Honors | Introduction to American Politics
Y103 | 3392 | Barbour, C.


It has become fashionable in the 1990's to look down on politicians and
government, to be cynical about the process and products of politics, and
to see the entire unsavory tangle of actors and actions as irrelevant to
the important business of everyday life. Unfortunately, popular
disillusionment does not make politics, evil or otherwise, disappear. If
politics is a fact of our lives, then we need to know how to make it work.
Politics is the process through which people try to organize their lives
collectively, to create order so that, within reasonable parameters, we
can live our daily lives without crashing into each other every time our
desires, our wills, or our opinions conflict. In present day America, we
rely on our constitution to provide the basic foundation of order, but
that document provides us in turn with the freedom to disagree on
everything from how to live our private lives, to how much tax businesses
ought to pay.

In this course we seek to demystify the American Political process.
Political science, like biology, geology, or chemistry, attempts to arrive
at a rigorous understanding of the world it studies. In that sense, you
can expect this course to be as difficult as any other science course you
have taken. But, unlike in biology, geology, etc., in political science we
are the subjects we are studying. We have the unique opportunity to know
just how the phenomenon we are examining under our microscope feels about
being examined. In some ways it makes it more difficult. If you took a
high school civics class, you probably examined the American political
process primarily from the perspective of the citizen under the
microscope-what does it mean to be a citizen-what are your right,
responsibilities, and opportunities for action? In this course such a
perspective is important, but we go beyond it, inviting you to share the
view of the researcher looking into the microscope. What makes citizens
tick? How do they make decisions? How do people organize themselves and
their lives, and what happens if they disagree about such fundamental
issues? Do people make rational decisions when they vote? What does it
mean to be rational? Does the democratic process "work"? These are the
kinds of questions political scientists ask about their subjects, and the
answers are not always what we, the subjects, might guess.

Grades will be based on four quizzes, two short (2-3 pages) papers,
participation in the discussion section and a final exam. Students must be
able to take exams on four Wednesday evenings to be announced. Optional
films to be shown on Wednesday evenings.