Portland State University. Department of Political Science
Craig L. Carr
Term of Graduation
Date of Publication
Master of Science (M.S.) in Political Science
Tocqueville, Alexis de, 1805-1859 -- Political and social views, Democracy -- United States, Liberalism -- United States, Civil rights -- United States, Individualism -- United States
1 online resource (iii, 147 pages)
At the heart of America's experience with liberal democratic institutions remains the continuous struggle between liberty and equality. The two are opposed, but form the dual foundation upon which American democracy rests. One foundation emphasized the importance of equal political rights and equality of opportunity. This theme considers the prospects of a person are not predetermined at birth, as in an aristocratic country, but instead are left to be filled by the decisions made through life. Yet for people to have the greatest options available as they steer their way through life, there must also exist the second foundation of liberty. Liberty and equality may remain complimentary, yet they share a tenuous dual existence within American democracy.
The following paper explores this problem facing America's democracy. I develop two conjunctive themes. First, I juxtapose the values of equality and liberty, and discuss how the two have manifest themselves in American political history. Second, I specifically highlight the era of America as described by Alexis de Tocqueville and briefly compare the early 1800s with a more present day understanding of American democracy.
I make one key point in regard to the tension between liberty and equality and how the presence of the two values were balanced in early 19th century America, which is, based on Tocqueville's observations, for a democratic nation to achieve long term liability it must strike the proper balance between liberty and equality. The two, although often at odds with one another, also provide the needed balance necessary for a sustained democracy. While equality provides the needed harmony that aids in joining citizens together in a common bond, liberty provides the spirit needed for the active participation in public and private affairs. In his travels across America, Tocqueville witnessed just this balance between equality and liberty, and yet the paper concludes that the country now leans dangerously toward equality upsetting the delicate balance needed in American democracy.
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Smith, Clifford Brantley, "Tocqueville’s Civic Republicanism : The Balance Between Equality and Liberty in American Democracy" (1998). Dissertations and Theses. Paper 6381.