Democracy in America — Volume 1 – Alexis de Tocqueville
Democracy in America — Volume 1 – De La Démocratie en Amérique (French pronunciation: [dəla demɔkʁasi ɑ̃n‿ameˈʁik]; published in two volumes, the first in 1835 and the second in 1840) is a classic French text by Alexis de Tocqueville. Its title translates as On Democracy in America, but English translations are usually simply entitled Democracy in America. In the book, Tocqueville examines the democratic revolution that he believed had been occurring over the previous several hundred years.
In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont were sent by the French government to study the American prison system. In his later letters Tocqueville indicates that he and Beaumont used their official business as a pretext to study American society instead. They arrived in New York City in May of that year and spent nine months traveling the United States, studying the prisons, and collecting information on American society, including its religious, political, and economic character. The two also briefly visited Canada, spending a few days in the summer of 1831 in what was then Lower Canada (modern-day Quebec) and Upper Canada (modern-day Ontario).
After they returned to France in February 1832, Tocqueville and Beaumont submitted their report, Du système pénitentiaire aux États-Unis et de son application en France, in 1833. When the first edition was published, Beaumont, sympathetic to social justice, was working on another book, Marie, ou, L’esclavage aux Etats-Unis (two volumes, 1835), a social critique and novel describing the separation of races in a moral society and the conditions of slaves in the United States. Before finishing Democracy in America, Tocqueville believed that Beaumont’s study of the United States would prove more comprehensive and penetrating.
“No better study of a nation’s institutions and culture than Tocqueville’s Democracy in America has ever been written by a foreign observer; none perhaps as good.”
–The New York Times
Praise for the work of Joseph Epstein:
“Epstein is one of the premier contemporary American essayists…What is so remarkable about Epstein as an essay writer is that he’ll begin a discussion at some personal place…and end up in another place relevant to us all. He enjoys making language work, not making it jump through hoops for show.” –Booklist
“Joseph Epstein is an essayist in the brilliant tradition of Charles Lamb. He moves so effortlessly from the amusingly personal to the broadly philosophical that it takes a moment before you realize how far out into the intellectual cosmos you’ve been taken.”
“Joseph Epstein’s essays no more need his identifying byline than Van Gogh’s paintings need his signature. Epstein’s style–call it learned whimsy–is unmistakable; for Epstein addicts, indispensable.”
“Joseph Epstein is the liveliest, most erudite and engaging essayist we have.” –James Atlas
“If Epstein’s ultimate ancestor is Montaigne, his more immediate master is Mencken. Like Mencken, he has fashioned a style that successfully combines elegance and even bookishness with street-smart colloquial directness. And there is nothing remote or aloof about him.”
–John Gross, Chicago Tribune
Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville (French: [alɛksi ʃaʁl ɑ̃ʁi kleʁɛl də tɔkvil]; 29 July 1805 – 16 April 1859) was a French political thinker and historian best known for his works Democracy in America (appearing in two volumes: 1835 and 1840) and The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856). In both of these, he analyzed the improved living standards and social conditions of individuals, as well as their relationship to the market and state in Western societies. Democracy in America was published after Tocqueville’s travels in the United States, and is today considered an early work of sociology and political science.
Tocqueville was active in French politics, first under the July Monarchy (1830–48) and then during the Second Republic (1849–51) which succeeded the February 1848 Revolution. He retired from political life after Louis Napoléon Bonaparte’s 2 December 1851 coup, and thereafter began work on The Old Regime and the Revolution.
He argued that the importance of the French Revolution was to continue the process of modernizing and centralizing the French state which had begun under King Louis XIV. The failure of the Revolution came from the inexperience of the deputies who were too wedded to abstract Enlightenment ideals. Tocqueville was a classical liberal who advocated parliamentary government, but was skeptical of the extremes of democracy.
Bio from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Photo by Théodore Chassériau [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
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