restricted access Foreword to This Edition
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cli Foreword to This Edition “The greatest effort of the government must tend toward teaching citizens the art of doing without its help.” —II, p. 900, note n. Tocqueville is a classic, an author who meets Sainte-Beuve’s definition of a classic, by providing “a conversation for every instance, a friendship that does not fail and will never desertyou,andthatoffersthatfamiliarsensation of serenity and amenity which reconciles us, as we frequently need, with other men and ourselves.”1 As befits his status as a classic author, hundreds of books and articles have been published in recent decades about Tocqueville , and dozens of editions of Democracy in America are printed and reprinted in the world every year. How do you read a classic? Stendhal defined a novel in The Red and the Black as “a mirror that is strolled along a main road.” The same can be said of great books in general. They provide a new reflection of ourselves every time we read them, and they accompany us as we move forward in life. Tocqueville himself always traveled with the books he considered the greatest: works by Pascal, Rousseau , and Montesquieu, classics he read and read again all his life. His favorite authors were few and old. He wrote to a friend: Not being able to bring my library here to keep me company, I have had me sent at least one volume from each of the great authors I like. I 1. C.-A. Sainte-Beuve. Causeries du lundi. Monday, 21 October 1850. Third edition. (Paris: Garnier Frères, [1857]), III, p. 55. clii foreword to this edition think they are no more than twenty-five. They all fit in a very small shelf. Almost none of them were written less than a century ago.2 Tocqueville had little patience for the books written by his contemporaries and maintained that he could find in a “small number of excellent books that. . . keepgoodcompany,”3 andwithinhimself,allheneededtogenerate his own works.4 Democracy in America is arguably Tocqueville’s greatest and most enduring work. Drawing on his nine-month journey with Beaumont to the United States and influenced by the “classic” authors he carried with him as well as by his own vision, Tocqueville constructed a unique portrait of America. The very first paragraph of the working manuscript’s introduction calls attention to his project’s novelty: The work that you are about to read is not a travelogue, . I do not want him to be concerned with me. You will also not find in this book a complete summary of all the institutions of the United States; but I flatter myself that, in it, the public will find some new documentation and, from it, will gain useful knowledge about a subject that is more important for us than the fate of America and no less worthy of holding our attention.5 Rejecting the form of a travelogue, Tocqueville also wrote to his friend Ampère that he did not want to write a description of America, but rather 2. Letter to Madame de Circourt, January 11, 1854, OC, XVIII, pp. 141–42. In another letter, he explains: “I have had sent to me from Paris some books I should have read a long time ago but haven’t, because when I’m in good health I’m a very bad reader [liseur], particularly of new books. I must be ill or convalescing in order to pay a lot of attention to the books of mycontemporaries.”ToAdolphedeCircourt,December 2, 1858, OC, XVIII, p. 509. An explanation of abbreviations and symbols used in this edition is included in I, pp. xxxix-xli. 3. In a letter to Madame de Circourt, OC, XVIII, pp. 43–44: “Books are like intelligent people with no moods, no whims, no need to talk about themselves, no regrets in hearing good things being said about others; to conclude, intelligent people whom one can abandon and pick up as one wishes.” Idem. 4. Scholars are still surprised by the small number of theory books quoted or used by Tocqueville in Democracy in America. In II, pp. 1377–95, the reader will find the list of works used by Tocqueville in the writing of his book. 5. In I, pp. 3–4. foreword to this edition cliii a mirror—perhaps the mirror Stendhal describes—in which the readers might see themselves.6 For more than a century and a half, Americans and Europeanshavebeen observing their own shifting images in Tocqueville...


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