The Lanahan Readings in the American Polity

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The Lanahan Readings in the American Polity

Chapter 1:

1. Discuss the competing views of citizenship in the United States that are discussed in the text. Make sure to discuss how Madison's view of human nature differs greatly from those who argue that citizens have a strong republican virtue. What does each argument say the role of citizens in American politics should be? What views of citizenship are not discussed in the text that students think should be discussed? Which point of view do you think is the most accurate?

There are two main competing views of citizenship in the United States. The first one is expressed by James Madison. According to him, the majority of citizens are highly self-interested. Therefore, their participation if the government decision-making should be minimized.[1] The representatives of the opposite view claim that citizenships may act in accordance with the common good. Correspondingly, they may be trusted to participate in government as people may limit their own self-interest for the public good. Thus, Madison’s view advocates the passive role of citizens in the government affairs while the second one advocates their active role. It seems that some moderate views about citizenships where citizens are motivated by both public and self-interests are not properly discussed. In general, I support the position that citizens may be trusted during the political process, and they should have the opportunity to influence the ultimate decisions.

Chapter 2:

2. What are the three core values of American political culture?

The dominant three values are liberty, equality, and democracy. They are primarily considered as being the foundation for the modern society and US prosperity. The concept of liberty includes both political liberty (a limited government) and economic liberty (the dominance of free-market relationships). Equality refers to political equality of opportunities for all US citizens. In some cases, equality of opportunity is also considered as a basic value for citizens. At the same time, equality of outcome is not supported by the majority of Americans as it neglects individual efforts and contributions. Democracy is considered as being the best form of government; and most policies and measures that promote democracy are largely supported by the general public. Such values as individualism, diversity, and multiculturalism are also among the most important for Americans.

Chapter 3:

3. Explain James Madison’s statement that “ambition must be made to counteract ambition”?

This statement was made by James Madison regarding the separation of powers. He advocated the situation when one power was always controlled and counter-balanced by others. In this case, no one can control the entire political process. Thus, the interests of all parties are taken into account. Madison suggested that the separation of powers might be effectively enforced not by corresponding laws and regulations but people’s ambitions.[2] The representatives of one power will try to limit the increase of other powers, and it will lead to the general equilibrium. In other words, political ambitions may be encouraged in order to prevent the over-concentration of power.

Chapter 4:

4. Compare and contrast the models of dual and cooperative federalism?

Dual federalism refers to a political theory that states that the federal and state governments operate in different spheres, and each of them is independent and sovereign. The 10th Amendment supports this theory. Moreover, the main powers of the federal government are explicitly enumerated while other powers may be granted to the states. Cooperative federalism demonstrates that the spheres of operations of different levels of government are not independent. In particular, there are numerous federal policies that are implemented by the states through the federal funding. It shows that states are largely dependent on the policies of the federal government. In general, both of these theories have their corresponding strengths and are applicable to some spheres of political reality.

Chapter 5:

5. On the face of it, freedom of religion seems to be a relatively easy concept to understand. In reality, it is fairly complex. Describe the establishment clause and free exercise clause. Why has each been so controversial? What has the Supreme Court ultimately ruled regarding these two clauses?

Freedom of religion is a much more difficult issue that it seems in the beginning. The establishment clause refers to the first pronouncement about the Congress’ obligation to abstain from the introducing of any laws regarding an establishment of religion. The free exercise clause presents the same idea and states that the Congress should not prohibit the free exercise of any religion. They are controversial because freedom of religion is one of the main individual liberties in the US. The Supreme Court ultimately supported these clauses and introduced them into the actual practice. The only issue that is subject to change is the scope of their applicability. However, their general significance remains comparatively stable.

Chapter 6:

6. With the end of the Civil War and the ratification of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, it seemed like African Americans would finally obtain certain fundamental rights, such as the right to vote and equal protection under the law. What strategies did white southerners (and some northerners) use to continue to deny African Americans these rights?

Although the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments were highly important for establishing the equal rights for African Americans, a large number of people continued to deny these rights and tried to obtain artificial privileges. In 1865, several oppressive laws (the so-called “Black Codes”) were adopted. Under these laws, the rights and social opportunities of African Americans were very narrowly defined. Their freedom of movement, the rights to vote, and other rights were significantly limited as well. Thus, for a substantial period of time, the rights declared in the abovementioned Amendments were not properly realized, and a significant social discrimination continues to exist. In fact, the “Black Codes” and other similar laws were unconstitutional, but they had some influence in the political and social sphere in the 19th century.

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