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The University of Southampton

PAIR3063 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

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • Intellectual traditions in American political thought
  • Key writings in the subject
  • Proposed solutions to intellectual difficulties in the subject matter
  • How America's intellectual traditions manifest themselves in contemporary politics
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Work independently to evaluate relevant literature
  • Articulate orally key ideas
  • 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



Critical commentary


MethodPercentage contribution
Critical commentary  (750 words) 15%
Critical commentary  (750 words) 15%
Critical commentary  (750 words) 15%
Essay  (2000 words) 55%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (3000 words) 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (3000 words) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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