The Academy: session abstract and readings

Philosophy, Lecture 4: de Tocqueville - Democracy in America

Professor Giorgios Varouxakis

The lecture will focus first on highlighting Tocqueville’s concerns about the deleterious effects of the set of attitudes that he called ‘individualism’ which he thought inherent to a ‘democratic state of society’. What Tocqueville meant by ‘individualism’ and the wide-ranging dangerous results that he attributed to individualist attitudes will be analysed.

The focus will then move to the ways in which Tocqueville proposed to combat ‘individualism’. The hopes generated by voluntary associations of various kinds that he had observed in America will be analysed next. But though voluntary associations have been widely discussed as Tocqueville’s main hope for the preservation of liberty in the new democratic world, they were not his only antidote to democratic individualism. Tocqueville had strong views on the importance of other buttresses of the liberty he wanted to preserve. A few words will be said on religion in this context.

The lecture will then move to his complex and sometimes controversial views on the importance of partiotism. Tocqueville identified and praised a certain version of patriotism understood as enlightened self-interest, which he thought he saw at work in America. But then, in other parts of Democracy in America, Tocqueville appears to be critical of such a version of patriotism and to aspire to a more ambitious type of patriotic attachment. The lecture will connect these different analyses of patriotism in Democracy in America with Tocqueville’s other utterances on patriotism and national attachment, not least in his capacity as a member of the French Chamber of Deputies. Some revealing letters that he exchanged with French and British correspondents during the Franco-British crisis of he early 1840s will be scrutinised in order for some conclusions regarding Tocqueville’s attitude to the relationship between individualism and citizenship, patriotism and glory to be reached. 


See the Academy 2015 readings page for attendees.

what's happening next

Battle of Ideas Festival 2019

Saturday 2 & Sunday 3 November 2019, Barbican, Silk Street, London