Isms in American Politics 46.310

This course surveys some of the major ideological movements and philosophical perspectives that have shaped American politics including federalism and anti-federalism, racism, abolitionism, Social Darwinism, anarchism, progressivism, individualism, socialism,  liberalism, conservatism, feminism, libertarianism, neo-liberalism, and what might be described as the “anti-governmentism” of recent decades. As we review representative historical and contemporary documents, we will consider whether the popular ideologies of previous eras continue to inform present-day political preoccupations, assumptions, and trends.

1. Federalism & Anti-Federalism

James Madison, Federalist 10 (1787).

Patrick Henry, Remarks at the Virginia Ratifying Convention (1788).

Doug Linder, "The Question of States' Rights: The Constitution and American Federalism (An Introduction)," Exploring Constitutional Conflict (2016).

Current debates: Albert R. Hunt, "States' Rights, Depending on the Issue," New York Times, June 28, 2015. Jeffrey Rosen, "States' Rights for the Left," New York Times, December 3, 2016.  "Federalism and Immigration: Will the Court Choose Federal Uniformity or States’ Rights in Immigration Law?," Center for Constitutional Accountability.  Jacob Combs, "Marriage Equality: Is It a Federal Issue or a State Issue?," Huffington Post, October 31, 2012.

2. Capitalism, Socialism, Anarchism, Libertarianism


Adam Smith, excerpts from The Wealth of Nations (1776).

Santi Tafarella, "Adam Smith and Capitalism for Beginners," Prometheus Unbound (2012).

Karl Marx, excerpts from The Communist Manifesto (1848).

British Library, Summary of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels' Communist Manifesto, Dreamers & Dissenters.

Seymour Martin Lipset, Gary Marks, "How FDR Saved Capitalism," Hoover Institution, January 30, 2001.

Luke Mastin, Political Philosophy > Anarchism, Basics of Philosophy (2008).

Peter Vallentyne,  Bas van der Vossen, "Libertarianism," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

David Boaz, "Key Concepts of Libertarianism," Cato Institute, January 1, 1999.

Current debates: Deborah Boucoyannis, "Adam Smith is not the antidote to Thomas Piketty," Washington Post, April 22, 2014.  Ross Douthat, "Repeal and Compete," New York Times, January 25, 2017.  Devon Douglas-Bowers, "The New Politics of the 21st Century: Global Resistance and Rising Anarchism," The Hampton Institute, June 25th, 2014.

3. Racism, Abolitionism, Segregationism, Desegregationism


Henry David Thoreau, "Slavery in Massachusetts" (1854), Framingham, Mapping Thoreau Country.

Dred Scott v. Sanford, 1857.

Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896 (contextual summary), The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow, PBS.

Brown v. Board of Education, 1954.

Jim Rutenberg, "A Dream Undone: Inside the Fifty-Year Campaign to Roll-Back the Voting Rights Act," New York Times, July 29, 2015.

Alicia Garza, "A HerStory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement," Black Lives Matter.


Current debates: Avidit Acharya, Matthew Blackwell, Maya Sen, "The Political Legacy of American Slavery," The Journal of Politics, volume 78, number 3 (May 2016).  Making Amends: Debate Continues Over Reparations for U.S. Slavery, Special Series, NPR (August 2001).  Ronald Brownstein, "How Brown v. Board of Education Changed—and Didn't Change—American Education,"The Atlantic," April 25, 2014.  Howard, "The Easiest Way to Get Rid of Racism? Just Redefine It," New York Times, August 16, 2016.  Lillian Knorr, "Divided Landscape: The Visual Culture of Urban Segregation," Landscape Journal, January 1, 2016.   

4. Nativism, Know-Nothingism, Anti-Immigrationism


Steven Mintz, "The Breakdown of the Party System," Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

Lorraine Boissoneault, "How the 19th-Century Know-Nothing Party Reshaped American Politics," Smithsonian Magazine, January 26, 2017.

The Immigration Act of 1924 (The Johnson-Reed Act), Office of the Historian, U.S. State Dept.

Samuel P. Huntington, "The Hispanic Challenge," Foreign Policy, October 28, 2009.

"Democrats See Immigrants as a Strength for the U.S., Republicans View Them as a Burden," Pew Research Center, April 4, 2013.

Current Debates: John Cassidy, "Donald Trump Isn't a Fascist; He's a Media-Savvy Know-Nothing," The New Yorker, December 28, 2015. Mark Delucia, "2016 Republicans: A “Know Nothing” Party for the 21st Century," Salon, July 31, 2016.  Alec MacGillis, "How Washington Blew Its Best Chance to Fix Immigration," ProPublica, September 15, 2015.

5. Individualism, Social Darwinism, Nationalism, American Exceptionalism


Steven Lukes, "Individualism," Encyclopedia Britannica (2014).

G.B. Paquette, "Social Darwinism," Encyclopedia of Western Colonialism since 1450, Thomas Benjamin, ed., Macmillan Reference USA, 2007, 1044-1046.

"American Exceptionalism," New World Encyclopedia.

Theodore Roosevelt, "The New Nationalism" (1910).

Current debates: Ross Douthat, "The Age of Individualism," New York Times, March 15, 2010.  Ben Soskis, "How Pundits are Misreading Obama’s Speech—and Teddy Roosevelt’s," New Republic, December 7, 2011.  Ron Fournier, "Obama’s New American Exceptionalism," The Atlantic, June 28, 2016.  Matthew Hutson, "Social Darwinism Isn’t Dead," Slate, January 3, 2014.

6. Populism, Authoritarianism, Progressivism


Richard Hofstadter, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," Harper's Magazine, November 1964.

Marc Horger, "American Populism and the Persistence of the Paranoid Style," Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective, vol. 4, issue 7 (April 2011).

Mark Brewer, "Populism in American Politics," Forum 14, no. 3 (October 2016). [Also discusses authoritarianism.]

"The Progressive Era," Digital History

Steve Fraser and Joshua B. Freeman, "History's Mad Hatters: The Strange Career of Tea Party Populism,"  TomDispatch, May 3, 2010.

Current debates: Michael Lind, "Trump: The Perfect Populist, Politico, March 9, 2016.  Ronald F. Inglehart and Pippa Norris, "Trump, Brexit, and the Rise of Populism: Economic Have-Nots and Cultural Backlash," HKS Working Papers, August 2016.  Jeffrey D. Sachs, "The New Progressive Movement," New York Times, November 12, 2011.  Thomas G. West and William A. Schambra, "The Progressive Movement and the Transformation of American Politics," Heritage Foundation, July 18, 2007.  Harold Meyerson, "Stillbirth of a Progressive Era," Washington Post, January 6, 2010.

7. Liberalism, Conservatism, Pluralism, McCarthyism

Political Philosophy > Liberalism, The Basics of Philosophy.

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., "Liberalism in America: A Note for Europeans" (1962).

Political Philosophy > Conservatism, The Basics of Philosophy.

Pluralism > New World Encyclopedia.

Enemies from Within”: Senator Joseph R. McCarthy’s Accusations of Disloyalty, History Matters.


Current debates: Kevin Den Dulk, "Looking at the Election Through Polarized Lenses: What Kind of Pluralists Do We Want to Be?," Comment,  September 29th, 2016.  Adam Serwer, "The Battle for Pluralism," The Atlantic, November 9, 2016.  Mark Lila, "The End of Identity Liberalism," New York Times, November 18, 2016.  Brian Beutler, "Donald Trump Confronts Conservatives With an Existential Crisis," New Republic, February 29, 2016.  Ellen Schrecker, "A Lesson on How to Survive Trumpism—From the McCarthy Era," The Nation, January 9, 2017.

8. Feminism, Multiculturalism


Susan E. Gallagher, "Gender," Encyclopedia of Privacy, edited by William G. Staples with advisory editors David J. Brown, Susan E. Gallagher, and Jill Joline Myers (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2007).

Ann Farmer, "Feminism Today: The Personal Is Still Political," Perspectives, Volume 17, Number 1, Summer 2008.

Sarah Song, "Multiculturalism," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, August 12, 2016. 

Alicia Garza, "A HerStory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement," Black Lives Matter.

Current debates: Jill Lepore, "The Woman Card: How feminism and antifeminism created Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump," The New Yorker, June 27, 2016. Molly Mirhashem, "What Young Feminists Think of Hillary Clinton," The Atlantic, May 15, 2015.  Nicholas Confessore, "For Whites Sensing Decline, Donald Trump Unleashes Words of Resistance," New York Times, July 13, 2016.  Alyecee Lane, "The Trump Campaign: a White Revolt Against ‘Neoliberal Multiculturalism,’" Counterpunch, August 24, 2016.  Michel Rosenfeld, "Equality and the Dialectic between Identity and Difference," Multiculturalism and Law: A Critical Debate, edited by Omid A. Payrow Shabani (University of Wales Press, 2006).  Mark Schmitt, "Can Identity Politics Save the Right?," American Prospect, May 23, 2008.  Brandon McGinley, "Conservatives, Check Your Privilege," Public Discourse, August 14, 2015. Walter Benn Michaels, Charles W. Mills, Linda Hirshman and Carla Murphy, "What Is the Left Without Identity Politics?," The Nation, December 16, 2016.

9. Environmentalism


Timeline of the American Environmental Movement, PBS.

Lorraine Elliot, "Environmentalism," Encyclopedia Britannica (2007).

Catherine Nash, "Environmental History, Philosophy and Difference," Journal of Historical Geography, Volume 26, Issue 1 (January 2000).

Susan E. Gallagher, "Policy Challenges," and "Political Economy," teaching and learning resources on environmental politics in the age of climate change.

Current debates: Andrew Revkin, "Prospects for the Climate, and Environmentalism, Under President Trump," New York Times, November 9, 2016.  Cally Carswell, "Trump’s First 100 Days: Environmental Policy and Public Lands," Scientific American, December 1, 2016.  Nicola Jones, "How the World Passed a Carbon Threshold and Why It Matters," Yale Environment 360, January 17, 2016.
10. Terrorism


Bruce Hoffman, "Defining Terrorism," Inside Terrorism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006).

Full text: Donald Trump's speech on fighting terrorism, Politico, August 15, 2016.

FBI, "Definitions of Terrorism in US Code."


Current debates: Jessica Stern, "Obama and Terrorism: Like It or Not, the War Goes On," Foreign Affairs, September/October 2015.  David Frum, "Why Obama Won't Talk About Islamic Terrorism," The Atlantic, February 16, 2015.  Siddhartha Mahanta, "Fighting Terrorism in the Age of Trump," The Atlantic, November 12, 2016.