Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Radasanu, Andrea

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of Political Science


Liberal democracy has historically owed its attractiveness to the promise of a more compassionate society structured around pluralistic and tolerant principles. Yet recent events in western democracies seem to indicate a lack of compassionate social bonds. Why has a politics of compassion failed to materialize and what must be done to make good on the original promise of liberal democracy? To answer these questions, I provide a historically and theoretically grounded account of compassion as a principle of liberalism, with special attention to the political thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith, and Alexis de Tocqueville. In particular, I seek to understand why these thinkers, remarkable for their emphasis on other- directed sentiments, expressed uncertainty regarding the efficacy of compassion. I argue that the fundamental commitments of liberalism, as articulated in modern political philosophy, necessarily bring compassion to the forefront of our moral consciousness, but in a way that is insufficient to offset the more dissociative tendencies of liberal democracy. In order for compassion to foster strong, equitable, and charitable bonds in our political life, it must be augmented with external moral resources that may be hard to come by in liberal modernity. The thinkers examined here attempted to provide such resources with varying degrees of success, providing us with a useful template as we attempt to navigate the crisis of liberalism in the early twenty-first century.


244 pages




Northern Illinois University

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