NORTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY

                    DEPARTMENT OF POLITICAL SCIENCE

 

 

POLITICAL SCIENCE 551\45l                 SPRING 2009

American Political Thought II:            OFFICE: ZULAUF 113

     TOCQUEVILLE                          OFFICE HOURS 11-11:50

PROFESSOR GLENN                             MTW & by appointment   CLASS MEETS: 3:30-4:45 MW                 753-1091\gglenn@niu.edu

 

COURSE REQUIREMENTS

                                             

REQUIRED TEXTS: There are two required texts plus one required chapter. 1) Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America ed. J. P. Mayer, translated by George Lawrence (Harper and Row,(2000). Please purchase this edition of DiA. It should be brought to each class since the class is conducted like a seminar, that is, we will read and discuss passages from the text. 2) Pierre Manent, Tocqueville and the Nature of Democracy (1996). 3)James Bryce, The Predictions of Hamilton and Tocqueville (1887). Each student is required to have his or her own copy of each reading. Not to do so will be regarded as not fulfilling a course requirement.

 

ATTENDANCE: Students are expected to attend each class,    Attendance is taken and final grades reduced for more than three absences. 

     Operationally, “absence” means not being present when attendance is taken and includes lateness as well as non-attendance.  Students are expected to be in class at the beginning of the class and remain until class is over. If special circumstances apply to your situation in this regard, please inform the professor at the beginning of the course.

     Six absences normally means automatic failure in the class.  Written explanations for absences are expected as a courtesy and should be submitted as soon as possible afterwards.  Registered auditors are welcome but they are expected to attend the class on the same basis as other students.  If attendance becomes inconstant, they will be expected to withdraw.

 

    

WRITING REQUIREMENTS:

     Graduate students are required to do a 2500 word research paper, a presentation on a chapter in the Manent book, and a take home final exam.

     Undergraduates are required to do a 900-1000 word paper on a topic assigned by the professor and the take home final exam.

The paper topic will be on material we have covered in the class. It does not require research beyond the class readings. The topic will be assigned Wednesday 3/4 and is due Wednesday 3/25.

     Research Papers: Some possible topics are attached to the syllabus. Read what it says there about getting a topic approved. Topics must be submitted for approval in writing by Monday February 9. Completed papers are due Wednesday April 15. (So do your taxes early.)

     Final Exam: Exam questions will be handed out Monday 4/20 and are due at the regularly scheduled final exam time Monday May 4 at 4:00 pm.

    

CLASS PARTICIPATION:  This class will be conducted as a seminar. This means 1)students are expected to have read the assigned material before class and to participate in the discussions; 2)students should expect to be interrogated about the readings; to cite them in response to questions asked by the professor; to demonstrate the ability to raise thoughtful questions about them; to show a grasp of the arguments made; to detect and try to figure our ambiguity; to see relationships between parts of the arguments; to discover strengths and weaknesses in them; and to make thoughtful judgments about which are better and worse. 3) In addition, reading Tocqueville is like holding up a mirror to our politics and society.  We have to ask such questions as: "Do I see in our politics and society what Tocqueville describes?  If we seem to have changed in certain ways, is the change along lines predicted by Tocqueville?  If not, what might be the explanation(s)? Even when Tocqueville missed some important developments in American democracy, are those developments still intelligible on the basis of his analysis? Do I find plausible and acceptable Tocqueville's description of democracy, and what makes its persistence possible?  If not, is the problem  Tocqueville or me? 4)Students should also be able to answer, thoughtfully and to the point, questions put by the professor. The best students will demonstrate these things in their written work as well as in class discussions.

 

CLASSROOM DEMEANOR: Students are expected to conduct themselves in a manner befitting the serious business in which we are engaged. “Serious” means that it is not just any question we are discussing but how we ought to live together. More specifically, we are discussing the democratic society and government in which we live and its plus’ and minus’. These are matters about which we have feelings and opinions, frequently strong one. Hence, they touch on matters close to our hearts. Students are entitled to ask tough questions, and to make strong observations and arguments, and the professor can be expected to respond similarly.  Things can get hot when discussing such important matters political and ethical about which there is disagreement.  However, an atmosphere of respect and civility is expected and should be cultivated.

 

FINAL GRADES. Final grades are a composite of the professor's judgment about your performance on the written and oral requirements, less any considerations arising from lax attendance. Final grades are not determined by assigning a certain percentage to the various parts of the course requirements.  Each part will count in the instructor's judgment of your final grade. However, be advised that this is a reading and discussion seminar and that the daily discussion is a very large part of your grade. It is enough to do well on the written assignments.                 

 

                       CLASS SCHEDULE

     The following is an approximate schedule. Two circumstances might effect how closely we can follow it. 1) The biggest circumstance is that it is in the nature of this class, that there is some uncertainty about how long it will take to cover some of the topics and what topics you or I may wish to explore in more depth. 2) Although I have taught a Tocqueville seminar previously, I have never taught it in the two days a week format. Accordingly, the schedule below is only an approximate guide to help you do the reading. If you are uncertain about what we will cover in the next class, please make it a point to ask at the end of the preceding class. In general, it is your responsibility to know what material will be covered each class.

 

DATES                   READINGS

 

1/12

Syllabus to be handed out. Overview of topics and questions to be studied. Introduction to the class. What is American political thought and why should we study it? Why study Tocqueville?

 

1/14 Author's Preface to the Twelfth Edition, xiii-xiv. Author's Introduction: The utter novelty, importance and confusing effects of the democratic revolution, pp. 9-20.

Recommended: Students who have not studied the Founding are strongly encouraged to read Bryce Part I (pp. 1-10). This is a fairly good summary of the Founders’ thought and concerns about the dangers to the republican constitution they were establishing. Students are encouraged to ask questions about Bryce’s summary.

 

1/19 No class. University Holiday.

 

1/21

Volume 1, Part 1. The nature and institutions of              American democracy: it's Puritan origin 2 (31-49)

its social  conditions 3 (50-57); Sovereignty of the people 4 (58-60); 

 

1/26 The nature and institutions of American democracy continued: first the states 5 (61-98);

 

1/28 the novel judicial power (99-105); "political jurisdiction" 7 (l06-11).

 

2/2  The Federal Constitution 8 (112-70)

         

2/4 (continued) The Federal Constitution 8 (l12-70).

 

2/9  Research paper topics must be approved by today (graduate students only). Papers due 4/15.

 

2/9  Volume 1, Part 2. Beyond the institutions and forms: the sovereign power of the people. That the people govern 1 (l73); political parties 2 (174-79); freedom of the press 3 (l80-88);

 

2/11 No class

 

2/16 "political associations" 4 (189-95); "democracy's own inclinations" 5 (l96-230).

 

2/18 Social advantages of democratic government 6 (23l-45);   

 

2/23 Effects of omnipotence of the majority 7 (246-61).       

Restraints on majority tyranny 8 (262-76);

 

2/25-3/2 

laws, mores and religion in preserving the democratic republic 9(277-3l5).

 

3/4  Future of the three races in the United States 10 (3l6-363);

     whether the union will last (363-395);

 

3/4  Paper topics assigned today. Undergraduates only. 900-1000 words. Paper is due 3/25.

 

 

3/9-3/11

     Spring Break

 

3/16 (continued) Future of the three races: the chances their Republican institutions will last (395-400); Causes of the Americans commercial greatness (400-407); conclusion of Vol. 1 (408-413).

 

3/18 Volume 2, Part l. Democracy's influence on "ideas"            concerning:  philosophy l-4 (429-42); how religion in America uses democratic instincts 5-7 (442-52); equality and human perfectibility 8 (452-54). 

 

3/23(continued). Desire for practical knowledge 9 & l0 (454-65);            concerning "the people" 15 (475-77); language 16 (477-82);                       

     history 20 (493-96).

 

3/23 Volume 2, Part 2. Democracy's influence on "sentiments" concerning: why American love equality more than liberty l (503-06). Individualism 2-3 (506-09); American remedies to individualism and its effects 4-7 (509-24);

 

3/25 900-1000 word paper due today (undergraduates only).

      

3/25 individualism continued (509-524). "self-interest properly understood" 8-9 (525-30).Physical pleasures 10-14 (530-4l);

 

3/30 religion and spirituality l5 (542-46), trade and industry 19 (551-54). Volume 2, Part 3. Democracy's influence on "mores" properly   so called" [cf. p 287]: on mores 1-5 (561-80). On the family 8 (584-89);

 

4/1 on male/female relations 9-l2 (590-603);

 

4/6  on "social connectedness"13 (604-05). On manners 14 (605-08); on change 17 (614-15);

     

4/8  On honor 18 (616-27); on ambition 19 (627-32). On great revolutions 21 (634-45); on war 22, 24-26 (645-51,654-64).  

 

4/13 Volume 2, Part 4. Democratic "ideas and feelings" influence   on Political Society. Equality and the taste for free         institutions 1 (667-68). Equality and the concentration of political power 2-5 (667-91);

 

4/15-4/20 the sort of despotism democratic nations have to fear 6-7 (690-705);

 

4/20 Take-Home Exam handed out

 

4/22-29

The last three classes each graduate student will present a short reflection on, or reaction to, one of the nine chapters in Manent. Each presentation will be allocated about 10 minutes followed by discussion. We should cover 3 presentations/discussions per class.

 

May 4

     The final exam due at scheduled final exam time 4:00 pm.

We will have a regular class instead of an in-class exam. We will read and discuss Bryce, Parts II-V.

    

Papers

 

Directions

     Below are possible paper topics. However, you are free to formulate your own. Whether you develop your own topic or use one of the topics below, your topic should be submitted in writing and approved by Monday February 9. Only one person may work on each topic and the principal is “first come, first served.” The paper is due Wednesday April 15.

     Here is what I am looking for in the paper. It should interpret and make intelligent observations about some aspect of Tocqueville’s teaching or about some controversy in Tocqueville scholarship. The goal is to see how well you can understand and propose solutions to problems of interpretation on the basis of the text.

     The paper must be a maximum of 2500 words. Please include a word count. Papers which exceed the maximum by an unreasonable amount will be returned unread and docked one grade for lateness. What constitutes “unreasonable” is determined by the prudence of the instructor.

 

Topics

 

1. What is Tocqueville's understanding of the democratic (modern?) penchant for forgetting? Why is he so impressed by it? What is it about democracy (or modernity?) which encourages forgetting and what are its consequences for democratic society and politics?

 

2. In her keynote speech at the l992 Democratic National Convention Barbara Jordan said :"This country can ill afford to continue to function using less than half of its human resources, brain power and kinetic energy.  Our l9th century visitor from France, de Tocqueville, observed in his work Democracy in America, `If I were asked to what singular substance do I mainly attribute the prosperity and growing strength of the American people, I should reply: To the superiority of their women.' The 20th century will not close without our presence being keenly felt." (The Tocqueville quote in on p. 603 of our text). What does Tocqueville mean? Superior compared to whom? In what respects?  Through what means does Tocqueville think American women's superiority works to achieve "prosperity and growing strength"? In what ways is Tocqueville's thought on these questions in agreement or disagreement what you understand Ms. Jordan's use of his quote to suggest? Would Tocqueville agree that America is not currently using its woman power or that women's "presence" is not already "keenly felt" in politics? (The complete text of the Jordan speech is in VITAL SPEECHES OF THE DAY, Aug. l5, l992, Vol. LV111, No. 21, pp. 651-52. I have copies.) 

 

3. Reflect on Tocqueville in light of the following statement.  "Modernity, in all its forms, conceives of man and his environment as infinitely malleable, capable of being shaped however the individual artisan wishes. When confronted by the intransigence of reality, the modern artisan can only assume that some recalcitrance or evil is to blame. If only the evil ones can be neutralized or negated the dream city on the hill will become a reality.  Otherwise even more intensified doses of manipulation and transformation are ordered.  Of course the good modern cannot accept the existence of natural limits for it counters his absolute faith in equality and the possibility of a temporal redemption." To what extent, and on what topics, would you say Tocqueville's thought does or does not partake of "modernity" thus understood? Does he in any way share this understanding of modernity? Is there anything in his thought that works against modernity conceived in this way?

 

4. Tocqueville sees a tension in America between what we would call "liberal constitutionalism" (the protection of individual rights, limited and deliberative government) and "democracy" understood as rule by the people.  We have come to call the regime characterized by that tension "liberal democracy" though that is not Tocqueville's term. He thinks that American institutions and laws (on the state and local as well as national level) help mediate that tension but that they are not sufficient.  He also thinks that this tension is not self-regulating as Richard Hofstadter, Martin Diamond and advocates of judicial review suggest. He thought that, in addition, certain "mores" must be cultivated in order to maintain liberal democracy. In other words, those who wish to preserve liberal democracy must be able to distinguish those mores which preserve liberal democracy from those which undermine and destroy it. State as fully as you can, his understanding of the tension between constitutionalism and democracy; what institutions and mores he thought important for mediating that tension; how he thought those mores might be fostered; and what political consequences he foresaw if they were not fostered.

 

5.  "...democracies have a taste, and often a passion, for general ideas; that is because of their peculiar qualities, good and bad. The form this love of general ideas takes in language is a continual use of generic terms and abstract words and a particular way of using them...Democratic peoples have this passion for generic terms and abstract words because such phrases broaden the scope of thought and allow the mind to include much in few words." (Democracy in America p. 48l)    Compare this thought to the following from Orwell.

 

    "Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak, Winston, is to narrow the range of thought?  In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible because there will be no words in which to express it.  Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten.  Already...we're not far from that point...Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller...The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect.  Has it ever occurred to you, Winston, that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now?"

(Syme to Winston in George Orwell, 1984 [New York: New American Library, l98l, p. 46-47])

     Would you say that democracy's effect on language, as understood by Tocqueville, (in Volume II, Part 1, Chapters 3, l3, l5 and l6) does more to lay the groundwork for, or to erect barriers to, the goal of Newspeak? 

 

6.  "Providence has given each individual the amount of reason necessary for him to look after himself in matters of his own exclusive concern.  That is the great maxim on which civil and political society in the United States rests; the father of a family applies it to his children, a master to his servants, a township to those under its administration, a province to the townships, a state to the provinces, and the Union to the states.  Extended to the nation as a whole, it becomes the dogma of the sovereignty of the people" (Democracy in America, p. 397).

 

    How does this "great maxim" square with what Tocqueville elsewhere describes as Americans astonishing deference to "public opinion" (p. 435) or with American women's "freely" submitting of "their own will" to what he in another place describes as the "yoke" or "bonds of matrimony" (p. 593)? To what extent would you say this "great maxim" is still that "on which civil and political society in the United States rests"?  To whatever extent you do not regard it as such a maxim, what other maxim or maxim's seem to you to have replaced or perhaps qualified it?  In other words, how would you say "the dogma of the sovereignty of the people" would appear to have changed in this respect?

 

7.  What do you find instructive about Tocqueville's discussion of "the Three Races that Inhabit the United States"?  (Volume 1, Part II, Chapter l0, pp. 316-407).  In what respects did he, and did he not, correctly foresee the future in these matters? In what respects is the outcome of these matters still in doubt?  What would you say is instructive about the grounds of his predictions whether the predictions themselves were correct or incorrect? 

 

8.  Consider Tocqueville's observation "that all those who formerly accepted this terrible principle [of Negro slavery] are not now equally free to get rid of it"?  What does this observation suggest about the wisdom and morality of introducing slavery in the first place. Consider this question from the point of view of preserving equal freedom rather than from either a white or a Negro point of view. If it was unwise and/or immoral in the first place, what would you say would have to have overcome that unwisdom and immorality to make slavery’s introduction possible?  Was it anything specifically relating to democracy or was it something more generically human?

 

9. Among Tocqueville's most remarkable predictions is this.  "There are now two great nations in the world which, starting from different points, seem to be advancing toward the same goal: the Russians and the Anglo-Americans...Their point of departure is different and their paths diverse; nevertheless, each seems called by some secret design of Providence one day to hold in its hands the destinies of half the world." (Volume 1, Part II, Conclusion, pp. 412-413). This prediction came true in ways Tocqueville could not have foreseen.  In Russia there came into being a Marxist-Leninist world revolutionary movement, which Tocqueville simply could not foresee because Marx had not yet written when Tocqueville wrote. And America came to be a world power as an apparently unintended result of two world wars of which neither the existence nor the consequences were foreseeable in l835.  Moreover, in l835, America and Russia were not even major world powers. So what could possibly account for Tocqueville's amazing foresight in this regard? 

 

10. To what extent is the following statement correct or incorrect on the basis of Tocqueville's text?  "If decentralization of governing to the local level is what Tocqueville believes is the desirable `administrative decentralization', then Tocqueville's argument cannot be used to defend the `federalism' of the semi-autonomous states in effecting that decentralization. Federalism is neither a sufficient substitute nor a necessary condition for the kind of decentralization which Tocqueville thinks is necessary and beneficial to democracy."

 

11. Tocqueville foresees and fears that modern democracy might succumb to a wholly new kind of tyranny which he called "soft despotism". (See Volume II, Part 4, pp. 690-705). A recent writer, in opposing the movement towards euthanasia or "assisted suicide", says this: "The taboos against homicide, suicide, and euthanasia-like those against incest, adultery, and fornication, central insights of the receding wisdom from a more sensible age-are today weak and increasingly defenseless against the rising tide of gentle dehumanization. Yet they are all that stands between us and the flood.  Everyone who cares truly for human dignity and decency . . . must now come to their defense, before it is too late."

    Might there be some connection between the movements of opinion and mores which Tocqueville sees as leading to "soft despotism" and those which the contemporary writer sees as leading to "gentle dehumanization"?  Or are they wholly unrelated?

 

12. The 19th century French thinker Benjamin Constant distinguished ancient from modern liberty thusly: "The aim of the Ancients was the sharing of social power among all the citizens.  That is what they called liberty.  The aim of the Moderns is to provide security for private enjoyment, and they call liberty the guarantees that institutions accord that enjoyment." To what extent does Tocqueville's analysis understand liberty as one or the other?  Which does he think is better and which worse?  How does he think the better liberty can be fostered and preserved?

 

13. How does Tocqueville think that the legal profession can be useful, and even extremely important, in a democracy? ( See Volume 1, Part 2, Chapter 8, pp. 263-270) Does his argument seem plausible to you?  To the extent it does not, how would you account for that?

 

l4. "I think democratic peoples have a natural taste for liberty; left to themselves, they will seek it, cherish it, and be sad if it is taken from them.  But their passion for equality is ardent, insatiable, eternal, and invincible.  They want equality in freedom, and if they cannot have that, they still want equality in slavery.  They will put up with poverty, servitude, and barbarism, but they will not endure aristocracy" (Democracy in America, p. 506).  To what extent would you say that this statement does or does not make intelligible contemporary American politics?

 

15. The Presidential elections of l980, 1984 and l988 and 2000 featured discussions about the place of religion in American politics and public life.  The l992 elections had little of that but instead featured discussion of "family values". Consider the following Tocquevillian comment. ". . . the great severity of mores which one notices in the United States has it primary origin in [religious] beliefs.  There religion is often powerless to restrain men . . . but it reigns supreme in the souls of the women, and it is women who shape mores.  Certainly of all countries in the world America is the one in which the marriage tie is most respected . . . In Europe almost all the disorders of society are born around the domestic hearth and not far from the nuptial bed . . . Whereas the European tries to escape his sorrows at home by troubling society, the American derives from his home that love of order which he carries over into affairs of state . . . while the law allows the American people to do everything, there are things which religion prevents them from imagining and forbids them to dare. Religion, which never intervenes directly in the government of American society, should therefore be considered as the first of their political institutions, for although it did not give them the taste for liberty, it singularly facilitates their use thereof." (Democracy in America, p. 292)

    Summarize as fully as possible Tocqueville's understanding of the sense in which "religion is the first of our political institutions." To what extent would you say this is still true?  To the extent it is no longer true, what consequences would one expect from that change? Contrast Tocqueville's understanding with the Supreme Court's view of the place of religion in our public life in Everson v. Board of Education 330 U.S. 8-16 (1947).

 

16. Tocqueville says that civil and political associations are vital to fostering the love of self-government in democracy. (See Vol. II, Part II, Ch. 5 ‘On the Use Which the Americans Make of Associations in Civil Life’). In recent years, some observers have argued that Americans have become less inclined to participate in such associations. They see a growing preference for private life and a growing indifference to social life. An important statement of this thesis is Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam. How is this decline explainable on the basis of Tocqueville’s analysis? What political consequences would Tocqueville predict are likely to follow from this decline?