Tocqueville and the Rhetoric of Civil Religion in the Presidential Inaugural Addresses

Michael E. Bailey and Kristin Lindholm

Michael E. Bailey and Kristin Lindholm argue that a new rhetoric of the divine dominates recent presidential inaugural addresses. The substance of the new element of divinity is nothing less than an idealized version of American democracy itself. By following Alexis de Tocqueville’s analysis of democracy, they demonstrate that this rhetorical shift in the inaugural addresses is both predictable and troubling. Predictable, because the poetic ideals of the United States naturally reflect the nation’s broad shift toward greater democratization. Troubling, because the new rhetoric downplays realistic limits in political life in favor of unlimited promises and dangerously utopian ideals. Mr. Bailey is Assistant Professor of Government at Berry College, and Ms. Lindholm is Assistant Professor of English at Trinity International University.

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Last Updated: April 2, 2003
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