This Area of Concentration focuses on the interplay among political institutions and the challenges of democratic governance and leadership from applied, comparative, theoretical, and political developmental perspectives.

Area of Concentration Courses

A minimum of four courses are required to earn this Area of Concentration within the MA in Government program.

This course offers an overview of power and politics through the study of the government of the United States. All governments combine coercion and legitimacy. In a stable and legitimate system of government, coercion is hardly noticed. Government comes to be seen as a source of benefits. The purpose of the course is to look behind institutions, practices, and benefits to appreciate how, for what, and for whom we are governed. We shall examine some of the major institutions of American government, some of America's political processes, and some of the key forces competing for power in the U.S. to see how decisions in the areas of economic, social and foreign policy are reached. This is a core course of the Government Program but is open to all students.

Americans traditionally have viewed the courts as—in the words of a constitutional scholar—"the least dangerous branch of government." They are seen as reflectors, not agents, of change. But in an age of government downsizing, the role of the courts bears renewed examination. Students explore the historical and philosophical roots for the notion that American courts, and whether the lawyers who appear before them, can and should make law and policy, and the alternatives to this function. Students consider prominent areas of public policy that have been shaped by the courts, such as civil rights, family and domestic law, environmental and safety regulation, and the regulation of business and commerce. This course counts towards the Legal Studies Concentration.

This course examines the role of race and ethnicity in U.S. national politics focusing on political development, political behavior, and public policy. Treated as both a persistent “dilemma” and as central to U.S. national identity, race and representation questions have been pivotal in American political development from the Founding to the present. Tracing that development over time, this course focuses, too, on how race-based differences manifest in differences in voting, public opinion, and other behavioral aspects of politics as well as the ways that racial attitudes have been embedded in public policies and reinforced by their implementation.

The political scientist James McGregor Burns said “one of the most universal cravings of our time is a hunger for compelling and creative leadership.” Today, the craving for sound leadership is felt even more keenly than before, but examples of excellence in leadership are scarce. With both populism and authoritarianism on the rise globally and polarization at high levels domestically, it has become especially urgent to understand what true democratic leadership entails – both its power and its limits. This course will expose students to leadership models in America, starting with the founders and the conditions they set for future democratic leaders. In addition to examples of political leadership, students will study leadership in the area of social reform. Students will assess these models through primary readings, biographies, lectures, and film depictions. The course will help students to identify which models of creative leadership may be helpful in addressing current problems of contemporary politics

Much of international politics in the last century can be described as a conflict between liberal democracy and its modern critics. During this period the values and political structures of liberal democracy have been extended to more parts of the world than ever before. Yet the same era also saw the emergence of powerful challengers to liberal democracy from both the right and the left. The resulting clash of ideologies defined such conflicts as World War II and the Cold War. In this course we will survey the intellectual roots of Fascism, National Socialism, and Communism. We will also examine the question of Islam and democracy looking at both its proponents and its radical critics in the Islamic world. Among those whose writings we will examine are Karl Marx, V.I. Lenin, Benito Mussolini, Carl Schmitt, Charles Maurras, Syed Qutb, Ali Shariati, Muktedar Khan, and Ruhollah Khomeini. This course counts towards the Security Studies concentration.

The separation of powers is America’s most profound and useful political contribution to the world. Studying its principles, development, and decay is a requirement for understanding American politics and is as well a potential benefit to students of aspiring democracies throughout the world. For the separation of powers enables self-government, putting democratic principles of equality and liberty into practice while moderating the powers of majorities. We will study the principles and practice of the separation of powers by examining how each elected branch of government protects its rights, while checking the rights of others. The separation of powers can be said to have produced a more just and moderate democratic form of government, but it has also occasioned the complaint that it has produced gridlock and incompetence. To investigate the strengths and drawbacks of the separation of powers, we will pay close attention to the classic texts advocating the separation of powers, such as The Federalist Papers; the great changes in American politics effected by the Civil War, the Progressive movement, and the New Deal; and the domestic and foreign policy debates in recent administrations. Special attention will be paid to the seminal opinions of the unelected branch of American government, the Supreme Court. The course will note in particular the contemporary challenges to the separation of powers, evidenced in the rise of the administrative state, the expanding powers of courts, and the growth of party government. We will also note instances of how parliamentary and presidential governments throughout the world might benefit from separation of powers principles.

Corruption is ubiquitous. It is a universal phenomenon that has always been around and that can be found almost anywhere. Recent years have seen much focus on the relationship between it and democratic governance. Indeed corruption and politics more generally, are inextricably and universally entwined. In this seminar we will take an in-depth look at the relationship between the two. We will ask: What is Corruption? Is it always the same thing everywhere, or does it vary depending on context or place? Do pork barrel politics and political clientelism count as corruption? What are the implications of corruption? Is it necessarily always a bad thing or can it be beneficial? Is the corruption experienced in developed countries qualitatively different from that in developing ones such that democracy suffers more in developing countries? We will seek to answer these and other questions by taking a critical look at the politics of corruption. We will look at the origins, extent, character and significance of corruption from both a developed and developing country perspective. We will cover various theories relating to corruption as well as look at a number of empirical cases.

This course considers the evolution of the presidency from its creation by the founders who had “their fingers crossed” while contemplating an executive agent for the emerging government, to its contemporary massive presence in our political system. The class also examines the interactions of the president with the other branches of government—Congress and the Courts—as well as the dynamics and management challenges presented within the executive branch itself. The course focuses on the leadership attributes of effective presidents, as well as aspects of personality or “character” that influence presidential performance. Finally the class focuses on the power and influence exerted by the presidency in domestic public policy and in foreign affairs. Students will be encouraged to develop their own ideas of what makes a great president ion the 21st century.

The relationship between religion and politics in the American context is one of peculiar complexity in the American context. This course has 3 main objectives: 1) to examine in general terms the role of religion in American public and political life as reflected in the debates concerning the use of religious symbolism and discourse in the public sphere; 2) to analyze how religiously informed moral argument has helped to shape public debate on key issues of public policy including the issues of civil rights, abortion, war and peace, and economic policy; and 3) to provide the necessary historical and philosophical context to help understand the present day intersection of religion and politics, and to see how previous generations of Americans approached similar problems.

This course explores the political struggles that emerge from the U.S. constitutional system. During the course, we will read contemporary and classic cases in U.S. constitutional law in light of constitutional and political theory. Course discussions will focus on the law as well as the related policy, political, and societal implications of constitutional interpretation. Through paying particular attention to recent decisions and issues before the Court, the course will explore the roles and powers of the branches of federal government, separation of powers, federalism, and the commerce clause. It will also cover individual rights, due process, equal protection, and religious freedoms.

This course examines the process of drafting legislation and the consequences of legislative language in the implementation and adjudication of federal policies. Focusing on the various stages of the legislative process, this course considers the expert and political sources of the legislative language in the U.S. Congress and the importance of language in coalition-building for policy passage. Examining the interactions of Congress with the other branches of government, the course also considers how presidents, the executive branch, and the judiciary interpret statutory language.

Bridging the divide between political science theories of policymaking and the actual workings of the policy process in the institutions of national government, this course examines the individual contributions of each of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government as well as the interactions and struggles between those branches. How do these various institutions set the policy agenda, develop and deliberate policy alternatives, make authoritative policy decisions, and implement those decisions? In what ways are the interactions between these institutions best considered conflict or cooperation? Also, how do outside actors and institutions -- the media, interest groups, public opinion, parties and campaigns -- affect policymaking in these various institutional settings? Drawing on the Constitutional design and historical development of these institutions as well as contemporary practice, this course examines the purposes, processes, and outcomes of policymaking from an institutional perspective.

This course uses the comparative method to look at the varieties of democracies that exist today. In the course, we will ask what is democracy, how do we measure it, and how does it vary across space and time? We will look at how democracy manifests in different constitutional forms e.g. parliamentary versus presidential. We will examine how different electoral and party systems influence variation in outcome within the set of democracies, and how social cleavages interact with, and are molded by, these systems. Further, we will use the answers to these questions to explore the issue of democratic consolidation and to ask why some countries become and stay democratic, while others do not. Case studies will be drawn from Europe, Latin America and Asia.

This course will seek to give students a deeper understanding of where the idea of American exceptionalism comes from and what its implications are for America, both domestically and abroad. Students will gain this understanding from reading classic works in the area that trace America’s political development, starting with its Puritan heritage. Early American works will be studied from this period, along with Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. Seminal works of modern political science scholarship on this question will also be assigned, including works from Seymour Martin Lipset, Louis Hartz, Daniel Boorstin, and others. The course will then extrapolate from these historic roots to contemporary issues of America’s foreign policy and rationale for its foreign interventions. The course will conclude with questions of America’s standing in the world, which has in recent years, declined and seek to understand why this is so and what it means for the future understanding of American exceptionalism.

Congress is the First Branch, “the People’s Branch,” and one of the most powerful legislatures the world has ever known. At this moment in history, however, the people do not assess the institution favorably and political scientists and pundits have declared it the “broken branch.” Is Congress “broken” or merely reflective of our political times? In an era of “unorthodox lawmaking” is a return to “regular order” and “textbook lawmaking” realistic or a fantasy? This course will discuss these questions in the context of the evolving nature of Congress as an institution. The class will examine the institutional development of Congress and explore changes in its representative and legislative functions, as well as constitutional responsibility of holding the “power of the purse.” Congress remains a dynamic institution and it behooves citizens to understand its complexity and centrality to governance in the U.S.

This course examines domestic terrorism in the homeland with an emphasis on white nationalist movements and anarchist-related groups such as Antifa. We will analyze ways these groups advance their political, ideological, and social agendas through violence and criminal activity in violation of both federal and state laws. Students will also be exposed to other domestic terrorism groups such as eco-terrorists, animal rights, black identity extremists, and sovereign citizen groups. The readings and videos will include a variety of diverse and opposing viewpoints; and utilize case studies such as the Charlottesville Unite the Right Rally in 2017 and the plot to kill the Michigan Governor in 2020. We will also analyze First Amendment and Fourth Amendment protected activities in civil protests and social media platforms in conjunction with these groups’ activities. Last, we will address lone-wolf terrorism and whether a federal domestic terrorism law should be enacted to counter future terrorist actions.

Federalism the division of power and sovereignty between a central authority and local governments has emerged as one of the most important themes of contemporary Western politics in both the United States and Europe. For the United States the division of power between the Federal and State governments lies at the very heart of the American Constitution. At the same time disputes over the precise balance of Federal and State power has been a major fault line in American politics since Federalists and anti-Federalists at the time of the founding. For Europe the destruction of two World Wars showed the destructive side of nationalism and acted as an impetus to leverage Europe’s common history and cultural inheritance to forge a supranational political and economic union dedicated to peace and prosperity. Since the end of the Cold War and the Treaty of Maastricht the process of European integration has speeded up rapidly resulting in a common European currency as well as common legal and political institutions. At the same time concerns about the perceived loss of sovereignty, national identity, and democratic accountability have led in some places to backlashes against Brussels and resurgent nationalism. There is also the broader question of the European Union’s goals and identity is it principally an economic union or is it a super-state in the making? In this course we will explore Federalism in its institutional, legal, philosophical, and historical aspects in both America and Europe.

Many of the ideas which shape today´s world- democracy, liberalism, conservatism, capitalism, socialism, nationalism - have their roots in a "great conversation" (Robert Hutchins) that spans some 25 centuries from ancient Greece until today. The conversation motivating the Western tradition has included a set of perennial questions such as: Who ought to rule - and how do we decide? What is the purpose of politics? What is the best form of constitution? What makes political authority legitimate? What is political justice? What is citizenship? This course is intended as a broad survey of some the most influential political thinkers in the intellectual tradition of Europe and America. Among the many who will be examined are : Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Voltaire, Baron de Montesquieu, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, Edmund Burke, Friedrich Nietzsche, G.W.F. Hegel, Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill, Leo Strauss, and Hannah Arendt.

This course examines the factors that promote stability and change in American politics. Broad in historical scope, this course considers the development of the American state and its institutions as well as the continuities and complexities of American political culture by analyzing key moments of institution-building and policy change from the American Founding to the present. Key questions include: What explains the character of the American state? What are the consequences of the American state and its policies? Is America “exceptional” in these and other regards? What roles and functions do political institutions perform? What roles do culture, ideas, and rhetoric play in social, political, and economic life? How have these various roles and functions changed over time?

Nationalism and democracy have been two of the most significant forces shaping the contemporary world. The sense of nationality has provided peoples with a strong sense of shared belonging based around the ideas of a common language, land, and heritage. It has sometimes fuelled the demand for collective freedom and democratic self-determination. At the same time it has been a volatile force generating conflicts within and between nations across the globe. In Europe, the effort at forging a common European identity must confront the challenge of resurgent nationalism in traditional countries like Britain, France, and Austria. Meanwhile traditional states like Britain and Spain must themselves confront secessionist nationalism in Scotland, Catalonia, and elsewhere. The modern Middle East has been shaped in part by the conflicting goals of two major nationalist movements - Arab nationalism and Zionism. In Asia, nationalism is emerging as a dominant theme as countries like China and India rise to political and military power. In spite of economic globalization and the development of international laws and institutions, it is pivotal to understand nationalism if we are to understand world politics today.

The widespread diagnosis of American politics is that it is “broken.” But what is wrong with American politics? And what, if anything, can be done to fix it? This course will examine the current problems in American politics from a historical, theoretical, and comparative perspective, and explore possible reforms that might make American politics function better.

State politics and policymaking offer a fascinating contrast to the gridlock in Washington that gets all the media attention.

This is a particularly timely issue to study as most states gear up for the new legislative session. How are Biden’s policies affecting current debates in statehouses? What impact are the 2020 elections having on policymaking at the state level? How has the Trump presidency affected states? We will explore these questions and more in this class.


Students should be aware of state-specific information for online programs. For more information, please contact an admissions representative.

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