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Introduction to international political thought PS1130

The study of politics is shaped by concepts and methods that have developed over the last three centuries.

The study of political theory is concerned with the meaning and justification of those concepts and their continuing relevance to the nature of modern politics.

Topics covered

  • The rise and development of the modern state
  • The nature and purpose of political theory in a world of states
  • The political context from which modern political theory emerged
  • The political context and the intellectual context of the European Enlightenment
  • The justification of state sovereignty and the legitimacy of absolutist rule
  • Nature and rights of the individual, whether these are compatible with political rule
  • The use of social contract arguments to explain and justify political obligation
  • The nature and scope of natural law and the role of property in limiting sovereign power
  • Utilitarianism and contemporary contractarianism
  • The challenge to the voluntarist account of the state and its account of individuals as free and equal subjects
  • Rousseau and Hegel's alternative model of the state and its connection with freedom
  • Marx’s critique of the centrality of the state to modern politics.

Learning outcomes

If you complete the course successfully, you should be able to:

  • demonstrate a familiarity with main ideas of the thinkers discussed in the subject guide
  • provide an account of the main concepts used by the thinkers covered on the course
  • evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments employed in the theories studied
  • formulate your own interpretations of the thinkers covered using the model exam/essay questions.


Unseen written exam (3 hr). 

Essential reading

  • Boucher, D. and Paul Kelly (eds). Political Thinkers: From Socrates to the Present. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Cahn, Steven M. Political Philosophy: The Essential Texts. New York, Oxford University Press.
  • Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. (ed. Allen W. Wood, trans. H. B. Nisbet). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty and Other Essays (ed. J. Gray). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Course information sheets

Download the course information sheets from the LSE website.