Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America is one of the most penetrating and enduring studies of democracy, and in particular, of American democracy. Tocqueville was a French aristocrat who saw the emergent democratic movement in Europe from a perspective that invited a deep appreciation of both the strengths and weaknesses of democracy as such. His focus on American democracy was animated by a sincere, even urgent, desire to understand the full scope of democracy, and in particular, what kind of human beings would emerge under its sway. What kind of human excellence might one expect from democratic regimes? What are democracy’s strengths and dangers? How important is American culture to the perpetuation of its political institutions? These were Tocqueville’s questions, and these are the questions we still ask ourselves in a time when America’s democracy and democracies all over the world are facing difficult new challenges.
This class will focus on selected key sections of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America to expose students to this classic work of political philosophy with the broader aim of helping students better understand themselves as individuals and citizens shaped by America’s democratic society.
- Selections from Tocqueville’s Democracy in America
Dorothea Israel Wolfson, PhD, is the Director of the Master of Arts in Government Program at Johns Hopkins University. Her research and teaching interests center on democracy and civic engagement, American political thought, American politics, and family policy. She has published articles on Alexis de Tocqueville, Thomas Jefferson, Abigail Adams, and on John Locke and children’s literature. She has collaborated on a book, Our Sacred Honor, with William J. Bennett, and her essays and reviews have appeared in The Claremont Review of Books, The American Interest, and Perspectives on Political Science. Before joining the Johns Hopkins program, she was a Policy Analyst at Empower America. She holds an AB from the University of Chicago in “Fundamentals: Issues and Texts” and a PhD in Government from Cornell University. She lives in Kensington, Maryland, with her husband, Adam, and four children. In her free time, she likes to play tennis and do crossword puzzles.
Kate Havard Rozansky