cover image On Tocqueville: Democracy and America

On Tocqueville: Democracy and America

Alan Ryan. Norton/Liveright, $14.95 (192p) ISBN 978-0-87140-704-7

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.)