Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

Document Type



My study focuses on the literature of democratic morality, with specific reference to the question of "heroic individualism." I attempt to elucidate the notion of heroic individualism by examining three modern democratic moralists whose work occupies the space between politics and literature: Jean Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Carlyle and Friedrich Nietzsche. In brief, I conclude that the central aspiration of heroic individualism is to bridge the gap between writing and action, the Text and the Voice. The dialogue among Rousseau, Carlyle, and Nietzsche reveals that the problem of writing as action is central to heroic-individualist morality. Each of these authors demonstrates an abiding concern with the relationship between life and language that reveals, at a deeper level, their common sensitivity to the differences between the Text and the Voice, and to the dominant place of texts in modern democratic cultures, which are also print cultures. To postmodern ears the theme of the Text and the Voice rings familiar; I explore its prehistory in the dialogue among heroic individualists. In this study I highlight Thomas Carlyle, for three reasons: First, Carlyle's place in the dialogue on heroic individualism has been ignored, or misunderstood, by political theorists especially. The habit of associating Carlyle's writings with a grossly authoritarian "great-man theory" of politics and history leaves contemporary interpreters unaware of Carlyle's qualifications as a democratic thinker. Second, Carlyle's role as a critic and interpreter of Continental philosophy to the English-speaking world, and his influence on Emerson and, indirectly, Nietzsche, bespeaks Carlyle's importance as a participant in this dialogue. Finally, restoring Carlyle to his context can obviate the tendency of interpreters to discount his writings as products of a reactionary, fanatical doctrine of "hero-worship." Carlyle's philosophy of heroism is more subtle than most interpreters suppose. Here I attempt to sketch out the historical and philosophical circumstances in which Carlyle finds himself as an author and to which he hopes to reply constructively, with the aim of encouraging sympathy for the great man. By restoring this context, we can better acknowledge the presence that Carlyle still exerts as an educator of modern democratic culture.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

James R. Stoner, Jr.