Preface  pp. ix-xii


By Harvey Mitchell

Image View Previous Chapter Next Chapter

This book has its roots in my earlier book, Individual Choice and the Structures of History: Alexis de Tocqueville as Historian Reappraised (1996), which pursued Tocqueville's passionate belief that if people in the modern age wanted to enlarge the conditions of their liberty, they could not neglect the study of the past. His passion for “pondering the future” was just as intense. He conjured up the phrase for his readers with magisterial hyperbole, yet serious purpose — not common in a man only thirty — to articulate his reasons for thinking and writing about American democracy. America seized his imagination and would not let it go, from his very first visit to his declining years, during which he continued to correspond with Americans he had befriended. He summoned up his intellectual powers to tell his readers in Europe that they must recognize and acknowledge America as a wholly new and daringly innovative social and political experiment that would weigh heavily, not only on the future of Americans, but of Europeans as well. My earlier book dwelt on Tocqueville's conception of the fragile links between individual agency and large historical forces that live on opposite sides of an opaque curtain. It did not neglect the ways in which much of the power of Democracy in America rested on his sharp contrasts between aristocratic and democratic society.