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Unit of study_

GOVT2112: Modern Political Thought

This unit considers key themes in modern and contemporary political thought. It uses primary texts to address topics such as sovereignty, democracy, fascism, liberalism, human rights, politics and religion, violence, and political identity. Authors may include Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, Kant, Nietzsche, Marx, J.S. Mill, Tocqueville, Rawls, Arendt, Schmitt, and Foucault.


Academic unit Government and International Relations
Unit code GOVT2112
Unit name Modern Political Thought
Session, year
Semester 1, 2020
Attendance mode Normal day
Location Camperdown/Darlington, Sydney
Credit points 6

Enrolment rules

12 credit points at 1000 level in Politics or International Relations or 12 credit points in Jewish Civilisation, Thought and Culture or 12 credit points at 1000 level in Philosophy or 12 credit points at 1000 level in Government and International Relations
Available to study abroad and exchange students


Teaching staff and contact details

Coordinator Tristan Bradshaw,
Lecturer(s) Tristan Bradshaw ,
Tutor(s) Lucy Williams ,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Assignment Final essay
50% Formal exam period
Due date: 08 Jun 2020 at 23:59

Closing date: 01 Aug 2020
2500 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3
Assignment Midterm essay
40% Week 10
Due date: 03 May 2020 at 23:59

Closing date: 01 Jul 2020
2000 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO3 LO2
Online task Weekly responses
10% Weekly
Due date: 27 Feb 2020 at 10:00

Closing date: 04 Jun 2020
Between two sentences and a paragraph.
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO3

Detailed information for each assessment can be found on Canvas.

  • Weekly questions: each week students are expected to prepare two questions based on the relevant reading. Each question can be as long as a paragraph or as short as a sentence. 

Assessment criteria

The University awards common result grades, set out in the Coursework Policy 2014 (Schedule 1).

As a general guide, a High distinction indicates work of an exceptional standard, a Distinction a very high standard, a credit a good standard, and a pass an acceptable standard.

Result name

Mark range


High distinction

85 - 100



75 - 84



65 - 74



50 - 64



0 - 49

When you don’t meet the learning outcomes of the unit to a satisfactory standard.

For more information see

For more information see guide to grades.

Late submission

In accordance with University policy, these penalties apply when written work is submitted after 11:59pm on the due date:

  • Deduction of 5% of the maximum mark for each calendar day after the due date.
  • After ten calendar days late, a mark of zero will be awarded.

Special consideration

If you experience short-term circumstances beyond your control, such as illness, injury or misadventure or if you have essential commitments which impact your preparation or performance in an assessment, you may be eligible for special consideration or special arrangements.

Academic integrity

The Current Student website provides information on academic integrity and the resources available to all students. The University expects students and staff to act ethically and honestly and will treat all allegations of academic integrity breaches seriously.

We use similarity detection software to detect potential instances of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breach. If such matches indicate evidence of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breaches, your teacher is required to report your work for further investigation.

You may only use artificial intelligence and writing assistance tools in assessment tasks if you are permitted to by your unit coordinator, and if you do use them, you must also acknowledge this in your work, either in a footnote or an acknowledgement section.

Studiosity is permitted for postgraduate units unless otherwise indicated by the unit coordinator. The use of this service must be acknowledged in your submission.

WK Topic Learning activity Learning outcomes
Week 01 Introduction Lecture and tutorial (3 hr)  
Week 02 Locke, Second Treatise Lecture and tutorial (3 hr)  
Week 03 Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto Lecture and tutorial (3 hr)  
Week 04 Tocqueville: Introduction and Equality Lecture and tutorial (3 hr)  
Week 05 Tocqueville: Tyranny of the Majority Lecture and tutorial (3 hr)  
Week 06 Tocqueville: The Three Races Lecture and tutorial (3 hr)  
Week 07 Tocqueville: The Cultural Life of Democracy Lecture and tutorial (3 hr)  
Week 08 Tocqueville: Conclusion Lecture and tutorial (3 hr)  
Week 09 Arendt: Introduction and Anti-Semitism Lecture and tutorial (3 hr)  
Week 10 Arendt: Bourgeoisie, Power and Imperialism Lecture and tutorial (3 hr)  
Week 11 Arendt: Human Rights and the Nation-State Lecture and tutorial (3 hr)  
Week 12 Arendt: Class, Mob, Mass Lecture and tutorial (3 hr)  
Week 13 Arendt: Totalitarianism in Power Lecture and tutorial (3 hr)  

Attendance and class requirements

  • Attendance: according to Faculty Board Resolutions, students in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences are expected to attend 90% of their classes. If you attend less than 50% of classes, regardless of the reasons, you may be referred to the Examiner’s Board. The Examiner’s Board will decide whether you should pass or fail the unit of study if your attendance falls below this threshold.
  • Lecture recording: most lectures (in recording-equipped venues) will be recorded and may be made available to students on the LMS. However, you should not rely on lecture recording to substitute your classroom learning experience.
  • Preparation: students should commit to spend approximately three hours’ preparation time (reading, studying, homework, essays, etc.) for every hour of scheduled instruction.

Study commitment

Typically, there is a minimum expectation of 1.5-2 hours of student effort per week per credit point for units of study offered over a full semester. For a 6 credit point unit, this equates to roughly 120-150 hours of student effort in total.

Required readings

All readings for this unit can be accessed on the Library eReserve link available on Canvas.

  • Locke, The Second Treatise of Government (1690). 
  • Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto (1848).
  • Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1835/1840). Translated by Harvey C Mansfield and Delba Winthrop. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. This edition is required.
  • Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). 

Learning outcomes are what students know, understand and are able to do on completion of a unit of study. They are aligned with the University’s graduate qualities and are assessed as part of the curriculum.

At the completion of this unit, you should be able to:

  • LO1. analyse core concepts in modern political theory, such as power, consent, sovereignty, human rights, democracy, equality, and pluralism
  • LO2. contrast the following major political theorists: Locke, Marx, Tocqueville, and Arendt
  • LO3. develop critical reading skills of primary texts.

Graduate qualities

The graduate qualities are the qualities and skills that all University of Sydney graduates must demonstrate on successful completion of an award course. As a future Sydney graduate, the set of qualities have been designed to equip you for the contemporary world.

GQ1 Depth of disciplinary expertise

Deep disciplinary expertise is the ability to integrate and rigorously apply knowledge, understanding and skills of a recognised discipline defined by scholarly activity, as well as familiarity with evolving practice of the discipline.

GQ2 Critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking and problem solving are the questioning of ideas, evidence and assumptions in order to propose and evaluate hypotheses or alternative arguments before formulating a conclusion or a solution to an identified problem.

GQ3 Oral and written communication

Effective communication, in both oral and written form, is the clear exchange of meaning in a manner that is appropriate to audience and context.

GQ4 Information and digital literacy

Information and digital literacy is the ability to locate, interpret, evaluate, manage, adapt, integrate, create and convey information using appropriate resources, tools and strategies.

GQ5 Inventiveness

Generating novel ideas and solutions.

GQ6 Cultural competence

Cultural Competence is the ability to actively, ethically, respectfully, and successfully engage across and between cultures. In the Australian context, this includes and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, knowledge systems, and a mature understanding of contemporary issues.

GQ7 Interdisciplinary effectiveness

Interdisciplinary effectiveness is the integration and synthesis of multiple viewpoints and practices, working effectively across disciplinary boundaries.

GQ8 Integrated professional, ethical, and personal identity

An integrated professional, ethical and personal identity is understanding the interaction between one’s personal and professional selves in an ethical context.

GQ9 Influence

Engaging others in a process, idea or vision.

Outcome map

Learning outcomes Graduate qualities
No changes have been made since this unit was last offered


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