Professor Shapiro explains the format and structure of the class during this opening session. He reviews the syllabus, and asks the central question of the course: What makes a government legitimate? He briefly explains the five ways to answer this question that he will focus on throughout the semester. The first three traditions are those of the Enlightenment: utilitarianism, Marxism, and social contract theory. The fourth and fifth overarching ways to answer the central question in this course are the anti-Enlightenment and the democratic traditions. Professor Shapiro then introduces the topic for the next lecture, the Eichmann problem.
This course explores main answers to the question, "When do governments deserve our allegiance?" It starts with a survey of major political theories of the Enlightenment—Utilitarianism, Marxism, and the social contract tradition—through classical formulations, historical context, and contemporary debates relating to politics today. It then turns to the rejection of Enlightenment political thinking. Lastly, it deals with the nature of, and justifications for, democratic politics, and their relations to Enlightenment and Anti-Enlightenment political thinking. Practical implications of these arguments are covered through discussion of a variety of concrete problems.
This Yale College course, taught on campus twice per week for 50 minutes, was recorded for Open Yale Courses in Spring 2010.