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LN211 Introduction to European Political Thought

Module Code: LN211
Module Name: Introduction to European Political Thought
Module Coordinator: Dr Philippe Le Goff
Not running 2024-25
Module Credits: 15

Module Description

This module provides an introduction to some of the major European political thinkers through a close engagement with their most celebrated works. We will read Niccolò Machiavelli's The Prince, Jean-Jacques Rousseau's The Social Contract, Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France, and Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels' The Communist Manifesto. Some of these texts, it would be no exaggeration to say, have changed the world; all are considered classic works of political theory and continue to shape our understanding of politics and society. Many of these writers' key concepts remain fundamental terms in our political vocabulary and are consistently appealed to and evoked across the political spectrum.

We will situate each thinker and text in their specific historical context, thereby covering some of the key political sequences in modern European history, but also de-contextualise them so as to discuss and appreciate their continued relevance to and importance for European politics today in time of systemic crisis and popular revolt. Our approach to the material will therefore be filtered through a set of three key themes: power, collective self-determination and the people.

The module is available to all students across the School of Modern Languages and Cultures. The texts will be read in English translation, so there are no non-English language pre-requisites for the module

Primary texts for purchase (please buy these editions):

Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).

Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, trans. George Bull (London: Penguin, 2003).

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto: A Modern Edition (London: Verso, 2012).

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, trans. Christopher Betts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

Principal Module Aims

To introduce students to some of the major European political thinkers through a close engagement with their most celebrated works.

To provide a basic grounding in the major modern European intellectual traditions, i.e. liberalism, conservatism and socialism.

To enable students to examine some of the most fundamental terms and concepts in political thought, e.g. state of nature, general will, sovereignty, class struggle.

To enable students to develop a critical awareness of methodological issues in the study of past political thought.

To introduce students to debates in political thought regarding questions such as the nature of power and of the state, the capacity for collective self-determination and the status of the actor or subject.

Assessment for the module

For 2019-2020:

1 x 2000-2500 summative essay and 1 x 1 hour examination
1 x 4000-4500 summative essay

For 2020-2021:

4000 word essay