Tocqueville and American Democracy

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Medium:
Syllabus
Course Length:
15 Weeks
Credits:
3
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Introduction

This seminar will be devoted to an in-depth exploration of Alexis de Tocqueville's classic two volume work, Democracy in America. This may be the best book ever written on American politics and it is among the most important books ever written on politics in the modern world. It is also a very long and complex book. There is no getting around the fact that if you want to understand what Tocqueville has to say about the politics of modern democracies you are going to have to invest a great deal of time and effort in reading and thinking about this book. But for the student who genuinely desires to deepen his or her understanding of the politics of modern democracies--especially the politics of American democracy--this book will pay back richly the considerable time and effort that will be required to work carefully through its ninety-three chapters. We will devote the majority of the semester to reading and discussing this book. However, in the second half of the seminar we will also read a novel by Henry James that addresses some important Tocquevillian themes as well as readings by political scientists who have written on the relevance of Tocqueville's work for contemporary political science and have undertaken research on some of the questions he raised.

Some of the questions we will explore in the seminar include: What does Tocqueville mean by democracy? Why did Tocqueville choose America as the focus for his study of democracy? What are the distinctive features of American democracy? Which of these did Tocqueville consider beneficial and which did he consider detrimental to democratic governance? What did Tocqueville think would be the major problems facing American democracy in the future? How is democracy different from the aristocratic regimes that preceded it in places such as Tocqueville's native France? Should we expect democratic citizens to act on the basis of higher, public-spirited motives, or is political action in modern democracies almost always motivated by narrow material self-interest? What is it about modern democracy that tends to isolate individuals and erode civic engagement? Is it possible to sustain the higher, more public-spirited motives in modern democratic regimes? If so, how? To what extent does Tocqueville's "new science of politics" resemble the approaches of contemporary political scientists or differ from them? What questions raised by Tocqueville remain of interest to contemporary political scientists? And finally, why has this book had such staying power and why has it won so many admirers on both the right and the left?


Required Texts

  • Henry James,Ed. Spegemann The American (New York: Penguin Books, 1981).
  • Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America. Trans. Mansfield and Winthrop (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000).
  • James Ceaser, Liberal Democracy and Political Science. (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992).
  • Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000).


Course Requirements

  • Papers: Students will write three types of papers for the seminar: weekly analytical summaries on the assigned reading (approx. 2pp., due at the beginning of class); a midterm essay addressing a major theme in Tocqueville's Democracy in America (5-7 pp.); and a final paper (12-15pp.). All papers must be written in 12pt. font, double-spaced, with page numbers and one inch margins. Weekly analytical summaries may be submitted electronically. The midterm essay and the final paper must be submitted in hard copy. Please note that late papers will be accepted and that extensions can be granted only under the most extreme circumstances.


  • Seminar Meetings: Attendance at seminar meetings is 'required'. Each member of the seminar should come prepared to discuss the week's reading assignment. If some extraordinary circumstance requires you to miss a seminar meeting, please notify me as soon as possible in writing. Except in the case of a genuine emergency, missing a seminar meeting will result in a reduction of your seminar participation grade. (The desire to leave early for the holiday does not qualify as an emergency; please make your travel plans accordingly.)


  • Grading:
Seminar participation 15%
Weekly analytical summaries 25%
Midterm essay 25%
Final paper 35%


Course Outline

I. Course introduction

  • Reading:
Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Author's Introduction (pp.3-15)


II. Equality as a "social state" and the origins of American politics

  • Reading:
Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. 1, Part 1, Chaps. 1-5.


III. National political institutions

  • Reading:
Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. 1, Part 1, Chaps. 6-8.


IV. Popular sovereignty

  • Reading:
Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. 1, Part 2, Chaps. 1-6.


V. Tyranny of the majority and the future of American democracy

  • Reading:
Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. 1, Part 2, Chaps. 7-10


VI. The influence of democracy on ideas

  • Reading:
Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. 2, Part 1 (all)


MIDTERM ESSAY DUE


VII. The influence of democracy on sentiments and mores

  • Reading:
Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. 2, Part 2 (all), Part 3, Chaps. 1-7


VIII. The influence of democracy on mores, cont.

  • Reading:
Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. 2, Part 3, Chaps. 8-26


IX. The new despotism and the future of democracy

  • Reading:
Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. 2, Part 4 (all)


X. The American democrat among the ruins of the French aristocracy

  • Reading:
Henry James, The American


XI. Tocqueville and contemporary political science I: the role of political science in liberal democracies

  • Reading:
James Ceaser, Liberal Democracy and Political Science, Chaps. 1-4


XII. Tocqueville and contemporary political science II: the social capital debate/Conclusion

  • Reading:
Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Chaps. 1, 3, 10, 13-15.
Theda Skocpol, "The Narrowing of Civic Life." The American Prospect (June 2004) eJournals


FINAL PAPER DUE