DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA

DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA

By Alexis de TocquevilIe; transl. Ly Harvey C. Mansfield and DeILa Wintlnq. Univ. of Chicago Press. 722 pp. $35

Share:
Read Time:
6m 24sec




deny him the promotions he deserved. There were excuses enough. In the 1930s, he had briefly dallied with communism. In the late 1940s, he had argued that Britain could neither trust nor rely on the United States, and should seek national security through an alliance with Stalin’s Soviet Union. In the 1950s, he helped found the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Burk, an American who was Taylor’s last graduate student, has mastered the vicious sub-tleties of the British class system and managed to produce a biography that is fair and well judged. She comprehends both Taylor’s resentments and the attitudes of his enemies, including the unholy glee they took in his wife’s infidelities (with, among others, Dylan Thomas). Above all, she conveys Taylor’s dis-tinction as a historian, a career to which he came late, after a false start in law. His Struggle for Mastery in Europe, 1848–1918 (1954) remains the outstanding diplomatic history of the decades leading up to the First World War. It was the first study in English to take account of the diplomatic doc-uments in German (which he learned in Vienna in the late 1920s), French (which he learned at school), and Russian (which he taught himself). British historians had done superb work in the British archives; Taylor was perhaps the first to take these forensic skills to archives abroad. His most infamous book, The Origins of the Second World War (1961), argued that Hitler, though indisputably wicked, acted as a rational statesman in Euro-pean affairs, pursuing logical and traditional German goals and then pushing his luck when he realized the feebleness of the French and British responses. From, in Taylor’s words, "all that was best and most enlightened in British public life" came the disastrous policy of appeasement. As controversy raged over the book, Alec Douglas-Home, a loyal appeaser at Neville Chamberlain’s side in Munich, was Britain’s foreign secretary; in 1963, he became prime minister. No wonder Taylor sneered that the British establish-ment always won in the end, however grievous its mistakes. DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA. By Alexis de Tocqueville; transl. by Harvey C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop. Univ. of Chicago Press. 722 pp. $35 I first encountered Democracy in America in the 1835–40 Henry Reeve translation (revised by Francis Bowen, edited by Phillips Bradley), and fell in love with its rolling sen-tences and flowing turns of phrase. The more highly praised 1966 translation by George Lawrence and J. P. Mayer, with its dif-ferent phrasing and, at certain points, different interpretations, jarred me; I found myself going back to Reeve to make cer-tain my memory wasn’t play-ing tricks. Though the Lawrence-Mayer volume seemed more lucid on some matters, the fluidity of the earlier translation and its older usages provided an appropriately 19th-century feel. A few days with the French original persuad-

Well sustained by the documentary record, his argument was formidable, and "all that was best and most enlightened" never forgave him. His students saw nothing to forgive and much to admire in the only Oxford lecturer who could fill a hall at 9 a.m. and still have standing room only at the end of term. His TV audience marveled at a man who could deliver, without a note or a pause, 30 polished minutes of witty, anecdotal, and informed scholarship and end, with a perfect epigram, on the dot of time. He was a performer who made history fun, and, as this admirable biography shows, history gave him a great deal of pleasure in return. Moreover, the money was good. From teaching, books, broadcasting, and freelance journalism, he earned the equivalent in today’s values of well over $250,000 a year from the late 1950s into the 1980s. No wonder he always looked forward to the day he would spend making out his income tax returns.

—Martin Walker

Spring 2001 123


Current Books

ed me that the Lawrence-Mayer version was generally the more reliable, but, like the Reeve, it often seemed rather free spirited.

In this new translation, Harvard University political scientists Mansfield and Winthrop adopt a decidedly literal approach, striving above all to translate the French faithfully. (I regret that they did not use the more literal title for Tocqueville’s classic, On Democracy in America, to signal their fidelity, but sticking to the traditional English title was probably necessary to avert confusion.) They seek "to convey Tocqueville’s thought as he held it rather than to restate it in comparable terms of today," and to provide a readable text in terms of "what can easily be read now, not what we might normally say." In a long introduction—which is a short book in itself—they provide the best entry point into Tocqueville’s thought now available in English.

As Tocqueville attempts to analyze with impartiality the new regime of democracy and the old regime of aristocracy, his key terms include la liberté, l’individualisme, and l’égalité. One sentence uses all three words, and the three versions of the sentence suggest the different spirits animating the translators. Tocqueville writes: "Les Américains ont combattu par la liberté l’individualisme que l’égalité faisait naître, et ils l’ont vaincu." Reeve-Bradley: "The Americans have combated by free institutions the tendency of equality to keep men asunder, and they have subdued it." Lawrence-Mayer: "The Americans have used liberty to combat the individualism born of equality, and they have won." Mansfield-Winthrop: "The Americans have combated the individualism to which equality gives birth with freedom, and they have defeated it."

In retrospect, I am glad that I was introduced to this classic in the melodious, freer translation of Reeve and Bradley. But I would now direct new readers to Mansfield-Winthrop, where they are assured of getting much closer to the original thought. A rare spirit such as Tocqueville’s, after all, induces respect; one wishes to fit one’s mind as exactly as possible into the nuances of his thinking. It is not often that scholars of high stature show such reverence for greatness in others that they submit their own egos to full and faithful service, but that is the gift Mansfield and Winthrop render Tocqueville, and the noble service they render us.

—Michael Novak



COMRADES AT ODDS: The United States and India, 1947–1964.

By Andrew J. Rotter. Cornell Univ. Press. 337 pp. $55 hardcover, $19.95 paper

Since India gained independence in 1947, its relations with the United States have been stormy. The years 1947 to 1964, during which Jawaharlal Nehru led India, were particularly contentious. The strains stemmed from the wars in Korea and Vietnam, U.S. reliance on nuclear weapons, decolonization, rising nationalism (often with anti-American overtones) in Asia and Africa, and New Delhi’s refusal to accept the American view of the Cold War as a Manichaean struggle against evil incarnate. Washington also stirred feelings of anger and betrayal by embracing Pakistan as a Cold War ally and by supplying it with military arms—weapons that New Delhi rightly understood were likely to be used against India, not the Soviet Union. Little wonder that historians addressing Indian-American relations have chosen such titles as Estranged Democracies, The Cold Peace, and now Comrades at Odds.

Rotter, a historian at Colgate University, places these mostly familiar events in a fresh light by concentrating on their cultural contexts. In his thematic approach, each chapter uses case studies to illustrate the differences growing out of a specific cultural construct. Race, religion, gender, class (or caste), and "governance" take their places alongside the more traditional categories of strategy and economics.

For Rotter and other practitioners of the "new" international history, culturally induced perceptions take precedence over political and security issues. Stereotypes, images, and clichés replace power and economics as tools of analysis. Missionaries stand alongside pres

124 Wilson Quarterly



More From This Issue