Our program, created in 2009 with the generous support of the Jack Miller Center, is part of a developing network of newly founded centers and programs meant to promote critical reflection on the principles of American democracy. Over the past years, we have also received generous funding from the following sponsors: VERITAS Fund, Manhattan Institute, NY; Liberty Fund’s Book Placement Program; College Arts & Humanities Institute (IU); and Charles Koch Foundation.
The creation of a Tocqueville Program at Indiana University Bloomington (IUB) builds on the already strong tradition created at The Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis (Ostrom Workshop), founded by Elinor and Vincent Ostrom in Bloomington in 1973. In the recent past, both the Ostrom Workshop and the Department of Political Science at IUB have been furthering innovative research and teaching focusing on the institutional aspects of modern democracy, with particular emphasis on the complex and evolving relationship between liberal democratic principles and the institutions and practices they make possible. The new Tocqueville Program is a testimony to the enduring popularity of the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–1859) and a recognition of his status as the most important theorist of modern democracy. Tocqueville articulated a set of theories of freedom, equality, civil society, despotism, religion, and individualism that continue to have a striking enduring relevance for us today. We start from the assumption that to reflect on American democracy today requires first and foremost a critical encounter with Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and his other writings. We enjoy conversing with Tocqueville because his work seems to retain a greater measure of normative and exploratory power—and intellectual provocation—than that of many other nineteenth-century thinkers including Karl Marx and J. S. Mill.
The cross-disciplinary nature of our program reflects first and foremost our desire to emulate the example of Tocqueville, whose greatness did not lie in any single doctrine that he espoused but rather in the ambivalent and often critical lenses through which he analyzed the multiple facets of democracy. This is exactly what we aim to do through the activities sponsored by the Tocqueville program. We hope to engage historians, political scientists, sociologists, and anthropologists in order to reflect critically on Tocquevillian themes and tropes that deal with important issues such as freedom, equality, civil society, religion, citizenship, mores, individualism, democracy, centralization, self-government, despotism, and civil associations. The activities that we plan to carry out transcend the traditional political differences much like Tocqueville’s own writings did in his day. We see as our main duty to teach students not the right answers, but how to ask the right questions about the good society, justice, freedom, responsibility, rights, and duties in light of the ideas that also inspired the Founding Fathers of the American democracy two and a half centuries ago.
Through its interdisciplinary focus, the new Tocqueville Program is expected to have an important and broad impact on undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty at Indiana University and beyond. Through our activities—lectures, prize competitions, roundtables—we hope to foster an understanding of the central importance of principles of freedom and equality for democratic government and moral responsibility, as well as for economic and cultural life. Our lecture series will bring to Bloomington top scholars and public figures to interact with undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty. We also plan to offer in the years ahead, subject to securing adequate funding for that, an undergraduate course on the American democracy taught by an advanced graduate student, along with other activities meant to boost the reputation and profile of our strong graduate program in political theory. We also hope to be able to offer in the years ahead a predoctoral fellowship that would give senior graduate students the opportunity to develop curriculum for use both at Indiana and in their future positions at other institutions. Finally, subject to future fund-raising, we intend to offer a postdoctoral fellowship, and to organize an annual conference on issues central to our concern, such as America’s ambivalent egalitarianism, elitism in America, and other related themes.
We invite you to visit our website and participate in our events!
Professor Aurelian Craiutu
Department of Political Science
Indiana University Bloomington