SS-460 Modern Political Thought / Fall 2021
First Essay Assignment
- The assignment for the first essay is to write an a short essay (approximately 750-1000 words) on either of the two topics provided below.
- The essay is due by 7 pm on Friday, October 8. (Please note the change from the date originally indicated on the syllabus.)
- If you are unable to submit the paper by the due date/time, for whatever reason, you are expected to contact the instructor by email, by the time of the deadline, providing an estimate of when the paper will be submitted.
- Papers are to be submitted via Canvas. If you encounter any technical difficulties submitting via Canvas in time for the deadline, you can send it to me by email.)
Formal Criteria/Expectations for Assignment:
- Essays will be graded on the basis of the following (overlapping) criteria:
- Accurate representation of the contents of texts discussed.
- Cogency of reasoning.
- Clarity and precision of exposition.
- For guidance on matters of expositional clarity and precision, please consult my "Guidelines for Essays" [posted on Canvas]
- The sequence of questions posed in prompts below are intended to help you focus your understanding of the topic. Your response should take the form of a well-focused essay, presenting an argument in support of a clearly-stated thesis. In other words, you should not presume that the reader has prior knowledge of the topic prompt. It’s up to you to communicate to the reader what the essay is about, so as to establish your claim on the reader’s attention.
- Be as specific and precise as possible in referring to details of the text, so as to be informative and comprehensible to a reader unfamiliar with them. (On the other hand, there is no need to discuss matters of historical background for text or author; you may presume the reader is familiar with that.)
- Due to the space constraints of the assignment, the extensive use of direct quotations from the text is discouraged; nevertheless, your argument should be well grounded in the text, with copious textual references in support of your claims. As a rule: a specific textual reference should be provided for every specific claim attributed to the author discussed, whether or not you quote the author directly.
- Citations may be provided either in footnotes, or else parenthetically within the text, following the format illustrated in the topic prompts below (providing chapter/paragraph number as applicable, followed by page number). If this procedure is adopted, a complete bibliographic reference for every text cited must also be provided, either on first reference (in a footnote), or else at the end of paper.
Note: Each of the following questions refers to a specific chapter of the text at issue. In writing your essay, however, be aware that is not sufficient for you to limit your attention to that one chapter. In making your argument, you are welcome to draw upon conceptual distinctions offered by Max Weber or Hannah Arendt, if you find them to be pertinent, but you are not required to do so.
- In Chapter 17 of The Prince, Machiavelli says that a prince should not care about having a reputation for cruelty, and should even prefer to be feared rather than loved, so long as he avoids being hated (17:67). What is the rationale for this counsel? If a prince is feared, why need he care whether he is hated or not? Why do princes stand in need of this counsel, according to Machiavelli’s view of their situation? That is, what are the factors that tend to make princes inclined to do otherwise than he recommends?
- In Chapter 13 of Leviathan, Hobbes writes that “men have no pleasure, but on the contrary a great deal of grief, in keeping company, where there is no power able to overawe them all” (13.5:190). Explain Hobbes’s reasons for holding this, and then explain what he means in holding that the institution of a commonwealth constitutes a remedy to this predicament. If men are by nature equal (in the sense Hobbes takes them to be), and capable of making agreements among themselves, why should it take the presence of a superior power, able to overawe them all, to keep them from coming to grief with each other? (Bear in mind that the root meaning of the word ‘grief’ is not misery, but resentment - as in, holding grievances.) How does the sovereign of a commonwealth obtain the power to keep the subjects in awe, and in what does that power consist in? What does Hobbes mean by ‘awe’ in this context?
Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, trans. Harvey Mansfield. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.
Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan, ed. Noel Malcolm [vol. 2/i]. Oxford: Clarendon, 2012.