Semester-Ending Thoughts on My Poli Sci Class

The semester pretty much ended yesterday. It was my last day of class. All I have left is studying and exams.

My poli sci instructor had promised the class, after indoctrinating us over the course of long weeks into a series of mind-blowing major political belief systems, that she would finally tell us “the truth” on the last day we met.

Knowing her, and knowing her ironic tone as she made the promise, I wasn’t expecting her to tell us how her own unique political beliefs were the ones we should all slavishly adopt.

And of course that’s not what happened.

The class, POLS 281: International Relations, is a disturbing series of revelations about international order and disorder. The worst is the first week or so of class studying Thomas Hobbes, in which a man who survived the English Civil War sets out a convincing and deeply disturbing case that human beings are conscienceless brutes and life outside a rigid hierarchy of dominance is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

It was one of the most intellectually disturbing periods in my life, in large part because our instructor taught it so convincingly and well.

Our studies get less emotionally draining better after that, but become more complex as ideas evolve from Hobbes’ Realism (power is All), to the Enlightenment gleam of the social contract ideas of Locke and Smith, to Woodrow Wilson’s blustering, scholarly idealism over the League of Nations, to the U.N., to the Cold War order of peace by threat of mutually assured destruction, to the modern era of globalization and international capital, to the Marxist critique of global capitalism.

Yesterday, the last day of class, our instructor calmly and good-humoredly told us that everything we had learned was important. That each school of political thought offered something useful in an educated critique of the world. That her own beliefs didn’t matter, so she wasn’t going to reveal them.

That what mattered was our education, our minds, the quality of the judgments we made through our ability to sift and interpret information as we shaped our beliefs and values.

We sat there quietly, not saying a word. Not even the few rowdy young people. All quiet and listening.

I’ve chosen my minor well. It’s not really something I’m all that good at, but it’s important and useful and powerful. A political identity goes deeper, or should go deeper, than just local and national decisions and identities.

It should reach into how you feel about your country’s economic choices, the way it chooses to integrate itself into rest of the world, the way it deals with crises and threats, the way it pays people and the way that its people pay it. Politics is a very big place. Big as the whole world.

I leave this semester with a rich feeling of satisfaction. Poli sci is right for me.

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