The American Experiment

Foundations of Democracy

July 25–31, 2021 | Santa Fe, NM

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In his Gettysburg Address, Lincoln posed a question: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.” What kind of test, what kind of experiment, does American democracy represent? In classical Greek and Roman experience, democracy appeared to be the most unstable of regimes, prone to faction, revolution, demagogues, and dictators. Founding theorists of modern democracies sought ways to secure the advantages of democratic life, while addressing both the weaknesses identified by the ancients and the peculiar vulnerabilities of modern politics. Tocqueville, in his masterpiece Democracy in America, develops the insight shared by the American founders, Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and other great modern political philosophers—that in order to secure the best forms of democratic life, we have to understand and protect against the characteristic weaknesses of democratic politics and democratic society. To do so, we must raise difficult questions about the relations between justice and wisdom, between freedom and liberty, between commercialism and individualism on the one hand, and civic, religious, and moral virtues, on the other. We will explore these themes through careful reading of classic texts in political philosophy, American founding documents, and Tocqueville’s reflections on America—texts that should be studied with care by all citizens.

Summer Academy American Experiment Santa Fe

Classes and Readings

For more information, the college urges students and parents to review expectations and policies, a campus map, and additional need-to-know details about Summer Academy in Santa Fe.


Plutarch, Lives of Lycurgus and Solon

Aristotle, Politics

Locke, Second Treatise of Government


United States Declaration of Independence

Constitution of the United States

Hamilton, Madison, and Jay, Federalist Papers

Speeches from Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Political Theory

de Toqueville, Democracy in America

Example Workshops

Improv Comedy, Pottery, Yoga

Example Excursions

Cave Dwellings at Bandelier National Monument; Santa Fe’s Palace of the Governors; Historic District

Summer Academy in Santa Fe

The community formed among students is a natural extension of the friendships and ideas shared in the classroom. To further nurture a sense of community, Summer Academy students participate in non-academic workshops such as archery, pottery, yoga, and cooking.  Off-campus excursions will include a refreshing visit to Lake Abiquiu and a tour of Meow Wolf’s immersive, multimedia arts installation.