Ethan Levinton is the 2015 winner of the William Jennings Bryan Prize in Government, awarded annually in recognition of the department’s top honors thesis or theses. Ethan, who also earned a certificate in Core Texts and Ideas, represented the university at the 23rd Annual National Conference for Student Research in Political Science at Illinois State University, where he won a Pi Sigma Alpha Prize for one of the conference’s best papers. He is the sixth Texas student since 2007 to win this prize at the conference — a record unmatched across the country.
Levinton’s thesis began under Jeffrey Tulis’ tutelage in the honors seminar, “Regime Perspectives on American Politics,” where he began wrestling with the work of Alexis de Tocqueville. According to Tocqueville, U.S. political controversies tend to become judicial disputes, and this enables the American system to counteract predictable pathologies of democracy. Probing this assertion, Ethan asked: might it be the case that the legalization of politics in America exacerbates rather than counteracts democratic pathologies?
To test this idea, Ethan’s thesis looks at four case studies of legislative deliberation around the establishment and destruction of the national bank in the 19th century and financial reform in the 20th. Levinton concludes that the record is mixed. Tocqueville is indeed correct sometimes, but not always, and his thesis proceeds to illustrate the ways legalization can be a virtue or a vice in modern democracy.