American politics are at the forefront of everyday life like never before. In a time that has perhaps never been more polarizing, there is an increasing need for students to engage in a deeper study and discussion of American politics to better understand it and be better citizens as well. Christendom’s political science and economics department is taking an active role in that mission through the creation of the Tocqueville Forum — a new resource for students to be able to think critically about important issues confronting Catholics in America today.
Dr. Kevin Burns recognized the need for the Tocqueville Forum over the past year and worked with his colleagues in the political science department to launch it on campus. Partnering with the Jack Miller Foundation, which generously funds the Forum through a grant, the Forum strives to advance a deeper knowledge of America’s fundamental political commitments to liberty and equality.
“We’re trying to get people to think about what’s good and problematic in our country today,” says Burns, “Liberal democracy—or the classical liberalism of the Founders—has tremendous advantages, especially in terms of economics and personal freedom. But it also means we’re self-ruling, and we’re free to abuse our freedom. Recently, conservative Catholic circles have been buzzing with the idea that America and its ideals are evil, and so it is said we need to reject the Founding and implement a confessional state. The Tocqueville Forum is trying to make sure our students have a chance to think long and hard about what’s good about their country, while also recognizing that the United States—like every other country—certainly does have weaknesses and temptations.”
The forum’s namesake, Alexis de Tocqueville, was a French aristocrat, diplomat, political scientist, political philosopher, and historian, best known for his Democracy in America, in which he analyzed the different forms of political associations in our country. The purpose of the Tocqueville Forum follows on his writings and political philosophy, helping students engage in a deeper study and discussion of American politics by giving them access to high-profile academics who visit campus and present on American politics, as well as the opportunity to attend a hands-on summer course.
The first Tocqueville Forum summer course was offered this past year to Christendom students, who applied to be “Madison Fellows” this past spring. Burns, along with fellow political science professor Dr. Joseph Brutto, conducted a week-long course for students to engage in political debates and more fully understand the U.S. Constitution.
In addition to the summer course, several highly reputable speakers have visited the college and spoken on liberal democracy over the past year — giving students the opportunity to not only learn more deeply about American politics but engage with top academics on these issues.
“We’re here to restore all things in Christ, which means a restoration of the temporal order,” says Burns. “I want our students to have a chance to understand America, our own temporal order, in terms of first, our own past and political traditions, second, how we got where we are today, and third, the future and how we can make it better.”
Senior Harry Cole, who actively participates in Forum events as a “Tocqueville Scholar,” has found the Forum already tremendously beneficial during his time at Christendom. He believes the Forum has value — not only for Christendom students but for the entire Christendom community.
“The Tocqueville Forum, in my experience, is unique in that it gives both the college as a whole and the smaller Tocqueville Scholars in particular an opportunity to listen and think critically about important issues confronting Catholics in this country,” says Cole. “In particular, I believe the great value of the Forum is that it fosters a healthy and educated discussion, and even debate, on the values of American Liberalism and the place of Catholics within it.”
For more information on the Tocqueville Forum, visit www.tocquevilleforum.com.