Political Science 310
Theories of American Politics

Course Syllabus
Winter 1999
TTh 9:30-10:45 a.m. in 1170 TMCB

Instructor: Jay Goodliffe
Office: 752 SWKT
Phone: 378-9136
e-mail: goodliffe@byu.edu


Office Hours

Office Hours

I will hold office hours on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons 3:30-5:00. I am also available at most other times if you make arrangements with me. I encourage you to come by for any reason whatsoever.


It is understood that students enrolled in this class will have taken at a minimum Political Science 110 (Introduction to American Politics) and Political Science 200 (Political Inquiry). It will be of great benefit to have also taken Economics 110.


This course is designed to serve as the intermediate theory course for the sub-field of American politics. It is structured to introduce students to the different scholarly approaches in the study of American politics as well as the basic seminal literature that has underlain the subject matter over the years. In many instances, these readings are the classics of the sub-field of the discipline.

The first brief section of the course is a review of the history of the discipline. Students should be familiar with the major developments of the discipline and the changes in society to which these developments were a response.

In the second section of the course, we will study the major theories, and the methods used to examine these theories, using the seminal readings on the subject.

This course has two goals: first, you will analyze the role that theory plays in the development of a particular discipline; and second, you will learn about the various theories that seek to explain the development of American political practices and institutions. We use articles and chapters of books that form the core of the American politics sub-discipline. At the conclusion of this course, you should have three distinct skills:

  1. the ability to identify the major types of theories that structure the study of American politics;
  2. the capacity to use these theories to explain current practices in American politics; and,
  3. the capability to derive testable hypotheses from these theories.


The course will be conducted primarily as a seminar. Therefore, it is incumbent that you have read the material to be discussed during each class period prior to the class. It is expected that you will attend regularly and come prepared to participate in the discussion. Essentially, we will spend one week on each topic.

I actively encourage questions, interruptions, cries for help, protests of disbelief, etc. You will never be penalized for participating--even when this takes the form of vague complaints like, "I've got no clue why we are reading this stuff!" I urge--indeed, I expect--you to take advantage of the chance to talk with me during office hours.


To facilitate discussion of the issues, each student will lead a group presentation at some point during the semester. A group presentation should identify the one or two most important questions that the readings seek to answer, examine recent occurrences in American politics and what the theories say about them, and analyze their importance for the future of American democracy. You can be as creative as you wish in your approach to the group presentation. You can use video clips from news programs or movies to illustrate a particular point. You may want to use music that expresses the same themes found in the readings. The class period belongs to you. You are responsible for helping us to understand why these theories and the questions they raise explain such persistent patterns in American politics. The first presentation will be January 28th in order to give you time to think about what you might want to do. The groups will be small to minimize the "free-rider" problem. However, 40% of your grade for the group presentation will depend upon the evaluation of the other members of the group. If the other students do not think that you contributed significantly and meaningfully to the presentation, they can penalize you.

At the end of the semester, each individual must submit a 6-7 page paper that uses the theories in the section that he or she presented. The paper must explain current practices in American politics using the theories that you covered in your section. In each paper you will select one event, practice, or institution in American politics that you used during your presentation and specify how the theory explains its occurrence. You should use the following structure for your paper:

  1. Introduction to the problem: What is the one event, practice, or institution that you seek to explain? Describe the item and its relationship to American politics. Why is this item significant? This must be one of the examples that you used in your group presentation.
  2. What theory in the section that you presented currently explains why this particular event, practice, or institution occurs? Does it adequately explain the item? What characteristics of the item are not explained by the theory?
  3. What are the properties of the theory? What assumptions does it make about the case you seek to explain? What assumptions does it make about political reality? Does it focus on individuals, institutions, or ideas?
  4. What are the competing theories? Is there another theory that can adequately explain your item? If so, why did you choose the one over the other? What kind of test could you devise to gather data and evidence to support the theory you chose?
  5. Conclusion: Summarize your findings. What is the long-term prognosis for the event that you selected? How robust is your theory at explaining future events?

You must make every effort to write lucid and compelling papers. Higher grades will be given to those papers that are clear, interesting, and virtually free of spelling and grammatical errors. Your paper should also display a rich understanding of the theory and item you select. As you write your paper, please keep in mind that the "A" paper must contain the following properties:

The paper is due at the beginning of class on the day designated in the course schedule. If you cannot make it to class, please leave the assignment in my box (in the Political Science office--745 SWKT) before class begins. I will deduct 10 points per day (including weekends) for late assignments (on a 100 point scale).

There will be a midterm and a final examination that will be comprehensive. The midterm exam will be administered in the Testing Center (265 HGB) on February 16 and 17. The final exam will be administered in class on Saturday, April 17 at 7:00 a.m. (as noted on the final exam schedule). I do not grade on a curve. Both exams will consist primarily of short-answer questions and essay questions.

Your grade will be composed as follows:

Group Presentation 20%
Paper 20%
Midterm Examination


Final Examination 35%
Class Participation 5%


The text for the course is

There is also a packet of additional required readings available in the bookstore, and there will be at least one reading on reserve in the Lee Library.

Schedule (subject to change)

A Brief History of the Discipline (January 5, 7)

James Ceaser, Liberal Democracy and Political Science, Chapter 4, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990.

Robert G. McCloskey, "American Political Thought and the Study of Politics," in Roland Young (ed.), Approaches to the Study of Politics, pp. 155-171, Northwestern University Press, 1958.

Kenneth A. Shepsle and Mark S. Bonchek, Analyzing Politics, Chapters 1 and 2, W.W. Norton, 1997.

Albert S. Yee, "Thick Rationality and the Missing Brute Fact..." Journal of Politics 59 (November 1997): 1001-1050 (includes comments and rejoinder).

Theories of American Politics

American Ideology (January 12, 14)

Seymour Martin Lipset, "Formulating a National Identity," in Nivola and Rosenbloom, pp. 21-28.

Theodore J. Lowi, "The Constitution and the Public Philosophy," (Chapter 1) in The End of the Republican Era, University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.

Samuel P. Huntington, American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony, Chapters 1 and 2, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1981.

American Liberalism (January 19, 21)

Louis Hartz, "The Concept of a Liberal Society," in Nivola and Rosenbloom, pp. 11-20.

Daniel J. Boorstin, The Lost World of Thomas Jefferson, pp. 186-213, 225-234, Beacon Press, 1948.

Interest Group Pluralism (January 26, 28)

E.E. Schattschneider, "The Scope and Bias of the Pressure System," in Nivola and Rosenbloom, pp. 241-254.

James Madison, "The Federalist Papers," #10 in Nivola and Rosenbloom, pp. 29-34.

Robert Dahl, "American Hybrid," in Nivola and Rosenbloom, pp. 205-224.

Mancur Olson, Jr., "Collective Action: The Logic," in Nivola and Rosenbloom, pp. 225-240.

Peter Bachrach and Morton Baratz, "Two Faces of Power," American Political Science Review 56 (December 1962): 947-952.

January 28: Group 1 Presentation

Federalism (February 2, 4)

Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 176-180 (1803) in Nivola and Rosenbloom, pp. 463-471.

McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat 316, 400-410, 419-421 (1819) in Nivola and Rosenbloom, pp. 472-480.

Morton Grodzins, "The Federal System," in Nivola and Rosenbloom, pp. 61-77.

Paul E. Peterson, "Federalism and the Great Society," in Nivola and Rosenbloom, pp. 78-104.

Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, "The Federalist Papers, #17 and 45 in the packet and #51 in Nivola and Rosenbloom, pp. 48-51.

February 4: Group 2 Presentation

American Constitutionalism (February 9, 11)

Edwin S. Corwin, "The Higher Law Background of American Constitutional Law," in Nivola and Rosenbloom, pp. 431-435.

Herbert J. Storing, "The Constitution and the Bill of Rights," in Robert A. Goldwin and William A. Schambra (eds.), How Does the Constitution Secure Rights? pp. 15-35, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1985.

John Roche, "The Founding Fathers: A Reform Caucus in Action," American Political Science Review (December 1961): 799-816.

February 11: Group 3 Presentation

February 16, 17: Midterm Examination (in the Testing Center)

Civil Disobedience (Februrary 18, 23)

Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," in Why We Can't Wait, Mentor (Penguin), 1963. On Reserve.

Henry David Thoreau, "Civil Disobedience," in Walden, Random House Modern Library, 1937.

February 23: Group 4 Presentation

Expansive Government (February 25, March 2)

Richard Neustadt, "The Power to Persuade," in Nivola and Rosenbloom, pp. 331-339.

Walter Dean Burnham, The Current Crisis in American Politics, Chapter 9, Oxford University Press, 1982.

Martin M. Shapiro, "The Presidency and the Federal Courts," in Nivola and Rosenbloom, pp. 451-462.

March 2: Group 5 Presentation

Bureaucratic Control (March 4, 9)

Norton Long, "Power and Administration," in Nivola and Rosenbloom, pp. 414-426.

Thomas Cronin, "Everybody Believes in Democracy...," in Nivola and Rosenbloom, pp. 371-406.

Terry Moe, "The New Economics of Organization," American Journal of Political Science (1984): 739-777.

James Q. Wilson, "The Bureaucracy Problem," in Nivola and Rosenbloom, pp. 407-413.

March 9: Group 6 Presentation

Divided Government and Separation of Powers (March 11, 16)

"The Federalist Papers" #10, 39, 46, 47, in Nivola and Rosenbloom, pp. 29-56.

Woodrow Wilson, "Congressional Government," in Nivola and Rosenbloom, pp. 259-269.

Samuel Huntington, "Congressional Responses to the Twentieth Century," in Nivola and Rosenbloom, pp. 270-291.

Morris Fiorina, "An Era of Divided Government," Political Science Quarterly 107 (Fall 1992): 387-410.

David W. Brady, "The Causes and Consequences of Divided Government: Toward a New Theory of American Politics?" American Political Science Review (March 1993): 189-194.

March 16: Group 7 Presentation

Beyond Policy: Basic Issues, Radicalism, Anomie (March 18, 23)

John Kenneth Galbraith, The Affluent Society, Chapter 7, Houghton Mifflin, 1971.

Michael Harrington, The Accidental Century, Chapters 1 and 9, Penguin Books, 1965.

Tom Hayden, "The Port Huron Statement," in Paul Jacobs and Saul Landau, The New Radicals, pp. 149-162, Random House, 1966.

C. Wright Mills, "On the New Left," in Paul Jacobs and Saul Landau, The New Radicals, pp. 101-114, Random House, 1966.

Seymour Martin Lipset, "The Sources of the Radical Right," in Daniel Bell (ed.), The Radical Right, pp. 307-360, Anchor Books, 1963.

March 23: Group 8 Presentation

Conservatism and Social Darwinism (March 25, 30)

William F. Buckley, Jr., Up From Liberalism, Part II, pp. 159-204, McDowell, Obolensky, 1959.

Robert G. McCloskey, American Conservatism in an Age of Enterprise, 1865-1910, Chapter 2, Harper Torchbook, 1951.

March 30: Group 9 Presentation

March 30: Papers Due (except for Groups 9 and 10)

The Public Interest (April 1, 6)

V.O. Key, Jr., "The Responsible Electorate," in Nivola and Rosenbloom, pp. 111-124.

Walter Dean Burnham, "The Turnout Problem," in Nivola and Rosenbloom, pp. 125-155.

Morris P. Fiorina, "The Decline of Collective Responsibility in American Politics," in Nivola and Rosenbloom, pp. 156-178.

Everett Carll Ladd, "Party Reform and the Public Interest," in Political Science Quarterly 102 (Fall 1987): 355-369.

April 6: Group 10 Presentation

The Future of American Democracy (April 8, 13)

(Readings to be assigned)

April 13: Papers Due for Groups 9 and 10

April 17, 7:00 a.m.: Final Examination (in class)