PHIL 332: Discussion Questions on Burke and Tocqueville



1.  Moral Motivation and Virtue.  Burke claims that only the gallows provides motivation for abiding by laws in a rights-based government.  He claims there is nothing to replace "love, veneration, admiration, or attachment" as aids to the law (i.e., to promote voluntary compliance with the law).  He also claims that democracy undermines virtue, which he illustrates with his discussion of chivalric codes of honor.  [Burke thinks that in a democracy most people will be like Hobbes's fool.  What is the only source of motivation for Hobbes's fool?] How would Tocqueville respond to him on these two questions—that is, on the motivation to voluntarily comply with the law in a democracy and on virtue in a democracy? 


2.  A Posteriori Rather Than A Priori Reasoning in Political Philosophy.  Although Burke and Tocqueville reach different conclusions about democracy, their ways of evaluating forms of government are surprisingly similar.  Both eschew a priori derivations of principles and instead look to reasoning based on experience (a posteriori).  In evaluating forms of government, Burke emphasizes the importance of "obscure and almost latent causes" and Tocqueville emphasizes indirect effects and hidden tendencies.  In a comparison of monarchy/aristocracy with democracy, on what would Burke and Tocqueville agree?  On what would they disagree? 


3.  Tyranny of the Majority.  Summarize Tocqueville's reasons for fearing a tyranny of the majority in the 19th United States.  Consider how they apply to the United States today.  Is there a serious danger of tyranny of the majority today? 


4.  No Great Men in Government.  Compared to Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and others, Tocqueville finds the elected officials in the 19th century U.S. to be extremely undistinguished.  He thinks there are many reasons for this.  Explain them.  Do Tocqueville's arguments apply to elected officials today?