David R. Armitage (Department of History)
Freshman Seminar 40J 4 credits (fall term) Enrollment: Limited to 12
Our current crisis has starkly exposed the strengths and weaknesses of leaders around the world and in local communities. Meanwhile, questions of leadership will be front and center as we head towards November's elections in the US. What makes a good leader has been subject to debate for at least two thousand years, especially in the many classic works of political and ethical theory in the western tradition that were written for young people about to enter public service or positions of authority. This Freshman Seminar introduces students to a selection of these texts of advice and encouragement, among them works by Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Machiavelli, William James, Max Weber, and Virginia Woolf, that might speak to their own ambitions and interests. It will show how to treat such works historically, in their own terms and their own contexts, while also applying them to contemporary concerns and dilemmas. The overarching aim of the class is for students to think rigorously about their own imminent responsibilities as citizens and leaders by reflecting on arguments addressed to similar rising generations in the past, from 5th-century Athens to Harvard's first online Commencement in May 2020.