Moral Foundations of Politics

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Overview

When do governments deserve our allegiance, and when should they be denied it?

This course explores the main answers that have been given to this question in the modern West. We start with a survey of the major political theories of the Enlightenment: Utilitarianism, Marxism, and the social contract tradition. In each case, we begin with a look at classical formulations, locating them in historical context, but then shift to the contemporary debates as they relate to politics today.

Next, we turn to the rejection of Enlightenment political thinking, again exploring both classical and contemporary formulations. The last part of the course deals with the nature of, and justifications for, democratic politics, and their relations to Enlightenment and Anti-Enlightenment political thinking.

In addition to exploring theoretical differences among the various authors discussed, considerable attention is devoted to the practical implications of their competing arguments. To this end, we discuss a variety of concrete problems, including debates about economic inequality, affirmative action and the distribution of health care, the limits of state power in the regulation of speech and religion, and difficulties raised by the emerging threat of global environmental decay.

Syllabus

Welcome to Moral Foundations of Politics
-Welcome to the course. Meet your instructor and learn about the structure of the course and what makes it distinctive.

Enlightenment Political Theory
-This module explores what makes a government legitimate. More specifically, was the Third Reich illegitimate and was Eichmann breaking some kind of higher law here?

Utilitarianism: Classical and Neoclassical
-Classical and neoclassical utilitarianism are examined in this module starting with the historical context. Professor Shapiro then shifts to the contemporary debates as they relate to politics today.

Marxism, Its Failures and Its Legacy
-This module on Marx's Enlightenment theory focuses on the foundations of capitalism theory and its major weaknesses.

The Social Contract Tradition I
-This module looks at classical formulations of the Social Contract Tradition, locating them in historical context, but then shifts to the contemporary debates as they relate to politics today.

The Social Contract Tradition II
-This module looks at classical formulations of the Social Contract Tradition, locating them in historical context, but then shifts to the contemporary debates as they relate to politics today.

Anti-Enlightenment Politics
-This module explores the rejection of Enlightenment political thinking, again exploring both classical and contemporary formulations.

Democracy
-This module deals with the nature of, and justifications for, democratic politics, and their relations to Enlightenment and Anti-Enlightenment political thinking.