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Tocqueville questions

From: mike
Sent on: Thursday, February 16, 2012 2:59 PM

 

Everyone,

 

We're starting de Tocqueville's “Democracy in America,” next week. I took four classes with the Delba Winthrop, the late wife of Harvey C. Mansfield, and became friendly with her. She and her husband were the translators of one of the two recent translations of “Democracy in America.”

 

I've read it several times, and back when I was planning my 4th or 5th reading of it, I asked her to recommend some good questions to keep in mind as I reread it. I think them good ones, so I will share them.

 

What does de Toqueville's political science amount to? How is it like and unlike Classical political science, especially Aristotle's, and modern, especially liberalism, “The Federalist” and Rousseau? [By liberalism she meant the liberalism that Hobbes and Locke founded rather than the political movements that went by that name in Britain or the one that uses it in our nation.]

 

What is the relation between social and political in de Tocqueville?

 

How is he like and unlike sociologists?

 

What is the meaning of de Toqueville's assertion that democracy is “Providential”? How is his thinking her comparable both to Christianity and 19th Century historicism?

 

What, if an, difference is there between ancient and modern democracy?

 

What is distinctive about American democracy? [She underlined “American.”] To what extent can the differences be traced to political institutions? What problems were American institutions intended to solve, and how successful have they been?”

 

What accounts for the apparent shift in perspective between Volumes I and II, especially the shift in from a concern with tyranny of the majority to [one with] mild despotism?

 

Why does de Tocqueville have admirers on both the left and the right in contemporary politics? What do they find to please them? What does each miss by invoking de Tocqueville to please them? What does miss by invoking de Tocqueville to endorse their position? [I add the question: Are there important things that they both miss, and why are they blind to them?]

 

I've come up with my own answers to her questions, although my answers to the last two clusters are more fuzzy and tentative than those for her other questions. I'd be happy to discuss either the questions or answers to them with anyone.

 

Take care,

Mike

[address removed]

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