Grab your convention hats: PEL will be doing a live recording at Brown University on October 27, 2016, with sponsorship from its Swearer Center for Public Service and Creative Scholars Project. Our election special topic? Alexis de Tocqueville’s analysis of what ails us in Democracy in America. In the spirit of democracy, we’ll all be there, including (by popular demand) Seth.
Feel free to download, print, and distribute our flyer:
When: October 27, 2016 at 5 p.m.
Where: Carmichael Auditorium, 85 Waterman Street, Room 130. Providence, Rhode Island.
Text: Democracy in America (1835, 1840) by Alexis de Tocqueville.
Live Stream: here.
The Problem with Democracy
Can Freedom and Equality Coexist?
Democracy is a noble political enterprise, thought Alexis de Tocqueville, but also a dangerous one. On the one hand, it grows out of an increasing equality of social and economic conditions. On the other, it reinforces a passion for equality that democratic citizens will zealously pursue, even to the point of sacrificing liberty and freedom of thought. At its extreme, a love of equality can lead us to defer to a tyranny of the majority. Politically, the danger is that a democratic majority can elect a despot or establish laws that persecute a minority. Socially, the danger is a creeping relativism in which all opinions are nominally equal, effectively making the opinion of the majority our de facto standard, rather than what is right or true. Worse, increasing equality leads to increasing self-sufficiency and individualism, which threaten communal bonds and civic duty, and foster a materialism which at its extreme would abdicate individual rights in order to safeguard economic prosperity. The lesson here is that equality contains the seed of its opposite, an inherent tendency to devolve into social or political authoritarianism.
De Tocqueville was a Frenchman writing about the America of the 19th century, but he might as well have been writing about the USA in the 21st. And whatever our politics, we ought to listen carefully to what he has to say. His Democracy in America is both a celebration of our institutions and a diagnosis of the self-undermining nature of the quintessentially American mentality they engender.
The cure? He has something to say about that as well.
We’ll discuss this and more at our live show on October 27, 2016. Please join us!