Leo Strauss Award ($500).
Award Committee: Susan Shell, Boston College, chair; Mark Lilla, University of Chicago; and Melissa Williams, University of Toronto.
Recipient: Aurelian Craiutu, University of Northern Iowa
Dissertation: "The Difficult Apprenticeship of Liberty: Reflections on the Political Thought of the French Doctrinaires"
Dissertation Chairs: George Kateb, Princeton University and Alan Ryan, Oxford University
Citation: It is a pleasure to nominate Aurelian Craiutu's The Difficult Apprenticeship of Liberty: Reflections on the Political Thought of the French Doctrinaries, for a Leo Strauss Dissertation Award.
Craiutu's dissertation introduces English-speaking readers to a rich and largely neglected vein of liberal thought which emerged in postrevolutionary France, in opposition to both ultra-conservative and radically revolutionary parties. As Craiutu ably shows, the so-called 'doctrinaires' were determinedly moderate, inclined toward flexibility and accommodation, and yet firm in their opposition to a will-based theory of sovereignty that they associated with tyrannies of both the right and left; their thought thus belies on a variety of fronts the name assigned to them by their opponents. The Doctrinaires attempted to steer a middle course between the reassertion of royal absolutism and the churning chaos threatened by reliance on unmediated popular will. That conservative forces dominated the elective Parliament at crucial constitutional moments made their political and rhetorical situation especially complex. Cries to strengthen the hand of Parliament vis a vis the king had the perverse effect of enabling the forces of monarchical absolutism. But immediate political considerations, as Craiutu shows, were not the only reason for the Doctrinaires' shaded enthusiasm for popular government. Doubtful of all theories linking legitimacy to sheer assertions of the will, be it of the monarch or the people, Guizot, in particular, formulated a new theory of sovereignty as an adjunct of moral and political reason. The purpose of representative institutions, on this account, was not so much to express the people's will as to gather and give force to the wisdom of what he called 'the capable ones,' largely seated, in his mind, in the emerging middle classes. Guizot thus combined a Kantian belief in the accessibility of moral knowledge with an unkantian emphasis on the natural superiority of a few. For similar reasons, the Doctrinaires do not view government (as opposed to centralized administration) in as hostile a light as do many other liberal thinkers; for a forceful government may well represent the best tool available for liberating the collective wisdom that custom and party otherwise keep down.
Doctrinaire thought also contributed mightily, as the author compellingly argues, to a new, historically informed approach to political analysis whose most famous practitioner is Tocqueville. Not least of the merits of Craiutu's study is the light it sheds on Tocqueville's debt to the prior work of Guizot, whose widely read History of Civilization in Europe also influenced thinkers such as John Stuart Mill. Craiutu persuasively traces the source of such famous Tocquevillian themes as the ineluctability of the spirit of equality, the priority of social conditions over more formal political arrangements, and the dangers of centralized administration and the 'despotism of the majority.' Thanks to his study, English speaking readers will be less likely to approach Tocqueville as if he were 'born in a desert,' and more alert to his special merits.
Finally, in a suggestive final chapter, Craiutu points to ways in which the Doctrinaire tradition might inform contemporary efforts to establish liberal government in post-Communist Europe.
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|Publication:||PS: Political Science & Politics|
|Article Type:||Brief Article|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2000|
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