If we could throw away the entire structure of the countries we live in now, and start again to build the perfect State, what would we want? Would everyone within it be equal, or would we give more power and influence to the most talented? Would we share our wealth evenly, or would we encourage people to compete to get ahead? Would we grant our citizens as much freedom as we possibly could, even if that created risks for us all, or would we favour security over freedom? Who would run the State, and how would they convince others of their right to rule over them? Is it possible to administer a State effectively without, on occasion, lying to one’s citizens?
Twenty-four hundred years ago in ancient Athens, the great philosopher Plato tried to answer these questions and many others by trying to imagine what a perfect society would look like. Ever since then, there have been many philosophers eager to play the same game. Alongside them however, there have been others who have thought that the purpose of political theory is to clarify how we should deal with the world as we actually find it, rather than as we would like it to be. In this course, we will read and discuss some of the central figures in the history of political theory, both the dreamers and the realists. In so doing, we will investigate underlying issues concerning the relation between ethics and politics, the notion of good government, the qualities of leaders, the rationality for the use of violence, the importance of property, and the relation between power and truth. Students will be asked to employ the theories and concepts studied in the course in analyzing contemporary social and political issues. Students who have taken PHIL 450 Power: 701 cannot take this course.