Contemporary Political Theory

Course Description

Academic degree: Master degree 

"As a man is said to have a right to his property,
he may be equally said to have a property in his rights."
James Madison

The aim of the course is to examine some of the fundamental issues discussed by contemporary political theorists. There are many fashions of doing this, e.g., the study of the schools of thought or the contemporary political theorists, but we would rather prefer the way of an attempt to make sense of the issues in our own world. We shall approach this by focusing on some of the most pressing political problems facing western societies at present, including the nature and justification of liberty, justice, and democracy; the nature of power, punishment, and civic disobedience; the fundamentals of the debates between political left and political right; the modern state and citizenship; the political significance of nationalism and multiculturalism; and finally some claims in global context. An examination of these issues through the texts of a number of important political theorists writing over the last thirty years or so will help us to understand and assess many of the complex debates in contemporary political theory as well providing insight into how political theory can clarify important policy issues. Our final goal is to enable students to write a critical essay on one of the topics enumerated at the bottom of this page (see under Assessment).

Outline and Bibliography

Below, I list the main topics and primary bibliographies to be covered during the semester.

I. Political Theory Today: an overview

II. Justice

III. On Liberty: The Idea of Autonomy

IV. The Limits of Liberty

V. Democracy 

VI. Fundamentals in the Debate between Political Left and Political Right

VII. Nationalism and Multiculturalism

VIII. Citezenship

IX. Power and Punishment

X. Global Claims 

Educational Resources

Lecture Notes József Zoltán Málik: Contemporary Political Theory. Budapest: ELTE, 2015. (Under Recovery)
There are two anthologies we use. One (dicpp as you can see in the above list) is a book published by Routledge, another is an unpublished, own-used chrestomathy edited by me, which contains all the other texts (in topics I-IX) not belonging to dicpp.   


At the end of the semester student has to write and send me an essay on one of the topics we discussed in the semester. I like you to compose your text in a way that the topic coincides with your interest and it also concerns a crucial problem perceived in your own country.

Based upon the materials of the course, here there is a list of topics in question form you may choose to discuss:
  1. Are states entitled to try to make us into better people? 
  2. Should be free speech unlimited?
  3. Does religious belief entitle people to special consideration?   
  4. Do we have rights against spouses, partners, friends? 
  5. What is the borderline of loyality? What is the basis of the right to veto in a community you belong to?
  6. Is it a good thing, or a very bad one, that people have patriotic feelings?
  7. Is diversity valuable? Does the recognition of culture have a dark side?
  8. Should states prevent other states from committing atrocities within their borders?
  9. How does punish the state animal torture? (Do animals have rights against us at all?)
  10. Freely chosen topic.  
In the discussion, especially if you make up your mind for the 10th item in the list, try to answer the questions below:
Though page number is far less important than the content and quality, the size of the paper should be between 10 and 20 pages. You may as well discuss and think over the content of essay together at home, but everybody has to write his own paper individually and send it to me via e-mail. To standardize the formatting of your paper, please comply with the requirement of MLA standard. Please, write "CPT_your name" in the subject of the email, and convert your attached paper into . (Don't send your paper in other format such as doc, odt, rtf). 


This course is a part of the ERASMUS+ Program at Faculty of Law,
Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest

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