Key Themes in the History of Political Thought

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Signy Gutnick Allen


This course is available on the BSc in Government, BSc in Government and Economics, BSc in Government and History, BSc in International Social and Public Policy with Politics, BSc in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, BSc in Politics, BSc in Politics and Economics, BSc in Politics and History, 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 and to General Course students.

This course is capped at two groups. The deadline for enrolments is 12:00 noon on Friday 4 October 2019.


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 debates over the nature and political status of ‘rights’ in the theories of Hobbes, Locke, Wollstonecraft and Arendt.


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

There will be 3 formative assignments over the year, with 2 essays of 1500 words each due & returned in the MT, and a final formative mock exam towards the end of the LT.

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 (50%, duration: 2 hours) in the summer exam period.
Essay (50%, 2500 words) in the LT.

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2018/19: 23

Average class size 2018/19: 11

Capped 2018/19: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

Teachers' comment

NB. Please note that the content, teacher, and syllabus of the course have changed since 2017-2018. The course survey results and the student performance results are based on a three-year average.