Chartist demonstration at Kennington, 1848

Liberty, Ancient and Modern

UC Berkeley, Spring 2021. Graduate seminar. In a classic lecture of 1819, Benjamin Constant represented the “liberty of the ancients” as collective public liberty—that is, direct political power—predicated on war and slavery, combined with citizens’ total subservience to the community as private individuals. By contrast, he represented modern liberty as a tissue of private liberties, such as liberty of speech, religion, and association, predicated on peace and commerce, combined with political representation—that is, a division of political labour between rulers and ordinary citizens. How plausible was that account? In the first part of the course, we’ll study the conceptualization of liberty (eleutheria, libertas) and its opposite, slavery, and some aspects of both public and private life in ancient Athens, Sparta, and Rome. In the second part, we’ll explore how a selection of canonical early modern authors approached the idea of liberty, paying special attention to the role that claims about ancient Greece and Rome and the concepts of public and private played in their thought. In the process, we’ll consider how far these men’s writings suggest the existence of two distinct theoretical traditions (one more “political,” foregrounding the concept of sovereignty, the other more “economic,” foregrounding natural sociability). We close with two weeks on the French Revolution, asking how far it constituted an attempt to return to the politics of the ancient world, and finally, a return to Constant in the light of what we’ve learned. 

Syllabus

Modern Political Thought (c. 1789-c. 1970)

UC Berkeley, Spring 2021. Undergraduate lecture course. This course introduces some key moments in the history of the modern world through the writings of some its most stimulating and influential—though not always frequently studied—political thinkers and actors. The material is presented chronologically in the form of seven modules: (1) the French Revolution; (2) the division of labour and representation; (3) responses to capitalism and slavery; (4) Kultur and its discontents; (5) the Russian Revolution; (6) interwar and postwar politics; and (7) critiques of modernity. While the list of authors we’ll read is long and varied (including geographically), excerpts will be short, and the instructor will provide all necessary context. There are no prerequisites, and in the hope of providing some fascinating mental fodder for anyone interested in politics today, newcomers to the world of political theory are very welcome.

Syllabus

History of Political Thought: Ancient and Medieval

UC Berkeley, Fall 2019. Graduate seminar (mean student evaluation 6.54/7). An opportunity to explore the political thought of the ancient Greeks, Romans, and early and medieval Christians from Plato to Marsilius. The emphasis is on canonical texts likely to be of most use to those preparing to teach in this or a related field, but anyone curious about the politics or the philosophy of these periods is encouraged to enrol. No Greek or Latin is assumed, though we will be attentive to original terminology and key terms will be taught and discussed throughout the course. Historical context will be supplied by the instructor and by additional recommended readings if desired.

Syllabus

Evaluations

Democracy Ancient and Modern

Yale University, Spring 2019. Undergraduate lecture course (mean student evaluation 4.8/5). Dêmokratia, democratia, democracy. What did this term mean to the ancient Greeks who coined it, to the Romans who borrowed it, to the early modern Europeans who discussed it—and what does it mean today? Who or what was the original dêmos, how did it rule, and how different is the interpretation of “rule by the people” that now predominates? Starting with the first attestations of da-mo in the 12th century BC and ending with Iceland’s recent attempt to crowdsource its constitution, this course offers a chronological exploration of the idea and practice of democracy intended to broaden our imaginative horizons with respect to what democracy has been, is, and could become.

Syllabus

Evaluations

Ancient Greek Political Development

Yale University, Spring 2016 and Fall 2018. Graduate seminar (mean student evaluations 4.8/5, 4.5/5). This course explores the varieties of political experience in the ancient Greek world in the Archaic, Classical and (briefly) Hellenistic eras. Attention is given to different regime types (kingship, tyranny, democracy, oligarchy), places (e.g. Athens, Sparta, Crete, Carthage, Syracuse, and beyond Hellas, Persia and Egypt), political forms (city-state, nation, alliance, empire), institutions (assembly, council, courts, offices) and persons (political leader, citizen, woman, foreign resident, slave). The readings are broadly chronological and include a wide variety of sources: epic and elegiac poetry, tragic and comic drama, history, inscriptions, speeches, pamphlets, and philosophy.

Syllabus

Evaluations  ('16)

Evaluations  ('18)

Advanced Topics in Ancient Political Thought: Plato, Aristotle, Cicero

Yale University, Fall 2018. Graduate seminar (mean student evaluation 4.6/5). An opportunity to read, or to re-read, the most significant political statements of three foundational figures in the Western political tradition, paying due attention to both historical context and philosophical argument. It also aims to stimulate reflection on key elements of the modern political lexicon (e.g. politics, democracy, republic, justice, citizenship) by engaging with their Greek and Latin origins. Of particular interest will be the conceptualization of and relationships between a) the good (to agathon), the just (to dikaion) and the advantageous (to sympheron), and b) the honourable (honestas) and the useful (utilitas).

Syllabus

Evaluations

Syllabus

Evaluations

Historical and Political Thought from Herodotus to Machiavelli 

Yale University, Fall 2015. Intensive first-year undergraduate seminar (mean student evaluation 4.9/5). An introduction to ancient and medieval historical and political thought, offered as part of Yale's Directed Studies program. Readings from Herodotus, Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, Polybius, Livy, Tacitus, Augustine, Alfarabi, Maimonides, Aquinas, and Machiavelli.

Syllabus

Evaluations

Frontispiece to Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan (1651) by Abraham Bosse

email: daniela.cammack@berkeley.edu

site design © Max Hanson 2020