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Commercial capitalism and the democratic psyche: the threat to Tocquevillean citizenship

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A preeminent theorist of democracy, Alexis de Tocqueville has been both criticized for ignoring the dangerous impact of capitalism on democracy, and lauded for elucidating their happy symbiosis. In fact, Democracy in America features pungent, though limited and isolated, commentary on what Tocqueville calls ‘commerce’ and ‘industry’. In this article, these scattered observations are brought to bear on Tocqueville's rich portrait of democracy, its characteristic passions and anxieties, and its varying potentialities. The yield is a critical psycho-political account of how commercial capitalism exacerbates democracy's unhealthy tendencies to undermine democracy's potential to foster healthy, meaningful democratic citizenship.

Keywords: Alexis de Tocqueville; Tocquevillean citizenship; capitalism; commerce; commercial capitalism; democracy; industry

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: The University of Western Ontario, Department of Political Science, Social Science Centre, London, Ontario, Canada, N6A 5C2.

Publication date: February 1, 2001


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