Duke University Press

The Tocqueville Revival and the “Resurgence of Islam”

Early in 1998, the New Republic published an editorial titled “Tocqueville and the Mullah,” in which the editors characterized an interview that CNN had recently broadcast with President Mohammad Khatami of Iran as posing a significant threat to the U.S. policy of “dual containment.”1 That Khatami’s interview took place at all constituted the reintegration of Iran within an international public sphere from which it had been officially excommunicated since 1979. The editors may not have found Iran’s reinstatement within the precincts of world culture sufficient cause for their editorial, but the usage to which Khatami put the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville to accomplish Iran’s return from civic exile constituted a challenge to the order of things that they could not leave uncontested.

The dual-containment policy constituted the globe within a polarized system of binary classification that divided it at a symbolic East-West [End Page 87] borderline. The imaginary geography constructed out of this dichotomization fostered two totalized and mutually exclusive spaces of representation.2 In “Tocqueville and the Mullah,” the editors represented the social space comprising U.S. civil society as constructed out of the externalization of Islam as its historical and cultural Other. Their depiction of Iran and Iraq as militarized and fundamentalist variants of Islam’s unchanging alien essence effaced the historically specific differences between these two countries and resituated both nations within a totalized culture of xenophobia and exclusivism impervious alike to reason as well as the rule of law.

This mapping detached Iran and Iraq from historically specific social processes. It resocialized them within a cultural mythology that traded on representations of Islam as a transhistorical cultural essence whose irreducible disparity from universalist notions of civilization rendered it similar to communism in its radical otherness.

Helga Geyer-Ryan has analyzed the fantasy of the East-West divide as constitutive of the symbolic space wherein individuals accomplished the process of subjectivizing the U.S. national identity. She argues that entertaining such fantasies positioned the subject within the preconstituted viewpoint of an ideal national ego. The “knowledges” produced out of such fantasies were anchored in a relationship between the U.S. national identity and its Oriental Other that promoted the belief that the U.S. political culture possessed the symbolic goods—rationality, civil society, modernity—that Islam not only lacked but actively negated. As he or she subjectivizes the national identity, the individual undergoes a nationalist variation on the theme of narcissistic enjoyment.3 This chauvinist enjoyment derives from [End Page 88] collective participation in a national desire that accomplishes the ongoing negation of the (negative) desire of Islam.4

In responding to the spatial politics of the dual-containment policy, Khatami frequently quoted from Tocqueville’s exemplary account of U.S. democratic traditions. He recalled the example of Tocqueville as the precedent for his adoption of the role of political commentator. But whereas Tocqueville had traveled to America to reimagine French political culture after the model outlined in Democracy in America, President Khatami looked at American democracy from an Islamic perspective. He deployed Democracy in America as an intercultural artifact that permitted the construction of homologies between Islam and U.S. culture.

Khatami positively redefined Islam by articulating its tradition with forms of religious association that Tocqueville had discerned as responsible for the maintenance of public order. After Khatami credited Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (a book he was “‘sure most Americans have read’”) as the interpretive model for the homologies he adduced between their religious associations, however, the editors appeared less astonished at his derecognition of the dual-containment policy’s account of Islam than at Khatami’s invocation of Tocqueville to formulate it.

Both Tocqueville and the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony corroborated the Islamic belief “that ‘the significance of this civilization is in the fact that liberty found religion as a cradle for its growth and religion found protection of liberty as its divine calling.’” In Islam, President Khatami concluded, “‘liberty and faith never clashed.’” Rather than desiring [End Page 89] their overthrow, Khatami suggests that Iranians would sympathize with the various religious nationalisms emerging across the United States.5

Khatami’s use of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America was strategic and designed to capitalize on a spectacular renewal of interest in this work. In the decade since the end of the cold war, special issues of leading journals of history and political science have been devoted to aspects of Tocqueville’s argument, as have year-long institutes sponsored by foundations representing interests at both ends of the political spectrum. Tocqueville was frequently quoted (and often misquoted) by the candidates in both parties in the 1992 and 1996 U.S. presidential elections. Courses on Tocqueville have become part of college and university core curricula, and, in 1997, C-SPAN’s satellite network restaged Tocqueville’s 1831 tour of the United States, which supplied President Khatami with a visual lexicon with which to describe Tocqueville’s America.

Both Khatami and the editors cited Tocqueville as their interpretive authority. But their quotations supported mutually opposed purposes. Khatami placed the passages he selected from Democracy in America in the service of correcting Americans’ misperceptions of Iran; the editors cited Tocqueville to remark on Khatami’s inability to understand the American way of life. In addition to acknowledging Tocqueville’s Democracy in America as the definitive interpretation of U.S. democratic culture, however, Khatami and the editors also understood this text as a jurisprudential model.

The site from which President Khatami enunciated his interpretations of the history of American civilization was seemingly continuous with Tocqueville’s interpretive perspective yet incompatible with the ideology of containment that U.S. policymakers had derived from it. In the course of the CNN interview, Khatami transposed Tocqueville’s writings from an interpretive authority into a legislative instrument he required to discriminate the Puritans’ Americanness from the U.S. policymakers’. The Puritans bore a closer resemblance to the founders of the Islamic Republic in their association of religiosity and freedom, Khatami asserted, than to the strategists whose dual-containment policy “‘continues to be a prisoner of cold [End Page 90] war mentality.’” His pronouncement that U.S. policymakers’ xenophobic accounts of Islam were not dissimilar to Europe’s religious persecution of the Puritans four centuries earlier constituted a ruling against the legality of the dual-containment policy.

Occupying the standpoint from which Tocqueville had decided the norms and rules appropriate to U.S. democratic culture, Khatami adjudged the U.S. dual-containment policy to constitute the real threat to world civilization. Iran was opposed not to American civilization, he explained, but to the totalizing order of representations that containment had mandated: “‘Policies pursued by American politicians outside the United States over the past half a century, since World War II, are incompatible with the American civilization founded on democracy, freedom, and human dignity.’”

Because Islam represented the cultural formation out of whose exclusion U.S. civil society had established its integrity, the editors could not acknowledge Khatami’s Islamic perspective on U.S. political culture without suffering the collapse of the fantasy responsible for maintaining the coherence of the national identity. This fantasy had not merely positioned Islam as a culture totalized out of its impermeability to U.S. civil norms; it had also hollowed out the symbolic space necessary to support the belief in the invulnerability of the national identity. Identification with the illusion of achieved coherence constituted a collective national identity for U.S. citizen-subjects who imagined themselves identical with this image. When the fantasy depicted Iranians as fanatical religious nationalists who were contemptuous of the rational norms underwriting U.S. civil societies, it simultaneously affected an individual’s identification with those norms as the precondition for the fanatics’ exclusion.

Donatella Mazzolena has analyzed the ways in which threats to the unity of this fragile self-contained envelope can lead to the collapse of the national identity it supports. As the nation’s idealized image of itself, the national identity was the outcome of a dual process involving projection and identification.6 The act of excluding Islam accompanied the act of projecting [End Page 91] an ideal national ego that enveloped the body politic within its imagined wholeness. In refusing to identify with either of the threats—Islamic terrorist or domestic fundamentalist—integral to the production of a secure national territory, Khatami’s discourse precipitated a crisis in the editors’ symbolic order. The ensuing breakdown of the power to exclude the Other from the national borders precipitated an experience of “the arbitrariness and relativity of the symbolic order” as a violence against their person.7

Recasting it as a retroactive intervention in the CNN interview, the editors turned their column into an effort to recontain the national identity within secured boundaries. In the ensuing “war of positions,”8 they did not engage in political commentary about its content. In place of the expression of agreement or disagreement with the particulars of Khatami’s discussion, they attempted its retroactive cancellation.

After complaining that “the Great Satan is no more,” the editors annulled Khatami’s rights as an interlocutor within the precincts of international civil society. The purpose of the column entailed the reimposition of a series of terms—ayatollah, mullah, jihad—whose journalistic meanings Khatami had refused and whose system of connotative references cohered around the signifier of Islam’s unchanging synonymy with international terrorism. He has only “resorted to the old semantics of revolutionary mischief,” they declared. The editors then designated Khatami’s claim that “‘supporting peoples who fight for the liberation of their land is not . . . supporting terrorism’” as an instance of such mischief.

Rather than merely quoting from Democracy in America as an interpretive authority for their argument with Khatami, the editors fashioned [End Page 92] it into a juridical warrant for invalidating “the Ayatollah’s” pronouncements. Khatami had used Tocqueville’s writings to effect translations between and across cultures, but the editors invoked Tocqueville’s descriptions of U.S. civil society to refashion Khatami as colossally ignorant of its norms.

Upon remarking that Khatami had failed to recognize the fact that the separation of Church and State was, as Tocqueville had observed, the foundation rock of U.S. liberal democracy, the editors then excluded the mullah from membership in U.S. civil society as the representative of a state religion: “For the God-fearing Founders of the United States elected not to establish an official religion. They religiously devised an unreligious state.”

Khatami’s deployment of Tocqueville’s model of U.S. democracy as the source for the homologies he adduced between Islam and American civilization produced a formal equivalence between the two orders. Because they could not acknowledge this equivalence without invalidating their claim that Islam constituted the “terroristic” exterior to civil society, the editors turned Tocqueville into the legislative authority for their overruling of this application. Judging Khatami’s interpretation as a hopelessly inaccurate description of U.S. democratic culture, they banished the mullah from the international order. In thus recontaining Iran within a space extrinsic to the U.S. borders, the editors were obliged to exercise the very forms of symbolic violence that they had formerly identified with Islamic terrorism.

When President Khatami proposed similarities between Islam and Tocqueville’s description of civic associations, he radically challenged the normative interpretation of the term. The political effectiveness of U.S. civil society depended on Islam’s negative valuation of its workings. Indeed, the “universal” value of this model of political communication was produced out of its differential relation to its putatively negative valuation in Islamic countries. Khatami’s use of Tocqueville to gain access to U.S. civil society exposed the limits to the containment policy’s powers of governance and obliged the editors to exercise coercive tactics to recontain it.

Bobby Sayyid has described the difficulty in analyzing Islamic politics with remarkable cogency: “Muslims who use Islamic metaphors draw our attention to the fact that there is another way of doing politics which does not seem to rest upon the dominant language games of the last two hundred years. One of the main reasons why ‘Islamic Fundamentalism’ causes so much disquiet is because it seems to suggest that we may have confused the globalization of a political tradition with its universalization. By rejecting the dominant political discourses, ‘Islamic Fundamentalists’ make it difficult [End Page 93] for us to describe them, since so many of our theoretical tools are bound up with this dominant political tradition.”9

Instead of confronting these difficulties, the editors represented Islam as a coercive discourse whose isolation from the circuits of civilized communication guaranteed the integrity of the social order. But when Khatami identified the excommunication of Islam as an act of coercion in open violation of the norms of communicative rationality, he produced a deadlock within the realm of civil society. The impasse can be articulated as mutually incompatible clauses: Khatami could not engage in conversation about U.S. democratic culture without breaking the rule of noncoercive communication that governs civil society; the editors could not exclude him without violating the rule of inclusiveness that governs the democratic order. They solved this impasse by constructing Islam as an exception to the rule of democratic inclusiveness. They then abruptly concluded the column with two incontrovertible facts: (1) that Iran should be compared with Iraq rather than with the United States, because both countries sponsor “political violence beyond their borders”; and (2) that “Tocqueville is not all you need to know” about America.

The arbitrary closure to this discussion suggests that Khatami had managed to expose the limits of the editors’ usual means of articulating political questions and that he had used Tocqueville to practice a different kind of politics. I shall try to describe the difference Khatami’s practice entails for the prevailing understanding of politics at the conclusion of this essay. Before turning to that, however, I find it necessary to explain why the Tocqueville revival and the “resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism” should have emerged as co-constituting processes at this historical conjuncture. In searching for that explanation, I shall briefly address several interrelated topics: a critical genealogy of the dual-containment policy, Tocqueville’s original motive for traveling to America, and the political rationale for C-SPAN’s retracing of Tocqueville’s 1831 itinerary.

The Return to Alexis de Tocqueville

This excursus takes the assertion that “Tocqueville is not all you need to know,” with which the New Republic’s editors concluded their discussion [End Page 94] of “Tocqueville and the Mullah,” as its point of departure. While Tocqueville may not be “all you need to know,” from the time of the cold war settlement, his Democracy in America occupied the subject position that Jacques Lacan, in his account of transference mechanisms, famously described as “the subject who is supposed to know.” Historians, political scientists, literary theorists, philosophers, and citizens alike have invested Tocqueville’s work with a metahistorical knowingness about U.S. democratic culture. As a consequence of this collective transference, Democracy in America has endowed U.S. democratic culture with a framework of intelligibility. Its categories, rules, and concepts have provided the metalanguage in which issues get identified, recognized, parsed, construed, ordered, and concatenated.

In the transition from World War II to the cold war, the so-called consensus historians Henry Steele Commager, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., and Louis Hartz adapted Tocqueville’s description of U.S. exceptionality to construct a mythology of national uniqueness out of whose narrative themes U.S. citizens constructed imaginary relations to the cold war state. Events on a world scale were thereafter assimilated to this cultural typology that was made to translate them.10 Considered the most authoritative of the foreign-traveler commentaries about U.S. political culture, Tocqueville’s Democracy in America was the first to describe U.S. democracy as “exceptional.” In coining that phrase, Tocqueville meant that U.S. democracy was qualitatively different from other political formations with which he was acquainted, in that it lacked the status hierarchies of postfeudal Europe.11

Observing that Tocqueville had found U.S. political society exceptional in lacking the feudal traditions that had precipitated the violent confrontations [End Page 95] in France’s moment of transition, Daniel Bell grounded his end of ideology thesis on this absence. As an addendum to Bell’s argument, Hartz advanced the claim that the absence of class conflict from a liberal capitalist order had rendered impossible the emergence of socialism within U.S. territorial borders. “One of the central characteristics of a nonfeudal society is that it lacks a genuine revolutionary tradition,” Hartz noted approvingly. “And this being the case, it lacks also a tradition of reaction: lacking Robespierre, it lacks Maistre, lacking Sydney, it lacks Charles II.”12 In thus eliminating from U.S. territory the socialist initiatives that Bell had excepted from its history, Hartz had in effect deployed Democracy in America to secure the nation’s borders against the negative exceptionalism of the Imperial Soviet.

After describing the national past as lacking the history of class antagonism that they posited as the precondition for world communism, cold war ideologues reprocessed what Tocqueville had declared the United States as lacking into raw material for the production of palpable absences within its political borders. The original dual-containment policy comprised one of the first of these cultural productions. It was designed during the early years of the cold war to limit the expansion of Soviet and Chinese communist power. Engineers of the policy declared the nation void of any accredited position for the proponents of communism either within its democratic polity or the world order.13

As a representational practice, dual containment transpired within a geopolitical field for which Tocqueville’s Democracy in America had provided the conditions of possibility. As a geopolitical strategy, the containment [End Page 96] policy elevated space and the images through which it was ordered and inhabited into a form of governmental rule that subordinated discrepant temporalities to its territorial prerogatives. The political regimes that this spatial practice dichotomized exhibited an extreme form of identitary logic: Identical to themselves, they were uncontaminated by alterity.

The return to Tocqueville’s work has released in commentators such as the New Republic’s editors a kind of wishful thinking about its pertinence to the present historical conjuncture. That thinking has fostered the construction of a political mythology surrounding Tocqueville’s project. Revered as the archive in which are preserved the core metasocial significations of the United States, Tocqueville’s Democracy in America was believed to possess the keys to the culture’s purpose, and it has been invested with the authority to effect the culture’s self-transformation.14

Exempting it from the procedures of verification associated with other scholarly works, the mythology has elevated Tocqueville’s treatise into a secular scripture. Democracy in America has supplied the concepts, generalizations, and categories out of which individuals were encouraged to experience and make sense of their historical conditions. Its system of representations anchored the presuppositions out of which individuals formulated their opinions. It was reproduced, perpetuated, and transmitted through such discursive practices.

Because its terms were devoid of any necessary reference to the historical institutions Tocqueville had observed, they also outstripped the code-regulated relationship of signifier and signified. The mythology surrounding Democracy in America has construed the book as containing instructions for bringing about what it described and has entrusted it with the task of facilitating a rite of passage from one order of cultural intelligibility to another. The following sentences from the conclusion of the first volume have been cited repeatedly as evidence of the book’s prophetic powers: “There are now two great nations in the world which, starting from different [End Page 97] points, seem to be advancing toward the same goal: the Russians and the Anglo-Americans. . . . Each seems called by some secret design of Providence one day to hold in its hands the destinies of half the world.”15

But Tocqueville’s own prior use of Democracy in America as a quasi-magical force crucial to achieving France’s transition from a feudal monarchy to a democracy has encouraged the belief that his book could bring about the social conditions it also described. After returning to France, he reconceptualized problems specific to French national politics in terms of the compendium of precedents and examples he had recorded in Democracy in America. In so doing, he corroborated a belief that organized national aspirations throughout the cold war—namely, that a successful conclusion to it would enable nations throughout the world to adopt the U.S. model of liberal democracy.16

The fact that the end of the cold war did not eventuate in a world of nations modeled after the U.S. example threatened to discredit the national narrative that had endowed antecedent events with significance. In place of corroborating them, the terminal events of the cold war—Russia’s embrace of a market economy, the emergence of a globalized economy, the resurgence of ethnonationalisms—severely challenged the nation’s core beliefs. With the demise of the Soviet Union, the United States had been deprived of the enemy whose antagonism to the nation’s historical destiny had entrusted everyday events with a quasi-mythological standing. The sudden loss of the need to negate the Other’s incursions against them threatened the nation’s primary symbolic goods—the free market, democratic institutions, freedom of speech—with devaluation.

Throughout the cold war, these symbolic goods had acquired their value in part from the desire to secure them against the Other’s aggressively not desiring them. But since the ex-Other now desired the same things, this [End Page 98] “undesirable desire” entered into such close proximity with the symbolic space of the national identity that it produced “regression into structures of the mirror stage (associated with memories of the disorganized body) or even farther back into psychotic dispositions.” Anxieties over the feared loss of national distinctness and dissolution within an irreducibly alien universalism lay at the heart of a xenophobia “triggered by the collapse of the fantasy of the whole, unified, undamaged body in the space that is conceived of as metaphorically and metonymically as the body’s extension or double.”17

The nationalist anxieties released in the wake of the cold war should be construed as the basis for the quasi-mystical forces condensed in the phrase “the return of Alexis de Tocqueville.” In its most encompassing sense, Tocqueville’s “return” might be conceptualized as a symbolic compensation for the absence of an adequate conclusion to the cold war. As the personification of attitudes that had prevailed throughout the cold war and as a resource for alternatives to them, Tocqueville returned to the symbolic space whose capacity to support the national identity had been severely jeopardized by the war’s terminal events. Having previously turned U.S. democracy into the model for the future of France, he had in fact already performed the action that would have provided the cold war with a felicitous ending. But his work had been no less crucial to the founding of the cold war settlement.

While his work provided a model for U.S. democracy that could be emulated worldwide, neither Tocqueville nor his work was subject to its conditions of historicization. Because his work constituted the means of effecting these disparate historical dispositions yet had not become identical with any of them, the retrieval of it constituted a transhistorical resource for the production of a passage from one historical condition to another. Within, yet seemingly beyond, history, “Tocqueville” produced historical continuity. Surviving as a living remnant, it performed the dual function of a part-object still connected to the cold war mentality and as a transitional object that permitted its separation. Having participated in founding the cold war epoch yet having survived its termination, “Tocqueville” could be imagined as having returned to the foundational scene to inaugurate an alternative order. Resituated there, “Tocqueville” reduced the cold war past to the dimensions of the force it contributed to effect a historical transition.

Having prophesied the cold war, then, Democracy in America has reemerged, at the end of the cold war, to add this magical scene of national [End Page 99] transformation, which the cold war’s concluding events significantly lacked. In accomplishing this transition work, “Tocqueville” has shifted his core identity from that of the interpreter of U.S. exceptionality to that of the legislator who would subsume new cultural instances under more general regulative laws. In selecting “civic associations” as the new regulative ideal, his legislation has transferred U.S. citizens’ cultural allegiances from actions on the scale of a global Armageddon to the dimensions of the local town meeting.18

The Tocqueville revival has seemingly reduced historical change to the selection of different passages from Democracy in America. After the shift of emphasis from Tocqueville on American exceptionalism to Tocqueville on civic associations, the “resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism” has replaced the threat of world communism as the repository for cultural processes that are intrinsically opposed to such initiatives. Khatami’s repudiation of the positioning of Iran as the signifier of negative civility disclosed his understanding of the role Democracy in America had played in the replacement of the nation with civil society as the space in which U.S. citizens consolidate their national belonging after the cold war.19

Benjamin Barber’s Jihad vs. McWorld provides a useful account of the role that the reconstituted dual-containment policy has played in the Tocqueville renaissance. The book depicts the present historical conjuncture as a vivid global spectacle in which “Jihad and McWorld operate with equal strength in opposite directions, the one driven by parochial hatreds, the other by globalizing markets, the one re-creating ancient sub-national and ethnic borders from within, the other making national borders porous [End Page 100] from without.” Arguing that a contemporary renewal of civic associations would produce a middle ground between globalizing economic forces and more localized ethnic loyalties, Barber finds a remedy for both forms of encroachment in Tocqueville’s civic associations. “Throughout the nineteenth century, in Tocqueville’s America and afterwards, American society felt like civil society . . . a modest governmental sphere and an unassuming private sector were overshadowed by an extensive civic network tied together by schools, granges, churches, town halls, village greens, country stores, and voluntary associations of every imaginable sort.”20

In Barber’s rhetorical deployment of it, Tocqueville’s model of civic associations has articulated the containment of Islam internationally to the retrieval of civil society locally. These terms get jointly produced and circulated through the intertextual terrain through which Tocquevillean discourse has been expansively reproduced. By way of their articulation to his work, the signifier “Tocqueville” coordinates and serves as a condensed expression for a wide range of cultural issues and ideological preoccupations. This discursive space closes around its active ignorance of the fact that the exclusion of Tocqueville’s Other has constituted its means of self-totalization.

Among its pluralized contemporary manifestations, this intertextual terrain includes: Newt Gingrich writing in support of a politics of law and order, William Connolly on the territorial rights of indigenous tribes, Arthur Schlesinger in opposition to a disunited nation, Anne Norton on feminism, Robert Bellah on the civil religion, David Campbell against the security [End Page 101] state, Michael Sandel on communitarianism, Michael Shapiro on national sovereignty, Seymour Lipset in support of neoliberalism, and Cornel West in defense of a politics of difference.21 This enchainment of argumentative positions is not governed by causal relations, and their means of association cannot be accounted for by a single explanatory principle. In fact, there is no order of concatenation that binds these elements into a repertoire of examples except their appurtenance to a proper name.

“Tocqueville” serves as the master signifier for the association of these apparently irreconcilable arguments. After Democracy in America subjects them to its specific forms of reorganization, the Tocqueville canon controls the way these arguments get interpreted and received. Articulating them to its framework of intelligibility, it nets the worth of their serial associations by describing the outcome as a representative civil society. “Tocqueville” thereafter reworks these arguments into terms that would appear to have achieved their reconciliation and designates civil society as the space in which such reconciliations have been transacted.

The pertinence of Tocqueville’s nineteenth-century model of a civil society to the political imaginaries of the twenty-first century discloses the transhistorical value of his work. But in order to understand how his project has become transferrable across history, we need briefly to examine the work to which he had put this model in nineteenth-century France.

After Democracy in France

A member of the French aristocracy who had been superseded by the revolutionary overthrow of the feudal order in France, Tocqueville characterized the emergence of democratic forces as a potential danger to the dominance of the French ruling elite. As a loyal French monarchist, he [End Page 102] owed his seat in the July Monarchy to the votes of country landowners, who counted him as a hereditary member of their territorial aristocracy. Prominent among his intended addressees, the French ruling elite read Democracy in America as a defensive weapon useful in that historical moment’s war of cultural positioning.

After Tocqueville had become a magistrate, he was commissioned to travel to America as an official of the French State to ascertain the regulatory principles responsible for the construction of a people that, “while all the nations of Europe have been ravaged by war or torn by civil strife[,] . . . have remained pacific.”22 He understood that the information on governmental rule in general and on penitentiary reform in particular gathered during his trip would become instrumental in regularizing democratic institutions in France. His understanding of America’s penitentiary system deeply influenced the organizational matrix of Democracy in America, for both constituted comparable yet autonomous symbolic practices that aspired to the rehabilitation of the persons who undertook them. His notion of civic associations resembled the penitentiary system in that the texture of attitudes embedded within both social formations would reproduce behavior so as to produce fully regulated social bodies.

Tocqueville addressed Democracy in America in the last instance to the governmental bureaucrats who granted him leave from his official duties. In fulfilling this mandate, he accumulated a mass of details about democratic institutions in the United States that he painstakingly related to what he understood to be the central theme of Democracy in America, namely, the art of governmental rule.23 In his efforts to discover in the United States a form of democratic rule, he devised a complex rhetorical strategy that enabled him to recover the persona of the French aristocrat as an analytic perspective required to formulate the differences between democracy in France and America.

In enunciating the social and cultural conditions surrounding America’s [End Page 103] distinctive form of democracy, Tocqueville habitually assumed an aristocratic attitude toward American democratic ideas and customs. Writing from this subjective standpoint authorized his signature detachment from the political phenomena that he described and, at key moments, turned his exposition of the American political economy into a reflection on the generalized crisis that had emerged in France after it had undergone the loss of the institutions that had formerly legitimated the feudal order. By way of the masterful survey that he had compiled of Americans’ customs and institutions, Democracy in America became the socially regulative ideal through which he displaced the violence of the French Revolution from aristocratic memory.24

In codifying Americans’ contradictory attitudes toward freedom and equality by way of formulaic phrases such as “the tyranny of the majority” and “salutary servitude,” Tocqueville’s political analyses disclosed an anxious desire to recover the aristocratic tradition in the displaced form of the historical perspective wherefrom he discerned what was significantly absent from American democracy.

As a representative of a superseded feudal tradition that he construed American history as exceptional in lacking, Tocqueville also thereby added to Jacksonian America the class position that French democracy had replaced. This class supplementation was conveyed in the analytic distinctions he adduced between political and civil society. The difference between civil society and political society was sustained, he reflected, by the irresolvable conflict between “private interests” and “public liberty.” Given this contrast and American individualists’ “natural” predisposition to gratify their individual interests, political society depended on a residual feature of feudal society, namely, respect for liberty in its aristocratic aspect, as a precondition necessary for its emergence.25 [End Page 104]

Paradoxical as it may seem, Tocqueville believed that the democratic individual’s love of political liberty “presupposed the presence of a kind of virtue of which the proud independence of feudalism was an anticipation.”26 Claude Lefort has recently traced Tocqueville’s unworked-through attachments to the aristocratic tradition by examining the paradoxical status of American “individualism.” American individualism, under Tocqueville’s description, oscillated between an “abstract” subjectivity whose resolutely private interests alienated it from any meaningful political form and a social subjectivity so “lost in the crowd” of prevailing opinions as to be void of any subjective point of view. In Tocqueville’s representations of his dilemma, the American individual had been, on the one hand, “released from the old networks of personal dependency and granted the freedom to think and act in accordance with his own norms,” but, on the other hand, had been “isolated and impoverished and at the same time trapped by the image of his fellows, now that agglutination with them provides a means of escaping the threat of the dissolution of his identity.”27

Writing thus became the means whereby Tocqueville translated the social position his family had lost after the French Revolution into the literary standpoint through which he practiced his historical movement across the United States. In writing about American political culture as if he were a living embodiment of aristocratic liberty, Tocqueville reconstituted the aristocratic psyche that had been debilitated in the democratic process. He struggled thereby to recover, albeit in the displaced form of his literary style, from the loss of status the aristocracy had undergone in France.

Democracy in America performed the work of displacing the trauma of class conflict onto a place lacking the feudal tradition’s sophistication. When he adapted its sociological generalizations and its temporally expansive claims to the work regulating the French social order, he also displaced the violence of the French Revolution from aristocratic memory. By working through residual class anxieties, Tocqueville turned the feudal tradition that he had associated with the displacement he feared into a backdrop against which he could project what he perceived American democracy as lacking.

Lefort has spelled out the dimensions of the trauma that he discerns [End Page 105] at the very heart of Tocqueville’s account of U.S. democracy. Upon encountering in the United States a democracy that had emerged voided of the feudal order’s transcendental guarantees, he believes that Tocqueville reexperienced the trauma of the French Revolution as the gap between a fully achieved civil society and the terror of civic violence:

When social power is divorced from the person of the prince, freed from the transcendental agency which made the prince the guarantor of order and of the permanence of the body politic, and denied the nourishment of the duration which made it almost natural, this power appears to be the power society exercises over itself. When society no longer recognizes the existence of anything external to it, social power knows no bounds. It is a product of society, but at the same time it has the vocation to produce society; the boundaries of personal existence mean nothing to it because it purports to be the agent of all.28

Insofar as it closes around the exclusion of the traumatic violence that it aspires to control, Tocqueville’s civil society constitutes a permanently incomplete task. It can never be fully achieved but only reconstituted through the externalization of the forces threatening its order. But its reconstitution required a shift in his persona from an interpreter of democratic culture in America to its legislator in France.

The absences—of class conflict, political turmoil—Tocqueville had perceived in U.S. political society contained what he had wished could be removed from French democracy. In its relentless depoliticization of U.S. political topography, Tocqueville’s Democracy in America produced a perceptual faculty that Freud has described as responsible for “negative hallucination,” the capacity not to see what is actually there. In perceiving what he claimed was absent in U.S. democratic culture, Tocqueville accomplished a democratic desire to except those same elements from French democracy.

After returning to France, Tocqueville implemented his interpretation of U.S. democratic culture as if it comprised a legislative paradigm for the future of French democracy. Having already interpreted its accomplished formation in America, Tocqueville the legislator transferred onto Democracy in America the full amplitude of normative power required to manage the emergence of a democratic culture in France. Democracy in America [End Page 106] provided him with a normative metalanguage from which he generated by negation the social forces that he disallowed the condition of belonging to French democratic culture. Because Democracy in America had predesignated residual feudal forces as what were lacking in democracy, Tocqueville thereafter deployed that designation as the warrant for the exclusion of class antagonisms and related manifestations of civic violence from French democracy.

Re: Traveling Tocqueville’s America

As we have seen, Tocqueville could only imagine the United States as a totalized representation of civic order against the backdrop of the absent social forces that threatened to overwhelm that order in France. When he traveled to America, he transferred onto its landscape the semblance of his desire for a fully realized democratic order.

The Tocqueville revival might be construed as having performed a related transference at the present historical conjuncture. In returning to the Tocqueville who had validated the ideological assumptions of the sequence of events that had taken place during the cold war, interpreters of him at the present transition have effected a transposition of Tocqueville’s function that is perhaps best understood in terms of the time-loop paradox familiar to lovers of science fiction. Understood in the logic of the time loop, the “return” of contemporary interpreters to an aspect of the Tocquevillean archive that was significantly different from the doctrine of U.S. exceptionalism that had “caused” the sequence of cold war events could trigger the cancellation of the entire sequence.

On 9 May 1997, C-SPAN, the Cable Satellite Public Affairs Network—to turn now to the television series that has replaced the cancelled sequence of events—launched a project they called Travelling Tocqueville’s America, which involved retracing the nine-month journey through the United States that Tocqueville had undertaken with his companion Gustave Beaumont in 1831. After a year of planning, C-SPAN turned a forty-five-foot-long yellow bus into a high-tech network production vehicle from which they transmitted live C-SPAN’s fifty-five-stop tour through seventeen states.

In addition to the sixty-five hours of programming, C-SPAN operatives distributed annotated road maps and set up an interactive Web site. They organized local town hall meetings, classroom teach-ins of the series, as well as scholarly conferences, week-long symposia, and a national essay contest on the subject of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. The tour [End Page 107] guide C-SPAN distributed along with the series included synopses of Tocqueville’s and Beaumont’s recorded impressions, sketches, and folklore about the places and people they visited, photographs and brief descriptions of famous local sights, and information about dining and accommodations.

In an article in Time magazine titled “Bowling Together: Civic Engagement in America Isn’t Disappearing but Reinventing Itself,” columnist Richard Stengel underscored the role C-SPAN assigned Tocqueville to play in the contemporary popular imagination. The essay alternates between descriptions of civic associations as an already achieved social condition—“‘Americans of all ages, all conditions and all dispositions, constantly form associations’”—and imperatives that would revive the figure—“Rise up, Alexis de Tocqueville”—who could accomplish this state of affairs.29

When Stengel is in a descriptive mood, he cites passages from Tocqueville that would confirm the uniqueness of U.S. civic associations: “In France . . . a social movement is instigated by the government, in England by the nobility, but in America by an association.” But after Stengel laments a decline in civic participation evident in the growing number of Americans who are now “bowling alone,” U.S. civic associations undergo a change in status from the factual condition that Tocqueville had representatively described to a political desideratum: “The health of American democracy depends on vigorous civic participation.”30

Travelling Tocqueville’s America installed Tocqueville’s recorded memoirs of his initial trip through America as an intermediary between its television audience and America. It transformed the act of watching television into an interactive rereading of the themes and conceptual categories [End Page 108] he described as having been discerned within the U.S. landscape. But C-SPAN’s rendering Tocqueville’s text available to the television audience’s pluralized readings also legitimized as definitive the interpretation provided by the network’s experts.

By describing it in metaphors borrowed from the mystery of the Incarnation, Jacques Rancière has invested this transferential process with a quasi-mystical dimension. Tocqueville had traveled to America, Rancière claims, to found a civil religion that borrowed its secular authority from the mystery of the Incarnation. Proposing that his travel narrative merges “the miracle of the Word made flesh” with the little scenes of “everyday life,” Rancière argues the importance of the transformation of the reader into a traveler who retraces the itinerary of these little narratives of everyday life to the accomplishment of the central mystery of Tocqueville’s civil religion.31

According to Rancière, Travelling Tocqueville’s America would overstep the all-but-invisible boundary distinguishing between the inside of Tocqueville’s journal and the landscape that has enfleshed its words. In the very slight movement whereby reading becomes traveling, what is written undergoes a change of emplacement from the inside of the book into the thereness, or what Rancière calls the “ecceity” of the landscape. Traveling thereby becomes the acquisition of a quasi-sacramental faculty: “the power of mapping together a discursive space and a territorial space, the capacity to make each concept correspond to a point in reality and each reality coincide with a point on the map.”32

When the traveler reencounters Tocqueville’s descriptions in the sudden thereness of them within the living flesh of the landscape, the residual reader within the traveler becomes the vessel for the achievement of the coincidence of Tocqueville’s words and the ecceity of their incarnation in and as the scenes so encountered. When Tocqueville’s journal gets lodged in the popular consciousness, it intermediates between places, scenes, and historical events, and the viewers’ perceptions, transforming the latter into revisualizations of Tocqueville’s democratic culture.

But Tocqueville had not himself simply discovered the traces of his conceptual model already inscribed in American things. His model was not derived from nature, as Rancière suggests, so much as it was inscribed [End Page 109] on it. He produced this so that it could be thereafter written on the body politic of democratic societies as Tocqueville’s means of regulating their representation of democracy.

In keeping with this description, reading Tocqueville’s Democracy in America might be reconceptualized as the symbolic embodiment of a spatial practice. His text composed the America through which he journeyed into an itinerant yet regulated and progressive spatial practice. The categories, rules, and procedures into which he had transformed America could be operationalized either as reading or traveling. Both forms required that the flesh of the readers that the text changed into bodies conform to the itinerary’s regulated movement. The writing constituted a symbolic action, an encoded behavior, for which the bodies of the readers and travelers were postulated as interchangeable agents.

After Tocqueville had collected and classified the exterior world into the system of representations, it thereafter regulated his perceptions of American things. When C-SPAN later aspired to adapt that model of democracy into a form of governance that would persuade its audience to conform to its rules, it accommodated Tocqueville’s itinerant apparatus to the multiple and diverse resistances of the bodies to be conformed by fragmenting it into proverbs, sayings, retroactive dialogues, and other types of knowledge about the bodies that it would remap.

The very idea of democracy, as Rancière observed, corresponded to the wish to manage the multiplication of convictions and beliefs that religions had formerly consolidated. Tocqueville’s representations of civil society performed the regulative work of a civil religion. It was designed to control the individual conscience that freedom from religious dogma had radicalized.

The transportation of belief systems from religion to politics required the production of a reciprocity between religion and belief whose accomplishment Michel de Certeau has analyzed in terms of the interaction of religious dogma with the television medium. There are “two mechanisms through which a body of dogma has always made itself believed,” Certeau observes:

On the one hand, the claim to be speaking in the name of a reality which, assumed to be inaccessible, is the principle both of what is believed (a totalization) and the act of believing (something that is always unavailable, unverifiable, lacking); and on the other, the [End Page 110] ability of a discourse authorized by a “reality” to distribute itself in the form of elements that organize practices, that is, of “articles of faith.” These two traditional resources are found again today in the system that combines the narrativity of the media—an establishment of the real—with the discourse of products to be consumed—a distribution of this reality in the form of “articles” that are to believed and bought. It is the first that needs to be stressed, the second already being quite well known.33

In light of Certeau’s observation, it should be noted that TV production of the Tocqueville journey involved the interactive relation of Tocqueville’s work with a number of relevant texts. Like the basic unit of symbolic exchange underwriting Tocqueville’s treatise, C-SPAN’s Tocqueville tour animated a relationship with American democracy that was relentlessly circular and reciprocal. Tocqueville wanted to deliver to his readers a coherent image of America’s national identity. Only metaleptically, however, and only after a reading of America through the lens of his classic, could Americans reacquire a coherent self-image. Those watching could call in and append additional classifications to his discourse on democracy and specify more precisely their relationship to him. Travelling Tocqueville’s America situated Tocqueville’s work within an expansive and interlocking set of intertextual relations that influenced how it might be used and how it was read.

What Tocqueville was looking for in America, as Rancière has remarked apropos of this intertextual process, was “‘good’ democracy, reasonable democracy, for he comes from the land of ‘bad,’ unreasonable democracy.”34 America, in the post–cold war epoch, as we might plausibly extrapolate this observation, had become a place that, in “having become opaque to itself,” required Tocqueville’s guidance to reclaim the transparency of its institutions.

C-SPAN’s Tocqueville tour entailed the reaffirmation of an essential Americanness by declaring the tour empowered to retrieve it. C-SPAN restaged America’s nineteenth-century past as a means of recovering from contemporary crises in the national identity. Each of the elements in the tour guide built on the collective wish to remake U.S. political culture in the image [End Page 111] of Tocqueville’s foundational text. The site from which Tocqueville returned would, according to this description, reconstitute the television viewer within the field of intelligibility regulated by Tocqueville’s previous visualization of U.S. culture.35

Understood as a response to the post–cold war dissociation of its conceptual mapping from the cultural terrain for which it had formerly provided an orientation, the tour might be described as a response to the desire to recover the cultural typology through which U.S. citizens had formerly taken conceptual possession of their surroundings. But the C-SPAN tour may also have reintroduced television viewers to the challenges to their civic order that Tocqueville had not managed fully to exclude from his field of vision.

Remapping the nation as the object of the Tocquevillean gaze restored its topography to what Benedict Anderson has described as the imagined national community. But in the very act of temporalizing the national landscape as the retrieval of Tocqueville’s gaze, the tour also released what Lisa Lowe has called “national anxieties about maintaining U.S. hegemony in an age of rapidly changing boundaries and territories.”36

In retracing Tocqueville’s original travels through America, C-SPAN also reengaged the anxieties that informed the original expedition. In reprojecting Tocqueville’s conceptual schema and national mythology onto the U.S. landscape through which he had once traveled, the C-SPAN tour also acknowledged the fact that those places were now lacking that democratic topography.

Observing the importance of narratives in democratizing places, Certeau has described the significance of their loss: “When stories disappear, there results a widespread loss of place. . . . The individual or the group [End Page 112] regresses,” as a result, “toward the disquieting experience of the formless, indistinct, deconsecrated states.”37

The Return of the Political

Earlier I proposed that Tocqueville’s perception of the absence of political antagonisms in America produced a desire to remove them from French democracy. I have also claimed that C-SPAN’s restaging of the Tocqueville tour was in part complicitous with Tocqueville’s disavowals. But C-SPAN has also revealed within U.S. political culture knowledge of the political antagonisms that the Tocqueville revival has covered over. In rendering visible the class hierarchies and economic inequalities and political antagonisms, C-SPAN has produced an occasion for figures such as President Khatami to invoke the Tocqueville tour for a visual lexicon with which to address the complexities that have replaced Tocqueville’s wished-for certainties.

When Khatami cited Tocqueville to describe the resemblance between America’s embrace of religious freedom and Iranian religious nationalism, he refused efforts to exclude him from the political terrain. Proposing that Tocqueville’s devotion to liberty was itself cultivated in the rites and traditions of a national “civil religion,” Khatami concluded that civil religion cannot be altogether distinguished from Iran’s religious nationalism. In making this argument by way of the treatise that had been written to foreclose it, Khatami assumed one of the spaces that Tocqueville had evacuated in his representation of U.S. democracy.

In concluding this discussion of the Tocqueville revival with an observation of the usage to which Khatami has put Democracy in America, I do not wish to conclude that democracy constitutes a nonviable form of politics. On the contrary, I wish to elucidate the “knowledge” that Khatami had erected at the site where the New Republic’s editors had declared “Tocqueville is not all you need to know.”

This “knowledge” would propose a mutual inherence in the relation between identity and otherness that resists the desire to suture an identity at the site of the Other’s exclusion. If the condition governing the formation of democratic “identity” entails the affirmation of self-alterity, its constitution involves the pluralization of democratic allegiances with which one can [End Page 113] identify. The desire to resolve or disavow the articulation of liberalism’s logic of differences to democracy’s logic of equivalences can lead only to the destruction of democracy. It is only in the tension between the logic of antagonistic differences that Tocqueville left France to disavow and the logic of democratic equivalence that Tocqueville wrote Democracy in America to embrace that democracy can materialize.38

Donald E. Pease

Donald E. Pease is Avalon Foundation Chair of the Humanities at Dartmouth College. He is the founding director of the Futures of American Studies Institute at Dartmouth College, the author of Visionary Compacts: American Renaissance Writings in Cultural Context (1987), the editor of the series New Americanists (Duke University Press), and the editor of seven volumes on American Studies, including Americas Abroad (1999).


1. “Tocqueville and the Mullah,” New Republic 333, no. 4 (2 February 1998): 7. All quotations from this editorial can be found on this page.

2. Apropos of this imaginary geography, Edward W. Said has observed: “It can be argued that Islam (in the shape of the Muslim populations of North Africa, Turkey, and Indian sub-continent) is now the primary form in which the Third World presents itself to Europe, and that the North-South divide, in the European context, has been largely inscribed onto a pre-existing Christian-Muslim division” (Orientalism [London: Routledge, Kegan and Paul, 1978], 97). Following its exclusion from the precincts of Western civilization, “Islam,” as Aziz Al-Azmah has observed, “appears indifferently among other things to name history, indicate a religion, ghettoize a community, describe a ‘culture,’ explain a despicable exoticism, and fully specify a political program” (Islams and Modernities [London and New York: Verso, 1993].

3. See Helga Geyer-Ryan, “Imagining Identity: Space, Gender, Nation,” in Teresa Brennan and Martin Jay, eds., Vision in Context: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Sight (New York: Routledge, 1996), 121–22. For a splendid discussion of national fantasy, see Jacqueline Rose, States of Fantasy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996).

4. While they confine his refusal to endorse the dual-containment policy, the anxiety Khatami’s interview aroused in the editors might be understood as having derived primarily from the threat it posed to the nation as their imaginary bodily double. More than simply declining to play the assigned role of national menace, Khatami had challenged the East-West divide as well as the geopolitical logic of mutual exclusion that supported the U.S. national identity. Against official representations of Iran as the signifier of civil violence, he refused to acknowledge any recognizable distinction between the two national orders. His rhetoric supplanted representations of Islam as dramatically opposed to American religions with the pronouncement that it bore similarities to the Puritanism of the early settlers. “‘The American civilization is worthy of respect,’” the editors quote Khatami as having “unexpectedly” said, because, like Iran, “it was the creation of a religious people.” Proposing that U.S. citizens’ devotion to liberty was itself cultivated in the rites and traditions of a national civil religion, Khatami drew the conclusion that the U.S. civil religion was not altogether different from Iran’s religious nationalism, which also “‘calls all humanity, irrespective of religion or belief, to rationality and logic.’”

5. The post–cold war state had recently substituted Khomeini’s religious nationalism for the Imperial Soviet as representative, in the wake of the cold war, of the fundamentalist threat to national security. This substitution links Islam with religious nationalist movements that have emerged throughout the United States after the cold war. See Mark Juergensmeyer, The New Cold War?: Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1993), 11–45.

6. Donatella Mazzolena has specified the ways in which the imaginary nation functions as a bodily ego. As the site of collective identification, the nation “is also, in some way, a lived space,” she points out, “the totality of those who produce and live a collective construction constitute a collective anthropoid body, which maintains in some way an identity as a ‘subject.’” When collectively incorporated, this imaginary national body is inhabited and practiced as an American way of life. Its claims on the inner lives of the subjects through which it is reproduced, refers, Donatella argues, to the fact that in the national imaginary “we find the spatialization of primary pulsations—Eros and Thanatos—that cannot be contained in the web of any structure or story. The articulations of these impulses are always twofold: there is a need to return to a space which is a container of life, which can metabolize death itself (living)—then there is the need to symbolize, to deflect outward the death instinct (constructing). We could perhaps say that constructing, insofar as it is a symbolizing activity, arises from the dwelling of the instincts because of the ‘primary paranoia’ which attempts to redeem the overwhelming relationship with one’s own overshadowing mother figure” (in “The City and the Imaginary,” New Formations 21 [1990]: 92–93).

7. See Geyer-Ryan, “Imagining Identity,” 122.

8. In Unsettled States, Disputed Lands: Britain and Ireland, France and Algeria, Israel and the West Bank–Gaza (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993), Ian Lustick has observed that a “‘war of position’ entails political competition over which ideas and values will be accepted by leading strata of a state as the concrete fantasy that will achieve hegemonic status” (122).

9. See Bobby Sayyid, “Sign O’ Times: Kaffirs and Infidels Fighting the Ninth Crusade,” in The Making of Political Identities, ed. Ernesto Laclau (London and New York: Verso, 1994), 265.

10. Useful accounts of the history of Tocqueville’s reception can be found in Abraham S. Eisenstadt, ed., Reconsidering Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1988); Seymour Drescher, Dilemmas of Democracy: Tocque- ville and Modernization (Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1968); Marvin Zetterbaum, Tocqueville and the Problem of Democracy (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press: 1967); Timothy Brennan, At Home in the World: Cosmopolitanism Now (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997); Louis Hartz, The Liberal Tradition in America: An Interpretation of American Political Thought since the Revolution (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1955); Robert A. Nisbet, The Sociological Tradition (New York: Basic Books, 1966); and Larry Siedentop, Tocqueville (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).

11. Slightly different genealogies of the discourse of U.S. exceptionalism can be found in Seymour Martin Lipset, American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword (New York: W. W. Norton, 1997); and Byron E. Shaffer, ed., Is America Different?: A New Look at American Exceptionalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).

12. See Daniel Bell, The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988); and Hartz, Liberal Tradition in America, 5.

13. In “Cold Wars, Securing Identity, Identifying Danger,” in Rhetorical Republic: Governing Representations in American Politics, ed. Frederick M. Dolan and Thomas L. Dumm (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1993), David Campbell has observed the several ways in which cold war foreign policy resulted in the production of the national identity through the containment of threats to it. Foreign policy was understood as the disciplining of the ambiguity and contingency of global politics “through the inscription of boundaries that serve to demarcate an ‘inside’ and ‘outside,’ a ‘self’ from an ‘other,’ a ‘domestic’ from a ‘foreign’” (44). National identity was structured in the power to exert visual control over the political imaginaries of other cultures. “Danger was being totalized in the external realm in conjunction with an increased individualization in the internal field, the result being the performative reconstitution of the borders of the state’s identity. In this sense the cold war needs to be understood as a disciplinary strategy that was global in scope but national in design” (53).

14. In Foreign Bodies: Performance, Art, and Symbolic Anthropology (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1992), cultural anthropologist A. David Napier has usefully summarized the political mythology that arises at times of radical cultural transformation. The myth’s core narrative codifies what happens when a culture undergoes a rite of passage and attempts “to define what is meant by the new person or the new social order” (79). As a paradigm of cultural transition, the Tocqueville exemplar has supplied the means whereby “one’s own ancestors may become outsiders” and a new nation emerges (81, 85).

15. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, ed. J. P. Mayer, trans. George Lawrence, vol. 1 (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1969), 412–13.

16. In the introduction to Michael Shapiro and Hayward R. Alker, eds., Challenging Boundaries: Global Flows, Territorial Identities (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), Shapiro has succinctly described the political implications of this national imaginary: “Because the United States had operated from a relatively uncontested frame of reference, it, along with the powerful political units that shaped first the colonial world and then the postcolonial, Cold War world, functioned within a delusional political narrative. It imagined itself as part of a story in which its dominance in the world order is a historic destiny and a utopian end to global political forms” (xviii). The role narrative closure plays in the maintenance of the authority of this paradigm can be found in Hayden White, “The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality,” Critical Inquiry 7 (1980): 5–27.

17. See Geyer-Ryan, “Imagining Identity,” 121.

18. In The Meaning of Democracy and the Vulnerability of Democracies: A Response to Tocqueville’s Challenge (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997), Vincent Ostrom has discerned civic associations as the core value of the Tocqueville project: “It is within families and other institutional arrangements characteristic of neighborhood, village and community life that citizenship is learned and practiced for most people most of the time. The first order of priority in learning the craft of citizenship as applied to public affairs needs to focus on how to cope with problems in the context of family, neighborhood, village and community” (x).

19. In the following passage from The Fragility of Freedom: Tocqueville on Religion, Democracy, and the American Future (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), Joshua Mitchell has supplied the coda for the post–cold war mentality: “The real problem now that the cold war has receded and we fumble forward into the future is not, as it would appear, how to insure world-around free markets; rather, it is how—in America at least—to arrest the twin phenomenon of a narrow egoism that would oversee only the world within its immediate purview and an overstepping franticness that is forever unsatisfied with itself and the whole world” (42).

20. See Benjamin R. Barber, Jihad vs. McWorld: How the Planet Is Both Falling Apart and Coming Together—and What This Means for Democracy (New York: Random House, 1995), 6, 282. In positioning Iran within the new containment policy, Barber enlisted the following Orientalist fantasy: “The apparent truth, which speaks to the paradox at the core of this book, is that tendencies of both Jihad and McWorld are at work, both visible sometimes in the same country at the very same instant. Iranian zealots keep one ear tuned to the mullahs urging holy war and the other cocked to Rupert Murdoch’s Star television beaming in Dynasty, Donahue, and The Simpsons from hovering satellites” (4–5). Except for the fact that President Khatami was probably watching C-SPAN’s Travelling Tocqueville’s America rather than Murdoch’s Dynasty, Barber’s fantasy bears a family resemblance to the editorial perspective of the New Republic. His account of the official reaction of the Islamic state to Murdoch’s Star TV describes what the editors of the New Republic might have expected to hear from President Khatami: “About satellite programs being beamed in to Teheran,” Barber quotes an unidentified official of the “Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance” as having declared, “‘These programs, prepared by international imperialism, are part of an extensive plot to wipe out our religious and sacred values’” (207).

21. See Newt Gingrich, To Renew America (New York: HarperCollins, 1995); William E. Connolly, “Tocqueville Territory and Violence,” in Rhetorical Republic, ed. Dolan and Dumm; Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multi-Cultural Society (Knoxville, Tenn.: Whittle Direct Books, 1991); Anne Norton, “Engendering Another American Identity,” in Rhetorical Republic, ed. Dolan and Dumm; Robert Bellah, “Civil Religion in America,” Daedalus 96, no. 1 (winter 1967): 1–21; David Campbell, “Political Prosaics, Transversal Politics, and the Anarchical World,” in Challenging Boundaries, ed. Shapiro and Alker; Michael Sandel, Democracy’s Discontent: America in Search of a Public Philosophy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996); Michael J. Shapiro, introduction to Challenging Boundaries, ed. Shapiro and Alker; and Seymour Martin Lipset, American Exceptionalism. Cornel West’s defense of the politics of difference appears on C-SPAN.

22. Tocqueville, “Author’s Preface to the Twelfth Edition,” in Democracy in America, xiv.

23. In Politics and Remembrance: Republican Themes in Machiavelli, Burke, and Tocqueville (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1985), Bruce James Smith argues persuasively the proposition that Tocqueville’s reading of “democratic values” constituted a cover for aristocratic sentiments. “He understood the distemper of the aristocratic affections, that its origin lay in a great sense of loss. He, too, had drunk from the bitter cup of revolution” that could only be abated by giving up the rage for the great memory of aristocracy that democracy afforded. Democracy in America, in Smith’s reading, had gratified Tocqueville’s aspiration to efface the memory of the revolution from the French past (189–93).

24. In Headless History: Nineteenth-Century French Historiography of the Revolution (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1990), Linda Orr has remarked incisively concerning Tocqueville’s politics of displacement: “It would be easy to say that the ‘only essential difference’ between the ‘then’ (Old Regime) and ‘now’ (Empire) of the text is the Revolution—and this would be true, except that the Revolution would be seen only as an imperceptible step toward the Empire or the displacement between two historical objects (Old Regime and Empire) that are almost identical” (100). Whereas Orr concentrates her analysis on the Old Regime and the French Revolution, I would argue that Democracy in America did the work of displacing the difference between the Old Regime and Empire, thereby rendering the two events all but indistinguishable.

25. When Tocqueville claimed America as a French cultural possession, he was inaugurating a venerable cultural tradition whose legatees include Camus, Sartre, Malraux, and, most recently, Jean Baudrillard. Jean-Philippe Mathy has provided an illuminating account of this tradition in Extreme-Occident: French Intellectuals and America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993).

26. Blandine Kriegel cites George Lefebvre as the source of this quote in The State and the Rule of Law, trans. Marc A. LePain and Jeffrey C. Cohen (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995), 157.

27. Claude Lefort formulated this dualism in Democracy and Political Theory, trans. David Macey (Cambridge: Polity, 1988), 180.

28. Lefort, Democracy and Political Theory, 167.

29. Richard Stengel, “Bowling Together: Civic Engagement in America Isn’t Disappearing but Reinventing Itself,” Time 148, no. 5, 22 July 1996, 33.

30. Stengel, “Bowling Together,” 33. Stengel has also observed a pathological tendency particularly evident within smaller embattled communities that choose to break apart from larger social aggregations and form internally cohesive groups. After observing that the Southern Poverty Law Center has tracked some eight hundred militia and patriot groups and that many of them have formed in the past few years, Stengel concludes that Tocqueville would not have been surprised to learn that America leads the world in militia movements. “The recently arrested Viper militia in Arizona fits Tocqueville’s description of a classic American association,” Stengel notes apropos of this pathology (33). Like the civic associations that Tocqueville established as a model of democratic self-governance, the militia movement organizes groups of like-minded neighbors who gather together for the purpose of planning violent assaults either on the government or on other groups and individuals who happen not to be of the same mind.

31. See Jacques Rancière, “Discovering New Worlds: Politics of Travel and Metaphors of Space,” in Traveller’s Tales: Narratives of Home and Displacement, ed. George Robertson et al. (London and New York: Routledge, 1994), 35.

32. See Rancière, “Discovering New Worlds,” 33.

33. See Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988), 185.

34. See Rancière, “Discovering New Worlds,” 35.

35. In Radical Renewal: The Politics of Ideas in Modern America (New York: Pantheon, 1988), Norman Birnbaum has remarked that “de Tocqueville wrote about a preindustrial society: the recurrence of his thought may suggest something else than a commendable desire to go to the historical roots of our political culture. The nation has changed immensely since de Tocqueville’s visit. The French thinker, a recalcitrant liberal (in the European sense) with deep doubts about democracy,” may have served to legitimate ambivalence about democracy. “He, or his ideas, have also served to avert our gaze from problems presented by industrialization, by immigration, by the end of slavery and by empire” (66).

36. See Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (New York: Verso, 1991); and Lisa Lowe, Critical Terrains: French and British Orientalisms (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991), 31.

37. See Certeau, Practice of Everyday Life, 123.

38. For illuminating discussions of this dynamic, see Chantal Mouffe, “For a Politics of Nomadic Identity,” in Traveller’s Tales, ed. Robertson et al., 105–13; and Mouffe, The Return of the Political (New York: Verso, 1993).

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