A Favored Few Booted and Spurred

US Secretary of State John Kerry waves after speaking at the Mashable/UN Foundation Earth to Paris Summit during the COP 21 United Nations conference on climate change. / MANDEL NGAN         NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Alexis de Tocqueville distills the lesson of the fourth chapter of Democracy in America with his usual epigrammatic power:

The people rule the American political world as God rules the universe. They are the cause and end of all things; everything arises from them and everything is absorbed by them.[1]

What Tocqueville found remarkable in 1830s America was that the “principle of the sovereignty of the people” was neither “hidden” nor “sterile.” Rather, contrary to practice in the rest of the world, “it is recognized by the mores, proclaimed by the laws; it spreads freely and reaches its fullest consequences without obstacles.”

Could an impartial observer say the same today?

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The Road to Prosperity and the Plans of Politicians

Powerful Economy Concept

The next two Republican presidential debates, including this evening’s, will focus on the economy, a testimony to the weakness of our recovery from the 2007-2009 financial crisis, the continued relevance of James Carville’s campaign advice to Bill Clinton over 20 years ago (“It’s the economy, stupid!”), and the all-but-universal assumption that American Presidents can, should, and must create the conditions for widespread prosperity.

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The Capacity for Self-Government

George Caleb Bingham's The Verdict of the People (1854).

Alexis de Tocqueville arrived in the United States in the late spring of 1831. His official business was an investigation of American prison reforms as a potential model for France, but his gaze was considerably broader and deeper. Tocqueville’s nine-month visit resulted in Democracy in America, a towering achievement that looms even larger in a time like ours, when political attention spans seem to last no longer than the latest trending topic.

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Reading Tocqueville in Qatar and Georgetown


Joshua Mitchell’s Tocqueville in Arabia is a conversational exploration of Tocqueville’s democratic genius applied in Arabian lands.

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Hard Data and Soft Despotism

Benjamin Radcliff of the University of Notre Dame appeared in The Washington Post this week to discuss his recent book The Political Economy of Human Happiness, which looks interesting except that Tocqueville already wrote it. Radcliff’s thesis, backed, he says, by hard data gathered from stable democracies, is that bigger governments lead to happier people. His conclusion is that bigger governments are therefore advisable. QED, the purpose of government is to make people happy. For the sake of argument, grant him step one. Steps two and three need work.

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