The Fragility of Freedom: Tocqueville on Religion, Democracy, and the American Future

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Focusing on Democracy in America, Mitchell examines Tocqueville's key works and argues that Tocqueville's analysis of democracy is ultimately rooted in an Augustinian view of human psychology. Rather than being moderate by nature, human beings are generally drawn in one of two possible directions: either into themselves in brooding withdrawal or into the restive activity of commercial life. For democracy to survive, Tocqueville recognized that its citizens had to navigate successfully between these two extremes of isolation and restiveness. Paradoxically, democracy and its equalizing tendencies seem to foster the very qualities - including ambition and envy - that threaten to undermine the fragile freedom that democracy affords. Mitchell examines Tocqueville's theory that moderation can only be achieved with the help of certain institutional supports. Without them there is neither moderation nor rationality. Tocqueville's crucial insight, Mitchell argues, was that commerce alone cannot hold society together. Our freedom is held together by the mediating institutions of family, religion, and associational life. Analyzing these institutions within the larger contours of Tocqueville's thought, Mitchell shows them to be a particularly American embodiment of the Christian tradition which continues to protect against the inherent instabilities of democracy and invigorate the conditions of equality. He argues that they are as critical now as in Tocqueville's time in safeguarding the continued vitality of democratic life.
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Editorial Reviews

Mitchell (government, Georgetown U.) offers a fresh interpretation of Alexis de Tocqueville's thought, exploring the dynamic interplay between religion and politics in American democracy. He examines Tocqueville's major works, arguing that his analysis of democracy is rooted in an Augustinian view of human psychology, and reaffirms his belief that freedom is held together by the institutions of family, religion, and associational life in addition to commerce. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
Peter Augustine Lawler
I recommend this book as one of a very few to approach seriously the sources of Tocqueville's intellectual and moral greatness.
Journal of Politics
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226532080
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/1995
  • Series: Prehistoric Archeology and Ecology Ser.
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Introduction 1
1 The Augustinian Self 3
2 Antidotes to the Irrationalities of the Augustinian Self 5
3 Of the Embodiment and Disembodiment of Thought 11
4 Circularity of Cause and Effect 18
5 Of the Spillover Effects of One Sphere upon Another 22
6 Of Motion and Boundaries 29
7 Of New Beginnings and American Exceptionalism 33
Ch. 2 The Augustinian Self 40
1 Augustine and the Errancy from God 43
2 Hobbes and the Problem of Pride 56
3 Rousseau and the Errancy from Nature 66
4 Tocqueville and the Democratic Soul 78
5 The Enduring Power of the Augustinian Self: Nietzsche and the Democratic Age 87
Ch. 3 The Politics of Competition 102
1 The Purpose of Politics 102
2 Of Scale and Participation 105
3 The Interrelation of Political and Economic Participation 115
4 Of Associations 120
5 Of Newspapers: The Solution to the Problem of Site and Authority 126
6 Of Moderation and Motion: Mother Nature and Father Industriousness 132
7 When Boundaries Are Transgressed 141
8 Of Empire 147
9 Of Property and Rights 152
10 Of the Sufficiency of Politics and Economics 156
Ch. 4 Christianity and Democracy 162
1 The Progress of History and Its Arrests: The Depth of Identity 167
2 The Problem of Difference in a Democracy 178
3 Christianity as Palliative for Envy and Difference 183
4 The Indirect Effects of Christianity upon Democracy 193
5 Of Long-Term Goals 197
6 The Right Relationship between Politics and Religion 202
7 The Permanence of Religion 207
Ch. 5 Conclusion 215
1 The New Political Science 215
2 Asking Too Much of Government, Asking Too Much of "the World" 223
3 What Is to Be Done? 233
4 Concluding Remarks 248
Bibliography 259
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