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 "The Greatest of All Plagues": How Economic Inequality Shaped Political Thought from Plato to Marx, as well as numerous articles on thinkers ranging from Plato to Jürgen Habermas and topics such as democratic theory, economic inequality, political ontology, and deception. In 2003-2004 and 2008-2009, 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 2016-2017 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. In 2023-2024, he is collaborating with Professor Matthew W. Maguire (History & Catholic Studies) and the Alliance Française​ in Chicago as part of the HumanitiesX​ program, funded by the Mellon Foundation​, in which he will co-teach a course on Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and co-direct a public roundtable on Tocqueville’s relevance today. 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. 
  5. "The Greatest of All Plagues": How Economic Inequality Shaped Political Thought from Plato to Marx.​ Princeton University Press, 2024.
  6. Cambridge Companion to Rousseau's "Social Contract" ​(co-edited with Matthew W. Maguire). Cambridge University Press, 2023.​ 

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 developing a book on economic inequality and the doctrine of sufficientarianism – the argument that economic inequality is itself unproblematic so long as the poor have sufficient resources to satisfy their basic needs, a doctrine broadly embraced by philosophers, economists, and public intellectuals.  He draws from moral psychology and the history of political thought to challenge this doctrine and its potentially damaging effects on public policy debates.  He is also developing short essays on the relationship of republicanism, civic virtue, and economic equality.