PLSC 378: American Political Thought

This course serves as an introduction to American political thought. Through close readings of foundational texts, students will encounter and analyze fundamental political concepts.  Topics include federalism and anti-federalism, constitutionalism, liberty and liberalism, American exceptionalism, democracy, civic virtue, wage and slave labor, individualism, laissez-faire economics, welfare liberalism, and the rights of minorities.

The course is intended, first, to help students develop the ability to critically read and analyze arguments, and, second, to provide students with an introduction to some of the most important ideas in American political thought.  Students will examine these ideas, both as they are thematized in the texts and as they manifest themselves in contemporary American theory and politics.

LEARNING OUTCOMES:

Students will:

1: Demonstrate critical thinking and writing skills with respect to the fundamental concepts of American political thought.

2: Demonstrate knowledge of the theories of politics that have animated American politics.

3: Apply theory to specific moments and events in American political history.

4: Demonstrate knowledge of the perspectives of historically subjugated groups.

REQUIRED TEXTS:

Many of the course readings are available in electronic form on Blackboard.  In addition, the following books must be purchased.  (I have included hyperlinks, but you may purchase the books from your preferred vendor.  Please make every attempt to buy the specific edition I’ve assigned.)

Texts must be brought to class on the day they will be discussed.

GENERAL INFORMATION:

This course will emphasize critical reading and analysis of the assigned texts. The reading load will be approximately 100 pages per week. Class meetings will be a combination of lectures and discussions. Readings should be completed before the class meeting in which they will be discussed. This enables students to get the most out of the lectures and to participate effectively in discussion.

Discussion: During class discussion you are not expected to have fully developed points of view about the course materials, but you are expected to participate. You will be rewarded for trying; you will not be penalized for being wrong or unclear, but it should be clear that you have done the readings and are working toward mastery of the material.

Questions: None of us, myself included, knows everything about the topics of this class. It is our responsibility to ask others who may know the answer, either in class, in office hours, or over dinner. I expect that you are learning the material, not that you know it. As much as possible, try not to be shy or embarrassed about what you don’t yet know. The biggest failure in learning any material, in college or in life, is to fail to ask questions about things you do not know.

Availability: I expect that all of you, either alone or in groups, will contact me at some point during the semester. I am available to discuss the course material, either during office hours, at other times, over the phone, or through email.  If you would prefer to schedule a time during non-office hours, simply contact me by phone or email and we will schedule an appropriate time.

Laptops, Cell Phones, and Tablets: Laptops and tablets may not be used in class.  Cell phones must be turned off AND put away during class meetings.  Students who use laptops, tablets, or cell phones will be considered absent.

EVALUATION CRITERIA:

  • Think Pieces: 15%
  • Quizzes:  15%
  • Essay Exams:  30%
  • Final Exam:  30%
  • In-class participation:  10%

Think Pieces:  On the Schedule of Meetings (below), you will find study questions for each class session.  These papers must address study questions posed for the following class session(s).  All students are responsible for writing one double-spaced page on one or more of these questions.  The think pieces will be due by 7:00 pm on Wednesday (uploaded to SafeAssign on Blackboard).  This is a very firm deadline.  I need to have time to read the papers before we meet on Thursday.  These papers must answer the study questions for the week’s readings on which they are due.  No think piece is required for the first week of class or the weeks when essay exams are due.

The think pieces will be assessed on a scale of 1-5.  A “3” indicates that the student has answered the question accurately.  A “4” is indicative of an accurate answer with some critical reflection on the question.  A “5” indicates critical reflection as well as specific reference to the text.  A “2” indicates that the answer misrepresents the text, while a “1” indicates that the question has not been answered.  At the end of the semester the grade for quizzes will be calculated as follows:

  • mostly 4s and 5s = A
  • mostly 3s = B
  • mostly below 3s = C, D, or F

Quizzes:  Quizzes will be given at the end of class on randomly selected days.  I will write a question on the board at the end of class.  These questions will reflect our discussion and/or the assigned reading for the day.  Students will have ten minutes to answer these questions.  The quizzes will be assessed on the same scale used for the think pieces.

Essays: On the dates listed on the schedule below, 5-page (1250-word) essays will be due.  These essays must answer one of several prompts that will be distributed a week in advance. Students must submit their exams to SafeAssign by 11:59 pm on the day they are due.  Late papers will be penalized at the rate of one grade per day. The exams will be graded based on the following criteria:

  • Does the paper demonstrate knowledge of the course materials?
  • Does the paper have a clear thesis?
  • Is the paper’s thesis supported consistently and coherently?

Essay exams must be submitted to SafeAssign on Blackboard.

Final Exam: The final exam will be composed of a variety of short-answer and essay questions.

Participation:  Attendance and punctuality are basic requirements for an effective discussion. Beyond that, each student’s frequency and quality of contribution to the class discussion will be assessed and reflected in the class participation score.  Students who miss more than four classes will automatically suffer a deduction of one-third of a grade (e.g. a B+ becomes a B).  Students who miss more than seven classes will suffer a full grade deduction (e.g. a B+ becomes a C+).  Students who are in class but do not have the assigned reading will be considered absent.

SCHEDULE OF MEETINGS AND REQUIRED READINGS:

UNIT I   Europeans in the Wilderness

Aug. 29:  INTRODUCTION: No assigned reading

  • What does it mean to be an American?
  • Describe pragmatism as a philosophical approach or paradigm.  Is pragmatism a philosophy or is it anti-philosophy?

Aug. 31:  Levy, pp. 13-14, 16-26 (chs. 1, 2, 17), 26-28, 29-37, 45-47; Louis Hartz, The Liberal Tradition in America, pp. 50-66 (Blackboard)

  • What does Crevecoeur admire about America?
  • According to John Winthrop, what is civil or federal liberty?
  • According to the “Platform of Church Discipline” (1649), what is the role of religion in politics?
  • What are the limits of toleration, according to Nathaniel Ward?
  • What are Roger Williams main arguments against John Cotton?
  • According to Louis Hartz why have Americans lacked “class consciousness?”
  • What is “tyranny of the majority?”  Why was it a particular danger in America, according to Hartz?
  • Did Americans have to achieve liberty, or did it come to them naturally?
  • Americans and their admirers often describe America as a uniquely free and equal society, tolerant of differences, open to outsiders, and committed to providing all citizens the opportunity to flourish.  Is this description more reality or mythology?

Sept. 5:   Bernard Bailyn, “The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution,” pp. 55-93 (Blackboard)

  • Why was power so central to pre-Revolutionary political thinkers?  How did they understand power?
  • Why were the colonists suspicious of standing armies?
  • What is a constitution?  What did it mean to the colonists?
  • What were the advantages of the British constitution?
  • From the colonists’ perspective, in what ways was British society becoming corrupt?

Sept. 7:  Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography, 3-85

  • What is the purpose of the Autobiography, and how does that purpose change throughout the work?
  • Can virtues be encapsulated in a list?
  • Does Franklin consider humility to be a virtue?  Why?
  • What motivates Franklin? Why does he choose to spend so much of his life making things better for his fellow countrymen?
  • “Franklin was a shameless self-promoter with numerous achievements, almost all of which were accomplished primarily to gain himself fame and bragging rights. Moreover, he was blindly idealistic, and did not concern himself with Americans not as lucky as himself.” Defend or refute this statement.
  • What is the Junto Club? Why is it so important to Franklin?
  • What were Franklin’s religious beliefs?

Sept. 12:  Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography, 85-191

UNIT II  Establishing an Independent Republic:  The Languages of Revolution

Sept. 14:  Levy, pp. 53-58, 59-61, 63-65, 81-83, 83-84, 86-91

  • What are the causes which impelled Americans to separation from Britain (Levy, p. 81)?
  • According to Jonathan Boucher, what are the limitations on man’s pursuit of liberty?
  • What is the principle of consent?  What are Boucher’s criticisms of it?
  • According to Samuel Seabury and Daniel Leonard, what were the advantages of remaining under the British monarchy?
  • According to John Adams, under which conditions could Britain’s exercise of power over the colonies be considered legitimate?

Sept. 19:   Thomas Paine, Common Sense (entire)

  • What is the difference between society and government?
  • What are Paine’s criticisms of the English constitution?
  • According to Paine, was America strong enough to defend itself?
  • How is Paine’s view of government connected to his arguments for revolution?
  • Why does Paine think it is in America’s best interest to be free from Britain?
  • What is Paine’s view of the connection between religion and government?

UNIT III  Creating an Extended Commercial Republic:  The Political Theory of the Constitution

Sept. 21:  THE OLD ORTHODOXY:  AGRARIAN REPUBLICANISM:  Levy, 97-100; THE NEW ORTHODOXY: “THE NEW SCIENCE OF POLITICS:” Alan Gibson, “Founding Indians” (Blackboard)

  • According to Thomas Jefferson, what are the virtues of “cultivators of the earth?”
  • What’s wrong with going to Europe for an education, according to Jefferson?
  • Why, according to Jefferson, is it important that “as few as possible shall be without land?”
  • How did Thomas Jefferson respond to the plight of Native Americans?
  • How did Thomas Jefferson respond to the political demands of Native Americans?
  • How was early American political thought influenced by Native Americans?

Sept. 26: THE NEW ORTHODOXY: “THE NEW SCIENCE OF POLITICS:” Levy, 107-123, 124-131; Federalist Papers 63, 84 (Blackboard)

  • What is the purpose of the Federalist Papers?
  • According to Publius, what is a faction? When can factions be dangerous? How can this danger be avoided?
  • How does Publius define “republican government” in Federalist 39?
  • What is the difference between a federal and a national government?
  • When can ambition be dangerous? What can be done to temper its dangers?
  • When can ambition be dangerous? What can be done to temper its dangers?
  • What were the arguments for and against the establishment of a Senate and a strong executive?
  • Why did some question the inclusion of a Bill of Rights in the Constitution?

Sept. 28: VOICES OF DISSENT:  Levy, 138-142, 152-155, 160-163; Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia—Queries XVIII and XIX, Letters to Madison, Taylor, and Kercheval (Blackboard)

  • What are Jefferson’s reservations about the Constitution?  What are Winthrop’s?
  • For Jefferson, what is the key to the preservation of liberty in a society?
  • What threat do “banking establishments” pose, according to Jefferson?
  • What is Jefferson’s position on slavery?
  • What are Winthrop’s arguments against the establishment of a strong federal government?

October 3:  VOICES OF DISSENT (continued):  The Federal Farmer, pp. 32-54, 73-79 (Blackboard); Patrick Henry, speech at the Virginia State Ratifying Convention, pp. 315-325 (Blackboard)  ESSAY EXAMS DISTRIBUTED

  • According to the Federal Farmer, how does the union threaten liberty?
  • Why, according to the Federal Farmer, was the Constitution aristocratic?
  • What is required for an effective system of representation?

UNIT IV  Extending the Democratic Republic: Liberty, Equality and the Open Marketplace

 

October 5:  THE OLD ORTHODOXY: THE REPUBLIC OF ORDERS:  Levy, pp. 169-173; Jefferson, letter to Adams (Blackboard); James Madison, pp. 313-319 (Blackboard); THE NEW ORTHODOXY: THE REPUBLIC OF EQUAL INDIVIDUALS: Levy, pp. 183-188, 209-216

  • Who shouldn’t be permitted to vote?
  • What is the natural aristocracy, according to John Adams?  What makes someone an aristocrat?
  • Why, according to Buel was it safe to extend suffrage?  Why was it proper?
  • According to Madison, what must happen in order for the slaves to be emancipated?

October 10:  THE REPUBLIC OF EQUAL INDIVIDUALS (continued):  Levy, 200-208; Henry David Thoreau, Walden, ‘Economy’ and ‘Where I Lived, and What I Lived for’ (Blackboard)

  • According to Whitman, what is the role of government?
  • What is Whitman’s response to Calhoun?
  • What makes Whitman optimistic about the future of American society?
  • Why did Thoreau retreat into the woods?
  • What did Thoreau live for?
  • Which virtues does Thoreau emphasize?  Compare Thoreau to Franklin.

October 11: ESSAY EXAMS DUE

October 12: THE REPUBLIC OF EQUAL INDIVIDUALS (continued): Ralph Waldo Emerson, ‘Self-reliance’ and ‘Politics’ (Blackboard)

  • What must one do in order to be ‘self-reliant’ in Emerson’s sense?
  • Why is it, according to Emerson, that ‘imitation is suicide’? (p. 1, ‘Self-Reliance’)
  • Under what circumstances can consistency be ‘foolish’ and ‘the hobgoblin of little minds’? (p. 4, ‘Self-Reliance’)
  • Is Emerson’s individualism elitist?  Is it democratic?  Can it be both at once?
  • What is the ‘general mind’? (p. 2, ‘Politics’)?
  • What is the role of government for Emerson?

October 17:  VOICES OF DISSENT: AFFIRMATIVE DISSENT: FOR GREATER EQUALITY:  Levy, 221-231, 238-256; George Fitzhugh, Cannibals All!, pp. 15-20, 31-32, 222-224 (Blackboard)

  • What is white slavery?  Why, according to Fitzhugh is it worse than black slavery?
  • Is there anything wrong with Fitzhugh’s argument?
  • Was Abraham Lincoln a racist?
  • Why, according to Lincoln, must the slaves be emancipated?
  • Is Lincoln’s opposition to slavery consistent with his commitment to states rights?
  • What justifies civil disobedience?

October 19:  VOICES OF DISSENT: AFFIRMATIVE DISSENT: FOR GREATER EQUALITY (continued): Levy, 257-261; Elizabeth Cady Stanton/Susan B. Anthony, pp. 27-35, 44-52, 78-85, 152-165 (Blackboard)

  • According to Grimke, what qualifies one for equal rights?
  • According to Stanton, are there differences between the sexes?  If so, what are they?
  • According to Stanton, what’s wrong with the political subordination of women?
  • What political reforms did Stanton and Anthony advocate?
  • In Stanton’s view, what did women have in common with slaves in the mid-19th century?
  • How did the emancipation of the slaves make it more difficult to justify the suppression of women?

October 24:  VOICES OF DISSENT: RESTRAINED DISSENT: THE FEAR OF EQUALITY’S EXCESSES:  Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, pp. 50-63, 68-70, 87-98

  • How might the pursuit of equality undermine liberty?
  • What are the advantages of local goverance?
  • What is the difference between administrative centralization and political centralization?
  • Why, according to Tocqueville, are Americans so patriotic?
  • How do political associations serve democracy?  How do they endanger it?

October 26:  VOICES OF DISSENT: RESTRAINED DISSENT: THE FEAR OF EQUALITY’S EXCESSES (continued):  Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, pp. 158-170, 189-195, 277-294

  • Describe Tocqueville’s conception of liberty.
  • How is does Christianity in the New World differ from Christianity in Europe?
  • What role does religion play in the preservation of liberty?
  • How does conformity to the ‘common opinion’ threaten liberty?

October 31:  VOICES OF DISSENT: RESTRAINED DISSENT: THE FEAR OF EQUALITY’S EXCESSES (continued):  Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, pp. 294-315, 429-436, 442-449

Nov. 2:  VOICES OF DISSENT: RESTRAINED DISSENT: THE FEAR OF EQUALITY’S EXCESSES (continued):  Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, pp. 503-530, 690-705

  • “We now know that Tocqueville was wrong.  We know that the pursuit of happiness, even when it leads to paltry pleasures, is compatible with the maintenance of freedom and justice.” (A Tocqueville commentator)  Respond to this claim.

Nov. 7:  VOICES OF DISSENT: AFFIRMATIVE DISSENT: FOR GREATER EQUALITY (continued):  Frederick Douglass, pp. 203-226, 262-266, 277-284, 311-328 (Blackboard)

  • According to Douglass, why must blacks prove themselves worthy of equal rights?  What must they do to prove themselves worthy?
  • Does Douglass justify racism?
  • What is the “colonization scheme?”  Why does Douglass oppose it?
  • Why does Douglass believe it is crucial that blacks get the right to vote?
  • What’s wrong with “race pride,” according to Douglass?

UNIT V  The Republic as Industrial Capitalism: Social Darwinism and the NewInequality

Nov. 9:  THE NEW ORTHODOXY: INEQUALITY AS PROGRESS:  Levy, pp. 323-344; Booker T. Washington, pp. 351-356, 376-379, 417-423, 445-463 (Blackboard)

  • According to Sumner, what do the social classes owe each other?
  • How should society respond to the problem of poverty, according to our authors?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of economic competition?
  • According to Carnegie, what are the duties of the ‘man of wealth’?
  • Can a good Christian devote himself or herself to the pursuit of wealth?
  • How, according to Washington, will blacks prosper?
  • Is Washington too forgiving of whites?  Too trusting?
  • According to Washington, which political reforms would best help blacks?
  • Is Washington opposed to segregation?

Nov. 14:  VOICES OF DISSENT:  Levy, 350-355, 361-374; Louis Brandeis, Testimony before U.S. Commission on Industrial Relations, pp. 70-83 (Blackboard)

  • Which special interests is Woodrow Wilson worried about? Why?
  • According to Henry George, who is better off, a day laborer or a savage?  Why?
  • According to George, what role does rent play in economic inequality?  What is George’s solution to this problem?
  • According to Gilman, why do men insist ‘a woman’s place is in the home’?
  • What is industrial absolutism, according to Brandeis?  What is industrial democracy?

Nov. 16:  VOICES OF DISSENT (continued):  Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward, 2000-1887, pp. 91-197

  • What is a utopia?
  • How does Bellamy’s view of the good life differ from Thoreau’s and Emerson’s?
  • Is there anything missing in Bellamy’s utopia?  Are there any surprising inclusions?
  • What are Julian West’s main criticisms of the 19th century?
  • How was the problem of economic inequality and exploitation solved in the year 2000?
  • How have politicians changed in the year 2000?
  • What is the industrial service?
  • What does Bellamy’s imagined utopia tell us about his view of 19th-century America?
  • How are goods distributed in the year 2000?

Nov. 21:  VOICES OF DISSENT (continued):  Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward, 2000-1887, pp. 198-314; ESSAY EXAMS DISTRIBUTED

  • What do Bellamy’s citizens do once they are mustered out of the industrial army?
  • Why have prisons become unnecessary in the year 2000?
  • What are Dr. Leete’s criticisms of the 19th-century industrial system?
  • How has religion changed in the year 2000?

Nov. 23: THANKSGIVING

Nov. 28:  VOICES OF DISSENT (continued):  Levy, pp. 382-385; W.E.B. DuBois, pp. 518-533 and Marcus Garvey, pp. 553-576 (Blackboard)

  • What are Du Bois’s criticisms of Booker T. Washington?
  • What is the talented tenth?
  • What, according to Du Bois, is necessary in order for blacks to achieve equality?
  • Was Du Bois an elitist?
  • What is Du Bois’s conception of a successful human being?
  • Is Marcus Garvey closer to Du Bois or to Booker T. Washington?
  • What is Garvey’s solution to the race problem?
  • Why, according to Garvey, is it impossible for blacks to flourish in America?

UNIT VI  The Republic as Social Democracy: Reining in the Market

Nov 30:  THE OLD ORTHODOXY:  THE REPUBLIC OF VOLUNTARY EXCHANGE REVISITED:  Levy, pp. 395-397; THE NEW ORTHODOXY: THE NEW LIBERALISM:  Levy, 411-426; Theodore Roosevelt, The New Nationalism, 21-39 (Blackboard)

  • How did Herbert Hoover hope to escape the Depression?
  • What is John Dewey’s conception of “historic relativity” (Levy, p. 416)?
  • In Dewey’s terms, what is the difference between the old and the new individualism?
  • What are the tenets of the “New Nationalism?”
  • How did Theodore Roosevelt want to regulate corporations?
  • What is the “Square Deal?”

Dec 1: ESSAY EXAMS DUE

Dec. 5: THE NEW ORTHODOXY: THE NEW LIBERALISM (continued): Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “State of the Union Address” Jan. 11, 1944 (Blackboard); Lyndon B. Johnson, “Remarks Before the National Convention Upon Accepting the Nomination,” August 27, 1964 (Blackboard) Barry Goldwater, “The Conscience of a Conservative,” pp. 3-11 (Blackboard);

  • According to FDR, can restrictions on liberty actually serve liberty?  How?
  • According to FDR, what are the components of security?
  • How does FDR propose to expand the American conception of rights?
  • What, according to LBJ, is necessary to achieve the ‘Great Society’?
  • What, according to Barry Goldwater, are the main tenets of conservatism?
  • What, according to Goldwater, is the main threat to liberty?

Dec. 7: VOICES OF DISSENT:  Levy, 467-473

  • What is an Aunt Tom, in Betty Friedan’s view?
  • Why, according to Betty Friedan, is motherhood a ‘bane and a curse’?

Final Exam: Dec. 14, 9:50-12:35

STYLE GUIDE:

The Department of History and Political Science mandates that all submitted work adhere to the Turabian/Chicago style delineated in Kate Turabian, et. al., A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, University of Chicago Press (available at the Wilson Library Reference Desk).

EXAM PROCTORING GUIDELINES:

  1. One seat space between students when possible.
  2. No bathroom breaks except in the case of illness or emergency.  Student should discuss this circumstance with the proctor prior to the start of the exam.
  3. No materials on the desk except for pens/pencils, bluebook or writing paper and exam.
  4. Under no circumstances can students access electronic devices during the exam.
  5. Exam proctors will note any violation of these rules and those will be considered in the final grade.

GRADING:

Your work will be evaluated according to the following criteria:

A—designates work of extraordinarily high quality; reflects unusually thorough and comprehensive understanding of issues at hand; presents a clearly identifiable thesis and argument that demonstrates cogent and creative development and support of ideas.

B—designates work of high quality; reflects clearly organized and comprehensive understanding of issues and hand; presents substantive thesis and argument with evident development and support of ideas.

C—designates work which minimally meets requirements set forward in assignment; reflects some organization and development of ideas, but develops argument in superficial or simplistic manner; may only address part of the assignment or be otherwise incomplete.

D—designates work of poor quality which does not meet minimum requirements set forward in assignment; demonstrates poor organization of ideas and/or inattention to development of ideas, grammar, and spelling; treatment of material is superficial and/or simplistic; may indicate that student has not done reading assignments thoroughly.

F—designates work that does not meet ANY of the standards set above or which is not handed in.

PLAGIARISM:

Plagiarism is a prevalent but highly unethical practice. Plagiarism will result in the immediate failure of this course and disciplinary action which could lead to expulsion from the University. If you are having problems in the course please come and talk to me about it rather than doing something that could put your entire college career in jeopardy.

Plagiarism includes, but is not limited to the following:

·The direct copying of any source, such as written and verbal material, computer files,
audio disks, video programs or musical scores, whether published or unpublished, in
whole or part, without proper acknowledgment that it is someone else’s.

·Copying of any source in whole or part with only minor changes in wording or syntax, even with acknowledgment.

·Submitting as one’s own work a report, examination paper, computer file, lab report
or other assignment that has been prepared by someone else. This includes research
papers purchased from any other person or agency.

·The paraphrasing of another’s work or ideas without proper acknowledgment.

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