Politics wordle

Introduction to key thinkers and theories in political philosophy

Module details

  • Offered to 2nd Years
  • Mondays 16.00-18.00
  • Planned delivery: On campus (South Kensington)
  • 2-term module worth 5 ECTS
  • Available to eligible students as part of I-Explore
  • Extra Credit, or Degree Credit where your department allows
Degree credit module options by departmentHow to enrol

This module will navigate the modern history of political ideas starting in the seventeenth century. We will examine ideas about what makes political power legitimate, what the purpose of sovereign power is, what the states owes its citizens, what citizens owe their state and each other, when it is legitimate to revolt and overthrow their government, what is a just distribution of the benefits and burdens of living in society.

The first term will look at political ideas before the twentieth century including political thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Edmund Burke, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill. It will examine the central questions of sovereignty and how the concept has evolved through history.

The second term will examine ideas from the twentieth century, looking less at individual thinkers and more at political movements such as Communism, Fascism, Welfarism, the New Left, the New Right, Globalisation and Environmentalism.

Information blocks

Learning objectives

On successful completion of this module, you will be able to:

  • Explain key political concepts such as democracy, liberty, justice and human rights through Socratic method of sceptical questioning.
  • Evaluate central arguments in key texts in political theory through history.
  • Analyse the interplay of theory and history through comparison between philosophical history and historical events.
  • Apply political theory to real-life current events as conveyed in news reports and policy documents.

Indicative core content

  • The concepts of the social contract, natural rights, and the general will as they appear in thinkers such as the Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau.
  • The nature of Nationalism and a critical approach to the concept of the nation.
  • The development of Liberal Utilitarianism as a standard for evaluating politics.
  • How some of these ideas play out in historical events like the French Revolution and the birth of the labour movement.
  • Twentieth century movements like Communism and Fascism.
  • The left-right debate as it has appeared in 20th century western democracies.
  • Some twentieth/twenty-first century political ideas like political ecology and technocracy that purport to exist outside the left-right spectrum.

Learning and teaching approach

Active learning
Class workshop activities invite you to put yourselves in the position of various political actors, be it rulers or citizens, to see the interests and dynamics at stake in political decision making. The module makes reference to contemporary events and encourages you to apply the theoretical concepts you discuss in class to what you read in the newspapers and other media. Daily news and media consumption become an ongoing part of the learning process. You are invited to apply the ideas learnt in class to your own professional lives and your own citizenship. You are actively encouraged to steer the conversation and the module as a whole in the direction of your own curiosity.
Digital augmentation
Several key ideas and thinkers are summarised and explained in videos which you can view before class or in preparation for an assessment. All lectures will be recorded for you to go back to in your own time. An abundance of key texts by political philosophers, secondary literature, newspaper articles, examples for discussion, and lecture slides will be made available. We also encourage you to make use of the ‘discussion’ function on the class Virtual Learning Environment where you can carry on the discussion after class has finished.
Summative written assessments are delivered via the Virtual Learning Environment and you are given extensive feedback through in-text commentary and three or more paragraphs of overall feedback. These cover both your understanding of the module materials and your writing technique.


  • Coursework: Essay - 2000 words (50%)
  • Coursework: News analysis exercise - 1000 words (50%)

Key information

  • Requirements: You are expected to attend all classes and undertake approximately 85 hours of independent study in total during the module. Independent study includes reading and preparation for classes, researching and writing coursework assignments and preparing for other assessments.
  • This module is designed as an undergraduate Level 5 module. For an explanation of levels, view the Imperial Horizons Level Descriptors page.‌
"Absolutely brilliant, have never done any politics before, this course definitely changed the way I think about the world. Improving my essay writing and learning to structure an argument will without doubt help my degree as well as the subject being fascinating in its own right. The content is totally engaging and very relevant in every aspect of life from personal well being to research science."
"The course was delivered with such enthusiasm it would take a very determined person not to grow to love the subject if they did not already. I loved the fact that there was always class participation and it was encouraged, I can't think of any other class that I've taken during my years at Imperial where students so freely and eagerly engaged with the material and I thank you for that. Definitely one of the highlights of my time here... Overall a superb course."
"I absolutely loved this course. If I could I would do it every week of my degree."
"The structure of the course is good as it shows the historical progression of political thinking. "
"Amazing subject, very glad I took it. Love the discussions in class, and is a great springboard for personal learning on the subject."