Tocqueville Reaction Paper
Tocqueville Reaction Paper
Reaction Paper based on Alexis De Tocqueville’s book DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA.
Instructions for Reaction Paper:
What is a reaction paper?
A reaction paper is a short essay that allows you to focus on a particular issue – based on our reading
and discussion of a text. Your thesis will announce this topic clearly and your essay will show why this
topic mattered in the larger context of the book and why it was interesting to you. For instance, you may
choose to write about the theme of legitimacy in Rousseau. Or, you may wish to investigate the
differences between Machiavelli and Rousseau on the goal of government. Or, you may choose to focus
on the question of nature and politics.
How should I prepare for this paper?
You should try to keep a few themes in mind as you begin to read any book. Your preliminary list of
themes will certainly shift but this initial approach will allow you to have a critical angle and help you
prepare for your reaction paper. (I can help you pick themes if you wish, for the moment.) For instance,
if you already have an interest in the question of honor, power, dissent, religion, or justice… try to make
a note in the margin of the text as you read along. I try to highlight some of these issues during our
You should also notice that most books have about two to four blank pages at the very end. These blank
pages are for your own notes. You should learn to create your own little index, especially for a much
longer book than a forty page play. For instance, you could keep track of about five to ten themes, and,
after every class, you could add the page number and perhaps a very brief comment to your index. As
you start thinking about your reaction paper, you could briefly reread those passages. If, for example,
you wish to write about the question of power, you can consult your index and see how often it occurs
throughout the text. If you have at least a few occurrences, then quickly re-read those particular
passages together and see if there is a common thread; there often is.
The next step is to consider what you have to say about it. Do you find, to go back to our example, that
the issue of gender was interesting in this book? If so, try to briefly justify it. Your justification should be
twofold. First, see how that question fits within the book in general. Second, see why this question
matters to you.
How should it start?
Your first sentence should announce the general thesis. The following sentences should announce the
details of your analysis. For instance:
Start the essay with “IN THIS ESSAY I ARGUE THAT….” or
“In this essay, I will analyze the role of general will in Rousseau’s politics. Rousseau believes that his
social contract model, especially the notion of the general will, sheds light on what makes political
power legitimate. After briefly outlining Rousseau’s argument, I will argue that Rousseau’s point is
relevant for us today, as we still struggle to find the proper balance between individual rights and the
How should it end?
A conclusion that summarizes the main points of the essay is necessary for a longer paper that
investigates a number of different themes. For such a short paper, there is no need for a strong
conclusion. It is up to you.
How should I structure my paper?
After the introduction, you should spend about half the paper placing your thesis within the context of
the work. There is no need to summarize the entire work. In the case of the introduction that I
suggested, you should simply explain Rousseau’s general ideas of justice and community and how the
question of property works within his overall perspective. The remaining half of the paper should be
devoted to your reaction. There, you should still use the original text to illustrate your point but you
must argue from your own perspective.
How long should it be?
Reaction papers for this course should be at least 1000 words. You may go up to 1200 but I encourage you to stay concise. I will check the word count for each paper.
Do that for yourself as well. How/What should I cite? Our course has no research component, but even reaction papers will have at least one main source, which means
that you MUST have a bibliography and you must use one of the three following citation methods: MLA, APA or Chicago. I will gladly help you work through this
requirement. For pdf files from blackboard, cite as following: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “Social Contract: Part One”, Course Handout (if unavialable in the blackboard
bibliography) Should I use “I”? Yes. This does depend of your p
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