The American Constitution and America Today

Course Instructor:  Dr. Steven Maloney is lecturer in Political Theory at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.  His previous Selim Center Lectures have been "20th Century Political Thought:  Ideas that Mattered" (2010), and "The Beholder's Share: Why Do We See Politics The Way We Do?" (2013).

Course Information:  Mondays, March 31-May 12, 2014 (no session on April 21), 1:00-3:00 p.m., Terrence Murphy Hall, Room 260 (Thornton Auditorium), UST Minneapolis Campus

Course Description:  A recent commercial for LED light bulbs proclaims, "nostalgia is dumb."  If even the light bulb is out of date, what does this say about the Constitution of the United States?  The US Constitution as a document represents the advancements and the limitations of the time period in which it was written.  In this class, we will survey six conflicts that the Constitution left unresolved that have been left to political practice to resolve.

Registration fee for the series:  $80.00 per person

To register on-line with a credit card, click on this link:

To register by check or cash through the mail or in-person, click on this link for the registration form to download, print and mail in with your payment: Spring 2014 Registration Form

Link to campus map:  Minneapolis Campus Map

Detailed Course Syllabus (subject to change):


March 31

Commercial Republicanism vs. Agrarian Democracy

Alexander Hamilton believed America could best be governed by private enterprise protected and encouraged by the state, whereas James Madison saw the American democracy as protecting an agrarian American middle class from the coming modern age.  Today, we live in Hamilton's America, but most of us have been raised to have Madison's political values.

April 7

Necessary and Proper?  Federal Power vs. State's Rights

The implied powers granted to Congress have expanded over time, granting the Federal government more authority to dictate to the states.  How elastic the "elastic clause" ought to be has been determined by issues of race, economic opportunity and social justice, all problems of the Constitution's own making.

April 14

Dred Scott, Eli Whitney and the NSA

The Constitution's imagination of technological innovation is limited.  The first strong evidence of this might be when it became obvious the slavery compromise turned out to be a poor one.  How does the Constitution cope with the digital age?

April 21 No Session
Aprl 28

"What's the Frequency, Kenneth?"

Ths Constitution says absolutely nothing about communications except for two provisos added (later) into the first amendment.  Which means the Constitution is almost completely silent on the rules on who should and should not have what information.  Whether it's WikiLeaks, Fox News, or Citizens United v. FEC, constitutional silence has not equated to the problem of democratic communications going away.

May 5

Sovereignty in a Global World

If you thought Constitution was old, the international order is predicated on the Peace of Westphalia from the 1640's!  In a global world, does it make sense to say our obligations to the United States always outweigh ethical commitments or fiduciary responsibilities we might have that cross borders?

May 12

The Commercial Republic in the 21st Century

Commercial republicanism is predicated on the notion that the good society carefully maintains the balance between active government, self-government and limited government to promote the flourishing of those it is responsible for.  The volume of activity and the amount of responsibility in America have increased exponentially since 1788.  So, how do we protect self-government for future generations?