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

Faculty

Jenna Silber Storey

Jenna Silber Storey is Assistant Professor in Politics and International Affairs at Furman University and Executive Director of Furman’s Tocqueville Program. She is the co-author of a book with Benjamin Storey: Why We Are Restless: On the Modern Quest for Contentment (Princeton University Press, 2021). Further information about her work can be found at www.jbstorey.com.

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session

Readings:

  • 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”

Readings:

  • 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”

Readings:

  • 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”

Readings:

  • 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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