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Ambition in AmericaPolitical Power and the Collapse of Citizenship$
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Jeffrey A. Becker

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780813145044

Published to Kentucky Scholarship Online: September 2014

DOI: 10.5810/kentucky/9780813145044.001.0001

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The Ambition to Recover Democratic Excellence

The Ambition to Recover Democratic Excellence

Tocqueville and Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Chapter:
(p.75) 4 The Ambition to Recover Democratic Excellence
Source:
Ambition in America
Author(s):

Jeffrey A. Becker

Publisher:
University Press of Kentucky
DOI:10.5810/kentucky/9780813145044.003.0005

This chapter argues that Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and FDR’s presidency can teach the American people the necessary place of aristocratic virtues of excellence for democratic life. Tocqueville’s aristocratic sensibility and FDR’s presidency show American citizens the importance of maintaining a democratic purpose to American politics and political institutions. Both Tocqueville and FDR share an appreciation for the necessity and virtue of an aristocratic disposition for democratic society and culture: Tocqueville as the consummate theorist and FDR as the consummate practitioner. By comparing Tocqueville’s prescriptions for democratic life in the 19th century with FDR’s presidency, this chapter argues that democratic life depends on nurturing ambition for greatness and excellence in citizens. Without the ambition and spur to public greatness, as Tocqueville and FDR demonstrate, American democracy will tend to flounder in mediocre ineptitude, or succumb to the temptations of prejudice and demagoguery.

Keywords:   ambition, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Alexis de Tocqueville, aristocracy, democracy

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