« Tocqueville: The Aristocratic Sources of Liberty » by Lucien Jaume

Tocqueville: The Aristocratic Sources of Liberty
Lucien Jaume
Translated by Arthur Goldhammer
Princeton University Press

Many American readers like to regard Alexis de Tocqueville as an honorary American and democrat–as the young French aristocrat who came to early America and, enthralled by what he saw, proceeded to write an American book explaining democratic America to itself. Yet, as Lucien Jaume argues in this acclaimed intellectual biography, Democracy in America is best understood as a French book. For Tocqueville, America was a mirror for France, a way for Tocqueville to write indirectly about his own society, to engage French thinkers and debates, and to come to terms with France’s aristocratic legacy.

By taking Tocqueville’s French context seriously, Jaume provides a powerful and surprising new interpretation of Democracy in America, as well as a fresh intellectual and psychological portrait of its author. Situating Tocqueville amid the crisis of authority in postrevolutionary France, Jaume shows that Tocqueville was an ambivalent promoter of democracy, a man who tried to reconcile himself to the coming wave, but who also believed that it would be necessary to preserve aristocratic values in order to protect liberty under democracy. Indeed, Jaume argues that one of Tocqueville’s most important and original ideas was to recognize that democracy posed the threat of a new and hidden form of despotism.

Review : « This is one of the finest studies of Tocqueville in years. It will prove invaluable to scholars. »–Library Journal

Lucien Jaume is a philosopher, political scientist, and historian of ideas. The author of a number of books, he is research director at CEVIPOF – Centre de Recherches Politiques de Sciences Po. He teaches in Paris, Rome, and Shanghai. See his publications.