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45 CES Open Forum Series

Tocqueville for Troubled Times

Aug 17, 2021 Arthur Goldhammer


The working paper "Tocqueville for Troubled Times" is a collection of two essays:

  • Does Democracy Require an Active Citizenry? A Tocquevillean View by Arthur Goldhammer
  • Tocqueville in Politics: French Lessons for American Democracy by Cheryl B. Welch

Prefatory Note

Alexis de Tocqueville has always been viewed as a political sage whose complex analysis of democracy in the United States provides a “Guide to the Perplexed.” The unsettled period in American politics that intensified with the election of Donald Trump, his turbulent presidency, and the difficult aftermath is no exception. Especially in times of crisis, Americans always seem to ask: “What would M. de Tocqueville say?” In October 2018 two Tocqueville scholars — Arthur Goldhammer and Cheryl Welch — were independently asked to give addresses to university conferences (at Providence College and Arizona State University) on the theme of “What can Tocqueville teach us today?” The essays that follow are lightly edited versions of those addresses. Goldhammer focuses on a reconsideration of the role of popular participation in Tocqueville’s thought; Welch takes a new look at his analysis of elite politics in a troubled representative system. Together they offer some surprising and complementary new insights into a writer whose texts have a subtle alchemy that makes them appear newly relevant to every generation.