2013-2014 Politics Courses
First-Year Studies: Africa in the International System
Investigations of the politics, economics, and societies of sub-Saharan Africa often, unfortunately, present African states and their populations in isolation from the international system. This course investigates the politics of African states and their populations as part of world politics from colonialism to formal democracy in order to explore the myriad connections between advanced industrial states such as the United States and geographically distant and economically less-developed African states. We will engage in a rigorous examination of the politics and economics of colonial and postcolonial rule and then move to a focus on the genesis and impact of recent economic and political transitions. Key questions include: How are postcolonial African states distinctive from other postcolonial states? In what ways are postcolonial states linked to their former colonizers? How do ethnicity, class, and gender identities play into contemporary politics? What role have Western states played in the presence or absence of democracy in African states? How do the politics of patronage affect processes of political and economic change? What impact have international financial institutions played in aggravating or alleviating conditions of poverty? What choices and trade-offs do Africa’s postcolonial leaders and citizens face, and what role do African states and their citizens play in the international community? This course will not investigate the experiences of all African countries but will address these questions by drawing upon the experiences of a number of states, including: Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, Zaire/Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and South Africa. We will draw upon a variety of methodological and disciplinary approaches to gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of contemporary African politics as they are embedded in and affect international politics.
The Legitimacy of Modernity? Basic Texts in Social Theory
Social theory is a distinctly modern tradition of discourse, centered on explaining social order in societies that are too large, fluid, and complex to rely on tradition or self-conscious political regulation alone. Instead, a series of theorists whose works gave rise to the modern social sciences explore the sources of social order in structures, many of which work “behind the backs” or independently from the intention of those whose interaction they integrate. The market economy, the legal and administrative state, the firm and the professions, highly differentiated political and civil cultures, a variety of disciplinary techniques inscribed in diverse mundane practices—one by one, these theorists labored to unmask the often hidden sources of social order. Moreover, this understanding of social order has evolved side-by-side with evaluations ranging from those that view Western modernity as achieving the apex of human freedom and individuality to those that see it as insinuating a uniquely thorough and invidious system of domination. This class will introduce many of the foundational texts and authors in the social sciences, including Adam Smith, Alexis de Tocqueville, Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, Sigmund Freud, Michel Foucault, Jurgen Habermas, and Frantz Fanon. In this way, it will also cover various schools of social explanation, including: Marxism, structuralism, poststructuralism, postcolonial studies, and feminism. The thread connecting these disparate authors and approaches will be the issue of the worth or legitimacy of Western modernity. Which of the institutions that structured the process of modernization are worth defending or reforming? Which should be rejected outright? Or should we reject them all and embrace a new, postmodern social epoch? In answering these questions in class and in group conferences, we will grapple both with classical texts and with the implications of different approaches for contemporary social analysis.
Reagan, Thatcher, and the Politics of the ’80s
With the events and personalities of the 1980s now well over two decades in the past, political scientists and historians have begun to critically and systematically examine the leaders, the institutions, and the political culture and events of the era. This course will explore the sociopolitical state of the United States and Britain and the state of international relations and diplomacy from 1979 to 1992. While impossible to summarize, the 1980s were an era of immense political change and inflection with the end of the Cold War and the rise of free-market thinking; the political sphere was dominated by the ideas of President Ronald Reagan and Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Culturally, the music scene was transformed by punk and the birth of hip-hop; and everyday lives of those in the West were radically altered by a host of technological developments—from the Sony Walkman and the ATM to the appearance of MTV and the first personal computers. In the United States, the decade opened with an enormous anti-nuclear protest in New York’s Central Park and closed with mass demonstrations against the government’s slow response to the AIDS crisis. This course will investigate these social and economic trends as they relate to political culture in both the United States and Britain. We will also explore how the 1980s ushered in a new era of conservative politics and postmodern ideas, which created a complex and increasingly material world. We will examine the personal and domestic lives of President Reagan and Prime Minster Thatcher and then look into their unique working relationship on the global stage, as well as probe into their domestic stateside matters. For instance, we will look at President Reagan’s bipartisan work to fundamentally change the tax structure in the United States and examine how he managed unions and the air traffic control strike that changed the way Americans perceive unions. We will also look at Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill and attempt to make sense of O’Neill as both a foil and a domestic leader at the time. Finally, we will consider the global political milieu in which Reagan and Thatcher operated and look at the Cold War and the struggles that they both faced to bring democracy to the globe.
A Newly Re-Enchanted World: Secularism, Religion, and the Limits of Modern Society
For the last 300 years, many of the world’s most enlightened thinkers have predicted the beginning of humanity’s first ‘disenchanted’ epoch: a world from which God and organized religion withdrew, leaving us alone to understand nature scientifically and to create meaning for ourselves. At the dawn of the 21st century, we witness a rather different reality: a major religious resurgence in societies throughout the world. Internationally, religion has replaced ideology as the most important axis of conflict. At home, controversies between religion and science roil our politics, with even some secular critics claiming that “scienticism” is its own kind of fundamentalism. Meanwhile, fundamentalism proper—forms of faith that deny that sacred texts are always subject to human interpretation—is proving to be among the most popular and dynamic sources of religious faith. This course tackles issues emerging in the new field of postsecular studies, which starts by acknowledging that traditional forms of religiosity often play an important role in the civil life of advanced modern societies. The course will focus on the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and modern and contemporary issues, especially: (1) the persistence of religion as a main source of practical belief (especially in “secular” societies); (2) religion’s reemergence as a major axis of international and cross-cultural conflict (specifically the clash between Judeo-Christian and Islamic faiths); and (3) “secularism and its discontents” within modern, Western liberal societies. The course will focus on the following questions: On the one hand, are religious worldviews and rituals unrivalled in the ability to create a sense of meaning, purpose, and belonging in the world? If so, where does religion’s unique power come from, and what are the obstacles to transferring it onto secular culture and philosophies? On the other hand, taking into account postsecular insights, can we still salvage the “secular” project of taming fundamentalist political theologies and the messianic zeal and disastrous certitudes that they can generate? Is it possible for persons who subscribe to different religions or hold widely varying attitudes (from the deeply religious to the aggressively secular) to nevertheless understand one another, engage in meaningful political and ethical discourse, reach some basic understanding about how to live together, and embrace tolerance and the idea of a nonsectarian state? To address these questions, we will read about religion, including theological and philosophical texts, and then turn to works that consider the persistence of religion and its social and political implications from the perspectives of the sociology of religion, political theory, and cultural studies.
Democracy and Diversity
Does democracy work only in homogeneous societies that overcome by assimilating sources of difference and diversity? Only in this way, it has long been maintained, can a people be sufficiently similar to form shared political understandings and projects. Absent commonality, democracy deteriorates into the tyranny of the majority or a war of all against all. But we are at the far end of a dramatic shift in democratic politics: Democratic societies are increasingly multicultural and diverse, while citizens in democratic societies are less willing to “forget” their ethnic, religious, gender, sexual, cultural, racial, and other differences in order to integrate into a dominant national culture. These developments raise some basic questions. Is it possible to achieve sufficient agreement on fundamental political issues in a deeply diverse society? Can the character of political community or the nation be reconceived and reformed? If not, is democracy doomed? Or might it be possible to reform democracy to render it compatible with conditions of diversity? If so, does the democratic claim to legitimacy also need to be transformed? This course will explore these questions in a number of ways. We will study exemplary historical statements of the ideal of democracy to get our bearings from conceptions developed without attention to deep and abiding differences. We examine the nature of social and cultural diversity, looking at several dimensions that tend to cut across one another in contemporary politics: religion, value, class, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, and culture. In addressing these issues, we draw on methodologies and disciplines ranging from sociology and anthropology to ethnic studies and philosophy. We then bring these themes together by surveying a number of recent attempts to (re)articulate the relevance of specific identities to political engagement and the general ideal of democracy in light of experiences with increased diversity. Here the disciplinary focus is on reading sustained selections from recent works in political philosophy, while the substantive focus is on issues of race and culture.
The Politics of Global Austerity
Since the 1980s, it has become increasingly common among economists and policymakers to present austerity policies as the only way to bring economies out of recession and maintain economic growth and prosperity. Policies of austerity have been enthusiastically praised as a panacea for economic development and stability or grudgingly accepted as a necessary evil. “Softer” alternatives are dismissed as Utopian, unrealistic, and foolish. What explains austerity’s hegemonic status as a solution to all economic problems? What impact do the austerity principles have on state and popular sovereignty and on economic international and intranational inequality? In this class, we will trace the intellectual history of austerity. We will then examine the role that international organizations such as the IMF and World Bank play in promoting and enforcing the principles of austerity. We will also examine the effect that the age of austerity has had on the welfare state and the “race to the bottom.” Finally, we will look at a global backlash against austerity and ask: what's next?
International Relations: Conflict and Cooperation in Global Politics
Kenneth Waltz famously wrote, “Wars occur because there is nothing to prevent them.” Is this true? If so, what is to blame? Is it human nature or the anarchical structure of the international system that leads to conflict, and how are today’s conflicts different from those of the past? Is world peace possible? We will investigate these questions, analyzing contemporary international politics through various theoretical lenses. In an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world, international peace and security are not only military concerns but also economic, human rights, and environmental protection issues. Is the United States, with its superior military, the world’s most powerful state? Or is it China, due to its growing economy? On what basis and through what mechanisms do nongovernmental organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and Greenpeace, and transnational social movements for women’s and indigenous people’s rights challenge states’ sovereignty and influence their actions? Beginning with an examination of the historical development of the modern international system, we will explore different theories and approaches to the study of international relations and discuss sources and uses of power in the global arena. Applying the various theoretical perspectives, we will investigate the evolving nature of violence, including terrorism, that spills across borders, the growing gap between the world’s rich and poor, the role of international law in global politics, and the ethics of humanitarian intervention.
Presidential Leadership and Decision Making: Lincoln, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Obama
The president is the most prominent actor in the American government, and developing an understanding of how and why political leaders make the choices that they do is the goal of this course. Presidents must make countless decisions while in office and, as Edwards and Wayne explain, “Executive officials look to [the presidency] for direction, coordination, and general guidance in the implementation of policy…Congress looks to it for establishing priorities, exerting influence…the heads of foreign governments look to it for articulating positions, conducting diplomacy, and flexing muscle; the general public looks to it for…solving problems and exercising symbolic and moral leadership….” This course will examine and analyze the development and modern practice of presidential leadership in the United States by studying the evolution of the modern presidency, which includes the process of presidential selection and the structure of the presidency as an institution. The course will then reflect on the ways in which presidents make decisions and seek to shape foreign, economic, and domestic policy. This will be based on a variety of literatures, ranging from social psychology to organizational behavior. We will look at the psychology and character of presidents in this section of the course. Finally, the course will explore the relationship of the presidency to other major government institutions and organized interests. We will pay particular attention to a particular set of presidents: Lincoln, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Obama. Prior course work in American politics and history is required.
Democratization and Inequality
The last three decades have seen significant growth in the number of democracies around the world. As more countries become democratic, increasing numbers of citizens are formally endowed with political equality. US presidents from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush and Barack Obama have praised the advance of democracy as a key factor in promoting peace both between and within states. This course will investigate and compare processes of democratization from Europe to Latin America and parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. We will explore individual cases of democratization to consider the influence of domestic, as well as foreign, actors and political, as well as economic, conditions. Key questions include: To what extent do similar processes bring about democratic transitions in different regions and moments in time? What role have various forms of violence played in transitions to democracy? We will also explore the domestic and transnational effects of the growing number of new democracies. What impact does a transition to democracy have upon the political influence of ordinary citizens, upon the openness of government institutions, and upon the processes of rule? In what ways does political equality empower citizens? Do transitions to democracy bring about fundamental policy shifts to better meet the needs of the majority? Do citizens of new democracies perceive their democratic government as the best possible regime? Throughout this course, students will investigate the relationship between democracy and different forms of inequality.
The Philosophy and Politics of (In)Equality
Visiting America in the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville famously observed a deep, historically unprecedented form of social equality—one in which every person assumed they could occupy any station or position of privilege. Over the last 30 years, we have witnessed a movement in the opposite direction: a phenomenal reversal of the “great compression” of income inequality produced by the New Deal political economy. In its place, a rapid and profound growth in social inequality in America and other “up or out” societies accompanied by striking declines in social mobility. One aim of this course is to examine the social and political forces that have produced this remarkable and accelerating growth in disparities of social fate. The focus, however, will not be on proximate factors responsible for recent trends but on the social theory of inequality; i.e., attempts to understand how deeply stratified forms of social order work and what forces and practices stabilize and legitimate the transmission of deep inequalities over time. Topics to be covered here include class, race, status, gender, and professional stratification, while methodological perspectives will vary from sociology and economics to history, psychology, and public health. A further striking feature of the political present is the near total absence of effective political or social movements dedicated to redressing extreme concentrations of wealth, shrinking opportunities for social mobility, and the increasing economic vulnerability of the vast majority of Americans. In exploring this issue, we will shift attention to political philosophy and, specifically, the subject of distributive justice. We will search for standards of critique of contemporary inequality, standards that might serve social movements or political parties that aimed for a return to a less unequal social world.
Making Parties and Policy in a Polarized Era
Despite frequent pleas from President Obama for national social and political unity and the rise of groups like “No Labels,” the seemingly never-ending sociopolitical polarization appears to be the new norm in American political life. To many politicians, pundits, and people alike, the social and political scene in the United States in the 21st century appears to be one of turmoil, disagreement, division, and instability. We regularly hear about a polarized and deadlocked political class; we read about increasing class and religious differences—from the alleged divides between Wall Street and Main Street to those who are secular and those who are religious; and we often see disturbing images from the so-called “Tea Party” rallies and Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. This seminar will explore the puzzle of how to move on from this divided state. While the course will briefly examine the veracity of these recent impressions of the American sociopolitical scene, we will center our course on the question: Is policymaking forever deadlocked, or can real political progress be made? Moreover, what are the social and policy implications of polarization? How does President Obama govern in this political epoch, and are the political parties representing the will of the people? What about the 2014 elections? What are we to make of the frequent calls for change and for healing America’s divisions? This seminar seeks to examine these questions and deeper aspects of American political culture today. After reviewing some basics of the political economy, we will study American political cultures from a variety of vantage points; and a number of different stories will emerge. We will cover a lot of ground—from America’s founding to today. We will look at numerous aspects of American social and political life—from examining the masses, political elites, Congress, and policymaking communities to social movements, the media, and America’s position in a global community—all with a focus on policy and moving the country forward. This course will be driven by data, not dogma. We will use modern political economy approaches based in logic and evidence to find answers to contemporary public policy problems and questions of polarization. We will treat this material as social scientists—not as ideologues. Prior course work in American history and the social sciences is required.