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Political Philosophy: From Machiavelli to Marx


Admission requirements

Required course(s):

  • History of Philosophy

Please note: this course was formerly titled Western Political Philosophy and might still be listed as such on timetables and registration surveys.


This is a political philosophy course which aims to analyze the ideas of the major classical thinkers of Western Political Philosophy in the modern era. We will reflect on the primary texts of thinkers from Machiavelli to Marx to understand and interpret the meanings of certain concepts such as authority, freedom, political obligation, power and sovereignty.

The main focus of this course will be on the conceptual and textual analysis of the primary texts. In doing so, we will attempt to interpret them in light of the historical context in which they were written and particular issues to which their authors were responding. Our aim is to both understand how their arguments responded to the issues of their time and to trace the influence of these arguments on the development of political philosophy more broadly.

Course Objectives

After completing this module, students will have acquired:  

  • A broad understanding of the history and key debates in western political philosophy in the period from the publication of Machiavelli’s The Prince to Marx’s Das Kapital.

  • Knowledge of the most influential figures in political philosophy during this period and their approaches to questions about authority, liberty, the relationship between state and citizen and other key issues related to political power.

  • An improved understanding of the methodology of political philosophy, including normative reasoning, conceptual analysis, the use of thought experiments, and critical and logical thinking.

  • Practical knowledge of how to write a well-structured essay that manages to state a thesis supported by arguments.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2022-2023 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

Lectures, in-class discussions, student presentations, online assignments.

Students will participate in group discussions and are expected to exchange ideas. The aim of the classes and our discussions is to help us all better understand the arguments/positions we discuss in order to raise important topics for further discussion and develop our analytical skills.

Assessment Method

Assessment takes the following form:

  • End-of-term paper of max. 2000 words (40%)

  • Mid-term paper of max. 1000 words (35%)

  • Class exercise (10%)

  • Individual class preparation exercises (x 5) (Each exercise counts 3%, for a total of 15%)

Reading list

Required Readings are below. A full list of suggested readings will be available in the syllabus. The weblinks to the required readings will be provided on Brightspace. All the readings are available online in the library.

Primary texts:

  • Machiavelli, Prince, Chapter 1-26

  • Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, Chapter XIII, XIV, XV, XVI, XVII, XXI, XXII

  • John Locke, Second Treatise on Government, Chapter II, III, VII, VIII, IX,X,XI,XVIIII

  • J. J. Rousseau, The Social Contract, Book 1; Book 2 Part 1,2,3,4, Book 3 Part 3,4,5,6,7,8,10,11,16, Book 4 Part 1

  • Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace

  • John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (Introduction), Utilitarianism (relevant parts)

  • K. Marx – German Ideology, Part 1


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Gerrit Schaafsma,