In considering the complex relationship between author and translator, Harvey Mansfield and Delba Winthrop observe with insight that all translators of texts—we might add readers of texts—are ultimately unable to ignore what they think they know.1 Inevitably my response to their work is shaped by what I think I know about Tocqueville—and like Professors Richter and Drescher—what I think I know about his context and intended audience. Although Mansfield and Winthrop’s hope is to remove the translator as much as possible from Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, and to give us his text in pristine form with philosophical subtleties intact, they too give us a translation that is marked by presupposition and a desire to harmonize the whole. After a brief consideration of their “literal” translation strategy, I want to turn to one particular example of how the Tocqueville of this new translation speaks to us in a voice inflected by what his translators think they know.
Cheryl B. Welch
A Literal Translation and Its Consequences
The French journal, Raisons politiques, devoted its February 2001 issue to “Le Moment Tocquevillien.” What is but a moment for France has lasted for more than a century and a half in the United States. Here, admiration of Tocqueville, always great, has now reached the point where readers will soon have to decide among three entirely new translations of Democracy in America: this one by Harvey Mansfield and Delba Winthrop,1 James Schleifer’s, for the Liberty Fund, and Arthur Goldhammer’s for the Library of America. How should their audience go about choosing among them?
Alexis de Tocqueville's Comparative Views on Women and Marriage in France and the United States
Jean Elisabeth Pedersen
published the two volumes of his famous Democracy in America in 1835 and 1840. 1 Many scholars have written on Tocqueville's comparative views of French and American democracy, but not nearly as many have taken an interest in his comparative views of
At the beginning of the twenty-first century Democracy in America (1835-1840) reverberates through US political culture with more vibrancy than at any time since its original appearance.1 Newspapers and news magazines have abundantly applied Tocqueville’s observations to our latest election crisis. As soon as it was published this new volume’s editor was immediately rewarded with an appearance on National Public Radio. Beyond its additional testimony to a culture hero’s iconic status, what does the prodigious effort involved in producing a new translation add to the fund of Tocqueville scholarship? This is the first version to appear in thirty-five years and the third since 1945.2 The editors’ aim was to make theirs the most literal of all renderings. Only in deference to 165 years of tradition did they exclude the French particle from their title (i.e. On, or Concerning, Democracy in America). The translators are implacably true to their word. This version even replicates the original French word order as closely as possible. A more quotable Tocqueville is consciously sacrificed in the name of accuracy, but the reader can be assured that this is as close to the original as we are likely to get. Very rarely, such devotion to fidelity produces jarring history. We learn, for example, that Virginia’s success as a settlement was assured by the timely arrival of “farmers and industrialists”; industriels is more aptly translated as mechanics or artisans (31).
Although it is not much mentioned in the scholarly literature, the school shows up as an important motif in both volumes of Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America. Tocqueville distinguished between civic education, which he saw as crucially important to the survival of democracy, and scholastic education, which could threaten it. There is a tension between these educations, which becomes clearer upon noticing Tocqueville's support for the political doctrine of freedom of education, which was so important in French politics during the July Monarchy (1830-1848). The source of this tension lies in Tocqueville's understanding of the American social condition and decentralized administration as being amenable to civic education, while centralized France precluded it. This tension is mediated, the article suggests, by Tocqueville's perception of the essential religiosity of French society.
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.
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
Delba Winthrop and Harvey C. Mansfield
Seymour Drescher is a fine economic and social historian and Tocqueville scholar; Arthur Goldhammer is among the best translators of French working today; Melvin Richter is a distinguished scholar of the history of European political thought; Cheryl Welch is a judicious analyst of French political thought. We are grateful to them for the generous spirit in which they have called to our attention some errors and difficulties in our translation of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America—and, of course, chagrined that they should have been there to find. Some of the corrections are of careless errors, for which there is no excuse. Others are of confusions caused either by our occasional failure to supply a noun to replace a pronoun whose referent is clear in French, but unclear in English, or by our inconsistent translation of the French indefinite pronoun on. These, too, we should have caught. Still other criticisms identify different choices they would have made. We respect each sort of criticism. But the corrections do not dispose of the issue of what principles should be brought to bear in translating.
Ali Aslam, David McIvor, and Joel Alden Schlosser
. Populism's Power: Radical Grassroots Democracy in America . Oxford : Oxford University Press . Harney , Stefano , and Fred Moten. 2017 . The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study . Wivenhoe : Minor Compositions . Haro , Lia , and
Holding Our Lives in Their Hands
Nancy L. Rosenblum
compromised sense of reality on the nation. The most brazen assignments of meaning to the virus descend from this high ground of human nature to partisanship; they reflect the schisms that afflict democracy in America. “We are all in this together” is