APSA’s RAISE the Vote: “Tocqueville for the Holidays”
By Randal Hendrickson
“I won’t touch impeachment but to say it seems good for those who mean to promote the study of American political thought. The founders are now everywhere. And so as The Federalist is hot again, I’m happy to recommend to students another perspective on America and on democracy more generally, that of Alexis de Tocqueville in his Democracy in America.
A few words on Tocqueville are in keeping, I think, with this month’s theme of the RAISE the Vote campaign, “Theoretical and Philosophical Foundations to Democratic Engagement,” and appropriate as a recommendation to students active in political life, wary of it, or new to the game.
Tocqueville spent some nine months of 1831 touring and observing the United States. The book he produced based on that journey remains among the most insightful and penetrating on the spirit of American democracy. Democracy in America is a work in two volumes, published in 1835 and 1840. It is a long, diverse, and sometimes contradictory book that Tocqueville nonetheless claims to be a consistent whole, born of a “mother thought” (14).
Tocqueville treats democracy, or the “democratic revolution” (3) as a “providential fact” (DA, 6) by which he at least means it’s here if you like it or not. And so the choice Tocqueville presents to his reader is not between democracy and non-democracy, but between democratic liberty and democratic tyranny–which ranges from mild to harsh…”
Randal Hendrickson is JMC’s Executive Director of Academic Programs. He has written on themes ranging from republicanism to evolutionary psychology in such publications as The Journal of Politics, Perspectives on Political Science, The New Atlantis, and The Encyclopedia of Political Thought. Before joining JMC, Randal was a fellow in the Gerst Program for Economic and Humane Studies at Duke University, where he taught political theory for two years. Prior to that, he was a fellow at the Symposium of Science Reason & Modern Democracy at Michigan State University and a Government Fellow at Harvard University.
APSA’s RAISE the Vote Campaign encourages the civic participation of APSA members and of the public. A healthy civic life is one of engagement. In fact, a core APSA objective is “to prepare citizens to be effective citizens and political participants.” Thus, the campaign encourages political scientists to share information with their students and communities to increase awareness of public issues and to inform deliberations by sharing disciplinary knowledge. Registering to vote, getting educated about issues and candidates, and casting a ballot on Election Day are key elements of an engaged and participatory citizenship.
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