This course introduces the study of politics by exploring seminal twentieth-century thinkers who sought to grasp the distinctive contours of liberal modernity, or that distinctive form of politics based on the natural freedom and equality of all. Students will read writings by Leo Strauss, Michael Oakeshott, and Alasdair MacIntyre.

Image: Robert Delaunay, The City, 1911

Peter Berkowitz on defending liberal democracy


Peter Berkowitz

Peter Berkowitz is the Tad and Dianne Taube Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He studies and writes about, among other things, constitutional government, conservatism and progressivism in America, liberal education, national security and law, and Middle East politics.

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Discussion Questions:

  1. What does Jerusalem stand for (pp. 9–10), and how is it related to the problem of political philosophy?
  2. What is political philosophy, and how does it differ from political theory, political theology, and political science?
  3. What is positivism, and what are its limitations?
  4. What is historicism, and why is it “the serious antagonist of political philosophy” (p. 26)?
  5. What are the distinguishing characteristics of classical political philosophy?



Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the “two very common objections” (p. 36) to classical political philosophy, and how might classical political philosophy reply?
  2. What are the distinguishing characteristics of modern political philosophy?
  3. What is the first wave of modernity?
  4. What is the second wave of modernity?
  5. What is the third wave of modernity?



Discussion Questions:

  1. What concerns and principles characterize modern political philosophy?
  2. What weaknesses caused modern political philosophy to degenerate into nihilism?
  3. What today is the proper relationship between classical political philosophy and modern political philosophy?
  4. What is Heidegger’s challenge?
  5. What is Nietzsche’s challenge?
  6. What are the practical and theoretical implications of the challenges of Heidegger and Nietzsche?
  7. What are the implications of Nietzsche’s failure “to escape from the evidence of the Biblical understanding of man” (pp. 12–13, and 30–31)?



Discussion Questions:

  1. What characterizes modern morality?
  2. In what sense does Nietzsche reveal the essence of modern morality?
  3. What characterizes Aristotelian ethics?
  4. What obstacles—theoretical and practical—must be surmounted to embrace the virtues as Aristotle understands them?
  5. If Aristotle is right about the virtues, what follows for liberal democracy?

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