• Length:
    7 Weeks
  • Effort:
    2–5 hours per week
  • Institution
  • Subject:
  • Level:
    Intermediate
  • Language:
    English
  • Video Transcript:
    English

About this course

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

These stirring words from the Declaration of Independence are at the very foundation of the American tradition of civil liberties. In this course, we explore this tradition from its beginning with the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers, through a number of notable historical and contemporary cases in which claims to rights and liberties have been at stake.

We will examine issues of slavery, segregation, abortion, campaign finance, free speech, religion, affirmative action, and marriage.  Our discussion will be guided by thinkers like John Locke, John Stuart Mill, Friedrich Hayek, and Martin Luther King Jr., as well as important Supreme Court opinions, such as the majority and dissenting opinions in Dred Scott v. Sandford (on slavery), Brown v. Board of Education (on segregation), Roe v. Wade (on abortion), Citizens United v. FEC (on campaign finance and free speech), and Obergefell v. Hodges (on marriage).

We do not seek unanimity of opinion, but rather a deepening of understanding. Whatever your views happen to be—liberal, conservative, whatever—they will be sympathetically explored but also challenged. The goal of the course is not to persuade you to think as anyone else does; rather, it is to encourage and empower you to think about disputed questions of civil rights and liberties more deeply, more critically, and for yourself.

What you'll learn

  • The historical foundations of civil rights and liberties in the United States
  • How influential philosophers have thought about important civil rights issues
  • The arguments presented in groundbreaking Supreme Court opinions
  • How to critically analyze controversial claims to civil rights and liberties
  • An understanding and respect for those who have differing opinions

Meet your instructors

Robert P. George
McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions
Princeton University