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James Lamon Wins Conference Best Paper Award

Paper analyzes Tocqueville's "Three Races" chapter

Posted: May 9, 2012

James Lamon, a graduating senior triple majoring in government, English, and philosophy, received a best paper award at the 20th Annual Illinois State University Conference for Students of Political Science. Lamon won the award for his paper, “Race as Political Metaphor in Tocqueville’s Democracy in America,” which he initially wrote for Jeffrey K. Tulis’ honors seminar, “Regime Perspectives on American Politics.” Lamon, also a 2012 College of Liberal Arts Dean’s Distinguished Graduate, spent a year revising the paper in informal, not-for-credit, independent study with Tulis.

Lamon’s paper provides an original interpretation of the 100-page chapter, “Future Condition Of Three Races In The United States,” that concludes the original volume of Democracy in America. Although this chapter is long and rich, there are no comprehensive interpretations of it in the scholarly literature. Instead, typical analyses of this chapter assume that Tocqueville meant only to comment explicitly on the history and meaning of race in the United States, rather than on the problems and prospects of democracy more generally as he does in the rest of the book. Lamon’s stunning new interpretation shows this chapter to be one of Tocqueville’s deepest meditations on the differences between aristocracy and democracy as types of political regimes.

In Lamon’s reading, Tocqueville’s “Negro” is a metaphor for democracy, and the “Indian” is a metaphor for aristocracy. Each regime has its virtues and its vices. Tocqueville shows how these attributes are more visible and understandable when one views each regime at its limit or in its extreme version. In this telling the “Negro” slave reveals the meaning of equality taken to an extreme, while the “Indian” reveals the meaning and limit of almost absolute freedom.

Lamon’s paper was one of three out of 60 to win an award. This is the fifth time since 2007 that one of Jeff Tulis’ students has won a best paper award from this annual conference, a record unmatched in the 20-year history of this national event.

 

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