2015-2016 Politics Courses
A Newly Re-Enchanted World: Beyond Secularism and Fundamentalism in 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 in which God and organized religion withdraw from the world, leaving us alone to understand nature scientifically and to create morality and meaning for ourselves. At the outset 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. Meanwhile, fundamentalism—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, multidisciplinary field of postsecular studies, which starts by acknowledging that traditional forms of religiosity often play an important role in modern societies. The course will focus on 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 re-emergence 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 cultures and societies. Finally, while charting religions’ resilience and resurgence, we will also examine their reformation and reconstruction, as the religions that persist and flourish in postsecular social worlds differ profoundly from those that dominated presecular societies. We will examine these questions from the perspectives of theology and religious studies, philosophy, sociology of religion, anthropology, history, political theory, and cultural studies. Open to all students with prior experience working with demanding theoretic texts.
Justice and Legitimacy: Readings in Contemporary Political Philosophy
This seminar examines two systematic frameworks of normative and social analysis, focusing on the issue of how to understand justice and legitimacy in contemporary social worlds. We read works by two of the most influential and systematic contemporary political theorists of our times, John Rawls and Jurgen Habermas, and by theorists who criticize or extend or blend their works. In this way, we examine—first on their own and then in comparison—the resources, implications, and limitations of different conceptions of social justice and political legitimacy, the power and limits of different ways of theorizing these key concepts, and come to grips with two of the most original and influential contemporary philosophers. We test the relevance of different approaches by examining the ways in which they either contribute to or impede social criticism. Stark differences will emerge between the two, though it remains “a dispute within the family,” as both aim to extend the grand tradition of European political philosophy into the 21st century—in part by resisting important cultural forces of their and our times (e.g., relativism and postmodernism). Issues to be discussed include: What is the content of social justice, and can it be realized in contemporary social conditions? Can democracy be realized in advanced capitalist societies; if so, what institutional and social forms does it require? Should we view the process of Western modernization as representing genuine moral and political progress or simply as replacing older with newer and more insidious forms of domination? Emphasis will be on close and sustained readings from original texts.
International Organization: The Politics of Global Governance
The most pressing issues of our time—climate change, global pandemics such as AIDS and SARS, world hunger and poverty, terrorism, refugee crises, human trafficking, global arms trade, and drug smuggling—are what former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan referred to as “problems without passports,” because they transcend national boundaries and cannot be solved by states acting unilaterally. Rather, Annan argued, such challenges require “blueprints without borders.” International organization may be the most, if not the only, appropriate forum for tackling transnational issues. This course examines international organizations per se, but its main focus is the broader concept of how the international community organizes to address collective problems. Increasingly, states choose to pool sovereignty in supranational institutions like the European Union and to cede authority in certain issue areas to intergovernmental organizations—both global, such as the United Nations, and regional, such as NATO—that then take on a life of their own. At the same time, nongovernmental actors, including nonprofit human rights organizations as well as multinational corporations, are interacting—both challenging and collaborating—with states in the international arena. What collective problems exist at the international level? What solutions are states and other actors pursuing? Why do some international organization efforts succeed and many fail? We will investigate these questions through a discussion of the international organization’s role in the areas of international migration, global justice, and responses to global health pandemics.
International Political Economy: The Rise (and Fall) of Neoliberal Hegemony
It is often said that all politics is economics. The aim of this course is to show that all economics is politics. Though economists and policymakers often present their economic policy decisions and views as neutral—based solely on abstract mathematical models, guided by the laws of nature (or the “invisible hand” of the market)—they are, in fact, driven by sometimes surprisingly transparent political ends and ideology. In this class, we will question the frequently proclaimed universality, neutrality, and inevitability of economic principles and policies through a close examination of neoliberal ideology and the ways that it limits political discourse, reforms, and development. Specifically, we will examine the economic and political origins and consequences of shock therapy in Latin America and Eastern Europe, structural adjustment policies in countries suffering from economic crisis, and austerity measures imposed by the Troika on Greece and other states in the European Union. Some of the questions that we will explore include: What is the role of international economic institutions in domestic and international affairs? How do the interactions between international and domestic institutions and actors determine the production and distribution of scarce resources? And what is the relationship between capitalism and democracy, conditional lending and democratization, and international institutions and national sovereignty?
Introduction to International Relations
"War made the state, and the state made war." —Charles Tilly
This course will take a critical approach to the study of international relations. First, we will study the main theories (e.g., realism, liberalism, constructivism, Marxism), concepts (e.g., the state, anarchy, sovereignty, balance of power, dependency, hegemony, world order), and levels of analysis (systemic, state, organizational, and individual) in the field. Then we will apply those various theoretical approaches and levels of analysis to current international conflicts and crises in order to better understand the many ongoing debates about war and peace, humanitarian interventions, international institutions, and international political economy. Some of the questions that we will explore include: Why do states go to war? Why do some humanitarian interventions succeed while others fail or simply never materialize? Why are some regions and states rich while others are poor, and how do these inequalities shape international relations? How do international organizations help to reinforce or moderate existing interstate political and economic inequalities?
Presidential Leadership and Decision Making
The president is the most prominent actor in the US 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, we will explore the relationship of the presidency to other major governmental institutions and organized interests. We will pay particular attention to a particular set of presidents—Andrew Jackson, Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin D Roosevelt, and George W. Bush—and one British prime minister, Winston Churchill. The course is open to all students but is intense in workload and prior background in American history is preferable.
This course offers a comprehensive introduction to African politics, challenging common assumptions and misunderstandings of the continent. We will investigate persistent political institutions, as well as mechanisms of political and economic change. Key questions include: How are postcolonial African states distinctive from other postcolonial states? How do the politics of patronage, prevalent in many African states and societies, affect processes of political and economic change such as democratization and the implementation of structural adjustment and poverty alleviation programs? What role have external influences, from colonialism to current forms of European and North American influence, played on the continent? What impact has China’s rising role (alongside other Asian states) had? What choices and trade-offs have Africa’s postcolonial leaders and citizens faced? This course will not investigate the experiences of all African states but will address these questions by drawing upon the experiences of a few countries: Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Somalia, and South Africa. We will begin with an in-depth analysis of the colonial experience, decolonization, and the state of affairs in the early postcolonial period. Key thematic questions will be addressed concerning the nature of the postcolonial African state; the relevance of identities along ethnic, class, religious, and gender lines; and patterns of state-society engagement. The second section will build upon the first by investigating processes of political liberalization/democratization and economic development to unearth the contradictions and promises of these processes.
Democracy and the Market
This intermediate seminar will address the question of how liberal democracy and market capitalism reinforce and contradict one another. It will also explore alternative ideals. We will begin with the seemingly timeless debate concerning modernization and consider the lessons of past successful state-led growth strategies without democracy. This brings us to the question of whether such state-led strategies, with or without democracy, are still possible in the post-Cold War era in light of the so-called Washington—and now post-Washington—consensus. To understand the challenges that individual states face, we investigate the wave of democratization that occurred from the late 1980s and the ways in which economic conditions and economic policy contributed to the pressure for change and limited possible outcomes. We will also consider the role of social movements in pressing for change and the discrepancies between what many people mobilized for and the results of regime change. This leads us to consider inequality in both the political and economic realm and the interaction between the two. Corruption forms another key challenge that is often highlighted or ignored for ideological and partisan reasons. We will approach corruption debates from a number of disciplinary perspectives to assess what is really at stake. Finally, the course will investigate a wide range of country case studies, transnational movements, and international actors (IOs, INGOs, donors) and consider both their defense of liberal ideals and the alternatives that they offer. Prior coursework in the social sciences is required.
First-Year Studies: American Ideologies and American Dreams
In 1931, historian James T. Adams wrote about the idea of the “American Dream” in his volume, Epic of America, and argued that the American dream is one where individuals and communities” ...dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement...It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.” What does it mean to be American today? How about in the past? What are the beliefs and ideas that many Americans hold about the United States and themselves? How have these ideas changed over time? How do these manifest themselves in historical and contemporary politics and discourse? We will explore these questions together and do so with the tools and concepts that come from political science. We will look at basic American politics, the problems of collective decision making, the purposes of government, the formal institutions of national government—Congress, the Supreme Court, the Presidency, and the bureaucracy—congressional and presidential elections, the role of the media, and the mobilization of citizens through political parties and interest groups. Our examination of these institutions and ideas will be interdisciplinary in nature and will present a number of the major general theories underlying the study of American government. This will give us the knowledge of the structure and operation of the institutions of the American political system and how their roles intersect, compete, and complement each other. Additionally, we will become familiar with the actors and the institutions within our federal government and those institutions affecting our federal government. From this investigation, students will gain an awareness of the role of citizens, interest groups, political parties, and politicians within the American political system. Moreover, they will better understand the role of politics and strategy in the operation and impact of the government. Taken collectively, we will develop the ability to synthesize the material from the course to develop our own opinions regarding the proper role of government in our society. We will be talking about politically charged and often divisive issues, including abortion, immigration, race relations, and homosexuality. This seminar will be an open, nonpartisan forum for discussion and debate. As such, the course will be driven by data, not dogma. We will use a variety of approaches based in logic and evidence to find answers to various puzzles about American policy and will treat this material as social scientists—not ideologues. Comfort with numbers and statistics is expected.