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POLSC302: Contemporary Political Thought

Unit 2: 19th Century Conservatism and Social Welfare Theory   This unit introduces the foundational theories for the conservative and neo-liberal movements.  Classical theories of conservatism emerged in response to the revolutions in Europe and the Americas, and the problems created by urbanization and rapid industrial growth.  As with the previous unit, the assigned materials explore the government’s duty to the people, the people’s duty to the government, and the duties of individuals to one another. 

As you will learn in this unit, Burkean and Hobbesian conservative theory stems from a rather dim view of mankind and the negative impact that self-interest plays in governance and social order.  This perception is in contrast to the Classical Liberal and Neo-Liberal views that contend that self-interest leads to the best outcomes for all.

Unit 2 Time Advisory
This unit will take approximately 12 hours to complete.

☐    Subunit 2.1: 6 hours

☐    Subunit 2.2: 3 hours

☐    Subunit 2.3: 3 hours

Unit2 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to:

  • Summarize the primary principles of conservatism.
  • Identify the major political theorists of conservatism.
  • Discuss conservatism in the context of historical events.
  • Assess the impact that conservatism has had on law, economics, international relations, and society.
  • Analyze the primary sources of conservative political theory and understand how these theories can be applied to solve problems in society.

2.1 A Conservative Look at Human Nature and Self Interest   - Reading: University of Tennessee: Ole Fosberg’s “Classical Conservatism” Link: University of Tennessee: Ole Fosberg’s “Classical Conservatism” (PDF)
 
Instructions: When you arrive at the linked page, scroll down to “Classical Conservatism,” click on the link, and read the article. It summarizes the key points of classical conservative theory from the 17th to 19th centuries.
 
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  • Reading: Fordham University: Internet History Research Project: Nicolo Machiavelli’s “The Prince” Link:  Fordham University: Internet History Research Project: Nicolo Machiavelli’s “The Prince” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Go to the above website and read Chapters IV through XIV of the book. In these chapters, Machiavelli offers practical advice on a variety of matters, including the advantages and disadvantages that attend various routes to power, how to acquire and hold new states, how to deal with internal insurrection, how to make alliances, and how to maintain a strong military. Implicit in these chapters are Machiavelli’s views regarding free will, human nature, and ethics.
     
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  • Reading: University of Tennessee: Kristy Gladders’ “Analysis of the Prince: Machiavelli” Link: University of Tennessee: Krissy Gladders’ “Analysis of the Prince: Machiavelli” (PDF)
     
    Instructions: When you arrive at the linked page, scroll down to “Analysis of The Prince,” click on the link, and read the article.  It will give you a sense of what early conservative theorists thought aboutthe nature of man and concepts of power.
     
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  • Reading: Project Gutenberg’s version of Thomas Hobbes’ “Leviathan” Link: Project Gutenberg’s version of Thomas Hobbes’ “Leviathan” (HTML)
     
    Also available in:

    Kindle (Free)
    EPub format on Google Books

    PDF
     
    Instructions: Via the link, please read these assigned chapters from Thomas Hobbes’s classic: Chapter VI, Chapter VII, Chapter XIII, Chapter XIV, Chapter XV, Chapter XVII, Chapter XVIII, and Chapter XXI.  Hobbes’ “Leviathan” sets forth a view of man’s basic nature, society, and a set of recommended guidelines for a system of government.  Hobbes’ work is regarded as one of the earliest and most influential examples of social contract theory.
     
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  • Lecture: iTunesU: Yale University: Professor Steven B. Smith’s “The Sovereign State: Hobbes, Leviathan” Link: Yale University: Professor Steven B. Smith’s “The Sovereign State: Hobbes, Leviathan” (YouTube)
     
    Also available in:
    HTML

    MP3

    Flash

    Quicktime
     
    Instructions: Please watch Lecture 12 of this series (45 minutes) which provides an overview of Hobbes’ political views. Smith makes note of the fact that Hobbes’ views were often deemed paradoxical—a stern defender of political absolutism while an unwavering believer in the equality of human beings.
     
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2.2 The Roots of Social Conservatism   - Reading: The Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal: Russell Kirk’s “The Essence of Conservatism” and “Ten Conservative Principles” Link: The Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal: Russell Kirk’s “The Essence of Conservatism” (HTML) and “Ten Conservative Principles” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read the above articles. Russell Kirk, a political theorist and historian, was best known for his powerful influence on 20th century American conservatism in addition to shaping post-World War II political debate.
 
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  • Reading: The Library of Economics and Liberty’s version of Edmund Burke’s “Thoughts and Details on Scarcity” Link: The Library of Economics and Liberty’s version of Edmund Burke’s “Thoughts and Details on Scarcity” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Please read this document.  It demonstrates the lack of faith that early conservatives had in self-governance.  Burke claims that it was not the government's responsibility to provide for the necessities of life and that labor is a commodity which will rise and fall according to the laws of supply and demand. His works were demonstrative of the lack of faith that early conservatives had in self-governance.
     
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  • Lecture: YouTube: Petew74: University of Huddersfield: Pete Woodcock’s “Edmund Burke Mini Lecture” Link: YouTube: Petew74: University of Huddersfield: Pete Woodcock’s “Edmund Burke Mini Lecture” (YouTube)
     
    Instructions: Please watch this lecture (8 minutes), which provides a brief overview of Burke’s political philosophy.
     
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2.3 The Role of the State as Viewed by Early Conservatives   - Reading: The Library of Economics and Liberty’s version of David Hume’s “Of the First Principles of Government,” “Of the Origin of Government,” and “Of Taxes” Links: The Library of Economics and Liberty’s version of David Hume’s “Of the First Principles of Government,” (HTML) “Of the Origin of Government,” (HTML) and “Of Taxes” (HTML)
 
Also available in: (All readings)
Google Books
 
Instructions: Please read these excerpts.  David Hume was a friend of Rousseau, until the two had a falling out because Rousseau feared that Hume was going to turn him over to the French and Swiss authorities.  Unlike Hobbes and the liberals, Hume did not believe that protection of self-interest could be relied upon as a basis for individual decision making, economics, or government.
 
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  • Web Media: YouTube: New America Foundation: Sam Tanenhaus’ “The Death of Conservatism” Link: YouTube: New American Foundation: Sam Tanenhaus’ “The Death of Conservatism” (YouTube)
     
    Instructions: Please watch this interview with Sam Tanenhaus (8 minutes) author of the aforementioned book. 
     
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