Democracy Versus Empire in American Politics

Fall 2023
Winter 2024
Freshman - Sophomore
Class Size: 23
14 Credits per quarter
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In this foundational lower division (Freshman and Sophomore) political science program, students will explore the longstanding tension in American political life between its system of democratic self-rule and its history as an empire that rules over other peoples. While many rightly laud the United States for its experiment in democracy, its democracy has always been intertwined with territorial expansion and overseas empire in ways that often undermine its democratic system and values. Students will study the two problems that arise when a democracy is also an empire:  empires impose their rule undemocratically over others and empires often become undemocratic in the process.  The program will expose students to foundational concepts in political science such constitutional democracy, oligarchy and dictatorship as well as the concepts of empire, colonialism and neocolonialism.  Students will then study different periods of American history when its democratic institutions and values were challenged by its emergence as an empire including the 19th century conquest of the indigenous peoples of North America, the enslavement of Africans and the continuing challenge of full equality for all its citizens and the overseas military interventions in the Middle East after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, which curtailed many democratic rights and liberties at home.  Students will also study a number of policies and reforms that seek to overcome the limits to democratic freedoms and rights produced by its history as an empire both externally and internally.  Students will read a variety of books, including How to Hide an Empire by Daniel Immerwahr, The Two Faces of American Freedom by Aziz Rana and The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones and The Dark Side: How the War on Terror Became a War on American Ideals by Jane Mayer. They will write several research papers and shorter essays and engage in group projects and presentations to complete their learning.


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