The writings of Alexis de Tocqueville are widely recognized as an indispensable resource for coming to terms with the political and spiritual condition of modern man. To be sure, some commentators continue to read him merely as the author of a travelogue, albeit one that is still remarkably relevant, rather than as the political philosopher and political sociologist that he was. The “making of democracy in America” included prodigious amounts of reading and reflection; it was much, much more than a simple chronicling of his experiences in the United States between May 1831 and February 1832. The nineteenth-century French statesman and political thinker Pierre Paul Royer-Collard was more on mark when he compared Tocqueville’s achievement in Democracy in America to Aristotle’s Politics and Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws.

Tocqueville kept two verbatim notebooks of the conversations he...


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