Tocqueville: The Aristocratic Sources of Liberty

Lucien Jaume, trans. from the French by Arthur Goldhammer. Princeton Univ., $35 (368p) ISBN 978-0-691-15204-2
This astute study of Alexis de Tocqueville and his landmark political study, Democracy in America (published in two volumes, in 1835 and 1840, respectively), offers insights into the Frenchman’s life and times and how they shaped his perspective on the newborn American republic. As Jaume writes, America was not the subject but “the pretext for studying modern society and the woes of France,” as encoded in Tocqueville’s book. The four major sections of Jaume’s study analyze the text from the perspective of Tocqueville as political scientist, Tocqueville as sociologist, Tocqueville as moralist, and Tocqueville as literateur who was writing in the same Romantic era as Victor Hugo, Chateaubriand, and Lamartine. Jaume shows the challenges Tocqueville faced in explaining American concepts like popular sovereignty to his countrymen. In particular, Jaume does a fine job of interpreting Tocqueville’s concept of the authority exercised by the public at large in a democratic America as (in Tocqueville’s words) “a sort of religion, with the majority as its prophet.” His volume provides a thorough understanding of Tocqueville’s timeless work as a product of its time. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 02/11/2013
Release date: 03/01/2013
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