Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Delba Winthrop

Delba Winthrop died yesterday after a long struggle with cancer. She translated, with her husband Harvey Mansfield, Tocqueville’s DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA. She was a first-rate and often quite innovative authority on Aristotle, Solzhenitysn, Tocqueville, and, more generally, on the most realistic and responsible currents of Western thought. Here’s a sample of her thought, drawn from the December, 2002 SOCIETY:

Tocqueville wanted to visit America, he said, to see what a great (grande) republic is like--and by that I doubt he meant "big." He was an unabashed lover of liberty and a hesistant admirer of democratic equality. The latter he endorsed in the end because in its justice he could appreciate "its greatness and its beauty." He, in a tacit departure from most liberals, does not ground democratic equality on natural rights discovered in a state of nature, but accepts equality as a fact and looks to the kind of life democracy may provide. In an explicit departure from them, he would gladly trade some modern virtues for the singular "vice" of pride....For Tocqueville, democracies must think about honor and greatness in addition to justice and interest because meaningful democratic self-government cannot long survive without this thoughtfulness.

Discussions - 3 Comments

May she Rest in Peace.

May I add my "Amen. Amen." I could recount the many articles by her from which I learned so much; I could recount the public performances by her that I attended and was delighted by her intelligence and droll wit; but two other things linger with me right now. As a young(er) scholar, just breaking into the polisci field, I was a respondent on a panel on dissident thought (we all were dissidents within the field of polisci, but that’s another story). She was the other respondent. I was as daunted as a fellow could be, especially since I was to go before her. She, however, was oh so gracious, and even referred to some things I’d said and complimented me. It meant the world at the time.
She also was one of the very few people who could publicly correct "Harvey." (I’ve also seen this with Amy and Leon Kass.) She showed me - long before Harvey wrote about it - the need that the manly have for the Tecmessa-like voice of reason. (If you don’t know the reference, read Sophocles’s Ajax and Mary Nichols’ commentary thereon.)

Requiescat in pace.

Paul, Thanks for those fine Delba memories. The funeral is tomorrow at Beth Emet synagogue, at the corner of Ridge and Dempster, in Evanston, IL. Harvey understands, of course, that attending would be impossibly difficult for anyone not already in the immediate area. There are also plans for a memorial for her sometime fairly soon in Cambridge. I’ll post more when I know more.

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