Ode to Tocqueville

President of national conservative think-tank urges return to democracy characterized by civil society

The Liberty University School of Law hosted its first Speakers’ Forum of the semester on Wednesday, Sept. 28, and invited students and citizens to listen in as the featured speaker, Edwin Feulner, the president of the Heritage Foundation, presented the idea that “civil society is more urgent today than ever before.”


The event was a joint-effort between the School of Law and the Helm’s School of Government but took place in the Law School’s Supreme Courtroom at the request of Provost and Vice-Chancellor of Liberty Ron Godwin.

“I think it was of great value to Liberty to have Dr. Feulner,” Godwin said. “He is the head of the preeminent, conservative, intellectual fountainhead in the United States.”

According to Mat Staver, the dean of the Liberty School of Law, this was Feulner’s first visit to Liberty, and “he was blown away by what he saw and experienced.”

Feulner focused his speech on the topics of democracy and civil society, incorporating anecdotes of Alexis de Tocqueville, the renowned French political theorist and thinker, who was pivotal in recognizing what made 19th century American democracy significant and rich and developing insights on what is necessary to preserve it, according to Feulner. Tocqueville predicted, and Feulner corroborated in his speech, that what is essential to democracy is a civil society.

Feulner said that Tocqueville’s approach to democracy and civil society, which the Heritage Foundation attempts to mirror, can be boiled down into two simple equations.

“Equation one: democracy plus a vibrant civil society equals freedom and justice,” Feulner said. “Equation two: democracy minus a vibrant civil society equals tyranny, albeit of a soft, democratic style.”

Feulner used what he called the progressives’ hatred of the Tea Party movement as an argument as to why it is now critical to take heed of Tocqueville’s predictions that the nature of democracy without a civil society would be democratic despotism.

“We as Americans need to regain something of Tocqueville’s sense of awe and wonder at the power, the ingenuity and the creativity of civil society,” Feulner said.

In a short question-and-answer period, Feulner fielded topics such as America’s monetary structure, foreign policy and status as a hegemon.

“Ed Feulner is one of America’s finest conservative minds,” Dean of the Helms School of Government Shawn Akers said. “The work he does through The Heritage Foundation sets the standard for public policy research and influence. He was in his element addressing our students, and they thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to meet him and learn from him.”

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