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Democratic Family, Democratic Womanhood, and Democratic Conditions in the Political Thought of Alexis de Tocqueville

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

For Alexis de Tocqueville, liberty is at risk in democracy, but it can be secured by mores. The importance of mores is well established in existing scholarship, but the role of the domestic sphere in forming those mores has been largely neglected. This thesis fills the gap in the literature by arguing that the domestic sphere was a central component of Tocqueville’s democratic theory. Womanhood and family life were normative models of primary importance in Tocqueville’s associationalism because they generated the mores exercised across associative life. The domestic sphere contributes to associative life in two ways. First, the domestic sphere feeds other moderating forces as the initial, most proximate, and natural ‘school’ for citizens. Second, the domestic sphere establishes the habit of respecting authority, which is necessary to the perpetuation of mores across associative life. Analysing the domestic sphere elucidates the place of nature, authority, and other-regarding virtue within his democratic theory. For Tocqueville, sex differences and paternal authority could help to resist a total democratisation of the domestic sphere, safeguarding the moral work therein and benefitting liberty in a democracy. This thesis contributes to the scholarship on gender and family in Tocqueville by offering a comprehensive analysis of these themes. This thesis also explores the relationship between the domestic sphere and Tocqueville’s wider democratic theory, benefitting our understanding of his theory of associationalism and making the case that the domestic sphere is on par with acclaimed mediating elements, like civil associations, religion, and decentralisation. This discussion also contributes to scholarship on religion and individualism, which often overlooks gender and family. Lastly, this thesis evaluates how Tocqueville’s associationalism has been appropriated by more recent social scientists and suggests some lessons they could draw from a closer study of the place of the domestic sphere in his democratic theory.
Original languageEnglish
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Award date1 Mar 2019

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