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The Prescience of Tocqueville

Alexis de Tocqueville Public Domain

Alexis de Tocqueville was amazingly observant and had an outsider perspective of American democracy. He was a deposed French Aristocrat from Normandy whose ancestors had fought in the battle of Hastings. His parents narrowly escaped the guillotine during the French Revolution. He came to America initially to study the Penal system but ended up writing his magnum opus Democracy in America, instead. He believed that democracy was providential, nonetheless, he expressed ambivalence to it. He observed then, that in contrast to his home country, America was beginning its democratic experiment with more or less a blank slate, whereas in France it had to establish itself over the legacy of aristocracy. So he often contrasted and compared American democracy with aristocracy.

I think of writers of Tocqueville’s era – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Herman Mellville – as having greater social intelligence. They seem a lot more invested than today’s writers in what they believed made individual people tick.… Read the rest

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