"There is as sense, disturbing to good Montanans, in which Montana is a by-product of European letters…" So began a 1949 article by Leslie Fiedler, perhaps the most distinguished member of the UM faculty in the middle decades of the last century. Though Fiedler makes a rather shaky case for his grand thesis, it is quite undeniable that the formal foundations of our country entire owe a large debt to European letters, in particular, to certain philosophers of the period called the Enlightenment. The United States’ government is the first and longest lasting of the distinctively modern governments, governments explicitly based on a set of ideas. In particular, the “words we live by” are to a notable extent the product of European philosophy in the 150 years before they were fromally adopted as the basis of our government. Controversies and shortcomings in those philosophical theories persist in American political discourse to this day. Thus, we will undertake a systematic examination of the seminal documents of American government, especially The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the U.S., supported by selected readings from the philosophical background of these monumental works. Click on the Syllabus tab for further information.
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