Honors | Introduction to American Politics
Y103 | 3429 | Barbour
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 icroscope-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.