Political Science 206: American Values, Culture and Institutions

What is the purpose of American democracy? Is it to protect natural rights? Encourage individuality? Promote civic virtue? Protect natural resources for future generations? Secure private property?

This AVI-sponsored course explores the meaning and significance of the American founding. Political Science 206 is unique is that it does not focus exclusively on either political ideas or political institutions, but rather examines the relationship between ideas and institutions.

We begin by examining different ideologies—liberalism, republicanism and puritanism—that shaped colonial America. Then we study the framing of the Constitution, reflecting on how both 18th century Americans and contemporary scholars have interpreted America’s founding document. The second half of the course examines how the ideas and institutions associated with the Constitution shaped, and were shaped by the emergence of the two party system, the ongoing conflict about chattel slavery that eventually resulted in the Civil War, and the early development of American capitalism.  

The course concludes with group presentations in which students play the role of different course thinkers.  For many students, the presentations are the highlight of the semester.

This course is offered every year, usually in the spring.

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