Jasper Johns, Three Flags, 1958

The American Political Tradition: Parties, Policies, and People

The Studio
172 Mulberry Street
New York, NY 10013

Despite the outsize global media attention paid to American politics and elections in particular, the unique characteristics of American government and political culture remain something of a footnote within political theory and philosophy. Apart from the work of liberal theorist John Rawls and an occasional reference to The Federalist Papers, American political thought is generally neglected or treated as a mere extension of its European cousins. Yet, from the American inauguration of the great “Age of Revolution” to the near-unprecedented position of the United States as the most dominant economic and military power today, the specifics of American politics deserve a much closer examination.

In this class, students will review a wide array of primary and secondary sources on American political life, from founding documents and historical surveys to sociological studies on topics including political identification, realignment, economics, race, and institutional structures. Students will begin with the revolutionary pamphlets of Thomas Paine and other early American letters, and continue with primary source readings through the shockingly candid defense of democratic kleptocracy (rule by graft) and party politics in Plunkitt of Tammany Hall. We will also explore secondary readings ranging from essays by W.E.B. Du Bois, and Richard Hofstadter’s pessimistic classic, The American Political Tradition, to E.E. Schattschneider’s The Semisovereign People, a probing critique and analysis of the structures of the American political system, its parties, and the fundamental role that elite actors play in it. Throughout the course, we will examine how and why American politics functions in all its particularities – from our federalized structures to our presidential system to our party politics to our plurality voting system – and to what end.

Course Schedule

Monday, 6:30 - 9:30PM
October 17 — August 08, 2016
4 sessions over 5 weeks
Class will not meet on October 31st, 2016.