The Politics of Displacement

Course Description

The promise of the American political system was that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness would flow from the a priori maxim enunciated in the Declaration of Independence that all men were created equal and endowed with inalienable rights. This class explores the root of the American rejection of an inclusive democratic government at inception, and its connection to the rejection of European political authority. The way to understand that rejection may be found in the nation's social estrangement from Europe rather than in its dream of freedom from tyranny. The gradual erosion of a balance between decentralized and centralized power can be seen in the eclipse of anti-federalism, the inclusion of slavery, and in Indian Removal. All betray aspects of a compromise with the goal of an inclusive and balanced political authority in the United States. In this class, we see how the compromises between majority rule and minority rights broke down in a way that may have limited the American Founding. By looking closely at unbalanced relationships between majority communities and frontier democrats, African slaves, and Native Americans we reveal much about the struggle for political authority in antebellum society and its unresolved quarrel with the past. The class also utilizes film clips, contemporary news clippings and articles, and as indicated above, a reader and texts (ranging from Hannah Arendt to Herman Melville). This is a class in political theory, and depends heavily on discussion of the material and keeping up with the reading.

This course falls within the American Politics subfield.


Classes begin with a presentation of between 30-40 minutes, and the remainder of the time is spent in class discussion. Participation is a class requirement.