“It is with a bit of trepidation that I begin discussing with my students in positive sociology this week Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. Is a work written in the 1830s relevant nearly 200 years later? When I assign readings from 1985 my students say, “Gee, this is old and out of context,” so how will they respond to a book from 1835? Will they dismiss Tocqueville’s insights or writing style as irrelevant to their everyday concerns and the concerns of our nation? As the book’s title suggests, Tocqueville ventured to the U.S. from France to find out: what makes American democracy work?
The 600-page volume he produced is quite likely still the best assessment of American culture that has ever been written. In this masterpiece that has now become a foundational piece for cultural literacy, Tocqueville writes as a foreigner (he was a Frenchman) and to foreigners (his book was originally published in French for a French audience) about what cultural and social forms distinctly American, and how those distinct American social and cultural traits uphold the great American experiment in democracy…”