Tocqueville’s American Thesis and the New Science of Politics


Abstract: The core of Tocqueville’s American thesis is the singular combination of the spirit of religion and the spirit of liberty characteristic of the Puritan experiment in America, together with his dual claim that this fact both constitutes the proper starting point for understanding “American civilization” and provides “the key to nearly the whole book.” This essay gradually traces Tocqueville’s religious “point of departure” to its root cause in Christianity, which, I maintain, provides one of two anchors for his new science of politics. In Tocqueville’s analysis, religion (and especially Christianity) offsets limitations in the new philosophic theories of the eighteenth century, the other root cause or anchor that profoundly shaped the distinctive character of American politics. I maintain that the tension between these two causes is at the heart of Tocqueville’s new science of politics.