Archives For Alexis De Tocqueville

“The surface of American society is covered with a layer of democratic paint, but from time to time one can see the old aristocratic colours breaking through.”
– Alexis de Tocqueville
who was born on this date, 1805
Poem of the Day:
(A song actually)
Skin by Bill Mallonee
About Vincent Van Gogh
who died on this date, 1890)

Kindle Ebook Deal of the Day: 
(The Newbery Award Winning)
Walk Two Moons

by Sharon Creech

Only $3.74!
*** Today is Creech’s birthday, she is 69.
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The Wake Up Call – July 29, 2014


“A Citizen In Search of a City

A Review of
Tocqueville’s Discovery of America.
By Leo Damrosch.

Reviewed by
Mark Eckel.

Tocqueville’s Discovery of America.
By Leo Damrosch.

Hardback: FSG, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Leo Damrosch - Tocqueville's Discovery of AmericaEveryone claims and quotes him, but not all understand him.  Tocqueville has been lauded in multiple circles, snippets of writing heralded as revelation for one cause or another.  Like other famed authors, name-dropping, quote-swapping present day promoters project their point of view through past figures, whose personal life is largely unknown.  Thankfully, the task of understanding the French sociologist is now benefited by Leo Damrosch’s brilliant study, Tocqueville’s Discovery of America.

His own country in an uproar for some two score years by his lifetime, Tocqueville sought another, more stable form of order.  Always on his mind was his homeland.  Comparisons to the French way of life were consistently being made.  Whereas in America “free association” (116) often took place without incident the French relied on soldiers to keep order.  So, a unified yet decentralized government mystified Tocqueville.  He constantly voiced a wish that the American mindset could eradicate French authoritarianism.  He ogled local governments where people ruled themselves.  Competition of ideas gained power without force.  The Federalist Papers showed “how abstract ideas could be given life in practical institutions” (191).  Voluntary associations were a result of positive individualism leading to small government and large community commitment.  An important theme Damrosch establishes is how much local American voices are transposed into Democracy.  The observations belong to Tocqueville but the origin of ideas often came from the mouths of Americans.

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A New Book of Alexis De  Tocqueville.

At a conference on Democracy in America several years ago, one of the speakers took up Alexis de Tocqueville’s prediction that increased centralization and equality in the United States would produce the “soft despotism” of a “schoolmaster” state: “Above [the citizens] rises an immense tutelary power that alone takes charge of ensuring their pleasures and watching over their fate,” Tocqueville writes.

It is absolute, detailed, regular, farsighted, and mild. It would resemble paternal power if its object was to prepare men for adult life, but it seeks on the contrary to keep them in permanent childhood. It likes citizens to enjoy themselves, so long as all they think about is enjoyment …. The sovereign power doesn’t break their wills, but it softens, bends, and directs them. It rarely compels action, but it constantly opposes action. It doesn’t destroy, but it prevents birth; it doesn’t tyrannize, but it hinders, represses, enervates, restrains, and numbs, until it reduces each nation to a mere flock of timid and industrious animals, with the government as their shepherd.

Read the full review:

Tocqueville’s Discovery of America.
Leo Damrosch.
Hardback: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010
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How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All

By Marilyn Johnson

One day, apparently before the rise of Google Book Search, Marilyn Johnson made an odd request at the New York Public Library. She needed to find the symptoms of an imaginary illness called “information sickness,” which she recollected from a 1981 novel by Ted Mooney, “Easy Travel to Other Planets.” She couldn’t find her own copy, so a team of librarians went spelunking in the stacks, wearing miner’s helmets, as Johnson tells it. They surfaced with a copy preserved, strangely enough, on micro­film, and soon Johnson was reading the dimly remembered passage in which a woman keels over, blood gushing from her nose and ears as she raves about disconnected facts. When the woman recovers from her fugue state, she says: “I was dazzled. I couldn’t tell where one thing left off and the next began.”

Read the full review:

How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All.

Marilyn Johnson.
Hardback: HarperCollins, 2010.
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A Review of the Recent Movie
About the Latter Years of Leo Tolstoy’s Life
The Last Station,
From our Friends at Jesus Manifesto

“Everything I know I know only because I love”
Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

This is the quote that opens The Last Station, a film based on the novel by Jay Perini. The Last Station chronicles the final years of perhaps the greatest writer of the 20th century, Leo Tolstoy. Featuring terrific performances by Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer, it is a simple film and slightly specialized, but gives us a glimpse into the epic life and marriage Tolstoy had.

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