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
Remarks on the Mansfield-Winthrop Translation
Torpor and Rage
From Haute-Frêne to Hautefaye
Alain Corbin is a historian of astonishing range.1 Two of his works, The Life of an Unknown and The Village of Cannibals, exemplify the breadth of his historical vision. The latter reconstructs a murder that takes place in the village of Hautefaye in 1870, while the former recovers the lost world of a forgotten man who, as it happens, died within a few years of that event. The Village is thus a study of what Corbin calls, in the preface to The Life, “a fortuitous event” that casts “a brief and lurid light on the myriads of the disappeared.” But such events were, as Corbin reminds us, “exceptional, products of a paroxysm offering momentary access to an underlying reality without telling us much about the torpor of ordinary existences.” The torpor of ordinary existences: the phrase is striking, and it is not only an apt description of the life of Louis-François Pinagot but also an important clue to what Corbin believed was missing from the reigning schools of French historiography.
A Few Thoughts on the Future of French Studies
It is argued that the concept of “French studies” originally embodied in this journal was born of a unique constellation of social, cultural, and political forces characteristic of the middle years of the Cold War. The unity of the field defined by that moment was subsequently challenged by tensions inherent in the shift to a more transnational comparative perspective. A return to a ”reflective equilibrium” between the local and the global anchored in an emphasis on language and culture is advocated.
Explaining the Rise of the Front national
Political Rhetoric or Cultural Insecurity?
Laurent Bouvet, L'Insécurité culturelle (Paris: Fayard, 2015).
Cécile Alduy and Stéphane Wahnich, Marine Le Pen prise aux mots: Décryptage du nouveau discours frontiste
Tocqueville, Associations, and the Law of 1834
Tocqueville's account of the role of voluntary associations in democracy is discussed in relation to the French government's repressive Law of 1834. The context was one of insurrection in Lyon and the regime of Louis Philippe, itself the product of an insurrection only a few years before, was particularly nervous about conspiratorial associations, which it attempted to ban with the law in question. Because Tocqueville opposed this law, he emphasized the virtues of political association in the text of Democracy in America and ignored certain problematic characteristics of the one association he used to exemplify his general argument, namely, the “free trade association” that convened in Philadelphia in 1831 to oppose the so-called Tariff of Abominations.
Did Historians Make History?
Belief in the possibility of a revolutionary transformation of French society sustained much of the political and cultural ferment in France in the quarter century following the end of World War II. Perry Anderson, in two articles published in the London Review of Books, argues that the decline of this faith has cast a pall over France, and he traces this decline in large part to the work of historians François Furet and Pierre Nora. It is argued here that Anderson neglects broader economic, societal, and cultural forces that combined to undermine belief in the transformative power of revolution and is therefore led to an unduly pessimistic interpretation of the cultural turn of the 1970s.
A Brief Comment on Nancy Green's Essay
It was a pleasure to read Nancy Green’s elegant and perceptive essay on Tocqueville and the comparative history of immigration. Her piece stimulated me to offer a few observations, which Green suggested might usefully be appended as a footnote to her remarks.
As Green notes, the question of immigration can be raised in connection with Tocqueville in two ways: What does it tell us about Tocqueville’s thinking, and what does it tell us about the two countries that interest him, the United States and France?
The Future of French Culture
The evolution of French culture from the late nineteenth to the early twenty-first century is described as a succession of three "cultural configurations": humanist (or literary/philosophical), scientific/organic, and industrial. The transformation of the culture is linked to changes in the educational system in response to France's altered place in the global order after 1945. French attitudes toward, and internal critiques of, the shifting cultural hegemony are examined as both causes and consequences of these evolving configurations.