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Last modified: Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tocqueville Program at IU Bloomington to launch with Nov. 6 lecture

Nov. 3, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A new Indiana University academic program will focus on the work of French political thinker and author Alexis de Tocqueville, who died 150 years ago but whose insights into American democracy remain as fresh and vital as when they were written.

The Tocqueville Program at IU Bloomington will launch Nov. 6 with a lecture by Matthew Mancini, professor and chair of the Department of American Studies at Saint Louis University. Mancini will speak on "What's Wrong with Tocqueville Studies, and What Can Be Done About It" from noon-1:30 p.m. in the Tocqueville Room of the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, 513 N. Park Ave.

Aurelian Craiutu

Photo by Chris Eller

Aurelian Craiutu

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Aurelian Craiutu, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington and the editor of two recent books on Tocqueville, directs the program. A $20,000 grant from the Jack Miller Center in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., provides seed funding.

"The goal of the program is 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," Craiutu said. "It focuses on the theoretical foundations of democracy, and the development of liberal democratic institutions particularly in the American historical context."

Starting with a lecture series, the Tocqueville Program will develop to include funding for a postdoctoral scholar, a graduate student fellowship and undergraduate courses. The program will be hosted by IU's Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis.

In addition to the Nov. 6 lecture, scheduled events include:

  • A symposium on March 4-5, 2010, featuring Eduardo Nolla, editor, and James T. Schleifer, translator, of the critical edition of Tocqueville's Democracy in America, slated for publication in January 2010; and panels on recent Tocqueville books by IU faculty members
  • A lecture on April 23, 2010, by Jonathan Israel, a faculty member in the School of Historical Studies at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study and a leading historian of the Enlightenment.

Affiliated faculty of the program include IU political scientists Vincent Ostrom, Elinor Ostrom and Russell Hanson, and Barbara Allen, professor of political science at Carleton College, who earned her Ph.D. at IU working with Vincent Ostrom and Elinor Ostrom, the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize in economics.

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) was a French political philosopher and politician who, as a young man, spent nine months traveling across the young American republic, taking notes on society, government and the economy. His classic work Democracy in America, published in two volumes in 1835 and 1840, analyzed why representative democracy was succeeding in the U.S. when it had failed elsewhere.

"He painted a great picture of American democracy at a time when many were skeptical of it," Craiutu said, adding that Tocqueville's writings have withstood the test of time. Many American presidents from Eisenhower on have quoted his words in their speeches.

Today, Tocqueville is often cited as an important influence not only on political science but on the fields of history, sociology and anthropology. Interest in his work seems to have surged, with five new translations of Democracy in America having appeared in the past 10 years. His political philosophy is embraced across the political spectrum.

"He's loved on both the left and the right," Craiutu said. "For those on the right, he was for small government, individualism and federalism. On the left, he was for civil society, participation and virtue."

Craiutu is editor and co-translator of Tocqueville on America After 1840: Letters and Other Writings; co-author with former IU visiting scholar Sheldon Gellar of Conversations with Tocqueville: The Global Democratic Revolution in the Twenty-First Century; and co-editor with IU political scientist Jeffrey Isaac of America through European Eyes, which includes sections on Tocqueville and other French travelers to America.

For more information on the Tocqueville Program, see To speak with Craiutu, contact Steve Hinnefeld at University Communications, 812-856-3488 or