American Government

This introductory-level course aims to foster a critical sense for analyzing some of the most pressing issues in contemporary American politics. To that end, we will explore the historical and theoretical foundations of the American system of government as well as its major political institutions. The distinction between procedural versus substantive democracy will serve as an overarching theme for the entire semester, framing our discussions. We will consider the democratic virtues and practical limitations of American politics, its lofty ideals as well as its profound inequality. By assessing the distribution of power in American society, we will attempt to comprehend the myriad forces—including race, gender, and social class—that determine, in part, the material conditions of our existence and frame the range of political action available to us as citizens of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy.

Required Text

  • Ira Katznelson, Mark Kesselman, and Alan Draper, The Politics of Power: A Critical Introduction to American Government, 7th edition (New York: W.W. Norton, 2013).

Course Plan

Week I: Introduction

Week 2: Theoretical Foundations

Week 3: Democracy’s Challenge

Week 4: Capitalism & Democracy

Week 5: American Political Economy

Week 6: Political Parties, Elections & Public Opinion

Week 7: The Mass Media

Week 8: Interest Groups & Social Movements

Week 9: The Presidency

Week 10: Congress

Week 11: The Courts

Week 12: Economic Policy

Week 13: Social Policy

Week 14: Foreign Policy