1 x 2-hour lecture weekly
1 x 1-hour tutorial weekly
Enrolment not permitted
POLI2018 has been successfully completed
Topic description

The topic critically examines the basic concepts and ideals of liberal democracy: liberty, democracy, rights, justice, needs and equality. Students will consider and debate the competing accounts of these given by classical and social liberals, democrats, communitarians, multiculturalists, feminists and value pluralists.

Educational aims

This topic aims to introduce students to ways of thinking systematically and critically about the most fundamental issues raised by our political experience. We shall focus on three areas in particular:

  • Liberal democracy. This is the dominant contemporary political form. What are its basic features, and how coherent and persuasive are they? What are the limits of legitimate individual liberty?
  • Justice. Within liberal democracies one of the main controversies is about whether and to what extent people's property and earnings through the market should be subject to redistributive taxation for public services, including welfare benefits for others. What are the pros and cons of redistribution, especially as regards the values of need, liberty, and justice?
  • Community and diversity. Modern democracies are 'pluralist', i.e. they contain many different groups of people with different values and ways of life. Why do some people (e.g. communitarians) criticize contemporary liberal democracies as promoting insufficient unity or community, while others (e.g. some multiculturalists, feminists, postmodernists, and value pluralists) complain that contemporary liberal democracies are not sufficiently open to 'difference', e.g. of culture and gender? How persuasive are these criticisms?
Expected learning outcomes
On completion of this topic you will be expected to be able to:

  1. Read and understand some of the most influential texts in contemporary political theory
  2. Connect the arguments in the texts with live political issues
  3. Analyse and critically assess the arguments found in the texts
  4. Construct your own systematic and critical arguments in political theory
  5. Produce written work on political theory in accordance with good scholarly standards
  6. Contribute intelligently to oral discussion of the relevant issues
  7. Transfer to other topics and fields the 'generic' skills of critical thinking, and oral and written expression