On Tocqueville: Democracy and America

On Tocqueville: Democracy and America

by Alan Ryan
     
 

View All Available Formats & Editions

Tocqueville’s gifts as an observer and commentator on American life and democracy are brought to vivid life in this splendid volume.

Alan Ryan brilliantly illuminates the observations of the French philosopher who first journeyed to the United States in 1831 and went on to catalog the unique features of the American social contract. Often thought of

Overview

Tocqueville’s gifts as an observer and commentator on American life and democracy are brought to vivid life in this splendid volume.

Alan Ryan brilliantly illuminates the observations of the French philosopher who first journeyed to the United States in 1831 and went on to catalog the unique features of the American social contract. Often thought of as the father of “American Exceptionalism,” Tocqueville sought to analyze the social conditions of emerging political equality, “a river that may be channeled but cannot be stopped in its course.” Struck by the fact that even then “all Americans believed they belonged to the middle class,” Tocqueville made prescient observations about
American life that remain as relevant today as when they were first written. In Ryan’s hands, On Tocqueville becomes the perfect introduction to Tocqueville’s two-volume masterpiece, Democracy in America.

Excerpted here are Democracy in America, The Old Regime & Revolution,
and selections from Tocqueville’s memoir of the 1848 revolution.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
04/14/2014
Expanding upon his Tocqueville chapter from On Politics, Ryan provides a careful introduction to Tocqueville’s life and thought, followed by excerpts from his major work. In the two volumes of Democracy in America, Tocqueville developed “a new way of conceptualizing and understanding the political world,” a method that helped explain “how American institutions had come to be,” but was also based on the works of three previous thinkers. Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws was one of the first books to explore “the political cultures of different political systems,” especially the French and British monarchy and the Ottoman Empire. Rousseau, the second influence, believed “that the general will was the voice of reason, and that a majority that asked the correct question would always be ‘in the right,’ ” which led to the French Revolution, a disaster Tocqueville would analyze in L’ancien regime et la revolution. Benjamin Constant’s lectures on ancient and modern forms of liberty demonstrated the importance of citizens holding governments accountable, an idea that found full expression in American political society. Tocqueville saw American citizens as exemplifying the virtues discussed by his sources, with a “self-governing republic” that established schools, built churches, and created hospitals and prisons. Ryan also provides a timeline of important historical and personal events during Tocqueville’s life. This deft introduction should inspire readers to return to the original work. Agent: Jennifer Weltz, JVNLA, Inc. (Aug.)
Kirkus Reviews
2014-05-17
Tocqueville's prescient analysis of American democracy, concisely and cogently explained.In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859), accompanied by a traveling companion, came to America charged by the French government to study the country's penal system. During their tour, besides visiting prisons, they observed the social life and culture of the young nation. Five years later, Tocqueville published Democracy in America, two volumes that were acclaimed in his own time and remain relevant today. Ryan (Politics/Princeton Univ.; On Politics, 2012, etc.) offers a clear, incisive introduction to Tocqueville, followed by selections from Democracy in America. Tocqueville came with an overriding question that concerned his own countrymen: How did democracy thrive? "A stable political order that was both democratic and liberal required distinctive social, moral, and economic attachments," Tocqueville believed; "their analysis was an urgent task." The French Revolution, after all, had resulted in "mob rule, the Terror, and mass murder, and thence to a conservative republic." What made America different? Influenced by Rousseau, Montesquieu and Francois Guizot, Tocqueville identified individualism as a key factor in democratic success. To him, individualism meant "a strong sense of ourselves as moral beings with duties to perform and rights to protect." Furthermore, he believed that America offered its citizens—except for Native Americans and blacks—the opportunity for equality. "Equality of condition," according to him, "was not equality of income, education, or anything in particular; it consisted in the absence of social obstacles to whatever ambitions an American entertained." Although he argued that America was not at risk of relapsing into tyranny or anarchy, he worried about the possible "tyranny of the majority" and of an insidious consequence of individualism: "a retreat from engagement" with the outside world.Ryan's excellent introduction makes Tocqueville's observations and anxieties vitally relevant for 21st-century readers.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780871407047
Publisher:
Liveright Publishing Corporation
Publication date:
08/11/2014
Series:
Liveright Classics Series
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
272
Sales rank:
415,933
Product dimensions:
7.30(w) x 4.90(h) x 1.00(d)

Related Subjects

Meet the Author

Alan Ryan was warden of New College, Oxford University, and professor of political theory. The author of On Politics, John Dewey and the High Tide of American Liberalism and Bertrand Russell: A Political Life, he currently teaches politics at Princeton University.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >