The Research Project Europe 1815-1914

P.O. Box 24
Unioninkatu 40
FI-00014 University of Helsinki




The programme is continuously updated. New events might be advertised with short notice. External participants are welcome but preferably on a regular basis. Since the number of seats is limited pre-registration with project coordinator Minna Vainio (minna.vainio[at] is requested.

December 2011
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8 Dec
Reading Seminar, 'Tocqueville' by Thomas Hopkins, Metsätalo, EReRe seminar room.
CANCELLED: Lucien Jaume, SciencePo, Paris, “De Tocqueville, Law and Democracy, Porthania P5458 Dec

On December 10, 2011, the Research Project Europe held a workshop on Tocqueville's Democracy in America (1835-40). Led by Thomas Hopkins, participants returned to Tocqueville's key text as an opportunity to re-examine the difficult struggles Euro-American countries faced during the early 19th century. These struggles were presented by Tocqueville as the collision between traditional aristocratic society and the advent of a new democratic civilization. Tocqueville proposed to study Anglo America for he viewed there a new kind of society in which equality in all matters was rapidly evolving. The influence exerted in society by the equality of conditions rendered 19th century democratic societies unlike ancient republics. Thus, America was for Tocqueville more than America, "for it appears to me beyond a doubt that, sooner or later, we shall arrive, like Americans, at an almost complete equality of conditions" (i, 15, 14). A new form of society and a new type of people, a new Spirit, was emerging and it was this Spirit which Tocqueville sought to characterize in Democracy in America.

Tocqueville regarded the transition from aristocracy to democracy as providential and inevitable. Furthermore, he warned about the impending threats equality posited to liberty, pushing democracy towards a new kind of despotism. However, seminar participants emphasized that Tocqueville did not regard the nature or outcome of democracy as fully determined. His choice of the US was merely symptomatic. For even though it thought it was "the most democratic country on the face of the earth" (ii, 115), the US did not constitute a model, but an opportunity to understand the full extent of the transformations taking place in the Western world. Every country had to find an institutional arrangement suitable to its mores, habits and opinions. In conclusion, members of the seminar agreed that any reading that strives to unpack the teleological thrust of his influential argument should also pursue the unequivocal emphasis on political practice and his broad treatment of political virtue. With such reflection, the seminar proved a suitable way of closing the academic year.

Dec 15
16 - Self-evaluation seminar