American Liberal Arts Blog

Teaching the Liberal Arts in the American Context
Tuesday June 14- "Alexis de Tocqueville on the Foundations and Future of American Democracy"- Randall Strahan
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By Anonymous, June 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

Tocqueville acknowledges the wisdom of the Founders of the U.S. Constitution. Yet his account of the founding of government based on popular sovereignty in America emphasizes a point of departure that comes well before the Revolution and the adoption of the Constitution. In his analysis of the success of a democratic republic in the United States, Tocqueville also assigns crucial importance to the mores that guide citizens’ actions within the constitutional forms designed by the Founders.  American identity and public spirit are said to arise from practical experience of participation in local and state political communities along with attachment to principles articulated in our national founding documents.  Looking to the future, Tocqueville was confident that government based on popular sovereignty was firmly established in America, but less confident of the survival of the federal Constitution. In the longer term he foresaw a powerful centralizing tendency in modern democratic politics that, if left unchecked, could result in a new type of despotism.  Tocqueville’s analysis suggests that some of what is distinctively American about American democracy—certain institutions and practices that develop and sustain beneficial mores among citizens—will always be at risk of being overwhelmed by what is democratic. Tocqueville’s “new political science” recognizes the importance of constitutional forms in shaping democratic regimes and citizens, but calls our attention to other causes that may be equally important for understanding the past and future of American democracy

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1 Comment
Lee Trepanier on Jun 14, 2011 at 9:22 am

An interesting insight into the nature of American democracy, and especially relevant today with the increased role of government in the economy (finance, automative, and health care).