No understanding of Western history is complete without knowledge of the ideas which have fundamentally shaped social and political life; and it is as theories of the state that these ideas have been given their clearest expression. Built upon such constantly reinterpreted concepts as justice, liberty, authority and community, theories of the state have ranged far beyond the institutions of government to consider the position and power of the church, the role and responsibility of the individual and the interests and conflicts of the social classes. This option provides the opportunity to study these theories through reading works by four major political thinkers: Aristotle, Hobbes, Rousseau and Marx.
Inspired by a timeless conviction of the value of political life, Aristotle's Politics provides a detailed account of the first European state form, the city republic of ancient Greece. Written in the midst of civil war, Hobbes's Leviathan is not only a remarkable attempt to construct a science of politics on an analysis of individual motivation; it is also a classic of the English language, offering readers an unforgettable and often provoking experience of sustained, rigorous argument. Rousseau's Social Contract, by contrast, is a vision of what men might achieve in politics – and a radical critique of what they have been forced to put up with. Finally, Marx's Communist Manifesto and other works illustrate his pioneering theory of the relation between the state, economic forces and class conflict, and his hopes for a communist revolution.
The paper requires candidates to show knowledge of the prescribed texts of at least three of these authors; making connections and drawing comparisons between them will be encouraged. You will have the advantage of working with an unusually coherent and self-contained set of texts, and there will be the opportunity both to place them in historical context and to consider their subsequent relevance and lasting value. Theories of the State provides a natural introduction to the Further Subjects in the history of political thought in Schools, but its interest and relevance go much wider: it will illuminate and enhance your understanding of societies and states in all periods.