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The main aims of this course are to introduce students to some of the principal concepts in political theory underpinning the theory and practice of democracy and citizenship, relating these to the contemporary context in order to contextualise theory better. The course will examine and interrogate three basic concepts central to politics: power, liberty and justice. With the first concept, a central concern in politics is the balance between the power of the state and that of the individual. But are all individuals equally powerful? And if not, what implications might this have for the State?
The second objective of the course is to examine the issue of liberty – a key concept in democratic theory. When are we truly free? To help answer this question we will look at two opposing viewpoints, John Stuart Mill’s (1806-1873) classic liberal conception and Karl Marx’s (1818-1883) critique of that perspective. Again we concentrate on the apparent dichotomy between the rights and responsibilities of the collective and those of the individual, looking specifically at the issue of abortion to help illustrate the issues that can arise.
Finally we will examine the notion of justice looking at two radically different conceptions of it; first the liberal tradition of John Rawls (1921-2002) the libertarian tradition as exemplified by Robert Nozick (1938-2002) and then the socialist tradition, represented by G.A. Cohen (1941-2009). Again the central issue in our enquiry is the dichotomy of the individual’s rights and responsibilities versus those of the collective, taking the issue of taxation as a contemporary example to explore this dichotomy. In this way the course aims to provide students with an introduction to some of the main themes of political theory, while studying these through the lens of contemporary issues which help illustrate the complexity of these apparently simple concepts.
In particular the course aims to:
• Briefly examine and evaluate the meanings of political theory and their relationship to the concepts of democracy and citizenship;
• Provide students with overviews and more detailed examinations of the main political concepts related to the exercise of citizenship;
• Provide opportunities for more detailed examinations of at least three of the key theorists studied
Provide opportunities to study one of these concepts from the perspectives of contrasting political theorists;
• Assess and evaluate the relevance and impact of these theories for the exercise of citizenship in the contemporary context.