Historically Thinking

Historically Thinking

Episode 263: The Man Who Understood Democracy (Part Two)

May 09, 2022

This is the second and final part of my conversation with Olivier Zunz about his new biography of Alexis de Tocqueville, The Man Who Understood Democracy, just published by Princeton University Press.

When last we left Tocqueville, he had just experienced a brilliant success with the publication of the first volume of Democracy in America. In this conversation, we will as promised discuss Tocqueville’s formative trip to Britain, and how it influenced his writing of volume II of Democracy; his political career; his experiences of the revolution of 1848, and the Second Empire; his great work The Ancien Régime and the French Revolution; and his death at a moment when it seemed that in both France and America the experiment to which he had devoted his life was on the point of failure.

Olivier Zunz is the James Madison Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Virginia. He is the author, most recently, of Philanthropy in America: A History (also published by Princeton University Press ). He has edited the Library of America edition of Democracy in America, Tocqueville’s Recollections: The French Revolution of 1848 and Its Aftermath, Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont in America: Their Friendship and Their Travels, all in collaboration with the translator Arthur Goldhammer. He has also co-edited The Tocqueville Reader: A Life in Letters and Politics.

For Further Investigation

Exploring American Democracy with Alexis de Tocqueville as Guide: a 2015 seminar led by Olivier Zunz and Arthur Goldhammer at the University of Virginia still has a website, with an unparalleled collection of resources, including bibliographies of magnificent detail.
Arthur Goldhammer describes his collaboration with Olivier Zunz: a "harmonious collaboration" that became an "intellectual friendship"
The benchmark historical-critical edition of Democracy in America by Eduardo Nolla