Worldly Philosophers of Capitalism, Development, and Democracy: Classic Debates

Course Level: 
Course Open to: 
Remote students
Academic Year: 
US Credits: 
ECTS Credits: 
Course Code: 
Course Description: 

The course introduces participants into classic debates on capitalism, development, and democracy through the contributions of Alexander Gerschenkron, Friedrich Hayek, Albert Hirschman, and Karl Polanyi. Rather than offering a full account of their oeuvre, the course walks participants through these scholars’ most influential studies on the role of ideas and institutions in the rise and transformation of capitalism; compatibility and contradiction between economic and political freedom; paths and pitfalls of development in the center and periphery of world economy; and the crises, lapses, and self-correction capacities of the capitalist system. The course is not meant to replace or replicate the department’s survey courses on IPE and development. Instead, the aim is to embed the latter in the history of ideas and link them to still ongoing debates with a long genealogy. Hence the main gains from participating in the course include witnessing concept formation „in action”, acquiring critical skills and at the same time learning to embrace complexity.

Learning Outcomes: 

Each class will be introduced by the instructor with a maximum 20 minutes long pre-recorded PPT presentation on the topic covered in the class. The presentations will be followed by interactive seminar work. Student participation will be encouraged in the following ways. An online discussion platform will be set up on Moodle to place readings as well as study questions and other material to help critical engagement with the covered issues. Additionally, from the second week on, the participants will form author-specific teams. Their task will be to elaborate how their chosen „hero’s” concepts on the spirit, politics, paths, and dynamics of capitalism may have been shaped by the inspiration or criticism of their predecessors and contemporaries, or their own life experiences, and how their followers refined or modified their original concepts when responding to the new challenges of our times. 


Based on insights from the recommended readings and other sources, each author-team will be asked to prepare and distribute 2 or 3 (depending on the actual class size) maximum 20 minutes long PPT presentations over the semester. The purpose of presentations is fostering seminar discussions. Presenting team members will be able to earn a maximum of 60 (3x20) percent of the final grade. The remaining maximum 40 percent of the final grade will reward individual effort to prepare a maximum 2000 words long term paper (all included), demonstrating the strong or limited relevance of the surveyed classic debates for current problems of capitalism, development, and democracy.