Coinciding with the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth, socialism is making a comeback in American political discourse. Detailed policy proposals from self-declared socialists like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are gaining support in Congress and among much of the electorate. It is not exactly clear, however, just what the term “socialism” refers to, either in the thought of its opponents or its supporters.
This course examines the political thought of the first wave of socialists in Europe and the United States. Students will read and analyze original sources: works of Thomas Paine, Robert Owen, Charles Fourier, Karl Marx, and more. We will try to understand which commitments defined socialism and the degree to which contemporary liberal and democratic theory does or does not answer those concerns. Central themes will include: socialist criticisms of capitalism; the relationship between freedom, equality and fraternity; the socialist conception of politics; work and leisure in socialist society; collective ownership and control of property; socialism as a religious or a secular project; revolution and evolution.
Students will leave the course with a much fuller understanding of the range of views socialists hold and some of the complexities involved in socialist thought.
Socialism is a word far more commonly used than understood. This class attempts to recover its original meanings by studying the central period of and thinkers in its formation. From the French Revolution to Karl Marx is not only the founding period but also describes the first process by which socialism was subjected to critique by socialists themselves. One key historical theme will be to think of Marx not just as a critic of capitalism but also of socialism.
Though historical in its organization, this class has a contemporary purpose. We will try to understand which commitments defined socialism and the degree to which contemporary liberal and democratic theory does or does not answer those concerns. Central themes include: the relationship between freedom, equality and fraternity; the socialist conception of politics; work and leisure in socialist society; collective ownership and control of property; socialism as a religious or secular project; revolution and evolution. With respect to liberal and democratic theory we will ask such questions as:
• Is there a distinctively socialist conception of social harmony?
• Is the socialist conception of freedom incompatible with liberal and democratic ideas?
• Are socialists egalitarians, and if so, what kind?
• Is there a specifically socialist hierarchy of values, or way of relating freedom, equality and solidarity?
• Why do socialists attend to the problem of work more than liberals and democrats?
• Does socialism have its own conception of justice or does it move beyond justice?
• Is the socialist approach to property similar to or distinct from liberal and democratic ones?
• Is socialism a political theory or does it reject politics?
• How is socialism distinct from social democracy, anarchism and other related ideas?
Students will leave the class having developed skills of reading, analyzing, and criticizing texts. This course will be particularly suitable for those interested in the fields of political theory, sociology, and philosophy.
At the conclusion of the course, students will have:
• the skills to critically read texts and make reasoned arguments of their own,
• experience in communicating in an academic setting,
• experience writing short papers in political theory,
• and historical context from which to understand contemporary politics, social movements, community organizing, and activist work.
Prerequisites: This course has no prerequisites — all are welcome! A basic knowledge of modern history and contemporary politics will be useful, but not necessary.
Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2020.Visit Program Page Information Sessions Learn How to Apply