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Government Luminaries Speak on Tocqueville


The relevance today of Alexis de Tocqueville's thoughts on democracy and American political life 170 years ago was dicussed by a panel last night at the Divinity School.

"Tocqueville is a popular fellow these days," said Professor of Government Michael J. Sandel, one of the six panelists.

The other panelists were Diana L. Eck, professor of comparative religion and Indian studies; J. Bryan Hehir, professor of the practice in religion and society; James Kloppenberg, professor of history at Brandeis University; Cornel R. West '74, professor of the philosophy of religion and Afro-American studies, and Ronald F. Thiemann, dean of the Divinity School and O'Brian professor of divinity.

The discussion, which was organized by the Center for the Study of Values in Public Life at the Divinity School, focused on the role of religion in political life.

About 160 people attended the talk, which was recorded by C-Span and will be broadcast within the next month as part of a series on Tocqueville.

"We explored the variety and diversity of Tocqueville's thought and its application to our own times," said Thiemann, who moderated the discussion.

Tocqueville, a French aristocrat who travelled in America, recognized the inevitability of the equalizing of conditions in American democracy, but he failed to account for the industrial revolution and the subsequent emergance of market forces, West said.

"I thought it was very stimulating to have Tocqueville presented from such a variety of perspectives and then have it related to the current situation," said Rev. G. Stewart Barns of the Episcopal Chaplaincy at Harvard.

"It was ironic that religion was remarkably absent from the discussion," said Ben S. Cariens, a second-year student at the Divinity School.

"It's an indication of how difficult it is to find a place for religion in the public discourse," he added.

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