Introduction to American Political Thought


James Baldwin claimed that “American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.” In this course, we will seek to understand the rich complexity of American political history by looking at the equally rich traditions that have attempted to provide intellectual representations of it. What are the major intellectual traditions that have shaped American political thought from the early colonial days to our contemporary age? In pursuit of this inquiry, we will be reading texts falling under a great variety of genres: from systematic treatises to pamphlets, declarations, letters, court decisions, speeches, lectures, novels and even a poem. Though they may belong to different discursive modes, all of these texts speak, in one way or another, to such prominently ethical-political topics as freedom, property, equality, self-ownership, solidarity, independence, civic rights and duties, education, democracy, citizenship, individualism, and many more. A major objective of this class will be to foster the ability of students to pay critical attention to both the contextual particularities of United States’ political history and their conceptual representation in political theory. In addition, the class will also aim to help students develop the ability to evaluate the meaning and significance of the contributions of American political thought to the history of Western political theory.  

Intro to American Thought flyer
Basic elements of the American political tradition examined through a critical analysis of the ethical and political issues and controversies that developed from its historical English roots to the present day.
Intro to American Thought flyer
Curriculum Codes
  • EI
  • SS
Typically Offered
Fall Only