Politics encompasses many things, from the institutional workings of governments to war and revolution, from the organization of parties and elections to the public policy of welfare or education. Politics is not everything, but everything personal and social may ultimately be political. The Department of Government—like political science—is an umbrella for a remarkable range of political subjects and approaches to studying them. It stands at the cross-roads of history, law, economics, sociology, philosophy, and ethics, borrowing from these disciplines as well as constructing theories and methods of its own.
Like our faculty, students who choose to concentrate in Government are inspired by many things. Some are passionate about contemporary American politics; some are fascinated with a model to explain, measure, or predict political outcomes; some are interested in the civic philosophy of the ancient Greeks, some in the moral challenges of global citizenship; some focus on the political culture of a particular region of the world; some want to grasp the more general interrelationships of ethnicity and civil war, or human rights and emerging democracy. There is no one path through the Government Department, but the courses of study our students pursue all emphasize the development of lucid writing and sharp analytical skills and prepare them well for whatever endeavors they pursue beyond Harvard.
A very flexible concentration, Government allows students to explore and define their particular interests through the courses they choose to meet their requirements as concentrators [link to concentrations requirements] or to fulfill the requirements of Government as a secondary field [link to secondary field requirements]. With their Concentration Advisers, students should seek a coherent program of study that shows both a general familiarity with political science and an understanding of that field or combination of fields that captures their interests. Brief descriptions of the subfields that make up political science follow:
Political Theory involves fundamental inquiries: What is human nature? What are the standards of right and wrong, just and unjust, legitimate and illegitimate? How can we know the answers to such questions? Political theory is also comprehensive: rather than taking as its focus any one particular historical context or political setting, it includes every historical period in its purview and studies political thought with an eye to what is relevant for our time, and for every time. Studying political philosophy is more like participating in an ongoing debate than mastering a set doctrine. Thus courses in the field are likely to be investigations of several different political philosophers and their various answers to important questions of the discipline.
Courses in Comparative Politics include the study of various political phenomena from a comparative perspective (revolution and political violence, political elites, political modernization and development, public policy), and the study of government and politics in particular geographical areas (Latin America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Western Europe). The field is based upon the premise that only through careful understanding and comparison of many political systems can one generate a set of propositions valid for all political systems, or for any one.
The field of American Politics includes the study of political behavior (electoral politics, public opinion, politics of interest groups and social movements), public policy (economic policy, social welfare policy, urban public policy), and governmental institutions (the Presidency, Congress, judicial process and public law, bureaucracies.) Americanists conduct theoretical, institutional, and behavioral analyses of topics in both domestic politics and foreign relations, using a variety of methodologies ranging from literary analyses to mathematical modeling.
Courses in International Relations consider political, economic, and military interactions across national boundaries. The field includes the study of international development, international political economy, international law, national security and defense policies of various countries, nuclear weapons and arms control, terrorism and guerilla warfare in a global perspective, international governmental and non-governmental organizations, bargaining and negotiation.
Finally, the Department offers a number of courses in Formal and Mathematical Approaches to the study of politics.