Cover image for Tocqueville between two worlds : the making of a political and theoretical life
Tocqueville between two worlds : the making of a political and theoretical life
Wolin, Sheldon S.
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Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
viii, 650 pages ; 25 cm
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JC229.T8 W65 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Alexis de Tocqueville may be the most influential political thinker in American history. He also led an unusually active and ambitious career in French politics. In this magisterial book, one of America's most important contemporary theorists draws on decades of research and thought to present the first work that fully connects Tocqueville's political and theoretical lives. In doing so, Sheldon Wolin presents sweeping new interpretations of Tocqueville's major works and of his place in intellectual history. As he traces the origins and impact of Tocqueville's ideas, Wolin also offers a profound commentary on the general trajectory of Western political life over the past two hundred years.

Wolin proceeds by examining Tocqueville's key writings in light of his experiences in the troubled world of French politics. He portrays Democracy in America , for example, as a theory of discovery that emerged from Tocqueville's contrasting experiences of America and of France's constitutional monarchy. He shows us how Tocqueville used Recollections to reexamine his political commitments in light of the revolutions of 1848 and the threat of socialism. He portrays The Old Regime and the French Revolution as a work of theoretical history designed to throw light on the Bonapartist despotism he saw around him. Throughout, Wolin highlights the tensions between Tocqueville's ideas and his activities as a politician, arguing that--despite his limited political success--Tocqueville was ''perhaps the last influential theorist who can be said to have truly cared about political life.''

In the course of the book, Wolin also shows that Tocqueville struggled with many of the forces that constrain politics today, including the relentless advance of capitalism, of science and technology, and of state bureaucracy. He concludes that Tocqueville's insights and anxieties about the impotence of politics in a ''postaristocratic'' era speak directly to the challenges of our own ''postdemocratic'' age. A monumental new study of Tocqueville, this is also a rich and provocative work about the past, the present, and the future of democratic life in America and abroad.

Author Notes

Sheldon Sanford Wolin was born in Chicago, Illinois on August 4, 1922. During World War II, he served as a bombardier and navigator in the Pacific for the Army Air Forces. He received a bachelor's degree from Oberlin College in 1946 and a doctorate from Harvard University in 1950. He taught at the University of California, Berkeley and Princeton University before retiring in 1987.

He wrote several books during his lifetime including Hobbes and the Epic Tradition of Political Theory, Tocqueville Between Two Worlds: The Making of a Political and Theoretical Life, and Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism. Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought was published in 1960, received the Benjamin E. Lippincott Award in recognition of its lasting impact in 1985, and was reissued in expanded form in 2004.

He also wrote frequently for The New York Review of Books on Watergate, Henry Kissinger, the presidency of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and American conservatism. Some of his essays on the Free Speech Movement and campus unrest at Berkeley were included with those written by John H. Schaar in The Berkeley Rebellion and Beyond: Essays on Politics and Education in the Technological Society. He died on October 21, 2015 at the age of 93.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Best known for his groundbreaking study Politics and Vision (1960), Wolin has been an influential political philosopher for over 40 years. In this massive masterwork, he examines the "theoretical journey" of Alexis de Tocqueville, author of the indispensable Democracy in America (1835-39). For Wolin, the importance of Tocqueville's classic work is that it marked the first time democracy was the central focus of a political theory, and it also served as an early link between liberalism and democracy. Wolin concentrates on Tocqueville's active political life, including his experiences with the conflicting political movements in Europe and his efforts to import the vibrant nature of American politics to France. He also analyzes the political meaning of Tocqueville's lesser-known writings, Souveniers (1893) and The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856). He is well steeped in the history of political theory, and the book is generously documented with over 60 pages of notes. By writing this biography of "political and theoretical choices made over time," Wolin has effectively written the history of modern political theory. Like Democracy in America, this is a work that will endure and be studied by future generations of scholars. Highly recommended for academic libraries. Thomas A. Karel, Franklin & Marshall Coll. Lib., Lancaster, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Wolin's ambitious and very comprehensive study situates Tocqueville between the life of theory and politics, the old world and the new, aristocracy and democracy, and argues that he was in all cases deeply aware of, even energized by, the tensions inherent in these oppositions. Tocqueville wrote "as though in the presence of a deep political rupture which it was his personal fate to represent theoretically and his duty to heal politically." His goal was to restore awareness of "the political" in a broad sense, in the face of modern tendencies toward privatizing individual life or toward subordinating political choice and action to the imperatives of science or history. Wolin (emer., Princeton Univ.) traces the development of this argument across all of Tocqueville's works, with unusual sensitivity to the indications left by Tocqueville about his own inner struggles as he tried to fashion himself into a true "political man." This book is an unusually penetrating and stimulating guide to Tocqueville the man and theorist as well as to modern political thought generally as it might be seen if considered from a Tocquevillian point of view. It is a major contribution. All academic collections and general readers; lower-level undergraduates and above. D. J. Maletz University of Oklahoma

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introductionp. 3
Part 1 The Abundance of Powerp. 11
Chapter I Modern Theory and Modern Powerp. 13
Chapter II Theoria: The Theoretical Journeyp. 34
Part 2 Encountering the Amazingp. 57
Chapter III Discovering Democracyp. 59
Chapter IV Self and Structurep. 76
Chapter V Doubt and Disconnectionp. 102
Chapter VI "... The Theory of What is Great"p. 113
Chapter VII Myth and Political Impressionismp. 132
Chapter VIII The Spectacle of Americap. 149
Part 3 The Theoretical Encapsulation of Americap. 169
Chapter IX Social Contract versus Political Culturep. 171
Chapter X The Culture of the Political: "the rituals of practice"p. 202
Chapter XI Feudal Americap. 229
Chapter XII Majority Rule or Majority Politicsp. 241
Chapter XIII Centralization and Dissolutionp. 260
Chapter XIV The Image of Democracyp. 275
Part 4 Persona and the Politics of Theoryp. 287
Chapter XV Tragic Hero, Popular Maskp. 289
Chapter XVI The Democratization of Culturep. 304
Chapter XVII Despotism and Utopiap. 339
Chapter XVIII Old New World, New Old Worldp. 365
Chapter XIX Tocquevillean Democracyp. 374
Chapter XX The Penitentiary Temptationp. 383
Part 5 Second Journey to Americap. 407
Chapter XXI The Political Education of the Bourgeoisiep. 409
Chapter XXII Souvenirs: Recollections In/Tranquillityp. 428
Chapter XXIII Souvenirs: Socialism and the Crisis of the Politicalp. 456
Chapter XXIV The Old Regime and the Revolution: Mythistoricus et theoreticusp. 498
Chapter XXV The Old Regime: Modernization and the Politics of Lossp. 531
Chapter XXVI Postdemocracyp. 561
Notesp. 573
Indexp. 641