Political Theory and Public Law


Topics in Political Theory or Public Law

These course will enable regular or visiting faculty members to examine topics in Political Theory or Public Law not treated in the established curriculum. Subjects may therefore vary each time the course is offered.


Alternative Political Theory

In this course we engage with central themes and approaches of three contemporary alternative political theories: critical theory, post-structuralism, and feminist political theory. This course has three goals. First, we draw on these alternative theories to obtain a deeper understanding of the mechanisms of power in modern societies. Second, we analyze the ways in which these theories might assist us to think about issues pertaining to political resistance. Third, we examine the ways in which the respective thinkers conceptualize socio-political change. We start out with Marx and Marcuse (critical theory), followed by Foucault and Derrida (post-structuralism), and we end with Iris Marion Young and Judith Butler (feminist political theory). Dist: TMV; WCult: W.


Colonial Discourses in the Early Americas (Identical to NAS 30)

This course will familiarize students with the early colonial period of the Americas. They will examine the legacy of Columbus to better understand his rightful place in the indigenous-Spanish European relationship. They will examine closely the work of Bartolome de Las Casas, whose work culminates in the now famous "Valladolid Debate." The second part of the course concentrates on the British Empire. Students will read works of Thomas More, Thomas Hobbes, and John Locke in order to understand the significance of the distinction between a "state of nature" and a "civil society". Students will also study early documents of American Indian diplomacy in order to characterize the legal and political relationship between the European newcomers and the numerous American Indian tribes. In the third part, students will examine the French colonial presence in North America and compare English and French understandings of the indigenous peoples of the New World. Open to all classes. Dist: SOC; WCult: NA

GOVT 60.01

Ethics, Everyday Life, and Law

What is the right thing to do? What is the best way of life? How, if at all, should the answers to these questions bear on politics and law? Some hold that morality is intensely demanding, and asks us to overcome the natural concern for ourselves and those close to us. Others argue that the moral life is simple and relatively easy to comply with. Are morally excellent people happier-or is happiness beside the point of morality. Does a political community that enshrines the "pursuit of happiness" as among its foundational goals need to take a concern with the moral character of citizens? These questions will be investigated through readings that move between the history of moral and political thought (Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Mill) and cases and questions drawn from contemporary life. Dist. TMV

GOVT 60.02 - Topics in Political Theory or Public Law

Immigration Law, Asylum and Politics

This course examines the topic of immigration and asylum from a political, social, legal and public policy perspective.  As a nation of immigrants, much of our self-identity is bound up in the idea that we are forever the "unfinished" nation.  What does this mean?  How are our views and policies on immigration different from those of other nations with different identities and histories?  How do we address the problems of security and the need (both in law and philosophy) to provide a safe haven to those who seek asylum from persecution elsewhere? Dist: SOC

GOVT 60.03

Wittgenstein and Political Thought

This course explores the influence of the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein on contemporary political thought. The first part of the course focuses on Wittgenstein's early work, in particular, his understanding of language. The main part of the course is devoted to discussing Wittgenstein's most famous work, Philosophical Investigations. The third part of the course explores how some of Wittgenstein's central concepts – language games, family resemblances and rule following – have been used in contemporary political thought. Dist: TMV; WCult: W.

GOVT 60.04

Ethics and Public Policy (Identical to PBPL 42)

This course examines the nature and validity of arguments about vexing moral issues in public policy.  Students examine a number of basic moral controversies in public life, focusing on different frameworks for thinking about justice and he ends of politics.  The primary aim of the course is to provide each student with an opportunity to develop his/her ability to think in sophisticated ways about morally difficult policy issues.  Amount the questions students address will be the following:  Are policies that permit torture justifiable under any circumstances?  Do people have basic moral claims to unequal economic holdings and rewards, or should economic distribution be patterned for the sake of social justice?  Should people be permitted to move freely between countries?   Is abortion wrong,in theory or in practice, and in what ways should it be restricted? Dist: TMV; WCult:  W

GOVT 60.05 - Topics in Political Theory or Public Law

Indigenous Nationalism: Native Rights and Sovereignty (Identical to Native American Studies 36)

This course focuses on the legal and political relationship between the indigenous peoples of Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand and their respective colonial governments. Students will examine contemporary indigenous demands for self-government, especially territorial claims, within the context of the legislative and political practices of their colonial governments. The course will begin with an examination of the notion of Aboriginal self-government in Canada and develop it in light of the policy recommendations found in the recent report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996). Using the Canadian experience as a benchmark, students will then compare these developments to indigenous peoples' experiences in the United States, Australia and New Zealand. An important theme of the course will be to develop an international approach to the issue of indigenous rights and to explore how colonial governments are responding to indigenous demands for justice. Not open to Freshmen without permission of instructor. Dist: SOC or INT; WCult: NA or NW.

GOVT 60.08

Indigenous Law, the State and Legal Pluralism (Identical to NAS 44)

This course focuses on Indigenous law and legal systems, primarily form the United States but with some attention to the jurisgenerative (or law-creating) roles of Canadian First Nations and Australian Aboriginal Peoples.  For Indigenous peoples, the resurgence of traditional Indigenous laws and their accompanying legal structures serves as an important marker of Indigenous self-determination and national (re)building.  At the same time, these developments challenge the long-standing hegemony of the nation-state, particularly the centrality of the state's legal system and the presumption that the state is the sole author and arbiter of law.  The resurgence of Indigenous law and legal systems can co-exist peacefully in shared territories.  Dist:  SOC, WCult: NW.

GOVT 60.09 (Identical to NAS 48)

Indians and European Political Thought: 1492 - 1832

This course surveys European political theory in early colonial America. The course is broadly divided into three parts: first, the so-called "Discovery of the New World" in 1492; second, the 17th and 18th century social contract theories of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau; and finally, the early 19th century Marshall cases that laid the foundation for American Indian law in the United States. Dist: W; WCult: TMV

GOVT 60.11

Republicanism, An Alternative

This course will introduce students to republican political theory. Republicanism is often described as a theory of liberty, and one that contrasts usefully with liberalism. Our goal in this class will be to determine what it means to live in a ‘republic,’ comparing recent arguments made by neo-republicans like Quentin Skinner and Philip Pettit with the source material upon which they claim to be building. Topics will include: the meaning and importance of liberty relative to other political values, like justice and equality; how republican liberty might be institutionalized; the role played by civic virtue in sustaining free institutions; and ‘private’ forms of domination, e.g. sexual and family relationships.

GOVT 60.10

Environmental Ethics (formerly Environmental Justice)

This course examines how principles of justice apply to our environmental choices and public policies.  We will first consider different ethical perspectives on our relationship to non-human animals and the environment.  Subjects include: population growth and control; the siting of toxic waste; the use of animals; the protection of endangered species; the conservation of ecosystems; and the human re-creation of nature.  In the final section of the course, we will examine in greater depth the ethics of climate change, considering how developed and developing nations are differentially responsible for climate change and its remediation, what our obligations are to future generations, and what obligations individuals bear to contribute to sustainability and limit consumption.



Questions surrounding the political relevance of diversity and difference have been central to political philosophy from its inception.  This course will introduce students to the variety of ways that pluralism has been conceptualized and problematized.  Combining both historical and contemporary perspectives on pluralism, we will focus on answering the following questions: How much unity can or should characterize a political community?   What sort of unity does a healthy political community need to have?  Is unity incompatible with diversity?


Against the Tide: Excellence in a Democratic Age


Theoretical Foundations of Modern Politics

The great goals of modern politics are peace, longevity, and prosperity-in contrast to older forms of politics that focused more on the excellence of the soul. This revolution was not accidental. It was thought out as it was being worked out. Understanding that thought-the invisible infrastructure of today's society and politics-is the task of this course. Readings from Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Marx, Mill, and Nietzsche. Requirements: two 5-7 page papers and a final exam. Dist: TMV; WCult: W.



Jurisprudence is the theory of law -- not of a particular body of laws but of law in general. In this course, we explore a variety of approaches to some of the fundamental questions in jurisprudence: Are laws rooted in human nature, in social customs, or in the will of the sovereign authority? How are laws made, interpreted, and enforced? Can morality be legislated? Readings and lectures will draw on both philosophical arguments and legal case-studies to explore these and other questions. Dist: TMV


Theorizing Free Speech

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution reads in part: "Congress shall make no law. . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press...or the right of the people to peacefully assemble." This course examines the philosophical and constitutional issues regarding the First Amendment's speech, press, and association clauses. Readings draw from Supreme Court cases and secondary sources. Areas covered include: philosophical foundations of free speech, compelled speech, defamation, hate speech, expressive discrimination, obscenity and pornography. Recommended Background: A course in Law and/or Political Theory. Dist SOC; WCult: NA/W.


Foundations of Political Thought: Athens and Jerusalem

Modern political philosophy has two ancient foundations: Greek philosophy (Athens) and the Bible (Jerusalem). Each of these two cities offers radically different answers to the perennial questions about politics: what is justice and who shall rule? After contrasting these two ancient perspectives, we shall compare medieval attempts to synthesize Greek philosophy and biblical faith by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. What do we owe to God and what to Caesar? Dist: W. Or TMV. Prerequisite: GOVT 6

GOVT 64.01

Liberalism and Its Critics

Liberal political theory is renowned for its emphasis on rights, freedoms, and limited government; but critics of liberalism hold that the liberal legacy in free societies is one of misguided energies and broken promises. Students in this course chart the development of liberal thought from the Seventeenth Century to the present, with a view to considering the central values and commitments liberals may share, and examining important contemporary work in liberal theory. The course integrates weighty challenges to the moral and political viability of liberalism, from communitarian, conservative, libertarian, and postmodern critics. Students will reckon with a panoply of questions, including the following: Does liberalism overemphasize the importance of the individual, at the expense of community? Are liberal societies bound to be licentious, selfish, and atomized? Do liberal theories rest upon a mistaken view of the self and its construction? Are liberal theories committed to the excessive promotion of autonomy for persons, or are they unfair to religion? Should we understand liberalism to be based merely in the pursuit of modus vivendi, or might there be some shared vision of a moral life on which liberals can base their theories? Government 6 recommended. Dist: PHR/TMV.

GOVT 64.02

Modern Political Thought

This course complements Government 63, presenting the major themes in Western political philosophy from the Reformation to the twentieth century. The natural right tradition, which has served as the basis of liberal democracy, will be examined at its origin (Hobbes' Leviathan) along with Rousseau's revision and criticism of classical liberalism (First and Second Discourses, Social Contract). Then the historicist tradition -- the major alternative which has dominated European thought since the French Revolution -- will be studied first in Hegel's Philosophy of Right, then in Marx's transformation of the Hegelian dialectic (Critique of Hegelian Philosophy of Right, 1844 M.S.S., and German Ideology). As in Government 63, lecture-discussions will focus closely on the texts of the four philosophers being studied while relating them to the development of modern political thought and contemporary social science. While Government 63 and 64 form a sequence, either may be taken separately. Dist: PHR/TMV.

Govt 60.14


Libertarianism endorses strong individual rights against coercion, and as a result, strictly limited government, free exchange in markets, and social toleration. For this class, libertarianism is not so much a political program as a unique approach to thinking about people's moral rights and the purpose and legitimacy of the state. We will engage both defenses and criticisms of libertarianism, as well as different variants of the philosophy, using tools from philosophy, economics, and political science. Dist. TMV


American Political Thought

"In the beginning," John Locke observed, "all the world was America." For Locke seventeenth-century America presented the world with an example of the state of nature where individuals enjoyed and suffered a condition of natural freedom. Over a century later, Alexis de Tocqueville too located the natural consequences of the age of democratic revolution in America: "I admit that I saw in America more than America; it was the shape of democracy itself which I sought, its inclinations, character, prejudices, and passions; I wanted to understand it so as at least to know what we have to fear or hope therefrom." For Locke as for Tocqueville and many more, America is both exemplary and exceptional; it has significance not only for itself but for humanity. We too turn to the political thought of America not only because it is ours but also to better grasp the meaning and fate of liberal democracy. The course focuses on the period from the Revolution to the Civil War. Topics include toleration, constitutionalism, rights, individualism, and slavery. Readings are drawn mainly from primary sources, including Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Hamilton, Jackson, Calhoun, Taylor, Anthony, Thoreau, and Lincoln. Requirements include a 5-7 page paper, a midterm, several short exams, a final examination, and participation. Dist: TMV; WCult: W.

GOVT 66.02

Constitutional Law, Development and Theory (formerly The Supreme Court and Constitutional Development)

This course covers some of the main themes of the American Constitution with a particular emphasis on constitutional history, structure, interpretation, development and theory. Areas covered include: federalism, separation of powers, judicial review, slavery and Reconstruction.  Dist: SOC; WCult: W.

GOVT 66.03

Democratic Theory

Can we defend the value of democracy against serious and thoughtful criticism? Using a combination of classic and contemporary texts, this course encourages students to think rigorously about one of their most basic political values. It examines the origins of democratic theory in ancient Athenian political practice and the normative and practical criticisms of more contemporary thinkers. What makes politics "democratic?" What features distinguish the democratic regime from other regimes? What is democracy supposed to reflect or achieve? And what kinds of concerns about democracy did ancient philosophers like Plato and Aristotle raise? How (and why) did early modern and Enlightenment thinkers relocate the grounds for preferring democracy to other regimes? Dist: TMV; WCult: W.


Civil Liberties: Legal and Normative Approaches (formerly Civil Liberties and Individual Rights in the United States)

This course examines the normative and constitutional (textual) bases for protecting certain civil liberties or rights in the United States. The aim is not only to learn the constitutional language of civil liberties but also to think critically about it.  Areas covered include: property, race, sex, abortion, religious and cultural rights, sexual freedom and "alternative" marriage, and animal rights. WCult: W.


Gender and Law (Identical to Women and Gender Studies 32.1)

This course examines how gender and law in the United States are used to confer rights, create obligations, and define identities. We explore the theoretical, historical, and empirical basis for gender in law, and pay particular attention to how and when gender-based laws have changed over time. Specific topics covered include, for example, federal legislation on educational and workplace equity, constitutional doctrines of equality and privacy, and state policies on family law, criminal responsibility, and domestic violence. We analyze the relationship between gender politics, legal theory, legal doctrine, and social policy. We also ask whether the gender of legal actors (litigants, lawyers, judges) makes a difference in their reasoning or decision-making. Prerequisite: Gov 3 or a law course strongly recommended. Dist: SOC, WCult: W.


Federal Indian Law formerly Native Americans and the Law (Identical to NAS 50)

This course will focus on the constitutional, statutory and jurisprudential rules of law that make up the field of Federal Indian Law. Attention will be given to the historical framework from which the rules were derived. After tracing the development of the underlying legal doctrines that are prominent today, the course will turn to a consideration of subject-specified areas of Indian law, including hunting and fishing rights, water rights, and preservation of religious and cultural rights. Dist: SOC; WCult: NW.

GOVT 60.14


Libertarianism endorses strong individual rights against coercion, and as a result, strictly limited government, free exchange in markets, and social toleration. For this class, libertarianism is not so much a political program as a unique approach to thinking about people's moral rights and the purpose and legitimacy of the state. We will engage both defenses and criticisms of libertarianism, as well as different variants of the philosophy, using tools from philosophy, economics, and political science.