Steven B. Smith, Yale University Course Lectures on Alexis de Tocqueville in "PLSC 114: Introduction to Political Philosophy"
With the emergence of democracies in Europe and the New World at the beginning of the nineteenth century, political philosophers began to re-evaluate the relationship between freedom and equality. Tocqueville, in particular, saw the creation of new forms of social power that presented threats to human liberty. His most famous work, Democracy in America, was written for his French countrymen who were still devoted to the restoration of the monarchy and whom Tocqueville wanted to convince that the democratic social revolution he had witnessed in America was equally representative of France’s future.
Three main features that Tocqueville regarded as central to American democracy are discussed: the importance of local government, the concept of “civil association,” and “the spirit of religion.” The book is not simply a celebration of the democratic experience in America; Tocqueville is deeply worried about the potential of a democratic tyranny.
Professor Smith discusses the moral and psychological components of the democratic state in the context of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. He goes on to explore the institutional development of the democratic state, the qualities of the democratic individual, and the psychological determinants of the democratic character. The ethic of self-interest is addressed, understood as an antidote to an ethic of fame and glory. Finally, Tocqueville is presented as a political educator and his views on the role of statesmen in a democratic age are expounded.