Year of Graduation


Level of Access

Open Access Thesis

Embargo Period


Department or Program

Government and Legal Studies

First Advisor

Jean Yarbrough

Second Advisor

Michael Franz


Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Alexis de Tocqueville each warn that the dominant cultures of their days may hinder the project of self-government. Against the backdrop of advancing Enlightenment philosophy, Rousseau writes that as social visibility increases relative to intimate connection, the drive for recognition corrupts self-love. Following the American and French revolutions, Tocqueville explores the democratic erosion of social hierarchies. He writes that a rise in individualism may obscure “self-interest well-understood”—the perspective gained through collaboration with others, thoughtful reflection, and reverence for truths that lie beyond the dictates of cursory instincts.

In this project, I apply these political theories to the Digital Age. I explain how the distinction between the physical world and the digital realm has actualized Rousseau’s depiction of double men, “always appearing to relate everything to others and never relating anything except to themselves alone.” In the era of social distancing, technological evolution threatens to induce regression in the sociability and reflective agency that promote our capacity for self-government. Accordingly, I argue that Rousseau’s theory of corrupted drive for recognition and Tocqueville’s theory of individualism inform a new danger to political freedom: digital tribalism.