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A Thoughtful Introduction to Tocqueville

  • Jul 24, 2010
It is often the case that we need to rely outsiders for the most honest and insightful views of ourselves. In the 1830s, America was a young country, and yet it was the oldest continuously running democracy in the world. As such it was a source of a lot of fascination for philosophers and social thinkers. Aside from homegrown thinkers, who had a lot of vested interest in presenting the young democracy in the best light possible and justifying its merits, a handful of foreigners took keen interest in this young country as well. Among these the most famous one has remained Alexis de Tocqueville. He was a young Frenchman from an aristocratic family who journeyed widely throughout America and wrote about his observations and insight in "Democracy in America." The book has been considered a classic ever since, and has been used and quoted by intellectuals and politicians of all sorts of ideological persuasions.

Tocqueville was an ideal observer of American society and political life. Although from an aristocratic family, he was extremely sympathetic to democracy in all of its forms. Nonetheless, he was keenly aware of the limitations that democracy places on the political process and the fragility of democracies in their early incipient years. This very short introduction explores some of the ways that Tocqueville formed his conclusions, and the political and social circumstances that shaped his worldview.

Harvey Mansfield is a brilliant writer and intellectual. It is such a pleasure to read anything by him, and this book is no exception. His breath of knowledge and highly refined sensibilities make this book in a class of its own within this "Very Short Introduction" series. This is a very enlightening, insightful and illuminating read about one of the most famous public intellectuals of all time. I highly recommend it.

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Bojan Tunguz ()
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I am a benevolent rascal. I love lounging in bed on a Sunday morning. Rainy days make me melancholy, but in a good kind of way. I am an incorrigible chocoholic. I hate Mondays, but I get over it by Wednesday. … more
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"Drawing upon his immense knowledge of Alexis de Tocqueville's work, Mansfield provides a succinct and readable introduction to one of the most important political thinkers of the last two centuries. With great skill and unfailing clarity, he not only informs the reader about Tocqueville the man and his life but also sets out the content of Tocqueville's two great masterpieces:Democracy in AmericaandThe Ancien Régime and the French Revolution. In doing so, Professor Mansfield enables us to understand why we still read Tocqueville today."-Jeremy Jennings, Professor of Political Theory, Queen Mary, University of London; author,Tocqueville on America after 1840: Letters and Other Writings
"Moving smoothly through all of Tocqueville's major writings, this small but magisterial volume offers an impressive analysis. It treats not only the highlights but the muted themes through which Tocqueville struggled to make sense of the modern world. This book is as singular as its subject and its present author; each has a distinctive voice. It is precisely that singularity of perspective and purpose that makes them so valuable for a reading, thinking public."--Ralph Lerner, Benjamin Franklin Professor Emeritus, University of Chicago
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ISBN-10: 0195175395
ISBN-13: 978-0195175394
Author: Harvey C. Mansfield
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA

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