American Political Thought

Download 51.37 Kb.
Size51.37 Kb.
Political Science 373 Mercer University Spring 2009

Dr. Will Jordan Class Meetings: MWF 12:00-12:50

Office: Langdale 217 Classroom: Knight Hall 206

Office Hours: 1:00-1:50 p.m. (MWF) email:

(Or by appointment)

Office Phone: (478) 301-2445

Cell Phone: (478) 747-5576
American Political Thought
Required Texts
Herbert Croly, The Promise of American Life (Northeastern, 1989).
W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (Penguin, 1996).

Thomas Jefferson, The Essential Jefferson, edited by Jean Yarbrough (Hackett, 2006).

Abraham Lincoln, The Portable Abraham Lincoln (Penguin, 1992).
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (Hackett, 2000).
The Essential Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers, edited by David Wootton (Hackett,

Course Description

In his landmark analysis of American democracy, Alexis de Tocqueville writes: “I confess that in America, I saw more than America; I sought there the image of democracy itself, with its inclinations, its character, its prejudices, and its passions, in order to learn what we have to fear or to hope from its progress.” In Tocqueville’s day as well as our own, America has served as a beacon of democracy for the rest of the world. As democracy becomes ever more prevalent, we do well to evaluate the intellectual foundations and character of the American regime. The purpose of this class is to undertake such an evaluation. From the influence of Enlightenment philosophy and radical Protestant theology to the progressive movement of the early 20th century, this class will consider the major intellectual themes and ideas that have informed and shaped American democracy. How do we best secure individual liberty? What are the potential limits or dangers of democracy? How does the U.S. combine the ideals of liberty and equality? Which important principles informed the founding? How were these principles challenged in the 19th and 20th centuries? What is the role of race in American thought? What are the possibilities and challenges of democratic statesmanship? All of these questions will be considered. While we survey some of the seminal American political thinkers, our required reading does not exhaust the subject. For this reason, each student will supplement his or her study with a report on an additional thinker. Hopefully, the students’ analysis of the texts will allow them to better understand their own regime and to become more knowledgeable participants in American political life.
Desired Learning Outcomes
The students’ ability to perform the following intellectual tasks should be enhanced by this course.
** Read, interpret, analyze, and evaluate written discourse. We accomplish this outcome through our reading assignments and class discussion.
** Write clearly and appropriately in a variety of contexts. We do this by completing a variety of writing assignments.
** Recognize and understand the choices and responsibilities of involved citizenship.
** Articulate the theoretical foundations and the basic challenges relating to the American regime.

Grades will be determined by the quality of the students’ work on a series of written assignments (three papers, a supplementary report, one midterm test, and a final exam), class participation, and their diligence in attendance. The papers will each count for 15% of the final grade; the midterm will count for 10%; the supplementary report will count for 15%; class participation will count for 10%; participation in the Spring Conference on American Political Thought will count for 5%; the final exam will count for 15%. No one can pass who does not submit all papers and complete all tests.

Papers (15% each): The papers will be roughly six double-spaced pages in length. For the papers, the student will be required to pick a topic from a selection of questions provided by the instructor. The selection of questions will be provided roughly two weeks prior to the paper’s due date. At that time, the student will also receive a more thorough description of the expectations for the paper. Papers are due in class; late papers will receive a deduction of one letter grade per class session. The first paper is due Feb. 18. The second paper is due March 27. The third paper is due May 1st.
Tests (midterm 10%; final exam 15%): The midterm will consist of short answer questions. The final exam will consist of short answer questions and two essays. The final exam will cover material from the entire term.
Supplementary Report (15%): The purpose of this assignment is to expose the students to thinkers other than those included in our required reading. First, each student will select a supplementary thinker from the list provided on the first day of class and read the thinker’s work (most of the readings can be found at Tarver Library; some will require consultation with the instructor to determine the requisite reading). Second, the student will write a review of the work. The review should be a paper roughly five pages in length. This review should illustrate the major themes of the thinker’s work and consider how the thinker fits into the larger scheme of American political thought. More information will be forthcoming on this assignment. It is due April 17.
Class Participation (10%): WARNING: This class requires participation! What does that mean? It means that you must read the texts with care, and be prepared to contribute to the discussion with questions and comments. This is a course about thinking, about articulating our thoughts, and about revealing the pedigree of our ideas. Our teachers in this class are the texts, and we cannot learn from them if we do not engage and challenge them. All class discussions will be conducted in a spirit of mutual cooperation; cheap shots at the authors or at each other will not be tolerated!

Students who never contribute to class with questions and comments will not receive a passing grade for this portion of their grade. Full credit will be earned by regular contributors (averaging at least three contributions per class session) who—through their questions and comments—consistently help the class develop a more full understanding of the texts under discussion. Good comments refer directly to the texts (including to specific passages) and help us better appreciate the text’s argument, including both its merits and limitations.

The Spring Conference on American Political Thought (5%): A two-day conference on American political thought, “The Triumphs and Travails of the Natural Rights Republic,” has been developed in conjunction with this class. You will be required to attend the kick-off lecture (given by John W. Danford, Loyola University Chicago, Tuesday, March 31st), the keynote lecture (given by Michael Zuckert, Notre Dame University, Wednesday, April 1st), and one other event. A complete schedule will be provided as soon as it becomes available. In addition to your attendance, you will submit a short (no more than two pages, typed) reflection paper on the conference. This reflection paper accomplishes two purposes. First, you will describe what you consider to be the most important theme or argument from one of our speakers. Second, you will describe how the theme or argument relates to some of our assigned readings for the course. The reflection paper is due in class on Friday, April 3. The reflection paper will be graded and is worth 3% of your final grade. No credit will be earned if you do not attend the keynote lecture. Attendance at the other two required events will earn you the remaining 2% of your grade. If you attend ALL scheduled events, you will receive a bonus of one point on your final grade.
Class Attendance: Class attendance is a necessary component of student success. Every student is allowed two unexcused absences. For every unexcused absence thereafter, one point will be deducted from the final grade. For University related absences (and other foreseeable absences) please inform the instructor as soon as possible.
Make Up / Extension Policy
All assignments are due in class on the assigned date. Late papers will be penalized one letter grade for each day late (papers turned in after class will be treated as a day late). Absences from exams will result in a zero for the exam, unless the student is excused beforehand by the instructor or unless the student has a valid excuse (an emergency, as determined by the instructor). In the case of a valid excuse, the student will make up the quiz or exam with all deliberate speed. No written assignments will be accepted after 5:00p.m., May 4th.
As there always seems to be some confusion about grades, I have included the following description of my grading scale and expectations.

A (100-91): Excellent — An “A” grade is earned by those students who demonstrate mastery of the subject matter. An “A” paper combines clear, original thinking with a thorough grasp of the issues at hand. An “A” test is both comprehensive (in that it answers all parts of the question) and specific (in that it shows a commitment to small detail).

B+ (90-87.5): Very Good

B (87.4-81): Good — A “B” is earned by those students who demonstrate a solid grasp of the subject matter. Papers and tests of the “B” student will be free from error, but may lack the detail, clarity, originality or comprehensiveness of “A” work.

C + (80-77.5): Slightly Above Average

C (77.4-70): Average — A “C” is earned by those students who meet all the requirements of satisfactory work. Papers and tests reveal an understanding of the general themes, but lack elaboration of detail. Small errors may crop up in secondary or tertiary points.

D (69-60): Poor — A “D” grade is earned by those who demonstrate limited understanding of the material. The work will be marked by confusion and lack of clarity.

F Failure — An “F” is earned by those students who demonstrate little or no understanding of the material. Sloppy writing and thinking on papers and amorphous, off-target answers on tests characterize failing work.

Contacting the Instructor
Students are encouraged to contact the instructor with any questions or problems they may have regarding the class. Email will likely be the most effective way of reaching the instructor. Keep in mind that email received in the late afternoon or evening may not receive replies until the following morning. The instructor will also be happy to schedule office meetings outside the regular office hours.

Written assignments may be submitted electronically, but students bear sole responsibility for ensuring that the assignments are legible and are received on time. The preferred method of submitting documents electronically is to attach the document as an MS-Word file to an email. I suggest that you have your e-mail client issue a receipt verifying that the document has been received. It is the student’s responsibility to retain a copy of the dated submission on a separate disk as a backup.

Academic Dishonesty and Plagiarism
We are fortunate to be operating under a student-administered honor system. This system imposes on each student the responsibility for his or her own honest behavior and requires that each student will report any violations of the Honor Code. This course is conducted under the auspices of the Honor Code and all suspected infractions will be referred to the Honor Council. The students bear the responsibility of informing themselves fully about the Honor Code (see The Lair). As defined by The Lair, plagiarism is the “use of ideas, facts, phrases, or additional materials . . . from any source without giving proper credit for such material. Any material in a paper or report, which is not acknowledged, is understood to be the original work of the author.” Violations of the Honor Code will be treated with the utmost seriousness by the instructor.
Disability Policy
Students with a documented disability should inform the instructor at the close of the first class meeting or as soon as possible. If you are not registered with Disability Services, the instructor will refer you to the Student Support Services office for consultation regarding documentation of your disability and eligibility for accommodations under the ADA/504. In order to receive accommodations, eligible students must provide each instructor with a Faculty Accommodation Form from Disability Services. Students must return the completed and signed form to the Disability Services office on the 3rd floor of the Connell Student Center. Students with a documented disability who do not wish to use accommodations are strongly encouraged to register with Disability Services and complete a Faculty Accommodation Form each semester. For further information please contact Disability Services at 301-2778 or visit the website at
Class Schedule
Last day for course withdrawal: March 26.


Wed. Jan. 14 Introduction

Fri. Jan. 16 The Point of Departure: The Puritans

Read: Tocqueville: Vol. I Part 1 Chapter 2 (p.15-33).

John Winthrop, et al. (supplemental readings)

Questions: According to Tocqueville, why are the Puritans the founders of the

American political order?

What is the relationship between religion and liberty in these texts?
Mon. Jan. 19 NO CLASS: MLK DAY
Wed. Jan. 21 Revolution in Britain: The State of Nature, Natural Rights & Limited Gov’t

Read: John Locke, selections from The Second Treatise of Government (supplemental readings)

Questions: What is Locke’s conception of liberty, and how does it differ from

the puritan conception?

What is the state of nature? How does it differ from civil society?

What are the legitimate ends of government in Locke’s account?

Fri. Jan. 23 Revolution in America: The Spirit of ‘76

Read: Jefferson: A Summary View (3-17), The Declaration of Ind. (23-26),

Letter on the Declaration (267-268).

Questions: What is the Declaration’s teaching on the origin, ends, and form of


Is the American Revolution justifiable? On what grounds?

Mon. Jan. 26 Early American Constitutionalism

Read: Jefferson: Notes on Virginia, Queries 13-14 (98-124)

Questions: What are the distinctive features of the early state constitutions?

What do Jefferson’s criticisms tell us about these constitutions and

about his own political thought?

Can Jefferson’s “scientific” racism be reconciled with the

Declaration’s statement of human equality? How?
Wed. Jan. 28 Manners and Mores

Read: Jefferson: Notes on Virginia, Queries 17-19 (125-133); Bill for Religious

Freedom (27-28); Report on Western Territory (29-31); Letters (59).

Questions: What are Jefferson’s defenses of religious freedom?

What kind of society does Jefferson envision? Compare him to

both Locke and the Puritans here.
Fri. Jan. 30 The Constitution and its Reception

Read: The Constitution of the U.S. (326-337, in Federalist volume)

Jefferson: Letters (153-4, 155-8, 168-71, 174-5, 176-80).

Questions: How does the U.S. Constitution differ from the early state

constitutions? What does this tell us about the framers’ goals?

What does Jefferson’s ambivalence tell us about his own political

thought? What are Jefferson’s major fears about the

vulnerabilities of the American regime?

Mon. Feb. 2 The Anti-Federalist Attack

Read: Essential Anti-Federalists: Cato and Centinel (58-74).

Questions: What are the major Anti-Federalist criticisms of the Constitution?

What do the Anti-Federalist fears tell us about their own vision for

a good political order?
Wed. Feb. 4 The Anti-Federalist Attack, continued

Read: Essential Anti-Federalists: Brutus (74-96).

Questions: Do we still see some of the Anti-Federalist arguments in

contemporary political discourse? To what extent have the Anti-Federalist predictions proved prescient?

We have a good idea of what the Anti-Federalists were against.

What were they FOR?

Fri. Feb. 6 The Federalist: The New Science of Politics

Read: Essential Federalist Papers: #1,#9,#10 (140-3, 162-174).

Questions: What does Publius identify as the central defects of democratic government? How is the Constitution designed to remedy those defects?

What is a large republic? What are the advantages of a large

republic over a small one? How does this respond to the Anti-Federalists’ central concerns?
Mon. Feb. 9 The Federalist: Energy in Government

Read: Essential Federalist Papers: #14-15,23,39 (179-190, 195-199, 225-231).

Questions: What defects does Publius identify in the existing union?

What is the view of human nature that informs the Federalist


What does Publius mean by “energy”? Is energetic government compatible with limited government?

Wed. Feb.11 The Federalist: Auxiliary Precautions

Read: Essential Federalist Papers: #48,51,62-63,84,85 (237-241, 245-250, 263-

275, 301-316).

Questions: What purposes are served by separation of powers?

In what ways does our Constitution violate the pure separation of

powers doctrine? To what effect?

Is the Senate compatible with democracy?

Why do the Federalist believe a Bill of Rights to be unnecessary?

How well has Publius answered the Anti-Federalist attack?
Fri. Feb. 13 The 1790’s: Hamilton v. Jefferson

Read: Alexander Hamilton on the Bank, Credit, and Manufacturing

(supplemental readings).

Jefferson: Opin. on Bank (32-36), Kentucky Resolution (48-54), Letter to

Washington (182-189).

Questions: How do Hamilton and Jefferson differ on the issue of the proper

role of government?

What are the differences in character between a “Hamiltonian”

society and a “Jeffersonian” society?
Mon. Feb. 16 Jefferson’s America

Read: Jefferson: Letters (205, 206-7, 214-219, 222-232, 239-245, 254-5, 260-6,


Questions: What makes democracy good, according to Jefferson? How

compatible is Jefferson’s plan for Ward Republics with our constitutional system?

Is Jefferson ultimately a consistent political thinker? How should

we understand his political theory?

Is the founding ultimately consistent and coherent? What principles inform it most centrally? What principles are merely secondary or derivative?

Wed. Feb. 18 Final Thoughts on the Founding


Fri. Feb. 20 An Observer from Abroad

Read: Tocqueville: Author’s Introduction (1-15).

Questions: What is Tocqueville’s theory of history?

What is the difference between aristocracy and democracy here?

What is the purpose of the book, according to the author?

Mon. Feb. 23 Democracy and Local Government

Read: Tocqueville: Vol I, Part 1, Chapters 3-5 (34-62).

Questions: What is Tocqueville’s definition of a democratic social state? How

does he define and understand equality?

What does Tocqueville admire about local self-government in

America? What is the difference between governmental and administrative decentralization? What is Tocqueville’s appraisal of each?

Wed. Feb. 25 Majority Rule and Majority Tyranny

Read: Tocqueville: Vol I, Part 2, Chapters 6-7 (87-117).

Questions: What benefits does democracy provide? What is the greatest

danger democracy poses?

What makes majority tyranny so powerful, according to

Tocqueville? How does it affect national character?

Fri. Feb. 27 Checking the Majority

Read: Tocqueville: Vol I, Part 2, Chapters 8-9 (117-146).

Questions: What are the institutions Tocqueville identifies that temper

majority tyranny? How do they temper the power of the majority?

What does Tocqueville mean by mores? Why are they so


Mon. Mar. 2 Tocqueville on Race in America

Read: Tocqueville: Vol I, Part 2, Chapter 10 (146-168).

Questions: What is the effect of the institution of slavery on American character? What are his hopes for emancipation and assimilation?

Wed. Mar. 4 Democratic Individualism

Read: Tocqueville: Vol II, Part 2, Chapters 1-9 (201-224).

Questions: What does Tocqueville mean by the term individualism? What

makes it unique to democracy? What is Tocqueville’s

appraisal of individualism?

What tempers individualism in the United States?
Fri. Mar. 6 Democratic Materialism and Spiritualism

Read: Tocqueville: Vol II, Part 2, Chapters 10-20 (224-248).

Questions: Why are democratic societies more materialistic than aristocratic


What role can religion play in tempering materialism? What is

Tocqueville’s appraisal of religion in America?

Mon. Mar. 16 Democratic Despotism

Read: Tocqueville: Vol II, Part 4, Chapters 1-8 (297-319).

Questions: What is the source of the despotism Tocqueville describes here? What is its character? How is this despotism different from the majority tyranny he describes in Volume I? What tempers this despotism?

How does Tocqueville understand the relationship between liberty

and equality? What kind of society does he want?
Fri. Mar. 20 The Gathering Storm

Read: Lincoln: To Young Men’s Lyceum (17-26), On Kansas-Nebraska (41-83).

Questions: In the Lyceum address, what does Lincoln identify as the greatest

challenge facing the young republic? What is his remedy? What is his understanding of political ambition?

What is Lincoln’s view of slavery? How does he appeal to the

founding in the articulation of this view?

Mon. Mar. 23 A House Divided

Read: Lincoln: House Divided Speech, Debate with Douglas (88-140).

Questions: What is the crisis Lincoln identifies? What major events have

brought it about?

What are the essential areas of disagreement (in policy and theory)

between Lincoln and Douglas? What is Lincoln’s objection to the principle of popular sovereignty?

Wed. Mar. 25 To the White House

Read: Lincoln: To Wisconsin Ag. Society (150-162), At Cooper Union (167-87),

1st Inaugural (195-204)

Questions: What are Lincoln’s economic views? How does he oppose the

“mud-sill” theory?

Who has the founding right, Lincoln or Douglas?

In what way is Lincoln’s election a threat to the south? What is his

view of the legality of secession?

Fri. Mar. 27 Emancipation and War Power

Read: Lincoln: Message to Congress (209-225), Emancipation Proclamation (271-3), To Erastus Corning (274-283), Gettysburg Address (295), 2nd Inaugural (320-1).

Questions: How does Lincoln defend the actions he takes in carrying out the war? Does Lincoln respect or overturn constitutional forms?

How should we evaluate Lincoln’s statesmanship?

Mon. Mar.30 Emancipation and the Remaining Challenges

Read: DuBois: Chapters 1-3 (3-50).

Questions: What is DuBois’ veil? According to him, what are the chief

difficulties facing black Americans? What is his goal in

race relations?

What is at issue in the debate between DuBois and Booker T.

Washington? What is the relationship between political and economic opportunity?

Wed. April 1 NO CLASS: CONFERENCE: “The Triumphs and Travails of the Natural

Rights Republic”

Fri. April 3 The Struggle for Equality

Read: DuBois: Chapters 4-6 (51-90).

Questions: What is DuBois’ attitude about commerce? What role does

education play in his political thought? Is DuBois a friend or foe of individualism?

ASSIGNMENT DUE: Conference Reflection Paper Due
Mon. April 6 Jim Crow America

Read: DuBois: Chapters 7-9 (91-153).

Questions: What are the central problems facing blacks in the Jim Crow


What are DuBois’ proposed solutions to those problems? How do

these solutions change the relationship between the states and the national government?

Wed. April 8 Finish DuBois

Read: DuBois: Chapters 10-14 (154-216).

Questions: What is DuBois’ appraisal of the American founding and its principles? Is he fundamentally optimistic of pessimistic about the American regime?
Mon. April 13 Progressivism: A Refounding?

Read: Croly: Chapter 1 (1-26).

Questions: According to Croly, what is the promise of American life? Is this

the promise of the founders?

What stands in the way of the fulfillment of the promise?
Wed. April 15 Hamilton and Jefferson Revisited

Read: Croly: Chapters 2-3 (27-71).

Questions: How does Croly understand the thought of Jefferson and

Hamilton? What does he like about each man’s thought? What does he dislike about each?

How does he combine the thought of the two men? In his

synthesis of Jefferson and Hamilton, what must be abandoned from each? Would either Jefferson or Hamilton support Croly’s synthesis?

Fri. April 17 Catch-Up Day

ASSIGNMENT DUE: Supplementary Report Due
Mon. April 20 Active Response to the New Economy

Read: Croly: Chapter 5 (100-140).

Questions: What is Croly’s appraisal of American economic life? How does

the economy imperil the promise of America?

Wed. April 22 Progressive Reform

Read: Croly: Chapter 6 (141-154), Chapter 7 (176-214).

Questions: What is Croly’s appraisal of the Progressive movement? What are

the limitations of the existing reforms? How would Croly go further? How must the American conception of democracy change? What is the government’s role in this?

Fri. April 24 Progressive Nationalism

Read: Croly: Chapter 9 (265-288)

Questions: What is Croly’s nationalism? What is required to bring about

Croly’s national democracy? What are Croly’s goals?

What is the status of the regime’s founding principles in Croly’s

Mon. April 27 Finish Croly

Wed. April 29 The New Deal

Read: FDR’s “Commonwealth Club Address” and 1st Inaugural (supplemental


Questions: Roosevelt roots his speeches in the long history of American

political thought. How does he draw upon founding ideas, and how does he reinterpret those ideas? Why does he think a reinterpretation is necessary? Does Roosevelt’s New Deal represent continuity or discontinuity with American political thought of the 18th and 19th centuries?

Fri. May 1 Final Thoughts and Review

Mon. May 4 FINAL EXAM: FINAL EXAM 2:00-5:00pm


Share with your friends:

The database is protected by copyright © 2020
send message

    Main page