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Harvey Mansfield

Harvey C. Mansfield, William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Government, studies and teaches political philosophy. He has written on Edmund Burke and the nature of political parties, on Machiavelli and[…]

Harvey Mansfield asks what Tocqueville would think of today’s America?

Question: Whom would you interview if you could interview anyone?

Harvey Mansfield: Because it would be good to be Odysseus in Hades and ask some of the shades what they think of their lives after they’ve led them. No …. let’s see … If I … Alright, so I will chose a dead person: Tocqueville. I would like to know what he thinks about democracy in America today. It would be speculation; but I think he would not be surprised. And I think he would be, on the whole, pleased. He would be especially impressed by the way we got through the Civil War, and with how we managed to destroy slavery and, more recently, Jim Crow and the second class status of former slaves more successfully than a democratic country could ever expect it to do. And that’s because it’s harder for a Democratic country to abolish slavery than I think it is than for a non-democratic country. A democratic country believes in the principle of consent. And the problem was that there were many slave owners who wanted their right to consent to have slaves. And that, I think, was the biggest challenge sort of between Tocqueville’s time and ours. There have been others, too, obviously things that are more recent. I would like to know what he thought of the return of religion in our time obviously. He had a low opinion of Islam, but a high opinion of religion in general. So what would he say to that? Those are the things on which I would like to question him.

Recorded on: 6/13/07