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Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy

James Madison College's major in Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy, as its unusual name suggests, probes the major competing principles that have animated political communities and how we have attempted to translate these into practice. We raise complex fundamental questions as we try to sort out the values and principles that have been most important to us. What does it mean to flourish as a human being? What are the rights and responsibilities of good citizens? What is the best way of life for society as a whole? Political Theory does not pretend to have the definitive answers to these questions. But we do think we can teach students how to think about these concepts and how to approach these questions in a productive and intellectually exciting way.

To achieve this, the Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy curriculum is both philosophical and historical. Course readings range from Plato and the classical poets to contemporary political theory, literature, and U.S. Supreme Court decisions. The introductory course sequence (MC 270-271) is not a conventional survey of political theory. It introduces students to a theoretical way of thinking about politics and morality at different times and places (for example, the ancient Greek city-state and the Florentine republic) which they can then use as a basis of comparison in analyzing the American experience. Other required "core" courses confront students with the most systematic justifications philosophers have offered for one or another conception of justice and also the most challenging, sometimes unorthodox objections to grand theories of justice. Finally in senior seminars, students can critically explore a focused topic in depth in such a way that many of the themes and questions that have been raised by the curriculum may be viewed in a new light. In addition, a wide range of electives, including courses on technology, religion and politics, the Supreme Court and African-American political thought allow students to pursue more specialized interests relevant to the general concerns of the field.

In short, the Political Theory curriculum is coherent yet flexible. The required courses are carefully sequenced and built on one another. The small number of required courses in the junior and senior year, combined with the flexibility of other Political Theory requirements, enables upperclass students to use the curriculum as the basis for a program that integrates their interests inside and outside the College. After graduation, Political Theory majors have gone on directly to work in a wide variety of public and private sector jobs. Many Political Theory graduates go on to graduate or professional school in law, business, philosophy, and political science. From there, their paths have taken many different turns, for example, serving in the Michigan Legislature, as Solicitor General of the State of Ohio, as Budget Director of the State of Michigan, as Executive Director of the Michigan Democratic Party, and teaching at major universities and small liberal arts colleges.

These features of the PTCD program make it easy to pursue a dual major. Many students combine a PTCD major with a major in another Madison core or a major in a disciplinary department. In recent years, PTCD students have dual majored in biochemistry, criminal justice, economics, English, history, mathematics, philosophy, political science, physics, psychology, religion, secondary education, sociology, and theater.


Sample Courses

MC271    Constitutionalism and Democracy
MC370    Radical Challenges to Liberal Democracy
MC372    Comparative Black Political Thought
MC375    Contemporary Developments in American Politics