Starting Points

At Starting Points, we take the long view of American politics. Non-partisan and interdisciplinary, we aim to understand American politics by looking before and beyond our current political situation—before to the historical, cultural and intellectual roots of American politics, and beyond to the overarching ideas and guiding ideals of our unique political tradition.

LATEST ARTICLES

The May Resolution and the Declaration of Independence
by John Schmeeckle May 22, 2017
- A common starting point for analyzing both the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Bill of Rights is a neglected earlier document: the Continental Congress's Resolution of May 10 and 15, 1776.
Thanks, Moms
by Mary Beth McConahey May 14, 2017
- Much has changed for American mothers over the past two hundred and forty-one years, but like the mothers who preceded us, we’re raising children. We’re making citizens. We’re perpetuating the project of 1776.
A Nation Without a Soul? A Response to Sarah L. Houser’s “Accountability Nationalism”
by Aaron Q. Weinstein May 8, 2017
- Nationalism and religious life are intricately intertwined in the United States. A “civil religion of the Nones,” if it comes into existence, could portend significant changes in American nationalism.
Author Interview with Catherine H. Zuckert
by The Political Theory Review May 4, 2017
- A Political Theory Review Podcast
Civic Myth in the Age of Trumpian Reality: Part I
by Alan Gibson May 1, 2017
- The sweep of American history yields four distinct narratives of American identity, or civic myths. An ethnically inclusive, multicultural narrative of national identity fused from our most prominent American stories has the best chance of promoting economic prosperity while also projecting a superior normative vision of America to its own citizens and the world.
Civic Myth in the Age of Trumpian Reality: Part II
by Alan Gibson May 1, 2017
- Hope for building a shared narrative of national identity lies in the formation of an inclusive civic myth based upon the Gettysburg narrative and the Horatio Alger story.
A Nation with the Soul of a Church: Principles and Practice in American National Identity
by Sarah L. Houser April 24, 2017
- It is best to think of having a national identity as sharing a sense of accountability for the actions of one’s country. To identify as an American means to take some sort of ownership in the collective actions of its people, to understand those actions as in some way one’s own.
National Identity and Helping Fellow Americans
by Elizabeth Theiss-Morse April 17, 2017
- If the national community needs people to behave selflessly by giving to charities, paying taxes willingly, and supporting government programs to help those less fortunate, then it is those who strongly identify as Americans and who have an inclusive view of who counts as an American who are the main contributors to the nation’s well-being.
The Democratic Lineage of Trump’s Ethnic Nationalism
by Benjamin E. Park April 13, 2017
- Donald Trump’s rhetoric and proposed policies are a reminder that America has always had as much ethnic as civic foundations for its nationalist imagination.
American Anthem: The National Anthem and African American Nationhood
by Stephanie Shonekan April 10, 2017
- Until the work of racial reconciliation in the U.S. is done, questions will remain and the Star Spangled Banner will fall short of fitting snugly and comfortably on the proud shoulders of those who expect more from their country.
The Mystic Chords Of Memory: Reflections on American Identity II
by Peter C. Myers April 6, 2017
- A pervading theme of Madison’s and Lincoln’s reflections on American identity is the moral and psychological realism that informs both men’s reflections. The second installment of a two-part essay.
The Mystic Chords Of Memory: Reflections on American Identity I
by Peter C. Myers April 5, 2017
- Disputes touching the question of national identity have arisen throughout our history. Overarching all such disputes is the fundamental question: What does it mean to be an American? The first installment of a two-part essay.
Let Middlebury be Middlebury. And BYU be BYU.
by Peter Augustine Lawler April 3, 2017
- DeVos and Trump trumpet school choice in the spirit of deregulation and in the service of equal citizenship. The same opportunities for a variety of kinds of quality education should be available to everyone—and not just folks in their bubbles. The focus should be on sustaining through deregulation the diversity in our whole system of higher education.
America First but not America Over Others
by Juliana Geran Pilon March 27, 2017
- When Donald Trump states that our nation’s interests come first, he is indeed following in the Founders’ footsteps. Putting American self-interest first does not, though, imply a crassly selfish or imperialistic disregard for the interests and rights of other nations.
Humility, Hubris, and the Next Supreme Court Justice
by Zachary K. German and Robert J. Burton March 20, 2017
- The idea of humility as virtue and hubris as vice in the exercise of judicial power has been an enduring theme in American political and legal discourse. It knows no partisan, ideological, or historical boundaries. For that reason, it behooves us to pierce through its rhetorical uses and search for a more theoretical, more principled understanding of the concept.
Edmund Burke’s Alternative: Political Theory and the American Revolution
by John G. Grove March 13, 2017
- The ultimate lesson Burke drew from the American crisis was starkly opposed to the one suggested by the Declaration: That equality as a guiding principle actually distorts our perception of political justice by blinding us to meaningful and essential differences within a body politic.
Confronting Globalization: Brexit and the American Revolution
by Jonathan Chandler March 9, 2017
- There is a parallel between the American decision to leave the British Empire in 1776 and the British vote to leave the EU in 2016: both movements emphasized their localist credentials through a confrontational narrative that was anti-establishment, anti-corporate and anti-globalist.
Due Process and the Death Penalty
by Alan Rogers March 6, 2017
- In the United States Constitution, the Founding Fathers safeguarded the rights of the accused by limiting the power of the state. The Terry Williams case illustrates all too clearly what happens when prosecutors disregard Constitutional rules and principles.
The Dangers of “Aristocracy:” Grund’s Critique of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America
by Armin Mattes February 27, 2017
- Bringing Aristocracy in America into dialogue with Tocqueville’s Democracy in America can help historians to better understand the nature of the conflict between “aristocracy” and “democracy”—an issue that may be more relevant even in our own time than many had thought.
Bridling the Unbridled: The American Constitution and The Presidency of Donald Trump
by Andrew D. Carico February 20, 2017
- Whatever one may think of President Trump, perhaps the greatest hope for Making America Great Again is not found in a particular president but in the American people’s own charter of government: The Constitution of the United States.
History Without Reading
by Jim Cullen February 16, 2017
- Recognizing, and acting, on the reality of student life as it is currently lived means imagining a world without books—broadly construed—as a means toward preventing their disappearance.
Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin
by Larry Arnhart February 12, 2017
- On February 12, 1809, Abraham Lincoln was born in Hardin County, Kentucky; and Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, England. The coincidence of their being born on the same day might lead us to think about the points of similarity in their lives.
Hamilton versus Jefferson in the Washington Administration
by Carson Holloway February 9, 2017
- Starting Points Podcast: An Interview with Carson Holloway
The Humanities in a High Tech World
by Donald L. Drakeman February 6, 2017
- Scientists and physicians can figure out whether a new drug actually extends lives, and mathematicians can calculate the costs, but science alone cannot provide a considered judgment about who should have those benefits and at what price.
Can American political thought be a resource for improving race relations in the U.S.?
by Lucas Morel and Melvin Rogers February 1, 2017
- A Starting Points Conversation featuring Lucas Morel and Melvin Rogers
Jefferson and Religious Toleration
by Ari Helo January 30, 2017
- Defining the specifically American tradition of religious freedom inevitably brings us back to Thomas Jefferson. In the final analysis, religious freedom meant nothing less than freedom of conscience to Jefferson.
Solidarity and Subsidiarity
by Peter Augustine Lawler January 26, 2017
- Each American knows he or she is a citizen, but also more than a citizen. Solidarity with all human beings—through a universal conception of rights and of citizenship in the City of God—means that our world isn’t irredeemably divided into bands of friends out to rob their enemies blind.
What is the future of the American political thought subfield?
by Jeremy Bailey and Justin Dyer January 26, 2017
- A Starting Points Conversation featuring Jeremy Bailey and Justin Dyer
The Unexceptional Nation: Donald Trump and Making America Great Again
by Hilde Eliassen Restad January 23, 2017
- Since World War II, U.S. foreign policy has been operating under the assumption that the world needs U.S. leadership not just because of American military might, or because of the dollar, but also because of American ideals. This foreign policy tradition and its justification in American exceptionalism is opposed by the new American president.
U.S. Constitutional Democracy in the World
by Jay Sexton January 23, 2017
- What does the U.S. founding of 1787 look like from an international perspective? When and why did U.S. constitutional democracy matter to the wider world? These questions speak to our current global age. More than that, they offer a starting point for the coming generation of scholarship that has already begun to change our understanding of the U.S. founding.

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