Thinking Politics (and Literature) in Brooklyn

Next semester I’ll be teaching political theory at Brooklyn College (part of the City University of New York).  I’ll be teaching two courses: Thinking Politics  and Politics in Literature. I’m looking forward to both.

My first task is to put together a syllabus for each course. “Thinking Politics” is to be an introductory course in political theory — a first encounter with a few of the classic works by great political thinkers of the past. (A thematic selection, not a historical survey.)   I’ve done this sort of things many times in the past, but it’s been awhile, and I’m finding it an interesting challenge to consider it afresh.  As usual, there’s a vast disproportion between all the things I’d like to be able to include, and the length of a single semester.   My chief priority is to leave enough time for a careful reading of Plato’s Republic  — beginning to end, each of its ten books in its turn.   Plato aside, we’ll be dealing with moderns.  Machiavelli and Hobbes, for certain.  Locke, most likely.   And Rousseau?  (but then which Rousseau?).  Burke, perhaps, or the Federalists.  Tocqueville? Marx? Some Nietzsche, or Weber?  (Back when I taught a course like this every semester, years ago, I somehow  did Hegel. Not this time.)

…I still have a lot of work to do in putting together the other course too.  “Politics in Literature”:  I take that to mean nothing more (and nothing less) than a semester of reading and discussing a number of salient literary works, in which basic questions of political thought are thematic.   Two works at the top of my list: Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, and Melville’s Billy Budd.  Those two I’ve set down in ink.  The rest is still tentative pencil.  In the past I’ve found that Shakespeare’s Bolingbroke plays (Richard II and Henry IV 1 & 2) go well together with Coriolanus.  Conrad’s “The Secret Sharer” might make for an interesting pairing with Billy Budd.   And– well, lots of possibilities come to mind,  but first I need to do some homework. I have a tall stack of books to re-read in the next few weeks.

I’ll be writing more about all of this, along with related matters, in subsequent posts to this blog. Stay tuned.