To write the biography of a thinker is a difficult thing. His thought claims our attention at a level above the doings and deeds of his life, the latter irrelevant to the truth of his thought. “Aristotle was born, philosophized, and died.” That’s all you need to know when reading Aristotle (perhaps close to all you can know). Yet Alexis de Tocqueville had a life more significant to his thought than Aristotle’s. He was in the first place preoccupied with his time, the time when democracy came out of the shadows in which it had been gathering force for centuries to emerge “in broad daylight” (one of Tocqueville’s favorite phrases), visible in form and loud of voice. His time was no mere context surrounding or enveloping his thought but rather the center of his intent. In his Souvenirs and The Old Regime, as well as in Democracy in America, the nature of modern democracy is the main object of his...


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