PSCI 378
Origins of the State Fall 2024
Division II

Class Details

When and how did the state come into existence as a form of political organization? This course explores theories of state origins that refer back to an invented past or are simply located in “once upon a time.” We will ask how political myths and philosophical speculation on human “prehistory” draw boundaries between past and present, as well as between self and other. Paying attention to common oppositions such as nature/civilization, primitive/advanced, anarchy/social order, feminine/masculine, ruler/ruled and stasis/progress, we will investigate how these antagonisms work together to create the idea of the state that still dominates political imagination today. Course readings touch briefly on social contract theories (Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau, Kant) before turning to the core material for our exploration: alternative narratives of the origins of the state based on ancient Greek and Roman mythology and the political projects of modern-day socialists (Marx, Engels, Bebel, and more recent writers). How did it come to be that the socialist imagination comingled ancient myths with modern ethnological studies of non-European peoples–studies written largely from a colonialist standpoint? Must the figures of “woman” and “native” be continually pressed into the service of state theory, even in a supposedly alternative account? More broadly, how do socialist theories relate to other well-known theories of the state, e.g. as a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence (Weber), a form of colonization of lands and peoples (postcolonial studies and Critical Indigenous Theory), and a patriarchal institution controlling productive and reproductive labor (feminist theory)? (Please note that this is not a history course. It is a study of political myth-making and the concept of the state in political theory.)
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 16
Expected: 16
Class#: 1730
Grading: no pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: oral presentation and three papers (3 pages, 5 pages and 12-15 pages)
Prerequisites: Not open to first-year students.
Enrollment Preferences: Political Science majors and concentrators in Political Theory
Distributions: Division II
Attributes: PSCI Political Theory Courses

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