Tocqueville: A Very Short Introduction
Harvey C. Mansfield
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No one has ever described American democracy with more accurate insight or more profoundly than Alexis de Tocqueville. After meeting with Americans on extensive travels in the United States, and intense study of documents and authorities, he authored the landmark Democracy in America, publishing its two volumes in 1835 and 1840. Ever since, this book has been the best source for every serious attempt to understand America and democracy itself. Yet Tocqueville himself remains a mystery behind the elegance of his style.
Now one of our leading authorities on Tocqueville explains him in this splendid new entry in Oxford's acclaimed Very Short Introduction series. Harvey Mansfield addresses his subject as a thinker, clearly and incisively exploring Tocqueville's writings--not only his masterpiece, but also his secret Recollections, intended for posterity alone, and his unfinished work on his native France, The Old Regime and the Revolution. Tocqueville was a liberal, Mansfield writes, but not of the usual sort. The many elements of his life found expression in his thought: his aristocratic ancestry, his ventures in politics, his voyages abroad, his hopes and fears for America, and his disappointment with France. All his writings show a passion for political liberty and insistence on human greatness. Perhaps most important, he saw liberty not in theories, but in the practice of self-government in America. Ever an opponent of abstraction, he offered an analysis that forces us to consider what we actually do in our politics--suggesting that theory itself may be an enemy of freedom. And that, Mansfield writes, makes him a vitally important thinker for today.
Translator of an authoritative edition of Democracy in America, Harvey Mansfield here offers the fruit of decades of research and reflection in a clear, insightful, and marvelously compact introduction.
laws and political mores, and now in the second will discuss “civil society,” which means sentiments, opinions, and relations not directly political. Ultimately they are also political, however, and so in the fourth part of volume 2 he returns to describe their inﬂuence on democratic politics. Democracy is not only the forms of government and the social state of the American people described in volume 1, but also the way of life, the end of society. Volume 2 shows how democracy looks with respect
usual, he looks more at their consequences than their content. Nonetheless, he ends his great book by denouncing two “false and cowardly doctrines” that imperil the democracy he has found in America. He declares, more in the style of Aristotle than of his own predecessors in liberalism, that Providence has not created the human race “either entirely independent or perfectly slave.” Democratic despotism 83 Chapter 5 Rational administration Tocqueville’s second great work, The Old Regime and
scientists and historians, and used to enliven and give authority to many books by popular Tocqueville historians and journalists. Democracy in America also appeals broadly to both left and right, each side having its favorite passages and eager to claim the blessing of his authority. Tocqueville has not received his due for the quality of his thought, however. One reason is his very brilliance, which makes him seem merely eloquent, and his sense of the future, which makes him seem uncanny. It
friendship of Tocqueville with Gustave de Beaumont, to whom he wrote three volumes of letters and with whom he made his nine-month trip to America (1831–32) preceding the writing of Democracy in America. They had studied law together and served as magistrates on the same court, and 14 attended Guizot’s lectures before their celebrated trip. They went to America to see “what a great republic is,” said Tocqueville in a letter, apparently with a vague idea of a joint project. Their more deﬁnite
and to Algeria (1841, 1846). He wrote reports on poverty (Memoir on 16 Pauperism, 1835), slavery, and the colonies. In 1850, having left politics, he undertook to write the book on the French Revolution that he had long contemplated. It was a project he did not live to complete, yet he did publish the ﬁrst part, The Old Regime and the Revolution, in 1856. This was to be a “great work,” he said in a letter to Kergorlay, a “mixture of history properly speaking with philosophical history,” which