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American Politics: From the New Deal to Neoliberalism

Instructor: Jude Webre
Colors NYC
178 Stanton Street
New York, NY 10002

How did the United States transform from a modern welfare state and – according to many commentators – one of the only successful social democracies at the outset of WWII to the dramatically rearranged neoliberal society of today? The New Deal is often remembered as the golden age for progressive politics in America. In the mid-1930s, with business conservatism discredited because of the Depression, political figures across the ideological spectrum – from communism to social democracy to populism – vied to redefine and transform American capitalism in what many considered to be a revolutionary moment. A tenuous left-liberal coalition formed around Franklin D. Roosevelt and served as the basis for a broadly Keynesian consensus on political economy. This “consensus,” however, represented a volatile compromise between political aspirations on the left and right and was eventually undermined by the neoliberal revolution of the 1970s. What is neoliberalism and why did it come to dominate American life? Is American politics in the Trump era going through a transformation, a continuation, or both from the politics that came before?

In this course, we will focus on transformation over three key eras. First, we will study the formation of the New Deal in the 1930s: its concrete institutions and the alternatives it foreclosed as well as the welfare/warfare state built during WWII with the privileges of citizenship that it conferred and curtailed along racial and other lines. Next we will look at the challenges raised to the New Deal order during the 1960s and ’70s from both rights-based movements on the left and new conservatism on the right. Finally, we will look at the neoliberal transformation of the United States that – while carrying over crucial aspects of these earlier eras – represents a fundamental paradigm shift to a new Washington consensus that supplanted both rights-based struggles of the past and the New Deal architecture itself. What forces have led to our current “age of fracture” as one historian has termed it? Did the New Deal order contribute to the rise of neoliberalism even as it was decisively undermined by it? Discussions will focus on political economy and ideology, with particular emphasis on the importance of race, labor, and citizenship in the movement for economic equality. Readings will be drawn from contemporary work on economics and politics such as Ira Katznelson’s Fear Itself, Richard Hofstadter’s American Political Tradition, Judith Stein’s Pivotal Decade and Philip Mirowski’s Never Let a Serious Crisis Go To Waste as well as essays and speeches by key intellectuals and political figures in the era, including Roosevelt, Huey Long, Sidney Hook, W.E.B. Du Bois, C. Wright Mills, Alice Paul, Lyndon B. Johnson, Milton Friedman, Ronald Reagan, Jesse Jackson, Francis Fukuyama, and Barack Obama.

Course Schedule

Wednesday, 6:30-9:30pm
June 07 — June 28, 2017
4 weeks


Registration Open

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