GOVT-233 Political Parties
This is a course in one of the most significant elements of democratic politics, the political party. It is possible to think about and even describe government without reference to political parties. But since political parties permeate every aspect of most governments, any real understanding of civics requires an understanding of the roles that parties play.
This course will be built around two themes. The first is what we call ``positive,' or what is the role of the political party. The second is ``normative' or what should be the role of the political party. These two questions are of course bound up in each other, and we will discuss them in parallel. A better understanding of why parties are the way they are will perhaps inform our beliefs about how they should be. And different arguments about how parties should be no doubt have influences the way they have come to be.
POSITIVE: Why parties? Political parties are not an obvious necessity for government. The U.S. Constitution makes no reference to parties, and most of the framers claimed to want a government without them. These same framers then quickly began to build political parties. Why? What is more, political parties seem to have certain features that even their organizers do not always understand. What causes parties to have the features that they have? A related positive question is, how effective are parties? If there are reasons parties should form, do they, when they do form, rise to the occasion. We will see that in American history, the strength of parties has varied considerably.
NORMATIVE: What sort of parties should we have? The framers attempted to design a government without parties. Is the United States better or worse for having political parties? And what sort of parties should we have? In 1950, a commission of political scientists argued that political parties in the United States were not ideologically distinct, and therefore they failed as a mechanism for holding government accountable. A half-century later, parties in the United States seem to better fit the roles that this commission set out for them, but many complain that parties are too ideologically distinct.
The following syllabi may help you learn more about this course (login required):
Spring '11: Noel H (description, file download)
Additional syllabi may be available in prior academic years.
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