This essay looks at the form of sovereignty that Alexis de Tocqueville saw as uniquely American in relation to the form of self-sovereignty that had developed in eighteenth-century England and France. By 1840, American democracy had, in Tocqueville's view, become the perfect breeding ground for the new form of sovereignty he called “the will of the majority” or “public opinion.” This popular rule worked against the very form of self-sovereignty coveted by European liberalism and cultivated by the English novel to transform such individuals into an irresistibly powerful political body. A Hawthorne story from the same period as Tocqueville's study shows the new collectivity paradoxically requiring the constraints of classical liberalism just as liberalism in turn seemed to require the popular energy unleashed by democracy to justify its constraints and exclusions. Hawthorne thus helps me argue that where theory, being theory, necessarily drives toward a point where the emerging nation becomes incoherent, fiction tells us that this point is where affect takes over and holds a liberal democracy together.
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Nancy Armstrong; Hawthorne on the Paradox of Popular Sovereignty. Novel 1 May 2014; 47 (1): 24–42. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-2414048
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