Republican Civic Virtue, Enlightened Self-interest and Tocqueville

JESSICA L. KIMPELL
EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF POLITICAL THEORY 14.3 (2015): 345-367

Abstract: Tocqueville’s claim in Democracy in America about the link between associations and a vibrant public sphere is interpreted especially by neo-republicans in political theory as aligned with their argument that civic virtue can and ought to be fostered in today’s democracies. This paper challenges such a reading of Tocqueville by considering his notion of enlightened self-interest. Tocqueville’s ideas about the nature of political activity differ markedly from the republican ideal of a citizenry marked by civic virtue, as Tocqueville appeals to self-interest, albeit an enlightened sort, as the primary motive for involvement. Tocqueville also suggests that the character of political behaviour he describes in contrast to civic virtue contributes to a more nuanced understanding of what motivates citizens to engage in public life in modern democracy.