Dr. Stubberfield’s COVID-19 Quarantine Political Theory Course

Welcome to Brain Clutter’s COVID-19 Quarantine Course for PSCI 3015: Political Theory. This subsection holds all information relevant to PSCI 3015 administered by Dr. Alexander Stubberfield for enrolled students at Virginia Tech. Each post includes an essay regarding the assigned readings for the week that will help structure the course narrative. All essays are designed for multi-modal engagement and include songs and videos attempting to ground the often heady theoretical readings in more concrete representations through popular culture. Podcasts are provided on occasion when necessary and students are invited to download them for edification and info-tainment.

The lyrics help for this one, but it’s not always the case on Brain Clutter. Some videos are provided purely for visual display and it’s not always necessary to speak the language to draw out the deeper meaning or the Professor’s intention. “Tom Sawyer,” by Rush is embedded above to illustrate a deeper project of the course. Pull what you can from it and wrestle with what it presents. There is no test but whether you enjoy learning.

RIP Neil Peart 9/12/1952 – 1/7/2020

This course is an amalgam of material selected by the Professor concerning political theory, ethics and society. These selections are in no way guided by Virginia Tech and the arguments and opinions made throughout are the Professor’s and his only. The course discusses three major topics necessary for more advanced understandings of some conversations in political theory. As such, this course does not pretend to be exhaustive nor present a unified view or survey of the field. Instead, the course proceeds in arcs concerning three major vocabulary constellations each addressed in the readings. Each week has at least one guiding question within the syllabus reading schedule and students should consult the week’s question before reading the assigned documents. This will help guide students through the readings by highlighting an important theme throughout related to the course narrative. Students may read more freely and work through the texts on their own terms but the questions are there to help orient students in relation to the central question of the course. Those vocabulary constellations are: sophistry; “the good life;” and “the just state.” Each is foundational within the history of political theory and each is useful in the current atmosphere of political discourse broadly construed. The central question of the course is: “How is sophistry connected to the good life and the just state?”

The readings selected to address the above are not the final word on the subject. Students are invited to continue researching the week’s questions at the close of the course as the course is intended to spur individual interest and provide a groundwork for deeper dives into political theory. Each week builds from the next and this is intentional to show the endurance of philosophical problems and political discussion chronologically and throughout antiquity. Each of our authors builds from the next either through confirmation or refutation so it is vital that students get a foothold in the conversation within the first few weeks. The one exception to the above is the first week’s readings of Marx who introduces students to a functionalist definition of “capital” and shows the manifestation of it socially, politically, ethically and materially. However, Marx, as we will see, is responding to the perennial debates introduced in this course and provides an historical link between the ancients and contemporary political theory. Students are reminded that it is necessary to read the syllabus provided on Canvas and a careful reading of it will reveal the interconnection between questions through readings. This is intentional and a methodological consideration as we explore political theory both historically, and expose the overlap between some of the great questions of our age. Additionally, the Professor is making an argument through the readings and the guiding questions, though perhaps quietly. Students never need to agree with the Professor regarding his interpretations of the texts, nor must they present his suspected political views back at him in course assignments.

Brain Clutter and the Professor aim at helping students advance themselves through political and philosophical reflection. They do not aim at “producing students,” but better learners, careful readers, creative thinkers, and responsible people. The assignments and grades found in the syllabus are guides for learning and each assignment sharpens a skill set such as critical reading, reasoning and writing. We are, however, constrained by technological necessity in the presentation of this course and unfortunately the dynamic environment of the classroom has been lost for the time being. This means that the usual free flowing and dispersed nature of classroom discussion is constrained by the flow of information and its channels across the net. The Professor believes that this method of course delivery cannot cultivate democratic citizens in the way that person-to-person discussion can but he has done his best to make the course about the free expression of thought and to cultivate an interest in assuming the mantle of democratic responsibility. We will, as a result, pursue ancient political theory to the best of our abilities no-holds-barred.

The final speech – Charlie Chaplain’s first talking role – in The Great Dictator (1940) captures the democratic project embedded in our course. As an historical note, the end scene in the film above was written, directed and produced by Charlie Chaplain and released in October of 1940 – nearly one year after the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939, and a year before full U.S. commitment against the Axis powers in December of 1941.