Remarks on the Mansfield-Winthrop Translation

in French Politics, Culture & Society
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In the course of preparing a new translation of Democracy in America (to be published by the Library of America), I have had occasion to look closely at the recent translation by the distinguished political scientists Harvey Mansfield and Delba Winthrop. The volume begins with a brilliant introductory essay that has to count among the best brief accounts of Tocqueville’s work.1 Mansfield and Winthrop then vigorously defend a particular view of translation. Their intent, they say, is to be “as literal and consistent as we can, while still readable.” They also seek to be “modest, cautious, and faithful.”2 They are critical of the work of their predecessors Henry Reeve and George Lawrence on the grounds that these “literary persons,” not being students of the text in the sense that “philosophers” are students of texts, “presume to know the meaning of the author. That, they believe, is no more difficult to acquire than by looking in a dictionary, or by experience not needing to look in a dictionary. … Neither translator had in mind the need to study the book.”3

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