Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Glenn, Gary Dean, 1941-

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of Political Science


Tocqueville; Alexis de; 1805-1859--Criticism and interpretation; Putnam; Robert D.--Criticism and interpretation; Democracy--United States; Social change--United States


With the 2000 publication of Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, and its argument of declining association membership, the associational life of Americans has again become a popular area of study. Alexis de Tocqueville is generally accepted as the “patron saint” of associational theory, but his associational theory is often parsed out of context of his entire theory. I will examine the Tocquevillian theory of associations in the context of his entire democratic theory and show how this is valuable in understanding Putnam’s findings and improving on his arguments regarding American democracy. Tocqueville’s theory regarding the social and political change from aristocracy to democracy, the tension between liberty and equality, and the different societal types that may develop in a democratic age will be presented. The American experiment, which struck the best observable balance at the time, will be placed within these societal types. Then, Putnam’s concept of social capital and the associational dilemma he uncovered is placed in Tocquevillian terms. Putnam’s emphasis on social capital resulted in his failure to make important distinctions in associational types that were important in Tocqueville’s theory. Having argued that the associational distinction of Tocqueville is important, a more complete discussion of Tocqueville’s associational types, permanent political, small private, voluntary social, and voluntary political, will be presented. The critical distinction is between voluntary political and voluntary social associations, which Putnam did not recognize. I will argue that this distinction makes clearer the Tocquevillian democratic problem of centralization, which leads to despotism, which goes beyond Putnam’s concern over social capital. Putnam’s argument and evidence is used to show the signs of centralization currently present in American democracy. Finally, it is shown that the important defense against despotism is political associations, not the social associations emphasized by Putnam. Quantitative and qualitative characteristics of political associations will be examined. Three contextual characteristics for political associations are developed, ownership and responsibility, political control, and the development of transferable democratic skills. These characteristics are applied to the current political landscape using brief case studies of Tocquevillian, pseudo-Tocquevillian, and post-Tocquevillian associations. The future of American associations in this context is then examined.


Includes bibliographical references (pages [180]-190).


190 pages (some color pages)




Northern Illinois University

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