In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Tocqueville's Frontiers
  • Ewa Atanassow (bio)
Conversations with Tocqueville: The Global Democratic Revolution in the Twenty-First Century. Edited by Aurelian Craiutu and Sheldon Gellar. Lexington Books, 2009. 337 pp.
Tocqueville et les frontières de la démocratie. By Nestor Capdevila. Presses Universitaires de France, 2007. 154 pp.

On the 150th anniversary of the death of Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–59), the debate over his legacy is intensifying. What accounts for this vitality is, in part, the wealth of his bequest. Tocqueville's multifaceted oeuvre offers matter for reflection on nearly every aspect of the modern world and holds an appeal for readers of all political stripes. Interest in Tocqueville—perhaps more so than for any other modern thinker—crosses disciplinary and ideological divides. Another reason for the lively discussion is that we do not fully know Tocqueville. Scholars of Tocqueville, and to some degree the general public, continue to benefit from the ongoing publication of his collected works. Though much still remains unavailable in English, the timely translation of some of Tocqueville's political writings has brought to light lesser-known aspects of his thought and, with them, the necessity to reconcile cherished images of the augur of democracy with the sobering portrait of a supporter of French colonialism.

Tocqueville's prominence in political and cultural debate is waxing chiefly because the questions that he raised with regard to the Christian countries of the West have in recent decades gained urgency in all parts of the globe. Indeed, they have become the defining questions of our [End Page 167] time: What is democracy and how does it emerge? Is it an inevitable stage of societal development or the fragile product of a particular cultural and historical experience? Should it be propagated without limit or restricted and restrained? In short, what are the frontiers of democracy, and what do they tell us about the conditions necessary for the flourishing of a liberal-democratic order?

Two recent books bear witness to both the vibrancy of the debate over Tocqueville's legacy and the relevance of his questions for the contemporary world. Though approaching Tocqueville from very different angles, they can be said to share a single preoccupation: to reexamine Tocqueville's understanding of democracy and its relevance to the realities of a progressively democratizing globe. Probing the frontiers of democracy—geopolitical, cultural, historical, and conceptual—as Tocqueville envisioned them, both books also seek to explore the limits of his vision.

The volume edited by Aurelian Craiutu and Sheldon Gellar grew out of a lecture series at Indiana University. As is often the case with such collections, the volume is marked by a plurality of subjects and unevenness of style. Yet it is nonetheless compellingly coherent in intention. The book's ambition is to test the applicability of Tocqueville's analytical categories to emerging democracies around the world. By applying Tocqueville's panoramic vision of democracy on the march to particular cases of democratization in Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Europe, the essays seek to gauge the accuracy of Tocqueville's analysis and to update its findings in light of the democratic experiences of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Divided into two parts, the book brings together discussions of methodology with case studies, thereby striking a Tocquevillean balance between a theoretical and an empirical approach.

The general conclusion, borne out to varying degrees in each essay, is that Tocqueville's analytical framework offers a sophisticated and pertinent, if not infallible, tool for studying the processes of democratization the world over. This conclusion must be qualified, however, by the book's lack of a sustained discussion of the Muslim world. Given Tocqueville's involvement for more than a decade with French Algeria and the prominence of the Middle East in contemporary world affairs, this is a regrettable omission in a volume dedicated to examining the capacity of democracy to cross geopolitical, cultural, and religious frontiers.

Two essays are particularly successful in realizing the volume's ambitions. On the methodological side, Gellar's own contribution makes a comprehensive case for Tocqueville as a model for comparative political science. Reviewing the analytical categories and prognostications that attest to the depth of Tocqueville...