Key Themes in the History of Political Thought

This information is for the 2017/18 session.

Teacher responsible

Lucia Rubinelli


This course is available on the BSc in Government, BSc in Government and Economics, BSc in Government and History, BSc in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, BSc in Politics and International Relations, BSc in Politics and Philosophy and BSc in Social Policy with Government. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit. This course is not available to General Course students.

This course is capped at two groups. The deadline for enrolments is 12 noon on Friday 29 September 2017.


Students will normally be expected to have taken Introduction to Political Theory or equivalent, in a previous year.

Course content

A thematic study of political thought in Ancient, Medieval/Renaissance and Modern periods. This advanced course treats some of the major themes in the history of western European political thought as drawn from the writings of selected political philosophers of the ancient Greek, Roman, Medieval, renaissance, early modern and modern periods. The aim is to demonstrate, and explain, some of the continuities and discontinuities in ethical and political problems and their solutions over time and changing context.

Examples of such themes: different views on the nature of "man" and the consequences for political agency of different perspectives on human reason, will, desire; debates on the origins of law and the purpose of legislation; changing conceptions of justice; different views on government and the state's relation to the individual; on the sources of public authority and the nature of legitimate sovereignty; on the relation of property ownership to personal identity and to participation in collective governance; the historical and socio-political presuppositions behind the different constitutional regimes: democracy, monarchy, republic etc; on the role of religion in politics; the changing perspectives on the relationship between life in the family and a life of active citizenship; theories of natural law and natural rights; social contract theories; idealist political theory; utilitarianism; nationalism; liberal, conservative and socialist traditions of thought; anarchism and feminism.

The themes, thinkers and primary texts will be selected each year to reflect the current debates in contemporary scholarly literature on them and the research interests of the lecturer. This year, we will focus on understandings and implications of the principle of popular power in Hobbes, Rousseau, thinkers of the French Revolution, Carl Schmitt. 


20 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the MT. 20 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the LT. 2 hours of lectures and 1 hour of classes in the ST.


There will be a reading week in week 6 of the MT and week 6 of the LT for private study and formative/summative assessment preparation.

Formative coursework

Two formative essays per term, one of which is a timed-essay set in exam-like conditions.

Indicative reading

Primary Sources: A selection of the following (this list should not be taken as exhaustive): Plato, Republic; Aristotle, Politics, Machiavelli, Discourses, Hobbes, Leviathan, Locke, Second Treatise on Civil Government, Rousseau, On The Social Contract, Hume, Political Writings, Kant, Political Writings, Hegel, The Philosophy of Right, Marx, The German Ideology, Sieyes, E. Political Writings, Carl Schmitt, The concept of the Political


Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours) in the main exam period.

Four questions will be answered.

Student performance results

(2014/15 - 2016/17 combined)

Classification % of students
First 34.6
2:1 48.1
2:2 13.5
Third 1.9
Fail 1.9

Teachers' comment

NB. Please note that the content, teacher, and syllabus of the course have changed since 2016-2017. The course survey results and the student performance results are based on a three-year average.

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2016/17: 13

Average class size 2016/17: 7

Capped 2016/17: Yes (17)

Lecture capture used 2016/17: Yes (MT & LT)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Problem solving
  • Communication

Course survey results

(2014/15 - 2016/17 combined)

1 = "best" score, 5 = "worst" score

The scores below are average responses.

Response rate: 72%



Reading list (Q2.1)


Materials (Q2.3)


Course satisfied (Q2.4)


Lectures (Q2.5)


Integration (Q2.6)


Contact (Q2.7)


Feedback (Q2.8)


Recommend (Q2.9)