Friday, July 29, 2005

Happy Birthday Alexis

I refer of course to Alexis de Tocqueville, as Publius Pundit reminded me it is his 200th birthday.

The Adam Smith Institute today had a piece about the great man:


By Dr Eamonn Butler
De Tocqueville (1805-1859), was born into an aristocratic family, but came to question the role of the aristocracy in the government of France. After the July Revolution of 1830, when power changed from the Bourbon to the Orleans family, de Tocqueville sensed the spirit of democracy that was rising in France, and set off to study how it worked in America.

In 1835 he published the first part of Democracy in America, a very positive account of American government. The second part, published in 1840, was much less positive, with strong warnings for France about the risks of centralized and despotic government.




What stands out about Alexis de Tocqueville is his keen insight into the small details of everyday American life in the 19th Century, from which he derived larger conclusions explaining why the United States was emerging as an industrial power, that he correctly foresaw as a force in international politics. But, he also pointed out fundamental weaknesses that persist to this day, including what many observers see as a persistent disinterest of many American's in the outside world. Democracy in America is more than a case history in democracy, it is a medidation on human freedom, coming from a natural skeptic. Americans should read this book, at least to get some insight into the things that made the country what it is. The great shame is that many Europeans and Latin Americans - even those who consider themselves 'cultured' - do not read De Toucqueville. They should.

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