Alexis de Tocqueville, that most eloquent portraitist of American democracy, was born on July 29th, 1805.
St. John’s graduate students read his magnum opus, On Democracy in America, in the tutorial of the Politics & Society segment, and the reaction each year is unanimous: how did he write us so well? Even with all our trends and “progress,” a French tourist in 1831 captured the flaws and strengths of our governance with which we still grapple to this day.
Recently tutor Steven Forde gave a lecture in Santa Fe, as part of the Summer Lecture Series, entitled “Alexis de Tocqueville on American Liberty: Ancient or Modern?” Mr. Forde discussed the author’s prescient claim that individualistic notions of freedom will lead to political apathy (which starts with “p,” and rhymes with “t,” and stands for “tyranny!”) as well as de Tocqueville’s encouraging remarks on American solutions to this problem.
Almost two centuries later finds us still struggling between individual rights and the common good. Perhaps it behooves us to return to what de Tocqueville found so stabilizing in our forebears.
You can listen to this lecture here.