JMC fellow Brian A. Smith published an article in the Library of Law and Liberty. In it, he recalls Tocqueville‘s observation that democratic writers lack precision and have a taste for sweeping generalities. Smith also looks to Tocqueville’s suggested remedy to democratic excesses—the classics.
Tocqueville and the Promise of Classical Education
Year after year, education policy experts produce reports and proposals that assume we need some form of national education reform, one that can put American schools back on track. Of course, these vary in quality and focus, but many of them operate on the assumption that to allow robust federalism to guide these efforts is out of the question. Since they demand a uniform, national approach to education, they cannot help but fail to see the ways that education requires we deal with both hearts and minds in a way Deweyan pragmatism cannot abide.
If we take Alexis de Tocqueville seriously, it’s almost inconceivable that such efforts would succeed – unless their real aim was the growth of what Tocqueville called the tutelary despotism, an orderly, gentle system that “restrains, enervates, stifles, and stultifies so much that in the end each nation is no more than a flock of timid and hardworking animals with the government as its shepherd.”
Brian A. Smith is Associate Professor of Political Science and Law at Montclair State University and the managing editor of Law and Liberty. He received his B.A. from the University of California, Los Angeles and his Ph.D. in Government from Georgetown University. He specializes in the history of political thought and international affairs. Professor Smith is the author of Walker Percy and the Politics of the Wayfarer (Lexington Books, 2017).
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