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Letters, Liberty, and the Democratic Age in the Thought of Alexis de Tocqueville

Description: When Alexis de Tocqueville observed the spread of modern democracy across France, England, and the United States, he saw that democracy would give rise to a new state of letters, and that this new state of letters would influence how democratic citizens and statesmen would understand the new political world. As he reflected on this new intellectual sphere, Tocqueville became concerned that democracy would foster changes in language and thought that would stifle concepts and ideas essential to the preservation of intellectual and political liberty. In an effort to direct, refine, and reshape political thought in democracy, Tocqueville undertook a critique of the democratic state of letters, assessing intellectual life and contributing his own ideas and concepts to help citizens and statesmen think more coherently about democratic politics. Here, I analyze Tocqueville's critique and offer an account of his effort to reshape democratic political thought. I show that through his analyses of the role of intellectuals in democratic regimes, the influence of modern science on democratic public life, the intellectual habits that democracy fosters, and the power of literary works for shaping democratic self-understanding, Tocqueville succeeds in reshaping democratic language and thought in a manner that contributes to the preservation of intellectual and political liberty within the modern democratic world.
Date: December 2009
Creator: Elliot, Natalie J.
Partner: UNT Libraries