Saturday, November 15, 2008

Nineteenth Century Political Philosophy

A draft version of the syllabus for my upcoming course:

Philosophy 445: Nineteenth Century Political Philosophy
Government and Society: The Rise of Political Economy

The Nineteenth Century saw the dramatic decline of the classical model of political philosophy that had dominated the previous two centuries, and had consisted largely of defining the natural rights of persons and proposing the sovereign legal framework within which these rights would be best respected. The modern political order had taken hold to such an extent that such encyclopedic articulations of that order were no longer necessary. Instead, the new century was marked by “sociological” and historical investigations into the conditions of modernity (Tocqueville, Burkhardt, etc.), polemical defenses of and attacks upon the ascendant modern order (Constant, Nietzsche, etc.), imaginative utopian schemes (Fourier, Cabet, etc.), and most importantly for the purposes of this class, increasingly elaborate and rigorous efforts to establish a scientific discourse that would amount to a social physics of this modern order. This aspirational physics of society was originally called “political economy” but came to be known simply as “economics.”

In this course, we will consider the rise of economics by observing its effect on two of the great tomes of Nineteenth-Century political thought: Hegel’s Philosophy of Right and Marx’s Capital. The former is, in a sense, the last of the classical articulations and large-scale apologies for the new social and political order. Hegel was deeply impressed by Adam Smith early in his life, and was deeply respectful of political economy’s claim to explain the laws of motion of modern society. In the Philosophy of Right, he writes; “Political economy is the science which must go on to explain mass relationships and mass movements in their qualitative and quantitative determinacy and complexity. This is one of the sciences which have originated in the modern age as their element” (§189). Nonetheless, Hegel was also quite critical of the civil society described and advocated by political economy, and emphasizes the necessity that other sources of meaning and community justify civil society.

Marx, on the other hand, is the consummate critic of modern society, and the subtitle to Capital is “A Critique of Political Economy.” Economics is the primary ideology of the modern world, according to Marx, mystifying and sanctifying historically and violently created relations such that they appear as natural and immutable, the destiny of human life. However, Marx’s relationship with political economy is just as complex as Hegel’s, in that he too accepts that the economic relations are very real and very determinative of modern social and political existence. Our investigations of these two works will be illuminated by supplementary readings from political economy itself. We will seek to understand the basic outlines of both classical political economy and the rise of marginal utility theory that overturned the classical model in favor of what would become neo-classical economics. We will look carefully at Hegel’s attempt to synthesize this economic model of society with classical and even ancient understandings of the political republic. Finally we will delve into Marx’s critique of political economy. The readings for this course are extremely difficult, and will therefore require patience and careful attention. Our course meetings will be spent in close, interactive examination of the texts.

Reading and Lecture Schedule:

Weeks 1-7
  • Hegel’s Philosophy of Right
  • Smith, from The Wealth of Nations
  • Ricardo, from On the Principles of Political Economy
  • de Tracy, from “Elements of Ideology”
  • Constant, “The Liberty of Ancients [and] Moderns”
  • Mill, from Principles of Political Economy

Week 8 Mid-winter Break

Weeks 9-14
  • Marx’s Capital
  • Jevons, “General Mathematical Theory of Political Economy”
  • Pareto, “New Theories of Economics”
  • Marshall, from Principles of Economics