In celebration of Alexis de Tocqueville's 205th birthday, today, July 29. Standing against the French Revolution, the author of Democracy in America wrote what is likely the best book on modern democracy, the character it gives rise to, both virtues and vices. Whether it is the greatest book on America is problematic. Does not Tocqueville fail to appreciate the profundity of the American Founding, the danger of hard (as opposed to soft) despotism, and the significance of the Civil War and hence a common citizenship in combating the racial divide? Does he misleadingly conceive of equality as primarily a historical force and not a description of man's in-between status, his suspension between beastiality and divinity? Yet his appreciation of the strengths of civil society--in particular religion, associations, and the family--stands out among students of America.
My reservations concerning Tocqueville notwithstanding, Harvey Mansfield's brief book provides profound guidance about the primary source.