Syallabus – Contemporary American Political Thought

Ruth O’Brien, Taught Spring 2013

Contemporary American Political Thought/Theory (CAPT)

PSC 80300 [80300 [17874 (cross-listed with ASCP 82000 & WSCP 81000) 4 credits

This new course represents the second course in the American Political Thought track of American Politics, focusing on the 20th and 21st centuries.  (The seminar entitled American Political Thought concentrates on the 18th and 19th centuries.)

This seminar not only enlightens those interested in American Political Thought but also helps students prepare for the electoral and behavioral aspects of the American Politics examination by concentrating on public opinion and social movements of post-war identity leaders and their followers.

Unlike American Political Development, this seminar examines largely original documents, rather than secondary texts analyzing these documents.  APD and APT complement each other, though given the use of primary and secondary texts used in APD and political theory (primarily modern and contemporary political theory).

Contemporary American Political Thought/Theory examines the spaces and juxtapositions created by identity movements and vulnerable populations on three analytical tracks: 1) Race; 2) Women, Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerable Populations; and 3) Class, American Capitalism, & Hegemony.  First, the track on race compares and contrasts universal civil rights, black power, radical black feminism, and multiculturalism and multiracialism.  Second, the track on gender and sexuality reviews first- and third-wave feminism, queer theory, post-modernist feminism, theories of the body, and immigrant and vulnerable populations.  The final track focuses on American capitalism, transnationalism, and hegemony (anti-imperialism and post-colonialism, post-war neoclassical economics or neo-liberalism, and behavioral economics).

This seminar modernizes American political thought and includes the revolutionizing American Studies scholarship at the Graduate Center, with its emphasis on genealogies of revolutionary action, discourse, and political culture(s).  It does this by giving attention to the writings, pamphlets, and thoughts of social-movement leaders and members and analyzing the question of political rhetoric and resonance (is the trajectory top-down or bottom-up?).  For instance, the manifesto of S.C.U.M. (the Society for Cutting Up Men) had as much resonance for its leader, who shot Andy Warhol, as did its minuscule membership.  How are events on Wall Street today similar to early-20th-century events?

Finally, this seminar provides a foundation for students interested in contemporary political theory by reading modern and contemporary political thinkers as diverse as William Faulkner, Hannah Arendt, Herbert Marcuse, W. E. B. Dubois, Martin Luther King, Barack Obama, Malcolm X, Gloria Steinem, Patricia Collins, Judith Butler, Anne Norton, Friedrich Hayek, Rose and Milton Friedman, Newt Gingrich, Michael Sandel, Antonio Negri, and Michael Hardt.

Requirements: 1/3 of grade is seminar participation and outlines (1 to 2 pages); and a 20 to 25 page paper accounts for the other 2/3rds of the grade.  Students preparing for the exams can elect to do 2 questions each 10 pages long instead of a paper.

Outlines should be emailed the night before or brought in paper copies for the whole seminar. A round robin reply all group email will be constructed.



1/31 1. Introduction: What is Social History; Political Thought, Political Theory,  Political Philosophy, Political Advocacy/Activism?

2/7   2. How to Differentiate, Distinguish & Define – Culture(s) & Histories – Advocacy or Resonance?



David Brion Davis, “Reflections: Intellectual Trajectories: Why People Study What They Do,” Reviews in American History 37 (2009): 148-59

Judith N. Shklar, “Redeeming American Political Theory,” APSR 85.1 (1991), 3-15


Anne Norton, 95 Theses on Politics, Culture, and Method (New Have, CT: Yale University Press, 2004).

Partisan review in Perspectives

Gabriel A. Almond, “Political Theory and Political Science,” APSR 60.4 (1966), 869-879

Charles Mills, “Ideal Theory” as Ideology,” Hypatia 20 (2005): 165-84

Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth Richard Philcox (Translator), Jean-Paul Sartre(Preface), Homi K. Bhabha (Foreword) (Grove Press, 2005).

  1. RACE

2/14   3. American Existentialism, Power, & Separatism


W.E.B. DuBois, The Soul of Black Folk (New York: Signet Classic), I, II, IV, X, XIV

The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley (Ballatine Books, 1987)


*William Faulkner, Light in August (Signet preferred)

Marcus Garvey, Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey (any edition)

Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention (Viking, 2011)

(2/21 Classes follow Monday schedule)

2/28   4. Booker T. Washington & Martin L. King, Assimilation & Normalcy


Booker T. Washington, Booker T. Washington: Up From Slavery (any edition)

Martin Luther King, Letter from Birmingham Jail  26 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 835 (1992-1993)


Andrew Koll, The Colorblind Constitution (NYU Press,)

Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokley Carmichael, (Scribner, 2005).

Eldridge Cleaver, Soul on Ice (Delta, 1999).

Mary Dudziak, Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001)

Carol A. Horton, Race and the Making of American Liberalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), Introduction

3/6   5. Postracial: Beyond Race?


President B. Obama, “A More Perfect Union” Speech, Philadelphia, PA, Mar 18, 2008

David A. Hollinger, Postethnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism (New York: Basic Books, 1995), intro/chapter 1


John Pittman, African-American Perspectives and Philosophical Traditions (New York: Routledge, 1996), intro/chapter 1

Ira Katznelson, When Affirmative Action was White (Norton, 2005)

Michael C. Dawson, Black Visions: The Roots of Contemporary African-American Political Ideologies (University of Chicago Press, 2003)

Kwame Ture and Charles V. Hamilton, Black Power: The Politics of Liberation (Vintage, 1992).


3/13   6. 1st Wave Feminism: From Home to Work


Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (New York: W.W. Norton, 2001)

Gloria Steinman, “After Black Power, Women’s Liberation,” New York Magazine, 4 Apr, 1969.

Daniel Horowitz, Betty Friedan and the Making of “The Feminine Mystique”: The American Left, the Cold War, and Modern Feminism (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2000)


Anita Hill, Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding Home (Beacon, 2011).

Eileen Boris, “On the Importance of Naming: Gender, Race, and the Writing of Policy History,” Journal of Policy History 17 (2005): 72-93.

3/20   7. 3rd Wave Feminism, Intersectionality, Collaborative?


Kimberlee Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color,” Stanford Law Review 43 (1991): 1241-58

Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993) Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, eds. In Harm’s Way: The Pornography Civil Rights Hearings (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997)

Catharine MacKinnon, Only Words (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993)


Anita Hill, Speaking Truth to Power (Anchor Press, 1998).

Sabine Gurtler and Andrew F. Smith, “The Ethical Dimension of Work: A Feminist Perspective,” Hypatia 20 (2005): 119-34

Iris Marion Young, “Fighting Words: Black women and the Search for Justice,” Hypatia 16 (2001): 91-93

Joan Tronto, “Beyond Gender Difference to a Theory of Care,” in An Ethic of Care: Feminist and Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Ed. Mary Jeanne Larrabee (New York: Routledge, 1993)

Angela Y. Davis, Women, Race, & Class (Vintage, 1983)

3/27   8. Postmodernist or Radical Feminism?


Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment (New York: Routledge, 1990, 2000, 2008)

Gloria Anzaldua, This Bridge Called my Back The Gloria Anzaldua Reader, (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2009)

bell hooks, Feminist Theory from Margin to Center (New York: South End Press, 1984 or 2000).

SCUM Manifesto, Society of Cutting up Men


Seyla Benhabib, Situating the Self: Gender, Community, and Postmodernism in Contemporary Ethics, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1992)

Katherine Adams, “At the Table with Arendt: Toward a Self-Interested Practice of Coalition Discourse,” 17 Hypatia (2002), 1-33

  1. Denise James, “Theorizing Black Feminist Pragmatism: Forethoughts on the Practice and Purpose of Philosophy as Envisioned by Black Feminists and John Dewey,” The Journal of Speculative Philosophy 23 (2009), 92-99

Melissa V. Harris-Perry, Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America (Yale University Press, 2011).

Melissa Victoria Harris-Lacewell, Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought (Princeton University Press, 2006).

Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (Boston: Beacon Press, 1978 and 1990).

Shulamith Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1970) (Reprinted editions: Bantam, 1979; Farrar Straus Giroux, 2003)

Catharine MacKinnon, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989)

Ellen Willis, “Radical Feminism and Feminist Radicalism,” No More Nice Girls: Countercultural Essays (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1992), 117-50.

4/3   9.  Queer Theory, theories of the body, and immigrant and vulnerable populations.


Leonard Kriegel, “Uncle Tom and Tiny Tim: Some Reflections on the Cripple as Negro,”The American Scholar 38, 3 (Summer 1969), 412-30

Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (Routledge any edition will do)


Adrienne Rich, On Lies, Secrets and Silence, Selected Prose 1966-78 (New York: Norton, 1979).

Arlene Stein and John ” I Can’t Even Think Straight”: Queer Theory and the Missing Sexual Revolution in Sociology A Stein… – Sociological Theory, (1994)

Elizabeth Grosz, Volatile BodiesToward a Corporeal Feminism (Indiana University Press, 1994).

James R. Barrett, “Americanization from the Bottom Up: Immigration and the Remaking of the Working Class in the United States, 1880–1930,” The Journal of American History(1992) 79 (3): 996-1020.

Jeffrey E. MirelPatriotic Pluralism: Americanization Education and European Immigrants  (Harvard University Press, 2010).

Simone de Beauvoir The Second SexConstance Borde (Translator), Sheila Malovany-Chevallier (Translator) (Vintage, 2011).

Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which is Not One

Brett Beemyn and Michele EliasonQueer Studies: A Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Anthology (NYU Press, 1996).

Judith Halberstam, Female Masculinity (Duke University Press, 1998).

Eve Kosofsky Sedawick, Epistemology of the Closet: Updated with a New Preface(University of California Press, 2008).


(4/10 Spring Recess)

4/17   10.  Class


Samuel Gompers American Federation of Labor (AFL), John McBride, AFL-CIO, William Green, AFL The American Federationist, 8 (1901), 413.

Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals (New York: Vintage Books, 1989)

David R. Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (London: Verso, 1999)


Samuel Gompers, The Samuel Gompers Papers: The Postwar Years 1919-21(Champaigne, IL: University of Illinois Press)

Eric Arneson, “Up From Exclusion: Black and White Workers, Race, and the State of Labor History,” Reviews in American History 26 (1998): 146-74

Alonzo L. Hamby, “Is There No Democratic Left in America? Reflections on the Transformation of an Ideology,” Journal of Policy History, 15 (2003): 3-25.

Barbara J. Love and Nancy F. Cott, Feminists Who Changed America, 1963-1975(Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2006)

Anne Koedt, Ellen Levine, and Anita Rapone, eds. Radical Feminism (New York: Times Books, 1973)

4/24   11. Antimonopoly Capitalism, the New Deal, Consumerism


Louis Brandeis, Other People’s Money

Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class (Mineola, NY: Dover Thrift, 1994) Chps 1, 4, 12;

Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society (Boston: Beacon Press, 1991)


Gerald Berk, Louis D. Brandeis and the Making of Regulated Competition, 1900-1932(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009)

Harry Chatten Boyte, “Seeds of a Different Politics,” The Good Society 12 (2003): 70-73

Malcolm Rutherford, “Institutional Economies at Columbia University,” History of Political Economy 36 (2004): 31-78

5/1   12. The Rise of the Right: From Serfdom to Freedom?


Frederick Hayek, Road to Serfdom (New York: Routledge, 1944)

Milton Freedman, Capitalism & Freedom (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962)

Rose and Milton Freedom, Free to Choose

Newt Gingrich, 1994 and 2012 Contracts with America


Jeff Madrick, The Case for Big Government (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009)

Thomas B. Edsall, The Age of Austerity: How Scarce Resources Could Shape U.S. Politics(New York: Doubleday 2012).

Michael Sandel, Choosing Freedom WGBH/Harvard Seminar, Free to Choose, Who Owns Me?

5/8   13. Neo-Liberalism & Empires

Occupy Wall Street,

Niall Ferguson, Civilization, The West & the Rest (New York: Penguin Press, American edition, 2011)

Barak Obama, Cairo Speech, Cairo, Egypt, Jun 4, 2009


Kevin Mattson, “Why We Should Be Reading Reinhold Niebuhr Now More Than Ever: Liberalism and the Future of American Political Thought,” The Good Society 14 (2005) 77-82

Susan K. Gillman, “The New, Newest Thing: Have American Studies Gone Imperial?”American Literary History 17 (2005): 196-214

Sandra M. Gustafson, “Histories of Democracy and Empire,” American Quarterly 59 (2007): 107-33

Harold Meyerson, “Liberalism and Its Friends,” Dissent 56 (2009): 128-31.

5/15   14. Collaborators: Behavioral Economics & Collaborative Justice?


Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2011), chp. 1

Interview with Richard  Posner, John Cassidy, “Rational Irrationality,” New Yorker (Jan 13, 2010).

Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (University of Chicago Press, 1998)

*confirm non-standard hours by email no later than 11 pm the night before, as a professional courtesy to me and your colleagues/peers in our seminar.

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About Ruth O'Brien

Professor Ruth O'Brien, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York (CUNY) & Honorary Unaffiliated Academic Book Series Editor for The Public Square, Princeton University Press & Heretical Thought, Oxford University Press, USA Last book: Out of Many, One: Obama & the Third American Political Tradition (U of Chicago 2013). Nickname: Professorette by Rush Limbaugh (see

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