FT 09-D Alexis De Tocqueville and American Democracy
In 1831, a 25-year-old Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville, came to the USA to look at the oldest and most advanced democracy in the world. Upon his return to France, he wrote a 2-volume work, Democracy in America, which has recently been described as the best book ever about America and the best book ever about democracy. Those are extraordinary claims, given the number of books written on those two topics.
In this tutorial, we will spend the semester reading, discussing, and writing about this extraordinary book. Among the questions we will keep coming back to are:
What are the essential elements of a democracy?
What are democracy’s most serious weaknesses?
How can those weaknesses be mitigated, if not completely overcome?
Is democracy compatible with excellence, or does it lead to a broad mediocrity?
What is the role of religion in a democracy?
Is democracy adaptable to societies radically different than America’s?
Since Tocqueville believes deeply in democracy as rising up from localities rather than trickling down from above, we will do some exploring of Crawfordsville to see how democracy is functioning here. This will include visits to government bodies as well as private organizations.