Law 610 - Political Theory of the Founders
Joshua Foa Dienstag
M.A. Princeton, 1989
Ph.D. Princeton, 1993
This course will examine the important trends in European political and constitutional theory in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, that is, the political theory that was current and influential at the time of the US Revolution. The focus will be on competing accounts of the sources of freedom and rights, constituent power, the proper structure of government, the nature of law and constitutionalism. We will be attempting to immerse ourselves in the intellectual and political debates that preceded the federal and early state constitutions. The period in question is one of extraordinary intellectual diversity even within the nations of Western Europe so there will be a good deal of material to cover. Course requirements include active participation in class, short reading-reaction and a term paper.
At the end of the course, students will be able to:
1) Identify and describe in detail the different schools of political thought current at the time of the American Founding.
2) Analyze the US Constitution from a theoretical point of view, identifying its main structures and its relationship to the State Constitutions as well as the relationship between different components of the Constitution and the political theories and/or earlier documents that inspired them.
3) Understand the reasoning behind early Supreme Court decisions in relationship to the dominant political theories of the period.
4) Understand the origins of some perennial conflicts and controversies in constitutional law.