Working Papers

1. “Aristocracy in America: Tocqueville on White Supremacy” (with Jennie Ikuta, draft complete)

In the last several decades, there has been increasing interest in Tocqueville’s views on race and racism. However, this literature is largely impressionistic. We read the “Three Races” chapter back into the overall structure of Democracy in America, uncovering Tocqueville’s structural understanding of the relationship between whites and African Americans. By exploiting the parallels in Tocqueville’s thought between European feudalism and American racial subordination, we show that the principal features of Tocqueville’s conception of aristocracy—heritability, membership, privilege, and exclusion—also characterize the relationship between African Americans and whites. We therefore demonstrate that Tocqueville conceived of the United States as a racial aristocracy—an aristocracy of whiteness. We contribute to Tocqueville scholarship by reconstructing Tocqueville’s implicit account of white supremacy, thereby dispelling the myth that he held a “prejudice” or “anomaly” theory of racism. We also explain the advantages of conceiving of whiteness as a form of aristocracy rather than property.

2. “Stephen Douglas(s)’s Self-Deception: Popular Sovereignty in the Territories” (draft complete)

It is well known that U.S. Senator Stephen A. Douglas championed the doctrine of popular sovereignty—“the right of the people of the Territories to govern themselves in respect to their local affairs and internal polity”—in the late antebellum era. It is also well known that Douglas initially (c. 1848-1850) supported the policy of popular sovereignty as a compromise to a brewing sectional crisis. It is less well known that Douglas rejected popular sovereignty as a member of the House of Representatives in the mid-1840s and only later adopted a democratic, principled, non-instrumental, and localist justification of the doctrine in the late-1850s. By tracing the development of Douglas’s thinking on popular sovereignty in his letters and speeches, I argue that Douglas came to believe, sincerely, in the right of a territorial people to govern themselves, but deceived himself in coming to this belief. The trajectory of Douglas’s thinking shows—among other things—how political actors are often drawn, pulled even, toward certain magnetic arguments in the history of political thought. In Douglas’s case, an appeal to the value of ‘the local’ and local self-government justified the expansion of the slave-power and displaced pragmatic (but less effective) appeals to compromise. His commitment to popular sovereignty and local democracy was sincere yet normatively deficient because it developed with morally questionable origins.

3. “Melancton Smith, Adam Smith, and the Sympathetic Theory of Representation” (draft complete)

This paper revisits the American Anti-Federalists’ theory of representation, specifically that of a loose group of New Yorkers led by Melancton Smith. Previous work has neglected the role of sympathy in their theory, which many scholars consider compelling and unique. They argued that a representative assembly should be a true picture of the people, and idea circulating since the seventeenth century, but also that it should sympathize with the people. Used to refer to political representation, the word “sympathy’’ and its inflectional affixes appear twenty-seven times in the ratification debate. I show that the theory equivocates between “contagion’’ and “projection’’ conceptions of sympathy, represented by, for the purposes of this article, David Hume and Adam Smith, respectively. Hume’s contagion conception makes better sense of Anti-Federalists’ localism whereas Smith’s projection conception is more closely aligned with the reasons we have to value sympathy in representation in the first place. I conclude by sketching an idealized sympathetic theory of representation, one that abstracts from the particularities in Hume, Smith, and the Anti-Federalists.

4. “Tocqueville Was Not a Localist” (abstract only)

It is commonly believed that Alexis de Tocqueville was a proponent of localism and decentralization. This belief has only been reinforced by Robert Putnam’s laudatory treatment of Tocqueville in Bowling Alone. In this paper, I argue that interpreting Tocqueville as a localist, despite prevailing opinion to the contrary, is a profound and misleading mistake. Tocqueville was not a localist. In Democracy in America, Tocqueville says, quite explicitly, “I cannot imagine that a nation could live or, above all, prosper without strong governmental centralization.” This of course refers to Tocqueville’s distinction between governmental and administrative decentralization. Tocqueville favors the latter, not the former, and only to an extent that has been much exaggerated. Indeed, in a frequently (but not completely) neglected footnote (no. 49) in the 1835 Democracy Tocqueville wrote, “the authority that represents the state, even when it does not itself administer, must not, I think, relinquish the right to inspect local administration.” Are these the utterances of a committed localist, as Putnam and his followers would have us believe? I think not. Tocqueville thought local governments were important for the development of citizens’ democratic and associational capacities, but he certainly was no friend of robust local autonomy.

5. “Hobbes and Paternal Dominion: The Illusion of Contract” (draft complete)