Thursday, June 6, 2013

Excellent, Nuanced Critique of Tocqueville

A Review of Lucien Jaume's Tocqueville: The Aristocratic Sources of Liberty (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013).

While this profound, and elegantly written and translated work, will not appeal to all scholars of political thought, Jaume (Centre Recherche Politiques de Sciences Po) nevertheless provides many insights into the life and work of the great French student of American social and political life.  Emphasizing the contribution of Democracy in America, the author suggests that the best interpretative model for understanding Tocqueville incorporates an appreciation for his historical context, arguing that Tocqueville should not be considered as our “contemporary” (p. 8); an acknowledgement of his attachment to French ideas; and a realization of the opaque nature of his critique (a “palette of meanings,” p. 9).  Jaume proceeds to analyze Tocqueville as a political scientist, sociologist, moralist, and literary figure.  As a political scientist, Tocqueville is an advocate of popular rule with an organic view of politics, and a defender of the diffusion of political authority and localism.  Society begets political arrangements, and for Tocqueville, “society creates paths to its own ends” (p. 95).  As a moralist, Tocqueville attempts to unite the “telos of democracy and the dignity of man” (p. 186).  Finally, as a writer, Tocqueville is an “aristocratic moralist” (p. 326).