This course aims to introduce students to the political ideas and philosophical methods of some of the key “modern” thinkers of the latter 18th and 19th centuries, whose ideas continue to resonate to this day.
We will take a historically sensitive approach by attempting to rationalise the particular intellectual contribution of our chosen thinker against the backdrop of extant historical conditions. We join the story amid the profoundly radical political and intellectual atmosphere surrounding the American and French Revolutions of the 18th centuries. These events were marked by seismic social and political changes and upheavals whose effects continued into the 19th and 20th centuries, and even the 21st. Indeed, the French Revolution of 1879 is regarded as a key historical moment which in hindsight became truly representative of the arrival of the modern era, one that is recognisable to us today. But this event, and its effect elsewhere, threw up many new and very profound challenges. The modern revolution overthrew the domination of the old order, or Ancien Regime, and unleashed wholly new conceptions of the individual, of liberty and equality and the state, which were difficult in practice to manage and maintain. Profound questions concerning rights, terms of citizenship and human relations suddenly became very urgent and pressing. We find our chosen thinkers on this course heavily preoccupied not only with finding solutions to the problems of their age, but also grappling perhaps with even larger and deeper questions as to what was going on. In so doing, accounts of history, development and change were offered that have become the bases of key approaches in the social sciences and humanities today.