On Religion and Rational Control
Bradley Lecture by Harvey C. Mansfield

“Rational control” is the subjection of society to reason as opposed to superstition, prejudice, or tradition, with the aim of getting us to behave better. Alexis de Tocqueville says this idea or practice began with the French monarchy; a more recent example is Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, by Cass R. Sunstein and Richard H. Thaler. Tocqueville thinks that rational control leads to “mild despotism” of the kind he describes in Democracy in America, and he proposes an understanding of religion that would oppose it and provide an alternative that is more favorable to political liberty.

Harvey C. Mansfield is the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Government at Harvard University and a visiting scholar at AEI. He has written on Edmund Burke and the nature of political parties, on Machiavelli and the invention of indirect government, in defense of a defensible liberalism and in favor of a constitutional American political science. He has also written on the discovery and development of the theory of executive power, and has translated three books of Machiavelli and (with the aid of his wife) Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (University of Chicago Press, 2000). Among his most recent books is Manliness (Yale University Press, 2006). Mr. Mansfield was the chairman of the Harvard Government Department from 1973 to 1977, has held Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships, and has been a fellow at the National Humanities Center. He won the Joseph R. Levenson award for his teaching at Harvard, received the Sidney Hook Memorial award from the National Association of Scholars, and, in 2004, accepted a National Humanities Medal from the president. He has hardly left Harvard since his first arrival in 1949, and he has been on its faculty since 1962.

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