POSC 352 - Political Theory of Alexis de Tocqueville

Winter 2001

Prof. Barbara Allen (ballen@carleton.edu)

Tu Th 10:30-12:15

Willis 408, ext. 4084

SAYL 253

Office Hours

The Course

In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville observed the conditions and potential for democracy in the United States. Much of his analysis of the viability of institutions of self government is still pertinent today. Tocqueville is paradoxically interpreted by liberals and conservatives in support of their causes. His work has been understood as travelogue and as the beginning of the field of sociology. More recently, his "new science of politics" has been read as political theory. Our goal in this course will be to uncover the coherent political theory in two of Tocqueville's works: one on American democracy, and the second on the political history of the French Revolution. We will also aim our discussions toward what is incomplete in Tocqueville's theory. Our larger purpose will be to think about what makes self government feasible. We will focus on the physical and institutional environment required for self government, the assumed capabilities of citizens in democracies, and the problems that arise when these conditions are not met. Finally we will see how we might apply this political theory to contemporary problems as "political science." Our topic for this application will be "welfare to work policy." We will assess the problem using a Tocquevillean framework and design a workshop for members of the Carleton community that will address some aspects of this issue.


The following books have been ordered for the course:

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, V. 1 & 2, trans. Harvey C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2000 [1835 & 1840]. If you already own the George Lawrence or Henry Reeve translation you may use it; figure out the reading assignments by using the Mansfield & Winthrop translation chapter headings.

Alexis de Tocqueville, The Old Regime and the Revolution. Trans. Alan S. Kahan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998 [1851]. 226-80529-8

Alexis de Tocqueville, Memoir on Pauperism, trans. Seymour Drescher, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee.

Course Requirements

Below are listed the readings and general topics for each of our meetings. Our seminar will be conducted in a lecture/discussion format during the first part of the course. At the end of this part you will complete one take-home exam covering Tocqueville's theories. The format for part two will be workshop/discussion. You will work as teams gathering information about welfare to work legislation and its effects. These data will be used in your "Tocquevillean" assessment of current policy - the subject of your 20+ page seminar paper. Grades will be computed as follows:



Seminar Paper




Topics for Discussion and Reading Assignments Part 1 Tocqueville's Theory:

Thurs Jan 4 Topics: Reading Tocqueville

the importance of language,

historical context of Tocqueville's writing

Read: Democracy (D) V2, pt 1 ch 1; author's preface to V2; V 1 author's intro

Tues Jan 9 Topics: Tocqueville's model, terms &definitions;

the social condition, physical environment and mores of a people; meaning of popular sovereignty

Read: D V2 pt. 1 Ch 2-8; V1 pt. 1 Ch 1-4

Thurs Jan 11 Topics: The conception and function of American government

Tocqueville instructs the French

problems in the structure of relationships

balancing liberty and equality multiple centers of decision making

Read: D V1 pt. 1 Ch 5-8, pt. 2 Ch 1

Tues Jan 16 Topics: Tyranny of majority and minority public opinion and common belief

extrapolation of Tocqueville's analysis to a general theory of problems of tyranny in organizations and associations

Read: D V1 pt. 2 Ch 2 - 7

***************Research Plans Due in Class**********

Thurs Jan 18 Topics: Majority tyranny and concentration of political power,

public opinion and bureaucracy

Read: D V2 Pt 2 Ch 18-20; Pt 4 Ch 1-8

Tues Jan 23 Topics: Institutional Solutions to majority tyranny, applications for other organizations

Residual problems of majority and minority tyranny

Read: D V1 pt 1 Ch 8, pt 2 Ch 1, & 4 (review); V1 pt 2 Ch 8, 9

Thurs Jan 25 Topics: Extra-institutional solutions to problems of tyranny

religion, voluntary associations, self interest rightly understood

Read: D V2 Pt 1 Ch 5-8 (review); Pt 2 (all) V1 pt. 2 Ch 4, 9

Tues Jan 30 Topics: Participation, learning, and the maintenance of community;

relationship between laws, customs, and mores; requirements for citizens and the design of their institutions

Read: V2 pt 3 (all)

Thurs Feb 1 Topics: Community and individual: assimilation and separate cultures in American: race and ethnicity

Read: D V1 pt 2 Ch 10; V2 Pt 1 Ch 1-8; Pt 2 Ch 1-8 (review)

*************** Take Home Exam Question Available in Class ***********

Tues Feb 6 Topics: Community and individual: socialization and mores: gender and family

Read: D V2 Pt 3 Ch 5, 8-13 (review)

Thurs Feb 8 Topics: Historical Example of centralized authority

Read: Old Regime and the Revolution (OR) Bk 1, Ch 1-5; Bk 2 Ch 5

******************* Take Home Exam Due in Class *********************

Tues Feb 13 Topic: Reform and revolution: real change?

Applications to contemporary problems

Read: OR Bk 2 Ch 6-12

Thurs Feb 15 Topic: Threats to maintaining democratic system; revolutionary words vs. revolutionary change; contemporary uses of Tocqueville's analysis

Read: OR Bk 3 Ch 1-8; D V2 Pt 4 Ch 1-8

Tues Feb 20 Topic: Tocqueville on Welfare and Social Reform

Read: Memoir on Pauperism (Himmelfarb intro + text)

Thurs Feb 22 Workshop: Welfare to Work - history

Tues Feb 27 Workshop: Welfare to Work - goals

Thurs Mar 1 Workshop: Welfare to Work - institutional design

Tues Mar 6 Workshop: Welfare to Work - case studies

Thurs Mar 8 Workshop: Welfare to Work - findings

*** Final Versions of Research Paper Due March 8, My Office 5:00 p.m. ***