College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences > Academics > Political Science > Faculty > David Lay Williams

David Lay Williams

  • Professor and Pre-law Advisor
  • ​​PhD, University of Texas at Austin

  • Political Science
  • Political theory; history of political thought
  • 773-325-4906
  • 990 West Fullerton, room 2205



Professor Williams teaches and conducts research in political theory, especially the history of political thought. He received his PhD in Government from the University of Texas at Austin.  He is the author of Rousseau's Platonic Enlightenment, Rousseau's 'Social Contract': An Introduction, and numerous articles on thinkers ranging from Plato to Jürgen Habermas and topics such as democratic theory, the separation of powers, social contract theory, religion and politics, terrorism, institutional design, political ontology, fear, love, and deception.  In 2003-04 and 2008-09 he held research fellowships at the Institute for Research in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin—Madison, and in 2012-13, he held a faculty fellowship at the DePaul Humanities Center. In 2016-17 he was the Wicklander Fellow at DePaul's Institute for Business and Professional Ethics. From 2017-2022 he was the political theory editor for the journal, Political Research Quarterly. Professor Williams also writes short pieces connecting the history of political thought to contemporary political concerns for outlets such as the Washington Post, The Hill, Public Seminar, and Bloomberg News

Selected Publications


  1. Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Fundamental Political Writings (co-edited with Matthew W. Maguire). Broadview Press, 2018.
  2. The General Will:  The Evolution of a Concept (co-edited with James Farr).  Cambridge University Press, 2015. 
  3. ​Rousseau's 'Social Contract': An Introduction.  Cambridge University Press, 2014. 
  4. Rousseau's Platonic Enlightenment.  Penn State University, 2007.  

Selected ​Essays

  1. “The Ends of Legislation: Rousseau's Social Contract on Liberty, Equality, (& Fraternity), in The Cambridge Companion to Rousseau's 'Social Contract,' edited by Matthew W. Maguire and David Lay Williams. Cambridge University Press, forthcoming. 
  2. "Hobbes on Wealth, Poverty, and Economic Inequality," Hobbes Studies, Vol. 34, No. 1 (2021): 9-57.
  3. “Rousseau on Sovereignty," in Reading Texts on Sovereignty: Textual Moments in the History of Political Thought, ed. Stella Achilleos and Antonis Balasopoulos, Bloomsbury Press, 2021. 
  4. Plato's Noble Lie: from Kallipolis to Magnesia," History of Political Thought, Vol. 34, No. 3 (2013): 633-92. 
  5. The Platonic Soul of the Reveries: the Role of Solitude in Rousseau's Democratic Politics," History of Political Thought, Vol. 33, No. 1 (2012): 87-123. 
  6. Spinoza and the General Will," Journal of Politics, Vol. 72, No. 2 (April 2010): 341-56.
  7. Political Ontology and Institutional Design in Montesquieu and Rousseau," American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 54, No. 2 (April 2010): 525-42.​

Current Activities

Professor Williams is presently working on several projects.  One, The Greatest of All Plagues: Economic Inequality in the History of Political Thought (under contract with Princeton University Press), traces the development of concern about the problem of economic inequality from Plato to Marx.  Another is The Cambridge Companion to Rousseau's 'Social Contract,' (under contract with Cambridge University Press), a co-edited volume (with Matthew W. Maguire), which explores Rousseau's most celebrated political text from a variety of disciplinary and methodological perspectives.  He is also developing a book project on economic inequality and the limits of sufficientarianism.​