Individualism and Intellectual Liberty in Tocqueville and Descartes

13 Pages Posted: 11 Dec 2007

See all articles by L. Joseph Hebert

L. Joseph Hebert

St. Ambrose University - Department of Political Science

Abstract

This paper seeks to clarify Tocqueville's view that a political order premised on the primacy of individual reason over moral authority can be detrimental to genuine intellectual liberty. Beginning with Tocqueville's famous comment that Americans are Cartesians without having read Descartes, I compare Tocqueville's assessment of American intellectual life to Descartes' hopes for future political societies. I describe their disagreement about the effect that moral authority and rational individualism have on the development of the mind and locate its source in two competing theories of mind. This reveals a debate about our human needs with echoes in contemporary political discontent.

Suggested Citation

Hebert, L. Joseph, Individualism and Intellectual Liberty in Tocqueville and Descartes. Journal of Politics, Vol. 69, No. 2, pp. 525-537, May 2007. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1065964 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2508.2007.00548.x

L. Joseph Hebert (Contact Author)

St. Ambrose University - Department of Political Science

Davenpor, IA 52803
United States

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