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The Chicago Companion to Tocqueville’s Democracy in America

One of the greatest books ever to be written on the United States, Democracy in America continues to find new readers who marvel at the lasting insights Alexis de Tocqueville had into our nation and its political culture. The work is, however, as challenging as it is important; its arguments can be complex and subtle, and its sheer length can make it difficult for any reader, especially one coming to it for the first time, to grasp Tocqueville’s meaning. The Chicago Companion to Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America” is the first book written expressly to help general readers and students alike get the most out of this seminal work.

Now James T. Schleifer, an expert on Tocqueville, has provided the background and information readers need in order to understand Tocqueville’s masterwork. In clear and engaging prose, Schleifer explains why Democracy in America is so important, how it came to be written, and how different generations of Americans have interpreted it since its publication. He also presents indispensable insight on who Tocqueville was, his trip to America, and what he meant by equality, democracy, and liberty.

Drawing upon his intimate knowledge of Tocqueville’s papers and manuscripts, Schleifer reveals how Tocqueville’s ideas took shape and changed even in the course of writing the book. At the same time, Schleifer provides a detailed glossary of key terms and key passages, all accompanied by generous citations to the relevant pages in the University of Chicago Press Mansfield/Winthrop translation. The Chicago Companion will serve generations of readers as an essential guide to both the man and his work.

216 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2012

History: American History

Political Science: Political and Social Theory


 "This book will be of great value to readers who seek a compressed orientation to things Tocquevillean all in one place. . . Highly recommended." 


“Schleifer includes so many excellent quotations to illustrate his points that it’s conceivable that this book might be read tout seul, as a substitute for the real thing! I hope not. But virtually everything one needs to know about Democracy, including a taste for Tocqueville’s prose, is included in this fine companion.”

Michael Kammen, Cornell University

“An important and innovative aid. The ChicagoCompanion is a truly Tocquevillian venture, opening up a host of questions about one of the most provocative meditations ever written on the human condition.”

Seymour Drescher, University of Pittsburgh

“James Schleifer is widely regarded as one of the best interpreters of Alexis de Tocqueville’s thought. In this appropriately named ‘companion’ to Democracy in America, he provides not only a scintillating reflection on this classic book but also a unique and sure guide to the intricacies of the text itself.”

Olivier Zunz, University of Virginia

Table of Contents

     Why Read Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America?
     What Are the Purposes and Uses of the Companion?

Part I
What Are the Contexts of Tocqueville’s Democracy?
1    Who Was Tocqueville?
      What Are Some Essentials of His Life and Background?
      How Was He Able to Write Such a Brilliant Book?
      What Kind of Man Was Tocqueville?
2    How Was Democracy in America Written?
      Tocqueville’s Journey to America
          Why Did Tocqueville Visit the United States in 1831? And What Did He Do There?
          How Did Tocqueville and Beaumont Work?
          What Is the Importance of Tocqueville’s Travel Diaries and Letters Home?
          What Were the Weaknesses of Tocqueville’s Journey?
          Tocqueville’s Intellectual Encounter with America
     Tocqueville’s Second Voyage to America
          How Did Democracy in America Take Shape?
          Tocqueville’s Working Papers
          Help from Others
          What Were the Sources of Tocqueville’s Book?
     The Style and Structure of Tocqueville’s Democracy
          Tocqueville’s Ways of Writing: How Does He Address His Readers?
          How Is Democracy in America Organized?
          The Shape of the 1835 Democracy
          The Shape of the 1840 Democracy

Part II
What Are Some of the Major Themes of Tocqueville’s Democracy?
3    What Are Some of Tocqueville’s Basic Convictions?
4    What Does Tocqueville Mean by Equality, Democracy, and Liberty?
     How Are Equality, Democracy and Liberty Related?
5    How Does Democracy Threaten Liberty?
     Democratic Materialism
     Democratic Individualism
     Where Would Power Accumulate?
6    How to Preserve Liberty?
     Self-Interest Well Understood
     What Is Tocqueville’s Essential Message?
7    What Are Some of Tocqueville’s Other Major Themes?
     Economics and the Role of Government
     A Partisan of Democracy?
          Democracy and Religion
          Democracy and Intellectual Creativity
          Democracy and Morality
          Democracy and Revolution
     Democracy and War
     The Democratic Character
     Tocqueville’s Major Themes Reconsidered
8    What Else Does Tocqueville Have to Say about America?
     What Is Specific to America?
     The American Setting
     The Federal Constitution
     The Future of the Three Races
     American Exceptionalism
     Other Functions of America
     Tocqueville and the American Example

Part III
American Readings of Tocqueville’s Democracy
9    How Has Tocqueville’s Democracy Been Read in America?
     Conservative Readings
     Liberal Readings
     Libertarian Readings
     Communitarian Readings
Concluding Reflections

Part IV
Tools for Use
Glossary: What Are Some of the Key Terms in Tocqueville’s Democracy?
Guide to Key Chapters and Passages: Which Parts of Tocqueville’s Democracy Are the Most Famous and Essential?
Suggestions for Further Reading

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