Alexis de Tocqueville may be the most influential political thinker in American history. He also led an unusually active and ambitious career in French politics. In this magisterial book, one of America's most important contemporary theorists draws on decades of research and thought to present the first work that fully connects Tocqueville's political and theoretical lives. In doing so, Sheldon Wolin presents sweeping new interpretations of Tocqueville's major works and of his place in intellectual history. As he traces the origins and impact of Tocqueville's ideas, Wolin also offers a profound commentary on the general trajectory of Western political life over the past two hundred years.
Wolin proceeds by examining Tocqueville's key writings in light of his experiences in the troubled world of French politics. He portrays Democracy in America, for example, as a theory of discovery that emerged from Tocqueville's contrasting experiences of America and of France's constitutional monarchy. He shows us how Tocqueville used Recollections to reexamine his political commitments in light of the revolutions of 1848 and the threat of socialism. He portrays The Old Regime and the French Revolution as a work of theoretical history designed to throw light on the Bonapartist despotism he saw around him. Throughout, Wolin highlights the tensions between Tocqueville's ideas and his activities as a politician, arguing that--despite his limited political success--Tocqueville was ''perhaps the last influential theorist who can be said to have truly cared about political life.''
In the course of the book, Wolin also shows that Tocqueville struggled with many of the forces that constrain politics today, including the relentless advance of capitalism, of science and technology, and of state bureaucracy. He concludes that Tocqueville's insights and anxieties about the impotence of politics in a ''postaristocratic'' era speak directly to the challenges of our own ''postdemocratic'' age. A monumental new study of Tocqueville, this is also a rich and provocative work about the past, the present, and the future of democratic life in America and abroad.
Sheldon S. Wolin is Emeritus Professor of Politics, Princeton University. He also taught for many years at the University of California, Berkeley. His most famous book, Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought, influenced a generation of political theorists.
"Wolin offers a Tocqueville who is extraordinarily complex, deeply conflicted and by no means the uncritical booster of democratic possibility he is sometimes made out to be. . . . Tocqueville Between Two Worlds is as much an intellectual biography as it is a work of more abstract political thought. In Wolin's hands an appreciation of the power of Tocqueville's contributions to Western political thought is enhanced by pegging his work to his often fretful life story."--Jean Bethke Elshtain, Washington Post Book World
"[Wolin seeks to] demonstrate that what [Tocqueville] produced was a 'coherent theoretical and political project'--and one still relevant not just to American political debate, but to our understanding of democratic systems on both sides of the Atlantic.... Wolin here develops [this view] with enormous intellectual energy and flair through several hundred pages of a book which is clearly intended to be definitive."--Biancamaria Fontana, The Times Literary Supplement
"Sheldon Wolin's magisterial study of Tocqueville is the culmination of a remarkable body of work on the history of political thought, the harvest of four decades of engaged reflection.... An arresting critique of Tocqueville's theoretical trajectory, illuminated against the backdrop of his public career."--Gopal Balakrishnan, The New Left Review
"The strength of Mr. Wolin's monograph lies in his patient, close readings of Tocqueville's major woks. . . . Wolin sets Tocqueville in a wider intellectual context by relating his thought to the philosophy of Hobbes, Locke, Marx, Nieztsche, among others. . . . He is especially concerned to argue . . . that the participatory democracy Tocqueville celebrated has become, in our postmodern times, economic despotism, or that it threatens to do so."--Thomas Pavel, Wall Street Journal
Table of Contents
Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Sheldon S. Wolin: