In this brief survey, we will consider the thoughts of a number of canonical authors who wrestle with Biblical religion. Augustine offers us the City of God and the City of Man; Hobbes tries to combine the two cities; Tocqueville asks that we separate religion from democratic politics in order to save both; Nietzsche encourages us to let go of Biblical religion in order that man himself may be saved.

We will read these works with a view to moving in three directions at once: inward, with a view to the meaning of the ideas themselves; outward, to other ideas in the canon that offer different paths; and outward, again, to the world around us, in the hope that what we are reading illuminates that world.

Image: Detail from Hans Memling, The Passion of the Christ, ca. 1471

Joshua Mitchell lectures on Tocqueville


Joshua Mitchell

Joshua Mitchell is professor of political theory at Georgetown University. His research interest lies in the relationship between political thought and theology in the West.

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session



Discussion Questions:

  1. What, for Augustine, is at issue in the fall of Rome?
  2. How is man to make sense of the problem of evil?
  3. Can there be “man” without God?
  4. In light of the problem of sin, what is the place of politics?



Discussion Questions:

  1. Why does Hobbes begin Leviathan with a chapter on “sense”?
  2. Why is he so opposed to Aristotle?
  3. Why does man need an “arbiter”?
  4. Why does each nation need a Moses?


  • Aristocratic Age versus Democratic Age
  • Selections from Tocqueville, Democracy in America
    • Author’s Introduction (pp. 3–15)
    • I, Part 1, Ch. 2 (pp. 27–36, ending at “in the New England states.”)
    • 1, Part 1, Ch. 5 (“On the Township System in America,” pp. 57–58 and “On the Political Effects . . .”, pp. 82–84, ending at “malcontents to obedience”)
    • I, Part 2, Ch. 6 (pp. 225–35)
    • I, Part 2, Ch. 9 (pp. 278–88, ending at “the strength it still preserves”)


Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the “story” of liberalism that Tocqueville tells?
  2. Why is Tocqueville a “mediational” theorist?
  3. What is Tocqueville’s understanding of the psyche?
  4. Why does Tocqueville give so much attention to the Puritans?


  • Aristocratic Age versus Democratic Age
  • Selections from Tocqueville, Democracy in America
    • II, Part 1, Chs. 1–2 (pp. 403–10)
    • II, Part 1, Ch. 5 (pp. 417–19, ending at “abandoned to itself”)
    • II, Part 1, Chs. 7–8 (pp. 425–28)
    • II, Part 1, Ch. 20 (pp. 469–72)
    • II, Part 2, Ch. 5 (pp. 489–92)
    • II, Part 2, Ch. 8 (pp. 500–03)
    • II, Part 3, Ch. 12 (pp. 573–76)
    • II, Part 3, Ch. 21 (pp. 606–17)
    • II, Part 4, Ch. 6 (pp. 661–65)


Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the “American philosophical method,” and why is it so important?
  2. How may religion maintain its hold in the democratic age?
  3. What is self-interest rightly understood?
  4. Why is the “end of history” quietude?

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