Advanced Topics in Liberty

Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America

October 9-11, 2009 - Arlington, VA

This conference will analyze selections of Alexis de Tocqueville’s writings from Democracy In America from an interdisciplinary approach, focusing mainly on Tocqueville’s conception of democracy. Tocqueville’s notion of democracy is not just in reference to a type of political regime, but to a certain type of society, one that is concerned primarily with the principle of equality. This democratic society stands in contrast to aristocratic society, which is founded not on equality but on hereditary privileges. The discussion will also focus on political and social institutions and on the habits and beliefs that lead to a pluralistic and orderly democracy. Participants will consider balance of power, public associations, political participation, federalism, the role of religious belief, and Tocqueville’s notion of self-interest rightly understood. Finally, the risks and threats of democracy against liberty will be analyzed. These include the tyranny of the majority, the centralization of power, and soft despotism.

Section I: Democracy and Sovereignty of the People

Tocqueville, Alexis de. "Author's Introduction", Volume One, Part 1: Chapters 4 - 5.  Democracy in America. Penguin Classics: 2003. p. 1-26, 68-115

Section II:  Federalism and Political Institutions

Tocqueville, Alexis de. Volume One, Part 1: Chapter 8 "The Federal Constitution" (beginning with the section on the Federal Courts of Justice ) and Part 2: Chapters 3 - 4.  Democracy in America. Penguin Classics: 2003. p.161-200, 209-227

Section III: Democratic Culture

Tocqueville, Alexis de. Volume Two, Part 1: Chapters 1-3, 13-16, 20.  Democracy in America. Penguin Classics: 2003. p. 493-508, 543-559, 572-576

Section IV: Individualism

Tocqueville, Alexis de. Volume Two, Part 2: Chapters 1-4, 8-15, 20.  Democracy in America. Penguin Classics: 2003. p. 583-595, 609-635, 645-648.

Section V: Manners and Customs

Tocqueville, Alexis de. Volume Two, Part 3: Chapters 1-4, 7, 8, 11-14, 18, 19, 21, 22.  Democracy in America. Penguin Classics: 2003. p. 649-660, 675-683. 689-706, 714-734, 737-750.

Section VI: The Centralization of Power and Democratic Despotism

Tocqueville, Alexis de. Volume Two,  Part 4: Chapters 1-4, 6-8.  Democracy in America. Penguin Classics: 2003. p. 775-790, 803-822.