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IR130: Athens to Al-Qaeda: Political Theory and International Politics

Session: Two
Prerequisites: None

Professor Paul Kelly
Professor Chandran Kukathas
Professor Katrin Flikschuh

  • When is a terrorist attack an act of war? 
  • Is it the case that only states can exercise a right of war and if so why? 
  • Can you have a war on ‘terror’ or on ‘crime’? 
  • What is the fundamental difference between state violence and non-state violence? 
  • Where does state power come from and is the state system the ‘end of history’? 

From earliest times to the most contemporary ‘threats’ these questions have been posed and a variety of answers have been given. By examining the development of international political theory, from the Ancient Greeks to the present, this course will explore and criticise theories and arguments that have been offered to defend or challenge the power of political communities and explain the sources and varieties of conflict and cooperation that can occur within and beyond political communities. 

The course will examine the ideas of great political thinkers from Thucydides, Machiavelli and Hobbes to Kant, Hegel and Marx as well as the use to which these arguments have been put in the world of politics and international relations by contemporary thinkers. These thinkers and the concepts they identify and use will provide us with a window into the structures that shape much international politics such as states’ rights and international humanitarian obligations; the nature and status of international law, and the prospects for global democracy and democratisation. 

The course will provide both an introduction to political theory and to key approaches to international relations.



The main course readings can be found in:
C. Brown, T. Nardin and N. Rengger eds., International Relations in Political Thought, Cambridge University Press (2002). 
See also D. Boucher and P. Kelly eds., Political Thinkers: from Socrates to the Present, 2nd edition (2009).

Students should purchase both books. Additional reading and lecture notes will be available online on the course Moodle page.

Lectures: 36 hours    Classes: 12 hours
Assessment: One essay and one written examination



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Covent Garden Market


Students engaged in a lecture