January 28, 2018

Lilla, Mark Silver_nugget

The seminar entitled “History of the self: Tocqueville” offers the opportunity of a close reading of Democracy in America by Tocqueville. It certainly helps one improving his analytical skills and critical thinking while expanding his/her knowledge in political science. The main focus is on French and American history of the 18th and 19th century as well as political philosophy from Montaigne to Tocqueville. This class helps understanding European and the US political regimes through a refreshing comparative approach.

Mr Lilla is incredibly cultivated and mixes theory with anecdotes and contemporary analysis to make students commit more easily to Tocqueville. His appreciation of French and American cultures is very thoughtful. He also opens the discussion to numerous contemporary debates without imposing any particular view and students have room to express and challenge their opinions. I might have actually enjoyed the class to be a little more theoretical at times. I felt some students were running away from the fascinating political science and close reading through raising contemporary issues poorly.


Since Mr Lilla asks for a short essay on each week's readings, I probably worked around 9 hours / week for this class (including the 2 hours of class). It is a very demanding seminar, but that is probably the best way to delve into Tocqueville and remember it well.

I believe Mr Lilla shall introduce the requirements for a final paper early enough in the semester since it represents an important amount of work. I also tend to consider a seminar shall either be evaluated through continuous control or a final research paper, both seeming a little excessive to me. I really enjoyed having to write on Tocqueville each week, but it has been challenging to deal with a final paper on top of that, among other finals and a research thesis.