In addition to being a political and social thinker, Rousseau is an early and influential education theorist. In his book Émile, Rousseau argues that individuals are born good but are corrupted by society. He advocates "negative education" which aims at reducing mental errors that students may pick up in society. Negative education, Rousseau argues, is accomplished by focusing on educating students on how to think rather than training them in what to think.