In 1831, French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville traveled across the ocean to the United States and spent nine months traversing what is now the eastern half of our country. Observing, listening, engaging in conversation, Tocqueville studied our ways and manners. The end-result was an epic treatment of our society at that moment in history.
For years I have been reading more recent historians and political commentators as they make reference to Alexis de Tocqueville and his monumental work, ‘Democracy in America.’ For just as many years I have been impressed whenever the 19th century French observer is quoted.
This past weekend, I finally set myself down to listen to the audiobook. And it was a wonder indeed. This should be required reading for every American.
Being only a few decades removed from the founding of this great nation, Tocqueville was able to speak with men and women who had either some first-hand memory of the American Revolution, or else had been raised by parents who participated in it.
What is so refreshing about it all is that Tocqueville engages in neither hero worship of early America, nor in the demonizing revisionism which is so typical of our day. This lends his account powerful and compelling credibility.
Where America merits a chiding and just criticism, no punches are pulled. But where America deserves full marks for extraordinary and laudable qualities, these are not glossed over or ignored just because the nation is peopled by imperfect creatures who made mistakes.
In short, ‘Democracy in America’ is not just instructive to our nation’s history. It’s exemplary as a way of studying and discussing people and events. Give it a read with a view to personal growth, and you won’t be sorry you did.
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