Introduction to Political Thought

Dr. Laurie M. Johnson


Office: Waters 243

Phone: 532-0441

Office Hours:




This course will explore a field which has been variously called political thought, political theory and political philosophy. Prior to the 1970's this field, as taught within political science departments, consisted primarily of an analysis of the great political ideas as put forth by philosophers such as Plato, Machiavelli, and Marx. Especially during the 1970's a distinction emerged between normative and empirical political theory. Empirical political theory, based on social scientific observation, can be found in many political science courses from American Government to International Relations, but empirical theory does not claim to deal with questions of right or wrong, good or bad--norms. Normative political thought deals with questions of ethics, justice, the good life and the best--and worst--political regimes. This course will focus on normative political thought.


The promise of studying political thought for the political science major is that the more the student knows and can grapple with the great political ideas, the easier the task of understanding the rest of political science becomes. But perhaps even more significant is the usefulness of studying political thought for the person interested in politics. Because of our sometimes rather low opinion of politicians, it may come as a surprise that the "elites" of this and other countries are often philosophically educated. Conservatives at the top often locate their philosophical origins in thinkers such as Thucydides, Aristotle and Machiavelli. Liberal elites may find their roots in thinkers such as Plato, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, or Marx and Engels. Republican and Democratic presidents alike have in recent years appointed scholars of political thought to administrative and advisory posts. Some of the top advisors to the Democratic and Republican parties are classically-trained political theorists. Obviously, various political philosophies continue to drive policy in America today.


If the student takes a more global and historical perspective, he or she will see that great political ideas shape political history in ways which are truly difficult to ignore. The most obvious example of a philosophy of recent global impact is Marxism, which continues to inspire socialists and communists around the world, and those of John Locke or Thomas Paine, whose Classical Liberal ideas have swept the globe with the promise of representative government and economic growth. It is easier to understand Mussolini and Hitler after studying Machiavelli. If there is any doubt that philosophy has a direct impact on movers and shakers, the student of political science need only turn to our own founding, to the Federalist Papers outlining and justifying the new American constitution.


There will be three tests during the semester, one after each of the three units. All three exams will be worth 100 points apiece. The first two will be a combination of multiple choice and essay, while the final will be multiple choice only. In the essay section of the first two exams, you will write one essay and you will have at least two questions from which to choose. You will be tested on lectures, readings, and viewings assigned for this course. There is one additional assignment, which will require you to write a documented essay using both primary and scholarly sources. This assignment will be worth 50 points. It will be discussed at more length below.


Grading Breakdown:

First Exam 100 points

Second Exam 100 points

Final Exam 100 points

Documented Essay 50 points

350 points total


Documented Essay Instructions:

During the final third of the course, students will be asked to write a 3-4 page double spaced essay based on prompts that will be given on our K-State Online site. The essay will draw information from the class as well as information gathered independently. Students should:

  • find evidence for their arguments/points in the appropriate text assigned for class (i.e., Gorgias, The Prince, etc.)
  • when using information and especially quotes from the texts or other material, cite their sources using MLA style (more on this on the message board)
  • provide a Works Cited page for all sources used
  • use at least two scholarly sources. For purposes of this assignment scholarly sources are defined as peer reviewed academic journal articles found in the Hale Library online database JStor. No other database or article source will be allowed or counted. You will receive guidance for this assignment on the message board and in class. You will be asked to provide proof of the use of JStor by supplying the cover page for each article from JStor.
  • Use MLA style for citations and for Works Cited as discussed and demonstrated in class. No other style will be allowed or counted.
  • Upload the completed essay by the due date/time to the file drop box on K-State Online (due date/time will be announced)

Evidence of academic dishonesty (cheating/plagiarism of any kind) on any assignment will be reported to the university's Honor System and will result in a "XF" for the course.

Required Texts:

Bagby, Political Thought: A Guide to the Classics , Wadsworth .

Machiavelli,  The Prince , Wooton translation, Hackett.

Marx and Engels,  The Communist Manifesto .

St. Thomas More , Utopia , Dover .

Plato,  Gorgias , MacMillan.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War , Dover Publications.


1. Ancient Idealism: Plato

Bagby, "Idealism," p. 1; "Background," pp. 2-4; "Understanding Plato," pp. 4-6.

Plato, Gorgias, entire book as assigned.*

Bagby, "The Myth in Gorgias," pp. 12-14.

*Guide to Gorgias," pp. 20-24. Use this guide when reading Gorgias for better understanding and preparation for the first exam.

Videos: "The Greeks," PBS; "Confucius," Biography.

Bagby, "Parallels" as assigned from the web site (or on K-State Online):

Other viewing/reading as assigned.


2. Realism: Machiavelli and Sun Tzu

Bagby, "Realism," p. 47; "Background," pp. 48-52; "Understanding Machiavelli," pp. 52-54.

Machiavelli, The Prince, entire, as assigned.*

Bagby, "Careful Reading," 54-60, as assigned.

*Bagby, "Guide to The Prince," pp. 60-65. Use this guide when reading The Prince for better understanding and preparation for the second exam.

Videos: "Machiavelli," The Learning Channel

Sun Tsu, The Art of War, Dover . Read as assigned in class.

"Sun Tsu: The Art of War," The Discovery Channel.

Bagby, "Parallels" as assigned from the web site (or on K-State Online):

Other viewing/reading as assigned.


3. Socialism: More and Marx

A. St. Thomas More, Utopia, as assigned.

Video: Thomas More, FFH.

B. Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, parts I, II and IV.

Bagby, "Background," pp. 188-192; "Understanding Marx and Engels," pp. 192-196.

Manifesto: Part I: Purpose and use of historical progress

Part II: Critique of classical liberalism and "end of history" Part IV: Exhortation*

Bagby, "Careful Reading," pp. 196-200; 200-202, as assigned.

Bagby, "Guide to the Communist Manifesto," pp. 205-208. Use this guide when reading Marx and Engels for better understanding and preparation for the final exam.

Bagby, "Parallels" as assigned from the web site (or on K-State Online):

Videos: Video, "The 20th Century: People Power," PBS.

Other viewing/reading as assigned.


Copyright 2013, Laurie M. Johnson, as to this syllabus and all lectures.


This course will observe and enforce all rules pertaining to KSU's student honor code.