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Spring 2025 Course

American Democracy

Prerequisites: None

Exam Type: No Exam; Paper in lieu of examination

This course has two aims: to work toward a reinterpretation of the American experience and to explore a direction for the reshaping of the economic, political, and cultural institutions of the United States. In the first part of the course, we seek to identify the salvageable residue in the idea of American exceptionalism, the thesis that the United States is radically different from every other society. We ask what is really special about the United States and what it has in common with other major countries in the period of its independent life. In the second part of the course, we consider the limitations of change, as well as the opportunities for transformation, revealed by the crisis of the 1930s and by what has happened in the U.S. since then. In the third part of the course, we reconsider this past through the lens of the lives and ideas of a few American political, economic, and spiritual leaders. In the fourth part of the course, we discuss the future of the American project and the institutional innovations on which the deepening of American democracy depends.

A premise of the course is that our established ideas, ideals, and methods have failed to provide Americans alive now with an image of what the United States can and should next become.

Note: This course is cross-listed with FAS as English 172ad and HDS.