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Tocqueville and Democratic Political Prudence


Admission requirements

Bachelor in Philosophy, Political Science, Law, History, or equivalent degree.


The French liberal aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) is justifiably famous for his unsurpassed understanding of the nature and process of democracy. In his political philosophy he (1) emphasizes the fundamental unity of freedom and human dignity and (2) refuses to speak of freedom without virtue. The purpose of this course is to introduce his understanding of democratic political prudence and its relation to constitutional democracy.

What is constitutional democracy? How does constitutionalism differ from democracy? Why do we also speak of “republican” or “liberal” democracies?
And: What are the preconditions for constitutional democracy? Which laws, virtues, and institutions support it, and why? What factors cause its decline? How would we recognize such decline?

Course objectives

Course objectives will be posted on Blackboard by the start of the course.


See Collegeroosters Wijsbegeerte 2012-2013, MA Philosophy.
See Timetables Philosophy 2012-2013, MA Philosophy.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method

  • Attendance (5%)

  • Weekly assignments (15%)

  • Presentations (5%)

  • Two short papers of 800 words each (13% each)

  • Two rewritten short papers (10% each)

  • Final paper of 2.500 words (29%)


Blackboard will be used for posting of messages, texts, and assigments.

Reading list

  • Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America transl. by Harvey C. Mansfield & Delba Winthrop (2011).

  • Alexis de Tocqueville, The Old Regime and the Revolution, Volume I: The Complete Text. Eds. F. Furet * F. Melonio; transl. by Alan S. Kahan (2004).

Students are required to acquire the correct editions before the start of the course.


Please register for this course on uSis.
See Inschrijven voor cursussen en tentamens

Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.
See also Registration for courses and examinations

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

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Contact information

Mr. dr. M.L. Schut