Dana Stauffer: Democracy and the Decline of Devotion

Dana Stauffer’s article, “Tocqueville on the Modern Moral Situation: Democracy and the Decline of Devotion,” has been published in the current issue of the American Political Science Review.


Abstract: Most scholarship on the moral dimensions of Tocqueville’s analysis of democracy focuses on the doctrine of enlightened self-interest. Surprisingly little has been written about his account of the underlying moral shift that makes this doctrine necessary. Drawing principally on Volume II of DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA, but also on Tocqueville’s letters and notes, I unearth his fascinating and compelling account of why modern democratic man loses his admiration for devotion and embraces self-interest. That account begins from individualism, but also includes democratic man’s intellectual and aesthetic tastes, his low estimation of his moral capacities, and weakening religious belief. After examining what Tocqueville saw as the causes of the new moral outlook, I consider what he saw as its most profound implications. Departing from recent trends in Tocqueville scholarship, I argue that is in Tocqueville’s account of the modern democratic condition as such that he has the most to offer us today.