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Democratic Society

Tocqueville's Democracy in America (1835, 1840) is not primarily a study of the political institutions of that state - it is a study of American society - a study that asks, among other things, about the kinds of political institutions that are appropriatee to a democratic society: ie, a society marked by equalisation of condition.

In Tocqueville we find encapsulated a strain of thinking, that developed in France, but that went on to have a powerful effect throughout Europe, that identified equality as the true practical legacy of the French Revolution, and of the modern state more generally. The problem he identified was as old as Aristotle - how to ensure that equaality in one respect did not come to take the form of a demand for equality in all respects; or, conversely, how inequality in one respect, could avoid becoming a demand for inequality in all respects.

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America - http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/tocqueville-democracy-in-america-historical-critical-edition-4-vols-lf-ed-2010

You should ALL read:

The Introduction to Vol 1 AND chapters 3 and 4 of part 1, volume 1 ('social conditions of the Anglo-Americans' and 'the principle of the soveriegnty of the people').

We will then divide the rest of the reading up between you.

Group 1 - volume 2, part 2,ch 6 ('what are the real advantages that American society gains from the government of democracy?')

Group 2 - volume 2, part 2, ch 7 ('on the omnipotence of the majority in the US')

Group 3 - volume 2, part 2, ch 8 and 9 ('of what tempers tyranny of the majority...' and 'of the principal causes that tend to maintain the democratic republic...')

Group 4 - vol 2, part 2, ch 2a, 3, 4a ('of individualism in democratic countries', 'how individualism is greater at the end of a democratic revolution than at other times' and 'how the Americans combat individualism with free institutions'.

Questions to consider

What is tyranny of the majority? What causes it? Why is it problematic? How might it be checked?

What is individualism? What role does it play in American society?

What different kinds of causal explanation are at work in Tocqueville's theory? (For a handy summary of the different types of causality in Tocqueville, put together by our very own Prof Mark Philp, see here).

Suggested secondary reading

Richard Herr, Tocqueville and the Old Regime (2015) - ebook

Jon Elster, Tocqueville: the Ancien Regime and the French Revolution (2011) - ebook

Arthur Kaledin, Tocqueville and his America: a darker horizon (2011) - ebook (interesting on the continuing salience of Tocqueville in America)

Ch on Tocqueville in French Political Thought from Montesquieu to Tocqueville (2011)