The Life of Democracy’s Interpreter

In Law & Liberty this week, Theodore Dalrymple reviews a rather well-written biography of that famous French observer of the American republican project, Alexis de Tocqueville.

One cannot but remember the famous line in The Third Man, that while despotism in Florence had produced Michelangelo, five hundred years of democracy in Switzerland had produced the cuckoo clock. Tocqueville was famously alive to the drawbacks of the democratic spirit, for example its tendency to pander to foolish or ungenerous passions, to promote conformity, to bring to the fore ambitious mediocrities, and so forth.

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