Department of Government
Government 472: Modern Political Philosophy
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
Fall 2006 T 7:00-9:30 pm
Professor Joseph R. Reisert 872-3681
259 Miller Library email@example.com
Office Hours: Thursdays, 2-4 and by appointment
This seminar will consider questions that are both matters of political theory (e.g., What is democracy? In what ways does democracy support, and in what ways does it threaten, liberty?) and empirical questions (e.g., What kind of a culture is necessary for a healthy democracy to function? What institutions are appropriate for different democratic societies? What kind of a culture does democracy produce?).
When these kinds of issues are looked at together, we can begin to address some of the largest and most important questions political science should be able to address: In what ways was American democracy genuinely successful and valuable when Tocqueville was writing? In what ways was it not? Is American democracy healthy and vital today? What are the threats to democratic government? How can those threats be successfully countered?
Course Requirements and Grading
Presentation and short paper (20%) — One presentation is required; some topics are suggested on the syllabus, but you may present on an alternative topic with the instructor’s permission. The presentation may include material you will use in your term paper.
The presentation must make reference to at least two secondary works (from the political theory literature about Tocqueville, from the history of political thought, or from some works about contemporary America). Your presentation should not merely be a summary of someone else’s argument, but rather should develop your own position. It will usually be helpful for you to have prepared a handout for distribution (or, at a minimum, an outline for the board) which lays out your main claims. Each presentation should last 10-15 minutes, and you should expect to be able to answer questions about your argument.
In addition, you must hand in a 5-6 page paper based on the presentation by 4 pm on the Friday following your presentation. You may, and are indeed strongly encouraged, to revise your initial ideas in light of what you learn in seminar when you deliver the oral presentation.
Participation and Response Papers (20%) — Seminars are by nature cooperative ventures: their success depends upon everyone’s hard work and willingness to share ideas and questions with others. It is therefore expected that you will attend every class and that you will have completed—and thought about—the readings before coming to class.
To supply added focus to your reading, five response papers are required. These are short (2-3 pages) papers, which explain and evaluate an argument from the reading or which present the contrasting argument of some work from the secondary literature. The response papers may include material from research you are doing for your final paper.
Every time you miss a class, you miss out on the opportunity to express and develop your ideas in dialogue with others. To compensate for this lost opportunity, you are expected to write a 4-5 page short response essay based on the readings for the class you missed. This paper may not count as one of the five response papers and is due at the beginning of the next class session after the one you miss.
Students who miss three class sessions will ordinarily be excluded from the class with a failing grade.
Final Paper (60%) — An original research paper of 20-25 pages in length will be due during the reading period at the end of the semester. A satisfactory paper for this class (i.e., earning a grade of C or better) will satisfy the Government department writing requirement.
Although you may (with the instructor’s permission) write about any topic you wish, let me suggest three models to consider:
1. Tocqueville and the Secondary Literature. A political theory paper which attempts to reconstruct a set of Tocqueville’s arguments about some major theme or set of related themes. This paper will develop an interpretation of Tocqueville, arguing with (and against) a number of works in the (political theory) secondary literature on Tocqueville’s works.
2. Tocqueville and the history of political thought. A political theory paper which compares and contrasts some of Tocqueville’s principal arguments to the related (and typically contradictory) arguments of other figures in the history of political philosophy (e.g., Montesquieu, Rousseau, Mill). This model paper will also require some reference to the political theory literature on Tocqueville and the other figure to whom you compare him, and is not radically different from the first model.
3. Tocqueville and Democracy in America today. Tocqueville wrote a lot about the character and mores of Americans in his own day, and he made some observations about how certain institutions worked (and did not work) to protect freedom from the forces threatening to overwhelm it. These papers will look at some theme or other -- e.g., the family, race relations, the role of intermediate associations, the problem of individualism or tyranny of the majority, etc -- and examine, through engagement with some books about contemporary America, whether Tocqueville's analysis of the issue still holds true, or not, and why. For some suggestions of works to consult, see the bibliography at the end of this syllabus; you are, of course, welcome to propose any alternative works you wish, so long as they are academically appropriate to the course.
In order that you have sufficient guidance in preparing your papers, the preparation of the seminar paper has been broken down into a set of more manageable components, as follows:
Prospectus (6 pages) — due Friday, October 20 (10% of paper grade)
Draft of entire paper (20 pages) — due Friday, Dec 1 (40% of paper grade)
Completed paper (20-25 pages) — due Tuesday, Dec 12 (50% of paper grade)
The prospectus should examine a question or issue from Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and state the thesis of your term paper, or set up the question you will be posing (e.g., Is individualism a threat to American democracy today? Did Tocqueville believe that freedom would endure in America?) The prospectus should be prepared without making special reference to the secondary literature (the focus should be to present your thoughts & questions about Tocqueville’s work). I will comment on your paper and suggest further questions and areas for further research.
The next stage of research should involve making reference to at least three works (articles or book chapters) in the secondary literature (more is usually better, but if you work carefully with some exceptionally difficult material, fewer may be acceptable — consult me on the details). As you prepare your rough draft, you will want to show how the scholars have interpreted the passages you are examining and indicate how your account differs from theirs and indicate why your view is better.
The draft you submit on Dec 1 should cover substantially all of the material you plan to include in the final version. It will be shared with all of the students in the class, some of whom will be assigned to comment directly on it. In our final class session, all students will make oral presentations based on their paper research.
Completed, revised papers will be due on the last day of the reading period, which is Tuesday, December 12.
Late papers will be penalized 1/3 of a grade per 24 hours lateness. Late response papers will ordinarily not be accepted.
The following book is recommended for purchase and has been ordered by the Colby bookstore:
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America. Translated by Harvey Mansfield and Delba Winthrop. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Schedule of Readings
Sept 12: Tocqueville’s Aims and Method in Democracy in America
“Introduction” to Volume 1. Mansfield, 3-15.
Volume 1, Part 1, chapters 1-3. Mansfield, 19-53
“Notice” to Volume 2. Mansfield, 399-400.
Sept 19: Popular Sovereignty and Constitutionalism in America
Volume 1, Part 1, chapters 4-8. Mansfield, 53-161.
1. Compare and Contrast Tocqueville’s conception of popular sovereignty with the ideas of one of his predecessors or contemporaries (Rousseau, Monesquieu, Mill)
2. What significance does Tocqueville attach to the township? Does township democracy still exist today?
3. In what ways does the legal system support American democracy? Are there any ways in which the American legal system (as Tocqueville describes it) undermines democracy?
Sept 26: Civil Society and American Democracy
Volume 1, Part 1, chapters 1-6. Mansfield, 165-235.
1. Explain Tocqueville’s analysis of the American party system and evaluate whether his account is still valid today.
2. Explain Tocqueville’s account of the power of the idea of rights in America.
3. What are the effects of press freedom and liberty of association?
Oct 3: Tyranny of the Majority: What Causes it and What Tempers it
Volume 1, Part 2, chapters 7-9. Mansfield, 235-302.
1. What does Tocqueville mean by “tyranny of the majority”? How serious a threat is it?
2. How does the lawyerly spirit protect democracy?
3. What causes tend to preserve democratic government in the United States?
Oct 10: The Three Races in America
Volume 1, Part 1, chapter 10. Mansfield, pp. 302-396.
1. What is Tocqueville’s account of the relationship between the Anglo-Americans and African Americans?
2. Is Tocqueville right to treat slavery as a peculiar feature of the South? Would a faithful portrait of Democracy in America require moving race closer to the center of analysis?
Oct 17: No Class Session — Fall Break
Oct 20 (Friday): Paper Prospectus Due
Oct 24: Democracy and the Life of the Mind
Volume 2, Part 1, chapters 1-21. Mansfield, 403-476.
1. Why does Tocqueville say that Americans are Carteisans, though they haven’t read Descartes? Is he right?
2. What does Tocqueville think the writing of history will be like in democratic times?
Oct 31: Individualism
Volume 2, Part 2, chapters 1-8. Mansfield, 479-503.
1. What is individualism? How much of a threat does it pose to democracy?
2. How do civil associations combat individualism, according to Tocqueville?
3. What is the role of civil associations today, and how does that role compare to Tocqueville’s account?
Nov 7: Religion and Democracy
Volume 1, Part 1, chapter 2. Mansfield, 27-45.
Volume 1, Part 2, chapter 9 (excerpt). Mansfield, 275-288.
Volume 2, Part 1, chapters 1-8. Mansfield, 403-428.
Volume 2, Part 2, chapters 9-17. Mansfield, 504-524.
1. In what ways does religion support or threaten democracy?
2. In what ways does democracy support or threaten religion?
Nov 14: The Democratic Family
Volume 2, Part 3, chapters 1-13. Mansfield, 535-576.
1. What is Tocqueville’s account of the American family? How does it differ from the aristocratic family?
2. What is Tocqueville’s account of the equality of men and women?
Nov 21: Commerce and Ambition
Volume 2, Part 2, chapters 13-14, 16, 18-20. Mansfield, 511-517, 521-522, 525-532.
Volume 2, Part 3, chapters 6-7, 15-26. Mansfield, 553-557, 582-635.
1. What is Tocqueville’s explanation for the peculiar restlessness he sees among the Americans?
2. Explain and evaluate Tocqueville’s account of democratic armies.
Nov 28: The Dangers of Democratic Despotism
Volume 2, Part 4, chapters 1-8. Mansfield, 639-676.
1. What kind of despotism do democratic nations have to fear?
2. How does the love of equality threaten liberty?
Dec 1 (Friday): Draft Papers Due — to be submitted electronically to the class by 5 pm
Dec 5: Conclusion: Democracy in America, past, present, and future
Assignment: 10 minute presentation on your own work; read the other papers; written comments on two other papers.
Dec 12: Completed Papers Due — to be submitted to me in Miller 259, in hard copy, by 5pm
The standard French edition of Tocqueville’s works is the Bibliotheque de la Pleiade.
About contemporary America
Benjamin Barber, Strong Democracy: Participatory Politics for a New Age. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.
Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987.
David Brooks, Bobos in Paradise: the New Upper Class and How they Got There. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.
David Brooks, On Paradise Drive: how we live now (and always have) in future tense. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.
Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique. New York: Norton, 1963.
Mickey Kaus, The End of Equality? New York: Basic Books, 1992.
Donald R. Kinder and Lynn M. Sanders. Divided by Color: Racial Politics and American Ideals. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.
Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1978.
Harvey C. Mansfield. Manliness. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.
Douglas S. Massey and Nancy A. Denton. American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass. Cambrdige: Harvard University Press, 1993.
Sidney Milkis, Political Parties and Constitutional Government. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.
Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone: the Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.
David Riesman, with Nathan Glazer and Reuel Denney. The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character. Abridged edition with 1969 preface. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1973.
Theda Skocpol, Diminished Democracy: from Membership to Management in American Civic Life. Norrman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2003.
William Julius Wilson, The Bridge over the racial Divide: Rising Inequality and Coalition Politics. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.
Alan Wolfe, One Nation After All: What Middle-Class Americans Really Think About: God, Country, Family, Racism, Welfare, Immigration, Homosexuality, Work, the Right, the Left, and Each Other. New York: Viking, 1998.
Historical Political Theorists
Bryce, Lord James. The American Commonwealth. 1888.
J.S. Mill. On Liberty; Considerations on Representative Government; Reviews of Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 of Democracy in America.
Montesquieu, Spirit of the Laws
Rousseau, Essay on Political Economy, First and Second Discourses, the Social Contract.
Works About Tocqueville
Please consult the list of Suggested Readings in Mansfield, lxxxvii-xxxxix.