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Is American Democracy Broken? Perspectives and Debates

Key challenges to American democracy in today's volatile political climate
20 reviews
  • Jeb Barnes Associate Professor of Political Science - University of Southern California

    After receiving his law degree from the University of Chicago Law School, Jeb clerked for a federal bankruptcy judge and then practiced as a commercial litigator in Boston and San Francisco. In 1994, he left the practice of law to pursue a doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley. His research centers on the intersection between law and politics and how policy emanates from interactions among the various levels and branches of government.

    His research has been published peer-reviewed articles in a variety of journals, including Political Research Quarterly, Law & Society Review, Law & Social Inquiry, and Annual Review of Political Science, and three books: Dust-Up: Asbestos Litigation and the Failure of Commonsense Policy Reform (2011), Overruled? Legislative Overrides, Pluralism, and Contemporary Court-Congress Relations (2004), and a co-edited volume, Making Policy, Making Law: An Interbranch Perspective (2004). He has been invited to present his work in a wide range of academic and professional settings, including Oxford University, Northwestern University, the Center for the Study of Law and Society at UC Berkeley, the Goldman School of Public Policy, the Aspen Institute, and the Institute of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

    At USC, he is a Distinguished Dornsife Faculty Fellow and has won numerous awards, including a departmental teaching award, a general education teaching award, the Gamma Sigma Alpha Professor of the Year Award, and the Raubenheimer Award for outstanding junior faculty.

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Is American Democracy Broken? Perspectives and Debates

Key challenges to American democracy in today's volatile political climate
20 reviews


A Faculty Project Course - Best Professors Teaching the World

American democracy seems in crisis, as we face legislative gridlock, soaring deficits, negative campaigns awash in donations from anonymous sources, growing public distrust of government, and protest movements on the right and left on the political spectrum. This class provides an overview of competing views on contemporary American democracy and a fresh look at some key issues facing our polity, including campaign finance, the War powers, the politics of deficit spending, and the proper policy-making role of the courts.

    • Over 25 lectures and 3.5 hours of content!


  • 1
    Course Introduction
  • SECTION 1:
  • 2

    In this lecture, I will give you an overview of the course and frame the questions and structure of our class.

  • 3
    Lecture Slides
    3 slides
  • 4
    Glossary Of Key Terms
    1 page
  • SECTION 2:
    What is American Democracy?
  • 5
  • 6
    Procedural Definitions of Democracy

    In this lecture, we develop working definitions to get the lay of the land and create a foundation to build a more systematic understaning of competing images of American democracy. In particular, we will look at "direct" democracy, "representativte" democracy, and majority rule.

  • 7
    Lecture Slides
    9 slides
  • 8
    Substantive Definitions of Democracy
  • 9
    Lecture Slides
    4 slides
  • 10
    What is American Exceptionalism?
  • 11
    Lecture Slides
    9 slides
  • SECTION 3:
    Competing Images of American Democracy in Practice
  • 12
  • 13
    Stratificationism: A Closer Look
  • 14
    Lecture Slides
    7 slides
  • 15
    Pluralism: A Closer Look
  • 16
    Lecture Slides
    6 slides
  • 17
    Hyperpluralism: A Closer Look
  • 18
    Lecture Slides
    6 slides
  • 19
    So What?

    This lectures sums up our discussion on stratificationism, pluralism, and hyperpluralism.

    NOTE: Please forgive the audio! At some points, the audio becomes distorted but you should still be able to hear what I am saying.

  • 20
    Lecture Slides
    6 slides
  • SECTION 4:
    Contemporary Issues in American Democracy
  • 21
  • 22
    Campaign Finance
  • 23
    The Deficit
  • 24
    Judicial Review
  • 25
    The War Powers - Concluding Lecture


  • 15
  • 3
  • 1
  • 1
  • 0


  • Don Astor
    Great Job by Prof Barnes

    Prof Jeb Barnes did a great job in this course. He identifies some basic problems, and gives clear definitions of American politics. He presents multiple views of how to tackle some of these problems. He does a superb job of educating others on government. He connects with the audience well, and makes us consider new ideas. Five (5) Stars on delivering a challenging course.

  • Clayton A. Feldman, MD
    Bruised, But not Broken

    One can perhaps again begin to think there is a bit of hope left for our political system, using the tools provided in this short but very useful course that show that in the way American Democracy was framed, it is exceptional in design, intentionally fragmented and probably still functional. Good Show! Clayton A. Feldman, MD

  • Tzu-Hao Chen

    This course provides me a short but clear introduction of American Democracy!

  • Douglas Karo
    Diagnosing the Contemporary American Political System

    Clear, concise, informative, and suggestive of ways to think about our political system and its operation. Not much good news unless you find yourself a winner.

  • Matthew Livingston
    Excellent Primer on U.S. Democracy

    I thoroughly enjoyed this course. Professor Barnes leads the student on a well-organized exploration of three competing theories on the current state of U.S. democracy. The course is concise, yet full of valuable information on how to conceptualize the way this country is governed. It would be nearly impossible to watch all the videos and not have a firm grasp on stratificationism, pluralism, and hyperpluralism. The course serves as an excellent introduction and a course that would provide a solid foundation for the neophyte political science student or a refresher for someone a few years out of college. The only recommendation I have is to add links for further reading on the subject and maybe some quizzes at the end of the sections. Overall, however, this is a promising testament to the future of online education.

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