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  1. April 6, 2008 7:32 pm

    Cool post.

    You conclude with, “Nevertheless, I think that Madison’s views can serve as a useful reality check to the more optimistic opinions of Tocqueville and JPII.”

    So it would be fair to say their ideas do not necessarily conflict?

    i.e., factions are both good and bad, and in both cases they are a human reality whether we recognize them or not?

  2. Mark DeFrancisis permalink*
    April 6, 2008 8:32 pm


    Thank you for this interesting and insightful post.

    I’d be interested to hear on Tocqueville, especially about the intellectual and cultural milieu amidst which he worked and to which he uniquely responded.

    In the meantime, can you recommend a good intellectual biography or helpful intellectual overview of his historical ‘era’?

  3. Blackadder permalink
    April 6, 2008 10:13 pm

    I’d say that Madison’s views are in conflict with Tocqueville’s (or at least are in tension with them), but that this doesn’t mean that one of them is entirely right or entirely wrong, or that the two perspectively can’t learn from each other.

    There are a lot of Tocqueville resources available here. Hopefully, you can find what you’re looking for. Tocqueville has an entry in the old Catholic Encyclopedia, but I didn’t find it very helpful.

  4. Policraticus permalink*
    April 7, 2008 2:11 am


  5. M.Z. Forrest permalink
    April 7, 2008 8:28 am

    Given that Tocqueville was looking to these voluntary associations to basically replace the feudal framework, can we draw any conclusions? I think we can say it basically failed, or at least our implementation of it. There is no private association today that has the ability to markedly affect the common good. One can look at the Catholic hospital system today for example. Catholic schools are fast approaching, if they aren’t there already, places for the affluent. Increasingly they are looking to State subsidy to even serve the lower middle class. This may all however stem from voluntary generally being defined in this country as the right to enter and exit without consequence. Many of us wouldn’t consider the Bar associations in the various states to be voluntary, but I believe Tocqueville would have seen them as voluntary. Another example would be the major churches in Germany that use the State to collect the tithe. I believe Toqueville would have seen that as still voluntary.

  6. Blackadder permalink
    April 7, 2008 9:13 am

    I’d disagree that there are no private associations today that have the ability to markedly affect the common good. I’d say that there are plenty voluntarily associations around today that do so (though regulations and encroachments by the state have limited their ability to do so). I wouldn’t necessarily count the state bar associations among them, however, not only because I don’t think they count as voluntary in most cases, but also because I’m not sure that they actually aid the common good, as opposed to hindering it.

    But that is probably a subject for another day.

  7. April 7, 2008 9:55 am

    Excellent post. While CST falls solidly within the Tocqueville camp on this question, I think Madison’s view has actually been vindicated by history. In fact, Tocqueville — and JPII even more so — seemed focused on the ideal of politics, over against the reality of it. Yes, politics shouldn’t involve “total war” among different interest groups, and yet it generally does, as Madison predicted. Given that American politics is now entirely centered on interest groups, I think this point is beyond debate.

    Further, Madison’s solution — not to outlaw free association, but to so reduce the power of the state that no single group can use it to impose its interests on everyone else — maintains the value of associations while defanging their capacity to cause mischief. So in that model, the National Dietary Association might provide resources, fellowship, and guidance to those interested, but could not pressure the state to impose its agenda on everyone else (say, by forcing everyone to give up eating trans-fats).

    Unfortunately, while Madison has been proven correct, Tocqueville’s approach won the day. We’ve been paying for it ever since.


  1. Southern Appeal » “Madison vs. Tocqueville on Associations”
  2. A Tocquevillian in the Vatican « Vox Nova
  3. A Tocquevillian in the Vatican « Blackadder’s Lair

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