Fall 2022 - POL 415 D100

The Liberal Tradition and Its Critics (4)

Class Number: 6134

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Fr 9:30 AM – 12:20 PM
    AQ 5049, Burnaby

  • Prerequisites:

    Eight upper division units in political science or permission of the department.



A critical examination of the development of liberalism from classical liberalism (e.g. John Locke) to contemporary conflict between revisionist and neo-classical or libertarian currents.



Liberalism is a rich philosophical tradition to which some of the best-known political philosophers and economists have made important contributions. But what is liberalism today? From its early beginnings in the 17th century, it has branched out in several directions On one side, we find “classical liberals” and “libertarians” who value economic freedom and equality before the law; on the other side, various forms of egalitarian and/or postmodern liberalism aim at a transformative politics in which the values of social justice and multiculturalism figure prominently. (And there is a variety of “third way” alternatives.). We will discuss how these current emerged, the questions they raise and the answers they provide about the role of the state and civil society, whether liberals should promote egalitarian reforms (or not), whether minority rights should take precedence over majority opinion, etc. And we will discuss the threat posed to the liberal tradition by the rise of illiberal populist movements throughout the world.

Course Organization:

There will be a three-hour seminar each week; at least one hour will be devoted to students’ presentations and in-class discussions.


  • Essay (15 pp./4,500 words) 40%
  • Short paper (2,500 words) 20%
  • Final exam 30%
  • Participation (including presentation) 10%



We will make extensive use of classical texts available on the Internet and of e-versions of journal articles accessible through the Library. Most will also be posted on Canvas.


John Charvet. Liberalism: The Basics. London: Routledge. Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8153-6292-0

Department Undergraduate Notes:

The Department of Political Science strictly enforces a policy on plagiarism.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating. Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the university community. Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the university. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the university. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html