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Power over People: Classical and Modern Political Theory

This course contrasts two conflicting views that have long shaped political theory and practice—idealism and realism.
Power over People: Classical and Modern Political Theory is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 78.
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Rated 2 out of 5 by from Survey Course. Interesting but no political theory It is an older course. Far too short for the subject. The lectures are interesting but not cogent. Perhaps a good example of the roots of Wokism. Another poster noted no Locke or Montesquieu. In fact, no mention of Northern European Christian humanism. Which evolved in the Anglosphere and came to dominate the world in the radical American experiment. So whatever it is really about, it is not a serious study of Classical or Modern Political Theory. But the prof is an engaging storyteller. What he does discuss is factual and interesting POV. I would not spend the money on discs again. But if it was deeply discounted digitally or on subscription, I would recommend the series as an interesting diversion. But it is not a serious course of study. Where it does shine is comparing and contrasting Greek and Hindu foundations. The analysis of Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor was very impressive. But logically should have been the segway into the Scottish Enlightenment. Can not say if the defect is the very limited number of lectures. Or, an early example of an 'interested' rather than a properly 'disinterested' professor.
Date published: 2022-12-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Context for Political Philosophy I wish I had encountered these lectures when I first began my effort to learn something about political philosophy. They do a good job of providing context and a framework for exploring the more theoretical discussions of the subject, and the fundamental questions it seeks to address.
Date published: 2022-04-04
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Interesting but Disappointing This course was interesting but also disappointing. The classes are basically a series of historical stories about the political thought of various thinkers. It does very little to summarize in a way that would give insights into current political power theory or theories. Nor does it except rarely even acknowledge that one theory might be valid in a specific culture or time. Since that was the title, I was disappointed. It is left up to the listener to make those extrapolations. Yet there isn’t nearly enough information to do so with any confidence. And in my mind, I think he gets some basic things wrong. He references Machiavelli’s “The Prince” frequently as if it is his universal political theory. But Machiavelli didn’t think that. The Teaching Company even has a class titled “Machiavelli in Context” that clearly shows through his “Discourses on Livy” mean “The Prince” was directed at one very specific set of circumstances.
Date published: 2022-01-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved This (and I miss the) Old Course(s) This is not a perfect course (read BGZ Redix for an excellent critical review), but I certainly enjoyed listening to it and would highly recommend it, especially at the on-sale price point of an audio course. I miss these old, original, classic Teaching Company lectures—the 45 minute ones are my favorite. The courses are not better now because they run 30:00 and have flashy (and often overly produced) production quality. These early-to-mid-1990’s lectures are my favorite precisely because they are not over-produced. My guess is Professor Dalton leaned on a lectern for part of these, sleeves rolled up, tie crooked, top shirt button undone as he passionately thundered away on an essential topic. Dr. Dalton is impressively knowledgeable, noticeable organized, and contagiously passionate about his subject matter. He also synthesizes ideas well and shows his classic “liberal” streak in this lecture series. The guidebook is impressive (as are most of the old ones), and his references are much-needed and consequential. I have listened to this series twice, now (while running), and will do so again but with pad and pen to take notes and further learn—both information and lecture performance. I highly recommend this imperfect but impressive series of lectures on political theory.
Date published: 2021-12-24
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Passable but boring A few droll and dry kinds of course. It felt like one of their old throwbacks from the 1990s. Similar to my first college lecture on political philosophy. Just not as dry, however.
Date published: 2021-05-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Intellectually Digestible and Thought Provoking! An excellent series of lectures that reminded me of the best lessons out of my university political science courses. With just a number of lectures, the listener is presented with the roots of contemporary political thought and theory. I listened to many lectures more than once, and am curious to explore many of the writings the lecturer presents in the bibliography and those only mentioned in the lectures themselves. One of the best purchases I've had from The Great Courses.
Date published: 2021-04-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good course A very good course. Definitely worth listening more than once. Somewhat difficult to follow while working out in the gym.
Date published: 2021-04-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Political Theory from Eclectic Choices This is the second course that I have taken from Professor Dalton, the other being “Freedom: The Philosophy of Liberation”. That course as with this one began with early Hindu philosophy, mostly centered on The Upanishads. And both course then move to classical Greece, especially Plato who gets two lectures. As this course is 16 lectures long (each 45 minutes), Dr. Dalton is not quite so restricted in his material and he spends some time setting the stage for Sophocles (Antigone), Plato and Aristotle by inserting a fascinating lecture on Thucydides and his history of the Peloponnesian War. This is primarily so we can understand why Plato was opposed to democracy. Strangely, at least for me, after spending six lectures on classical Greece, he leaps forward about 18 centuries to the Machiavelli in order to discuss his theories of power and politics. Then Rousseau and then Marx, followed by Freud, before going to the New World and Thoreau. I as with many other reviewers find it strange that Mill, Locke, Madison and others of the Enlightenment are ignored, especially when much time is spent on (what I consider to be) the somewhat shoddy thinking of Rousseau and the strange inclusion of Freud. To be sure, Dr. Dalton is consistent in the rest of this course in continuing to include Freud’s thinking and theories as he discusses other, later and differing theories. For me, talking about the Superego and the Id as they apply in some collective sense when bringing up Hitler and Gandhi is as close to nonsense as I’ve seen in a serious academic discussion, most especially as these ideas of Freud have been largely discounted by current thinkers. Still to be fair to Dr. Dalton, this did make me think about these issues in a way that I never had before. And that is a positive thing. Professor Dalton does the same with many of Marx’s ideas, but here the contrast and comparison with other thinkers works much better. Thoreau seems a reasonable inclusion, especially as preparation for the last lecture on Gandhi (sort of a bookend with the first lecture on the early Hindus) and the penultimate lecture on Hitler. But the two intervening lectures on Dostoyevsky’s chapter on the Grand Inquisitor and Emma Goldman’s views on anarchism seem oddly out of place. I’m guessing that Professor Dalton must have written a paper on Goldman, as he also devoted a lecture to her in his other course. Nothing wrong about discussing anarchism in this course, but it might have been nice to take a view from some other thinkers. As an example, I kept wanting him to compare and contrast anarchists and communists during the Spanish Civil War. George Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia” would have been a good change from his last course, especially as he was often used literary works in this course to make his points. The above may seem like a negative review (I gave his other course 5 stars), but they are just a series of things that kept making me want this course to be better. There were so many lectures with so much meat, that for me the strange inclusions left me wishing he had done better on a more consistent basis. The course materials are among the very best that I have seen from TTC. I loved the inclusion of background material that highlighted most of the men and women in each lecture after the lecture outline. Very nice to not have to do that research on my own—for example it has been many years since I read “The Brothers Karamazov”. To have some of that seminal chapter in the course material was a major plus. Professor Dalton is fine presenter. I was always easily able to understand him, and unlike some other reviewers, I quite liked his occasional digressions, such as the one where he tell how to get from Boston to Walden’s Pond. Really an interesting though flawed course. Recommended for a really different take on presenting theories and for the overall theme and consistent comparisons of the philosophers and writers and their ideas from beginning to end.
Date published: 2020-07-29
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This course contrasts two conflicting views that have long shaped political theory and practice—idealism and realism. The debate between them starts with the origins of philosophy in ancient India and Greece, and can be traced right through to the 20th century’s most extreme examples of idealism and realism, Gandhi and Hitler.


Dennis Dalton

There is such athing as unity of being, and that the highest truth is when we manage,as individuals, to perceive oneself in all being.  Once that is achieved, once the separateness is overcome,then illusions will be overwhelmed as well.


Barnard College, Columbia University

Dr. Dennis Dalton is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Barnard College, Columbia University. He earned his B.A. from Rutgers University, his M.A. in Political Science from the University of Chicago, and his Ph.D. in Political Theory from the University of London.

Professor Dalton has edited and contributed to more than a dozen publications and has written numerous articles. He is the author of Indian Idea of Freedom and Mahatma Gandhi: Nonviolent Power in Action. His fields of interests include classical and modern, Western, and Asian political theory; politics of South Asia, particularly the Indian nationalist movement; nonviolence and violence in society; and ideologies of modern political movements in Europe, India, China, and Africa.

Dr. Dalton served as a review editor for the Journal of Developmental Studies (London) and as a U.S. correspondent for the South Asian Review (London). He is a member of both the American Political Science Association and the Association for Asian Studies.

Professor Dalton has been honored with numerous teaching awards, scholarships, and grants, including the Barnard College Margaret Mead Award 2009 for Distinguished Teaching, the 2008 Barnard Commendation for Excellence in Teaching, a grant from the American Council of Learned Societies, a senior fellowship with the American Institute of Indian Studies, and a Gandhi Peace Foundation Grant.

The Hindu Vision of Life

01: The Hindu Vision of Life

Professor Dennis Dalton discusses early Hindu philosophy and its values. Ancient India had separate castes for spiritual, or philosophical,leadership and political leadership.

47 min
Thucydides and The Peloponnesian War

02: Thucydides and The Peloponnesian War

This lecture examines the tragic history of Athens in the times of Socrates and Plato.

46 min
Law and Rule in Sophocles’s

03: Law and Rule in Sophocles’s "Antigone"

"Antigone" is the story of a young woman risking her life by doing what is right and disobeying a powerful tyrant. It gives us insight into ideas about law and leadership in ancient Greece.

45 min
Socrates and the Socratic Quest

04: Socrates and the Socratic Quest

Socrates was Plato's teacher and the hero of many of Plato's dialogues. Plato portrays him as a man on a quest for truth. In Plato's Gorgias, Socrates asks the quintessential question of philosophy, "What course of life is best?"

45 min
Plato—Idealism and Power, Part I

05: Plato—Idealism and Power, Part I

The "Republic"—Plato's great work on politics—takes the form of a dialogue with Socrates as its hero. Plato seeks to define right conduct in a political sense and ties the state into the Socratic quest for the best course of life.

46 min
Plato—Idealism and Power, Part II

06: Plato—Idealism and Power, Part II

The "Republic"—Plato's great work on politics—takes the form of a dialogue with Socrates as its hero. Plato seeks to define right conduct in a political sense and ties the state into the Socratic quest for the best course of life.

46 min
Aristotle’s Critique of Plato’s

07: Aristotle’s Critique of Plato’s "Republic"

Aristotle, Plato's student, attacks Plato's three waves of radical change: gender equality, the status of private property, and rule by philosophers versus the citizens.

46 min
Machiavelli’s Theory of Power Politics

08: Machiavelli’s Theory of Power Politics

Machiavelli's "The Prince" is the most extreme example of realism. Machiavelli lived in an Italy composed of war-torn city-states. He felt that power and the security it brings should be the ultimate goal of the prince and that ethics should not interfere with the ruthless pursuit of this goal.

47 min
Rousseau’s Theory of Human Nature and Society

09: Rousseau’s Theory of Human Nature and Society

Rousseau believed human nature was basically good. He saw modern society as corrupt and rotten, and believed that a political solution, a new social contract, could lead to the establishment of a civil state, his ideal society.

46 min
Marx’s Critique of Capitalism and Solution of Communism

10: Marx’s Critique of Capitalism and Solution of Communism

Karl Marx's communism provided what is probably the best known ideal society. He blamed not only private property, but the entire institution of capitalism for the inequality and injustice in society.

47 min
Freud’s Theory of Human Nature and Civilization

11: Freud’s Theory of Human Nature and Civilization

Freud's dark view of the human psyche as divided into three parts, with conflicting drives, contrasts sharply with idealist philosophy's view of human nature as good.

46 min
Thoreau’s Theory of Civil Disobedience

12: Thoreau’s Theory of Civil Disobedience

Thoreau goes beyond the bounds of the liberal tradition established by John Locke in his essay "Civil Disobedience." Many Americans believed—and many still do—that government that governs least governs best, but by taking that belief to its logical conclusion and stating "that government is best that governs not at all," Thoreau shocked his contemporaries.

47 min
Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor

13: Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor

"The Grand Inquisitor" is a single chapter from Dostoyevsky's novel "The Brothers Karamazov." It focuses on the concept that Satan has better understood human nature than Christ. This understanding says that humans fear freedom and seek the security from following and being dominated by someone who is stronger.

45 min
The Idea of Anarchism and the Example of Emma Goldman

14: The Idea of Anarchism and the Example of Emma Goldman

The idea of anarchism started in ancient Greece and is illustrated here by the example of Emma Goldman, a 19th-century Russian-American woman, who was known for expounding that "women need not always keep their mouths shut and their wombs open."

45 min
Hitler’s Use of Power

15: Hitler’s Use of Power

How did Adolph Hitler come to power? How could the German people not only accept, but support, the actions of Hitler and the Nazi Party? Professor Dalton looks at two common explanations of Hitler's rise to power and then develops his own theory.

45 min
Gandhi's Use of Power

16: Gandhi's Use of Power

Gandhi is as uplifting as Hitler is terrifying. Gandhi leads a movement in India to end British rule, not by seeking power, but by promoting ideals. Professor Dalton explains five key concepts of Gandhi's idealist political thought.

47 min

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