Undergraduate Module Descriptor

POL3198: Revolution and Modern Political Thought

This module descriptor refers to the 2019/0 academic year.


NQF Level 6
Credits 30 ECTS Value 15
Term(s) and duration

This module ran during term 1 (11 weeks) and term 2 (11 weeks)

Academic staff

Dr Ross Carroll (Convenor)

Available via distance learning


The concept of revolution stands at the centre of our understanding of modern politics. Journalists and political scientists routinely use the term ‘revolution’ to capture phenomena as disparate as the Arab Spring and the Tea Party movement, while the roster of celebrated revolutionaries has included communist guerrillas (Che Guevara) and conservative US Presidents (Ronald Reagan). Yet the casualness with which the language of revolution is employed conceals the fact that few concepts in the history of political thought have had their meaning as heavily disputed. Focusing primarily on the American and French revolutions of the late eighteenth century you will trace the troubled conceptual career of revolution, posing the following questions as we go: What distinguishes a revolution from a mere rebellion, civil war, revolt, or other tumultuous event? What sources of authority or legitimacy have modern revolutionaries drawn upon? Are revolutions inextricably associated with political violence and if so how can that violence be tempered? Are attempts to remodel society in accordance with some rational scheme necessarily doomed to fail? Accompanying us in our engagement with these questions will be a group of eighteenth and nineteenth century political theorists who came to grips with the phenomenon of revolution, its promises and its dangers, like few others before or since: John Locke, Thomas Paine, Edmund Burke, Abbé Sieyès, the Marquis de Condorcet, Benjamin Constant, Mary Wollstonecraft, Alexis de Tocqueville, Frederick Douglas, Karl Marx, and Hannah Arendt. The module concludes with a set of reflections on contemporary attempts to revive and reinterpret the eighteenth-century revolutionary tradition in contemporary world politics. 

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