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TocquevilleThe Aristocratic Sources of Liberty$
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Lucien Jaume

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780691152042

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691152042.001.0001

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Democracy as Modern Religion

Democracy as Modern Religion

(p.65) 2 Democracy as Modern Religion

Lucien Jaume

, Arthur Goldhammer
Princeton University Press

The second volume of Democracy in America begins with the other question that Tocqueville regarded as crucial: that of public opinion conceived as a form of belief. The chapter in question— “On the Principal Source of Beliefs among Democratic Peoples”—deserves to be read carefully because in it Tocqueville sets forth one of his strongest intuitions, but in a complex style that proceeds from paradox to paradox. Tocqueville's intuition is the following: that the “principal source” of what the citizens of a democratic society think takes on the form and power of an authority—an authority that everyone collectively exerts on each individual. But because “everyone” creates this authority without knowing it, individuals find themselves facing an entity that is not fragmented but monolithic and therefore omnipotent. Democratic public opinion becomes the god of modern times, a god strangely immanent in society and with a face that changes daily. This chapter is devoted to the mechanisms of this alienation, which Tocqueville characterizes as “religious.”

Keywords:   Alexis de Tocqueville, democratic public opinion, moral personality, democratic society, authority, Democracy in America

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