Tocqueville's America Revisited, Part 2

A French aristocrat named Alexis de Tocqueville published the two volumes of Democracy in America in 1835 and 1840. IDEAS celebrated the sesquicentennial with a series about American democracy. We revisit that series, which features new interviews and insights, to consider the health of "democracy in America" today.
Detail from a portrait of Alexis de Tocqueville by Théodore Chassériau (1855).

Nearly 200 years ago, a young French aristocrat traveled across the Atlantic to get a first-hand immersion in American democracy. Alexis de Tocqueville spent nine months touring the United States, talking to hundreds of people, trying to understand the country's strengths and weaknesses.

His collection of essays -- Democracy in America  -- were published in two volumes 1835 and 1840. Tocqueville's astute observations carry a foreboding resonance for American democracy today. In this episode, Paul Kennedy zeros in on the ever-growing power of the presidency, the concept of 'tyranny of the majority', as well as America at war. **This episode originally aired October 21, 2016.

Alexis de Tocqueville shares his concern about the possibility of tyranny in America, as narrated by former IDEAS host Lister Sinclair

"In my opinion, the main evil of the present democratic institutions of the United States does not arise from their weakness but from their irreversible strength. I am not so alarmed by the excessive liberty that reigns in that country as the inadequate securities against tyranny… There are no sure barriers against it." -- Alexis de Tocqueville

Guests in the program:

  • Ryan Balot --  Professor of Political Science and Classics at the University of Toronto. He specializes in Greek and Roman political philosophy, and ancient and early modern political thought. He studied classics at the University of North Carolina, the University of Oxford and received his doctorate from Princeton University. His most recent book is Courage in the Democratic Polis: Ideology and Critique in Classical Athens.
  • Arthur Goldhammer -- Translator, writer, and scholar. He has translated more than 125 books from the French, including Tocqueville's Democracy in America, The Ancien Régime and the French Revolution, and Recollections. He is a senior affiliate of the Center for European Studies at Harvard, a member of the editorial board of the Tocqueville Review, and writes regularly for The American Prospect, The Nation, and other publications.
  • Jennifer Pitts  -- Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago; she received her PhD from Harvard University and her BA in English from Yale. She writes on modern political and international thought, particularly British and French thought of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; empire; the history of international law; and global justice. She is author of A Turn to Empire: the rise of imperial liberalism in Britain and France (Princeton 2005), editor and translator of Alexis de Tocqueville: writings on empire and slavery (Johns Hopkins 2001) and co-editor, with David Armitage, of the forthcoming The Law of Nations in Global History (Oxford 2017). She is currently finishing a book, Boundaries of the International, that explores European debates over legal relations with extra-European societies during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. 

Related websites:

** This updated series was produced by Nicola Luksic. The original series was produced by Bernie Lucht.