In this course, fellows will consider the question of American national character through a close reading of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. They will gain a comprehensive understanding of the unique qualities of American democracy, how it compares to other democratic and nondemocratic regimes, and the grounds for its extraordinary success.

Originally intended to be a guide to help rectify France’s failed attempts at democracy, Tocqueville’s work would end up becoming one of the most detailed, profound narrations of American history and its political tradition.

Image: O. Louis Guglielmi, Town Square (1939)

Jenna Storey and Colleen Sheehan on civic friendship


Jenna Silber Storey

Jenna Silber Storey is a senior fellow in the Social, Cultural, and Constitutional Studies department at the American Enterprise Institute. She is the co-author of a book with Benjamin Storey: Why We Are Restless: On the Modern Quest for Contentment.

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session


  • Jenna Storey, Short biography of Tocqueville
  • Frontispiece of the Great Bible, 1539
  • Alexis de Tocqueville, Introduction, Democracy in America, pp. 3–15
  • Vol. 1, Part 1, Chs. 2 & 3:
    • “On the Point of Departure and Its Importance for the Future of the Anglo Americans” and
    • “Social States of the Anglo-Americans”


  • Vol. 1, Part 1, Ch. 4: “Of the Principle of the Sovereignty of the People in America”
  • Vol. 1, Part 1, Ch. 5: “Necessity of Studying What Takes Place in the Particular States before Speaking of the Government of the Union,” pp. 53–65
  • Vol. 2, Part 2, Ch. 20: “How Aristocracy Could Issue from Industry”
  • Vol. 2, Part 4, Chs. 1–3 and 6–8:
    • “Equality Naturally Gives Men the Taste for Free Institutions,”
    • “That the Idea of Democratic Peoples in the Matter of Government Naturally Favorable to the Concentration of Powers,”
    • “That the Sentiments of Democratic Peoples are in Accord with Their Ideas to Bring Them to Concentrate Power,”
    • “What Kind of Despotism Democratic Nations Have to Fear,”
    • “Continuation of the Preceding Chapters,” and
    • “General View of the Subject”


  • Vol 2, Part 1, Chs. 1–2 and 5:
    • “On the Philosophic Method of the Americans,”
    • “On the Principal Source of Beliefs among Democratic Peoples,” and
    • “How, in the United States, Religion Knows How to Make Use of Democratic Instincts”
  • Vol. 2, Part 3, Chs. 8–12:
    • “Influence of Democracy on the Family,”
    • “Education of Girls in the United States,”
    • “How the Girl is Found Beneath the Features of the Wife,”
    • “How Equality of Conditions Contributes to Maintaining Good Mores in America,” and
    • “How the Americans Understand the Equality of Man and Woman”


  • Vol. 2, Part 1, Chs. 10 and 17:
    • “Why the Americans Apply Themselves to the Practice of the Sciences Rather than to the Theory,” and
    • “On Some Sources of Poetry in Democratic Nations”
  • Vol. 2, Part 2, Chs. 10–13:
    • “On the Taste for Material Well-Being in America,”
    • “On the Particular Effects That the Love of Material Enjoyments Produces in Democratic Countries,”
    • “Why Certain Americans Display Such an Exalted Spiritualism,” and
    • “Why the Americans Show Themselves So Restive in the Midst of Their Well-Being”
  • Vol. 2, Part 2, Ch. 16: “How the Excessive Love of Well-Being Can be Harmful to Well-Being”

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