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Political theory paper about liberalism, ancient philosophers, or modernity

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Topic #1: Liberalism and its Critics

Contemporary American democracy is often seen as part of the “liberal tradition” political 

thought. In this class, our representatives of liberalism have been Locke and Mill (but later thinkers like 

Dewey, and Berlin also relate). However, a number of thinkers, beginning with Plato and running through 

Marx, Nietzsche, and Schmitt, have been highly critical of liberalism. 

This essay asks you to answer several questions: first, what is liberalism? How do we define it, 

drawing on our texts? Second, what are some of the major critiques of liberal political thought, and how 

persuasive are they? Does liberal philosophy remain compelling in late modernity?

Topic #2: The Ancients and the Moderns

Machiavelli argued that ancient political thought and religion had been otherworldly and 

obsessed with utopian “imagined republics.” Taking this observation as our starting point, this essay asks 

you explicate the differences between ancient and modern political thought. Do they start from different 

assumptions about human nature? Do the moderns face a different set of political questions, or do they 

answer the enduring questions differently?

Finally, evaluate the relationship between these two modes of political thought are the ancients 

in the moderns compatible? Is one approach superior to the other? Make an argument for how we should 

approach this relationship. 

Topic #3: Modernity and Freedom

Many modern thinkers (especially Rousseau and Marx) argue that, for a variety of reasons, 

contemporary society makes us both less happy and less free. How do they make this paradoxical 

argument? What thinkers offer a more optimistic account of modernity? This essay asks you to evaluate 

this debate and come to a conclusion about what we can learn from it.

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