Taking Tocqueville and Darwin for a Ride

By Nathan Schradle

If something like a “Global Civil Society” ever becomes a reality (I’m picturing a giant face made of thousands of tiny robots, like in the Matrix Revolutions… only hopefully slightly less hell-bent on the destruction of the human species), it may want to give a huge shout-out to the year 1831. For starters, it’s the year that our very own New York University was founded, a university that recently played host to the dialogues that bear its name. Furthermore, as those who attended the third of the “NYU Dialogues on the Global Civil Society” can attest, the most recent speaker asserted that the stakes of such a conversation were first made plain in the very same year.

On October 31st, 2011, Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks delivered his lecture, “The Great Partnership: Religion and the Moral Sense?” to a remarkably enthusiastic audience (when a group of about 15 students is lined up outside before the doors even open, “enthusiastic” might be an understatement). In an attempt to describe the role he sees religion playing in any “global civil society,” Lord Sacks pointed to two journeys that began in the year in question, specifically Charles Darwin’s voyage aboard the HMS Beagle and Alexis de Tocqueville’s journey to America. Sacks drew some eloquent parallels between the two trips, in which he established a set of binaries that constituted the crux of his argument: competition and cooperation, aggression and altruism, markets/politics and religion. Continue Reading →