Certificate in Intellectual History
Democracy, Commerce and Empire in the West
This course has been designed for visiting undergraduates to Sussex who wish to study the intellectual history of modern Europe and the western world, and to find out about the controversies in politics, political economy, international relations, religion and philosophy that have shaped and defined the polities that have dominated global politics for so long.
The course focuses on the distinctive nature of the modern European and Atlantic worlds as reflected in their intellectual history since early modern times. The course addresses the question of the comparative uniqueness of the west, why it proved successful both in military and in economic terms, and what kind of relationship existed, and continues to exist, between western development and ideas about enlightenment, rights, political and civil liberties, market capitalism, cosmopolitanism, and democracy.
The course begins with the study of the historical conceptualization of the rise of the states of Western Europe to prominence, their forms of government and governance, their internal conflicts, and their attempts to create empires both within Europe and further afield. We cover the theoretical understanding of relationships between western powers and non-European peoples, and the theories that justified slavery, conquest, and ongoing imperial dominion. We proceed to the western embrace of the ideologies of commercial society, and the conflict this engendered, and the resulting relationship between capitalism and war that some scholars continue to believe is the key to modernity. The course examines the nature of western democratic thought, its early opponents, and the ideas of those who argued in favour of a new world of democratic cosmopolitanism that was expected to establish justice across commercial societies and perpetual peace across states and continents. The course ends with an overview of ideas about democracy and markets, democracy and war, democracy and civil liberty, and democracy and domestic stability, scrutinizing some major fault lines in Western political thought and looking at the most recent approaches to problems and conflict within Western states and in their relationships with rising powers elsewhere.
The course ensures that students have the necessary skills to understand the recent history of the West, using electronic databases of primary source materials, with a view to more advanced study. Field trips to historic sites of national interest in Britain are included.