Tocqueville on Religion, the Enlightenment, and the Democratic Soul

AARON L. HEROLD
AMERICAN POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEW 109.3 (2015): 523-534

Abstract: This article proposes a new interpretation of Tocqueville’s thought, one that focuses on his account of religious psychology. From his observations of America, Tocqueville concludes that human beings have a natural hope for immortality—a hope that is driven by a paradoxical but ineradicable desire to affirm and forget oneself simultaneously. Tocqueville formulates this insight as a critique of the Enlightenment thinkers who laid the foundations for liberal democracy; I argue that he crafts his “new political science” to provide healthy outlets for the religious hopes whose existence these thinkers largely denied and whose anomalous presence in the United States has accordingly led to unforeseen dangers. Tocqueville’s analysis not only helps us understand and begin to remedy those dissatisfactions that characterize democracy today but it also reveals his theoretical depth, political moderation, and sober assessment of our moral psychology in a way not seen before.