Guest speaker Dr. Raymond Hain presented the Antigone lecture March 10, focusing on Alexis de Tocqueville’s novel, Democracy in America.
Tocqueville wrote the book in 1835 after his visit to America.
“His book is the best book ever written about democracy. And probably the best book ever written about America,” Hain said.
His lecture consisted of selected passages from the book, as well as discussion upon its themes and Tocqueville’s philosophy as it relates to democracy and human nature.
“Tocqueville argues that the mores [customs] of a people are more fundamental than its flaws. The mores, customs, habits, the whole intellectual state of a people, as Tocqueville says, involve the messy business of real life, whereas the laws of people are the precise and clear rules,” Hain said.
He focused on several points, including “What is it that democracy must be taught? What is it that Tocqueville thinks you and I, and all citizens must learn if democracy is to deliver on its promises?”
Twice during his lecture, Hain paused to ask the audience if they had served for their local government in anyway. One person in the crowd raised their hand.
“Self-government teaches us how to be independent, but Tocqueville thought that democracy must also teach its citizens to be dependent. One of Tocqueville’s most startling examples in this regard is the American jury system…serving on juries shapes the character of those who serve,” Hain said.
He quoted a passage from Tocqueville saying, “The jury instills in all classes a respect for judicial decisions and the idea of law. Remove those two things and love of independence becomes a destructive passion. The jury teaches men the practice of equity. Each man, in judging his neighbor, thinks that he may in turn be judged.”
“This is remarkable commentary on how jury duty helps shape democratic citizens. In short, it gives them some of the habits of the judge and of the legal profession. Habits of good and careful judgment, of willing self-sacrifice for the sake of society, and of respect for the rule of law,” Hain said.
He asked the audience if any had ever been called to report for jury duty. Several hands went up. Hain asked how many of them had actually served on a jury. All but one of those hands went down.
Hain is an assistant professor of philosophy at Providence College in Rhode Island.
Dr. Donald Prudlo, associate professor of ancient and medieval history at JSU, said this was the last Antigone lecture of the year, but he hopes to see them continue in the future.