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POL 121: Introduction to Politics [Reynolds]: Introduction

Supplementary Internet materials for students taking the Introduction to Politics course at Saint Leo University

About "Introduction to Politics"

What this Course is About: This course is designed to give the beginning student of politics a uniquely broad perspective of the subject matter; for it touches on a number of different academic disciplines, including political philosophy, literature, sociology, political rhetoric, and history, both ancient and modern.  

Machiavelli: We will then move on to Machiavelli's short masterpiece of political realism, The Prince: a work that reputedly served as Adolph Hitler's bedside reading. As we shall see, Machiavelli has not only been an instructor of tyrants, but, through reaffirming the importance of domestic peace, economic freedom, and structural limitations on government, has laid much of the theoretical groundwork for the rise of the modern commercial state.  

Tocqueville: This will be followed by an exploration of Tocqueville's famous Democracy in America. Though written in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, it is still the best single volume on American democratic institutions and their effect on the character of a democratic people.  Contemporary critics of the American regime, from both the right and the left, have invoked Tocqueville's name in making their case for political reform.


Lincoln: The centerpiece of this course will be an inquiry into the deeds and speeches of Abraham Lincoln. The rhetorical works of his political apprenticeship will be scrutinized, leading up to his struggle with Senator Stephen Douglas and the Supreme Court. His role as wartime leader and his position as the Great Emancipator will be investigated and evaluated, as well as his revised understanding of the meaning of the Declaration of Independence in light of the Civil War.  

Thucydides: We will return to politics in the ancient world with a survey Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War, an historical treatment of the conflict between the ancient Greek cities of Athens and Sparta. Not only will we concentrate on the art of democratic statesmanship, as exemplified in the life and speeches of the Athenian general and politician Pericles, but we will pay close attention to the problem of bipolarity in international relations, which until recently characterized world politics.  

Churchill: To conclude the course, we will turn to Winston Churchill's The Gathering Storm, the first volume of his magnificent History of the Second World War. Contemporary events have led us to reflect on the tension between dictatorships and modern democracies and have invited comparisons to the rise of Hitler and the Munich crisis. Churchill's work is an exploration of the soul of modern liberal democracy and an invitation to rethink our global responsibilities. 

Hoped for Results: It is hoped that by the end of this course, the beginning student of politics will have acquired some idea of the breadth and depth of the content of political science. Obviously, the student who completes this course will also have become acquainted with the most notable experiments at self-government; namely, Ancient Athens, Sparta, Republican Rome, the Italian Renaissance city-state of Florence, early 19th century United States, and 20th century Britain.

Reading List

Churchill, Winston.          The Gathering Storm. Vol. 1 of The Second World War. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985. (pbk)

Lincoln, Abraham.           

Machiavelli, Niccolo.        The Prince. Trans. Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr. Chicago: U. of Chicago Press, 1998. Second edition. (pbk)

Thucydides.                      The Landmark Thucydides. Touchstone, 1998. ISBN 0-684-82790-5 (pbk)

Tocqueville, Alexis de.     Democracy in America. Trans. Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr. Chicago: U. of Chicago Press, 2000. ISBN 226-80536-0 (pbk)

Note: the readings for this course are absolutely first-rate. Unfortunately, we shall have neither the time to read the longer works from cover to cover nor to explore any of them with the concentration they deserve. Instead, selections from these works will be read according to the changing focus of the course. It is hoped that the better students will be inspired to read these works in their entirety, if not during the course of the semester, sometime in the near future. Warning: these are books to be treasured, periodically revisited and scribbled upon, and added to one's mature intellectual landscape, not rented nor sold back the the bookstore at the conclusion of the course. Consider them them as belonging to the core of a personal library.

Subject Guide