Aim of the course
The department specialises in UK politics and US politics with courses that provide a grounding in the political theory and practice of both countries and encourage students to make links with different political systems across the globe. There is also a unit on the core ideologies of liberalism, conservatism and socialism with a further study on nationalism. This ideological content provides an intellectual foundation for the other aspects of the course.
Politics is the ideal course for those with a lively and enquiring mind, a willingness to develop an interest in politics and current affairs, a desire to explore new ideas and an ability to communicate their ideas effectively. It suits those who enjoy argument and debate and are keen to develop their own opinions and critically analyse those of others. Students should be willing to read a quality newspaper and political magazines, and to follow current affairs on radio, television and the internet.
The focus in the Lower Sixth is on the contemporary politics and government of the UK and political ideas.
Students learn to:
- Develop a critical awareness of the nature of politics
- Acquire an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the political institutions and processes of the UK and US, as well as an ability to make links and comparisons with other political systems across the globe
- Develop their powers of critical thinking
- Acquire an understanding of, and opinions on, the major political issues facing the UK and the US
- Develop their ability to communicate effectively on paper and orally
Lessons are characterised by lively discussion that often relates current political news stories to the key academic debates within the subject. We study the fundamental concepts, institutions and processes in UK politics, including subjects such as the power of the Prime Minister and whether the executive dominates the other branches of government and amounts to what Lord Hailsham has described as an “elective dictatorship”.
Major constitutional reforms, such as the Human Rights Act and its impact on civil liberties and the role of the judiciary, the drawing of judges into the political fray as well as extensive comparisons with the US Supreme Court, are central to the course.
The advantages and disadvantages of direct democracy, in the context of the outcome of the EU Referendum, are also studied.
The focus in the Upper Sixth is on US politics and comparative politics.
Key debates include the critical differences between parliamentary and presidential forms of government and the implications for effective governance. The power of the President is examined in the context of major historical events, such as 9/11 and the coronavirus pandemic.
Students will also consider the debates on the nature of democracy in the US and the increasing influence of social media on politics.
The significance of the US constitution, as well as the effectiveness of Congress in a hyper-partisan era and the influence of powerful interest groups such as the National Rifle Association on legislators, is studied.
The outcome of the 2020 Presidential election and the implications for the role of government signalled by the $1.9trillion American Rescue Plan will be a key focus.
Students have the opportunity to attend a number of politics conferences during the course. We encourage students to read widely. Suggested texts include Andrew Rawnsley’s The End of the Party, Tom Bingham’s The Rule of Law, Tim Shipman’s All Out War, Nick Bryant’s When America Stopped Being Great and Anne Applebaum’s Twilight of Democracy, among many others.
Students enter essay competitions, such as the RA Butler Politics Prize run by Trinity College, Cambridge.
We regularly run mock elections, giving students the opportunity to lead campaigns, make speeches and take part in debates.
Three papers at the end of the Upper Sixth: UK Politics, UK Government, US and Comparative Politics.