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The University of Southampton

PAIR2011 American Political Thought

Module Overview

For many people, the phrase “American political thought” either has an obvious meaning – some version of liberal democracy, surely – or it is a contradiction in terms – America has politics, but seems to exercise little thought. This module sets the record straight. We will dive into a unique blend of cultural and political history, contemporary politics, political ideas – a blend that, as we shall see, allowed an improbable candidate like Donald Trump to win a presidential election. This module will refute the sceptic and show that American political thought is a significant intellectual tradition that actually goes back to the 17th Century. However, as we will see, this tradition is never developed through abstract scholarly theorising. It is developed by flesh and blood political actors in actual political circumstances. This is a political theory module for those who like their theory to be genuinely political. We will study ideas in action – how they emerge through political action and how they continue to be shaped and transformed by the challenges of political events and changing social circumstances.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

The aim of this module is to examine the main currents of American political thought since the 17th century in order to shed light on and contextualise contemporary disputes in America.

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Demonstrate knowledge of intellectual traditions in American political thought
  • Articulate in writing key knowledge of the subject
  • Propose solutions to intellectual difficulties in the subject matter
  • Analyse how America's intellectual traditions manifest themselves in contemporary politics
  • Describe and assess the most significant intellectual disputes in the American political tradition
  • Work independently to evaluate relevant literature
  • Articulate orally key ideas
  • Analyse relevant data and primary sources
  • Work with others to assess information, propose solutions to intellectual difficulties, and jointly articulate a coherent view


The module has three related themes, which are addressed through selected primary sources and secondary material: American Exceptionalism Federalism and Anti-Federalism Religion and American politics

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

There will be two lectures per week and five seminars in the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, and 11th weeks of teaching. The twelfth week of the semester is a reading and essay preparation week, so no teaching is scheduled.

Independent Study123
Total study time150



Blog Post


MethodPercentage contribution
Blog Post 10%
Blog Post 10%
Essay 80%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (3000 words) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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