Political Science | American Political Ideas 2
Y384 | 3470 | Hanson

Americans have distinctive ideas about liberty, equality, popular
sovereignty, and the limited role of government (even a democratic
one) in socioeconomic affairs. These ideas set us apart from other
peoples, who have very different ideas about politics. Yet it is also
true that Americans disagree amongst themselves about the exact
meaning of the ideas we share. In this course we will discover the
origin of these disagreements, trace their evolution in time, and
witness their expression in contemporary political discourse. We will
also speculate on the future of these ideological differences in
American politics. Along the way we will read selected Federalist and
Antifederalist Papers, Henry David Thoreau, the slavery debates, and
selections from 20th century writers who address issues of race,
gender, and class in American politics.
In the course of our readings, students will encounter a variety of
political ideas, including reactionary, conservative, moderate,
liberal and radical thinking. At times, the experience may be
uncomfortable; everyone is bound to be offended by one or more of
these strains of political thought. Not everyone will be offended by
the same ideas, however, and that in itself should prove instructive.
We must also recognize that each way of thinking has deep roots in
American culture. This knowledge is the first step in understanding
cultural pluralism and grasping both its political dangers and
It seems especially important to be clear about pluralism and its
implications now, as we contemplate a society divided along lines of
class, race and gender. In other countries these divisions are
causing the dismemberment of polities by independence movements. We
should not assume that our own nation is immune to these pressures,
but neither should we underestimate the resilience of our
constitutional framework. Both points will be appreciated by students
who complete POL Y384; they will have a better idea of how far the
Constitution will take us, and where it cannot go.