This course explores main answers to the question "when do governments deserve our allegiance?" It starts with a survey of major political theories of the Enlightenment—Utilitarianism, Marxism, and the social contract tradition—through classical formulations, historical context, and contemporary debates relating to politics today. It then turns to the rejection of Enlightenment political thinking. Lastly, it deals with the nature of, and justifications for, democratic politics, and their relations to Enlightenment and Anti-Enlightenment political thinking. Practical implications of these arguments are covered through discussion of a variety of concrete problems.
01 - Informational and Housekeeping Session
Professor Shapiro explains the format and structure of the class during this opening session. He reviews the syllabus, and asks the central question of the course: What makes a government legitimate? He briefly explains the five ways to answer this question that he will focus on throughout the semester. The first three traditions are those of the Enlightenment: utilitarianism, Marxism, and social contract theory. The fourth and fifth overarching ways to answer the central question in this course are the anti-Enlightenment and the democratic traditions. Professor Shapiro then introduces the topic for the next lecture, the Eichmann problem.
02 - Introductory Lecture
The trial of Adolf Eichmann, as presented in Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem, is the topic of discussion. Professor Shapiro asks students what made them uncomfortable, not only about Eichmann's actions as a Nazi officer, but also the actions of Israel in capturing, extraditing, trying, and executing him. This begs the questions, what makes a government legitimate? And more specifically, was the Third Reich illegitimate and was Eichmann breaking some kind of higher law? After class discussion, Professor Shapiro frames the five traditions that were introduced in the previous class as ways to answer this question of governmental legitimacy, and introduces John Locke, the topic of the next lecture, as a backdrop for these traditions.
03 - Natural Law Roots of the Social Contract Tradition
Before exploring the three Enlightenment traditions in particular, Professor Shapiro examines the Enlightenment holistically, using John Locke as the foundation for the discussion. The first tenet of the Enlightenment is a commitment to science as a way of ordering politics, and Professor Shapiro introduces the Cartesian philosophy of science and segues into an elucidation of the workmanship ideal, a central feature of Enlightenment thinking. Corollary to the workmanship ideal, the second tenet of the Enlightenment is the equality of men, ergo an emphasis on individual rights. Does this latter tenet give the basis for the resistance of authority? Throughout the lecture, Professor Shapiro uses a number of primary sources to depict the foundations of Enlightenment thought. Although Locke's thinking is deeply rooted in theology, these topics will reemerge time and time again in different contexts during the course of the semester.
04 - Origins of Classical Utilitarianism
Jeremy Bentham's formulation of classical utilitarianism is the first Enlightenment tradition that the course will cover in depth. In his Principles of Morals and Legislation, Bentham outlines the principle of utility; that is, the principle that all men are pleasure-seeking and pain-avoiding. Professor Shapiro presents the case that classical utilitarianism has five characteristics: (1) it is comprehensive and deterministic, (2) it is a pre-Darwinian naturalist doctrine, (3) it is egoistic but not subjectivist, (4) it is highly consequentialist, and (5) it is based on the idea that utility is quantifiable and that one can make interpersonal comparisons of utility. As for the role of government, Bentham believes that it is to "maximize the greatest happiness of the greatest number." The class discusses the merits of utilitarianism through examination of Robert Nozick's hypothetical experience machines, the implication of public goods, and "the tragedy of the commons."
05 - Classical Utilitarianism and Distributive Justice
Professor Shapiro continues his examination of Jeremy Bentham's formulation of classical utilitarianism, with a focus on the distributive implications of the theory of "maximizing the greatest happiness of the greatest number." He engages students in a discussion of a guiding principle of classical utilitarianism, the principle of diminishing marginal utility, and some traditional critiques of this principle. Professor Shapiro examines the capacity of classical utilitarianism as a radically redistributive doctrine. Bentham himself tried to avoid this consequence with his argument that the rich would burn their crops before giving them away, and he differentiated between "absolute" and "practical" equality. Professor Shapiro connects all of these concepts to Reagan's tax cuts of the 1980s, pre- and post-apartheid South Africa, and contemporary debates about economic stimulus.
06 - From Classical to Neoclassical Utilitarianism
In this economics-oriented lecture, Professor Shapiro introduces neoclassical utilitarianism as it was formulated by economist Vilfredo Pareto and further described by Francis Edgeworth, examining such concepts as indifference curves, transitivity, the Pareto principle, and the Edgeworth box diagram. It is revealed that the main departure of neoclassical utilitarianism from classical utilitarianism was that it did away with Bentham's troublesome interpersonal comparisons of utility. However, Professor Shapiro explains that, if classical utilitarians didn't take the differences between individuals seriously enough, neoclassical utilitarians take these differences hyper-seriously. If classical utilitarianism can be interpreted as a radically redistributive doctrine, neoclassical utilitarianism becomes the exact opposite--that is, a doctrine that is quite friendly to the status quo.