“Big Ideas” in Political Thought

Created for thoughtful high school students, this course explores the evolution of significant ideas about political systems and the status of the individual within them.

Students will study concepts such as sovereignty, citizenship, and rights, and start to think systematically about variations in the ways they have been enacted and contested over time.

Click here for writing and publication resources.

Week 15 – Roots of Conservatism (July 28)

Week 16 – Institutions (August 4)

Week 17 – Social Movements (August 11)

Weeks 18 – Political Violence (August 18)

Week 19 (August 25)

Week 20 (Sept 1)


  • What Is Sovereignty? (video). World101, How the World Works, and Sometimes Doesn’t. Council on Foreign Relations.


The Social Contract & Hobbes

The Social Contract & Locke

  • Read Chs.9, 10, and 19_sections 19.211-19.221. Locke. Second Treatise of Government. Urbana, IL: Project Gutenberg, 2005.
  • Read p.8. Lim. Doing Comparative Politics: An Introduction to Approaches and Issues, 2nd ed. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2010.
  • Read Ch.1 and the introduction to Ch.8 (pp.129-135). Gaddis. The Landscape of History. New York: Oxford UP, 2002.

Tocqueville on Political Culture

The Political Community & Legitimacy


Democratic Backsliding

Governance and Big Tech

  • Zuboff. “Big Other: Surveillance Capitalism and the Prospects of an Information Civilization.” Journal of Information Technology. (2015) 30,75-89. PDF here.
  • Posetti &Bontcheva. “Is Facebook a Failed State?” Foreign Policy. 5/10/2021. (Link here.)
    • A graph of monthly Facebook users over time is here.
    • Taylor. “If social networks were countries, which would they be?” World Economic Forum. 4/28/2016. Bar graph here.

Human Rights

Where Next?