Cover image for Tocqueville on American character : why Tocqueville's brilliant exploration of the American spirit is as vital and important today as it was nearly two hundred years ago
Tocqueville on American character : why Tocqueville's brilliant exploration of the American spirit is as vital and important today as it was nearly two hundred years ago
Ledeen, Michael Arthur, 1941-
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Truman Talley Books : St. Martin's Press, 2000.
Physical Description:
229 pages : portrait ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E165 .L43 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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In 1831, Alexis De Tocqueville, a twenty-six-year-old French aristocrat, spent nine months travelling across the United States. From the East Coast to the frontier, from the Canadian border to New Orleans, Tocqueville observed the American people and the revolutionary country they'd created. His celebrated Democracy in America, the most quoted work on America ever written, presented the new Americans with a degree of understanding no one had accomplished before or has since. Astonished at the pace of daily life and stimulated by people at all levels of society, Tocqueville recognized that Americans were driven by a series of internal conflicts: simultaneously religious and materialistic; individualistic and yet deeply involved in community affairs; isolationist and interventionist; pragmatic and ideological.Noted author Michael Ledeen takes a fresh look at Tocqueville's insights into our national psyche and asks whether Americans' national character, which Tocqueville believed to be wholly admirable, has fallen into moral decay and religious indifference.Michael Ledeen's sparkling new exploration has some surprising answers and provides a lively new look at a time when character is at the center of our national debate.

Author Notes

Michael Ledeen is an American historian, philosopher, neoconservative foreign policy analyst and writer, born August 1, 1941. He is Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and served as Special Advisor to the Secretary of State and consultant to the National Security Council during the Reagan Administration. He has written more than 35 books, including The War against The Terror Masters, The Iranian Time Bomb, and Obama's Betrayal of Israel. His latest bestselling book is The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Ledeen has focused on applying the wisdom forged in earlier times to current issues, as in Machiavelli on Modern Leadership (1999). Here, his subject is Tocqueville and, in particular, the Frenchman's recognition of ways the United States' revolutionary society reconciled seeming opposites. These paradoxes are evident in Ledeen's chapter titles: "Dynamic People Driven by Internal Conflicts," "Religious Faith Anchored by Secular Institutions," "Rugged Individualists with a Genius for Cooperation," "Isolationists Called to International Leadership," and "Apostles of Freedom Tempted by Luxurious Tyranny." For Ledeen, Tocqueville sounded an essential alarm; his "nightmare vision," the author suggests, was that citizens of the U.S. would "devote all [their] energies to the pursuit of personal enrichment and satisfaction, abandoning the free associations that have thus far protected [them] from a powerful central government, and asking [their] rulers to assume new responsibilities and to exert new powers." Count Ledeen as a partisan in the camp where he places Tocqueville: supporters of a small federal government and an active civil society. --Mary Carroll

Publisher's Weekly Review

Ledeen (Machiavelli on Modern Leadership), a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, turns his attention to the French aristocrat who visited America in the 1830s and produced the wildly popular and classic travelogue-cum-philosophical essay Democracy in America. Ledeen argues that Tocqueville's observations about America are just as valid and relevant today as they were 160 years ago. Principal among these observations, according to Ledeen, is that, although materialistic, Americans are also extremely religious; further, he argues that American democracy feeds American religiosity and vice versa. Ledeen cautions that in the last few decades, Americans have embraced a rigid distinction between religious and public life, one that would have been unrecognizable in Tocqueville's day. Tocqueville, he asserts, saw the dangers inherent in individualism and applauded Americans for balancing their atomizing tendencies by joining voluntary associations. Ledeen simply echoes this, failing to address the declining role of such associations in American life. This volume ultimately disappoints√Ąthere is far more summary of Tocqueville than analysis of contemporary America, and what analysis Ledeen does offer isn't compelling (such as his garbled claim that Americans' participation in voluntary associations has something to do with a love of the emotional and therapeutic). His argument is further marred by a faint jingoism ("Americans love big challenges"; "It's dangerous, even fatal, to underestimate us"). Readers would do well to skip this unconvincing survey and read Tocqueville's original text. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved