Many American readers like to regard Alexis de Tocqueville as an honorary American and democrat--as the young French aristocrat who came to early America and, enthralled by what he saw, proceeded to write an American book explaining democratic America to itself. Yet, as Lucien Jaume argues in this acclaimed intellectual biography, Democracy in America is best understood as a French book. For Tocqueville, America was a mirror for France, a way for Tocqueville to write indirectly about his own society, to engage French thinkers and debates, and to come to terms with France's aristocratic legacy.
By taking Tocqueville's French context seriously, Jaume provides a powerful and surprising new interpretation of Democracy in America, as well as a fresh intellectual and psychological portrait of its author. Situating Tocqueville amid the crisis of authority in postrevolutionary France, Jaume shows that Tocqueville was an ambivalent promoter of democracy, a man who tried to reconcile himself to the coming wave, but who also believed that it would be necessary to preserve aristocratic values in order to protect liberty under democracy. Indeed, Jaume argues that one of Tocqueville's most important and original ideas was to recognize that democracy posed the threat of a new and hidden form of despotism.
Lucien Jaume is a philosopher, political scientist, and historian of ideas. The author of a number of books, he is research director at France's Centre de Recherches Politiques de Sciences Po. He teaches in Paris, Rome, and Shanghai.
"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. . . . 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."--Publishers Weekly
"This is one of the finest studies of Tocqueville in years. It will prove invaluable to scholars."--Library Journal
"Tocqueville remains the most endlessly fascinating of all modern writers about democracy. Lucien Jaume, one of France's leading intellectual historians, is an outstanding interpreter of his thought, in all its political variety. Jaume wants to re-establish the distance between 'our' Tocqueville and the man himself, a product of his time and of a distinctive aristocratic social and intellectual milieu. In doing so, he allows us to see why Tocqueville is still such an appealing and unsettling figure for our own times. A wonderfully lucid book and an indispensable guide."--David Runciman, University of Cambridge
"Long in gestation, this is a major work by a major political theorist who is insufficiently known in the Anglophone world. Lucien Jaume succeeds admirably in providing a fresh reading of Tocqueville's Democracy in America. Based on deep and wide knowledge, this magisterial interpretation will immediately be recognized as significant by Tocqueville scholars, and it also makes an important contribution to current debates about the complex relationships between religion, democracy, and liberalism."--Cheryl B. Welch, Harvard University
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