AMS w315 • Wealth and Commonwealth: Democracy and Capitalism in the United States-W
PRIMARILY FOR STUDENTS IN THE SUMMER FRESHMAN CLASS AND FRESHMEN ADMITTED IN THE SUMMER. CLASS MEETS JUNE 12-AUGUST 10, 11:30-12:45 p.m. Political and intellectual life in the United States is largely defined by the nation's competing impulses toward liberty and equality. While the nation has continually struggled to realize the latter ideal through its democratic form of government, the purest expression of the former impetus manifests itself in justifications for capitalism and the free market. Even democracies, however, must occasionally restrict the freedom of economic actors. Alternatively, the unequal distribution of privileges that holds under capitalism invariably undermines democratic equality. It would appear that liberty and equality, democracy and capitalism, cannot successfully coexist.
Yet the United States has consistently employed both systems simultaneously, with reasonably stable results. Nonetheless, an observer need look no further than current debates over Social Security reform, farm subsidies or high prescription drug prices to see that the economic freedom that citizens express through the market often contradicts their demand for democratic political treatment. The course will present democratic capitalism in the United States as an evolving project that is better understood as a response to historical changes than an ideological crusade. We will also pause from time to time, however, to assess the implications of these adjustments for American political philosophy. Students will be asked to reflect and assess the larger implications of American political adjustments, but will also examine cultural products -- fiction, journalism, music and movies - to reflect upon the manner in which Americans might have viewed these events as they were occurring.
Readings: Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, "Bartleby the Scrivener" (Herman Melville), Ragged Dick (Horatio Alger), The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald), Nickel and Dimed (Barbara Ehrenreich) Short selections from the following figures: Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Karl Marx, William Jennings Bryan, Eugene V. Debs, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Students for a Democratic Society, John Rawls, Robert Nozick, Jude Wanniski, Thomas Friedman and Naomi Klein Films: Modern Times, High Noon, Roger and Me Music: songs by Woody Guthrie