07 April 2010

Book: Tocqueville on America after 1840

Aurelian Craiutu and Jeremy Jennings are the editors and translators of "Tocqueville on America after 1840: Letters and Other Writings"
(Cambridge University Press, March 2009):


Publisher's description: "Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America has been recognized as an indispensable starting point for understanding American politics. From the publication of the second volume in 1840 until his death in 1859, Tocqueville continued to monitor political developments in America and committed many of his thoughts to paper in letters to his friends in America. He also made frequent references to America in many articles and speeches. Did Tocqueville change his views on America outlined in the two volumes of Democracy in America published in 1835 and 1840? If so, which of his views changed and why? The texts translated in Tocqueville on America after 1840: Letters and Other Writings answer these questions and offer English-speaking readers the possibility of familiarizing themselves with this unduly neglected part of Tocqueville's work. The book points out a clear shift in emphasis especially after 1852 and documents Tocqueville's growing disenchantment with America, triggered by such issues as political corruption, slavery, expansionism, and the encroachment of the economic sphere upon the political."

Review: "It is a common experience among readers of Tocqueville's Democracy in America to notice that its two volumes are really two different books on the same subject. [...] [I]n certain strategic parts of the second volume one gets the impression that Tocqueville has grown more gloomy, more pessimistic, or, to put it more accurately, less enthusiastic with the democratic experiment in general, or at least more willing to openly disclose its shortcomings. [...] Aurelian Craiutu's and Jeremy Jennings's [...] main claim is that with time Tocqueville changed his views on some general questions which are particularly crucial to his theory of democracy. But somewhat surprisingly they argue that this change of outlook in a more negative direction came only after the publication of Volume Two of Democracy in America. [...] In short, they suggest that a hypothetical Volume Three would continue and reinforce what for many readers are Volume Two's hesitations as to the essential goodness and stability of the democratic adventure. [...]

"Craiutu and Jennings make the general claim that '[i]n 1852, Tocqueville realized much better than he had in 1835 or 1840 that it was in the very nature of democracy (...) to transgress its limits and to subvert its own foundations' [...], 'the hypothetical "Volume Three" [...] would have probably mirrored his disenchantment and skepticism and would have called in to question some of the most significant ideas of his widely acclaimed book' [...]. They assert that by reading this collection of letters, papers and speeches, we gain new insights into Tocqueville's misgivings. Even when they acknowledge that Volume Two already suggested some of the anxieties of the post-1840 years, they immediately add that we have to look into his correspondence in order to get many more details. [...] In this context, the authors quote Benedict Songy's judicious remark: 'For Tocqueville, Democracy was on trial'". (Miguel Morgado, "Society")

Aurelian Craiutu is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington.

Jeremy Jennings is Professor of Political Theory at Queen Mary, University of London.

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