A revelatory intellectual biography of Tocqueville, told through his wide-ranging travels—most of them, aside from his journey to America, barely known.
It might be the most famous journey in the history of political thought: in 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville sailed from France to the United States, spent nine months touring and observing the political culture of the fledgling republic, and produced the classic Democracy in America.
But the United States was just one of the many places documented by the inveterate traveler. Jeremy Jennings follows Tocqueville’s voyages—by sailing ship, stagecoach, horseback, train, and foot—across Europe, North Africa, and of course North America. Along the way, Jennings reveals underappreciated aspects of Tocqueville’s character and sheds new light on the depth and range of his political and cultural commentary.
Despite recurrent ill health and ever-growing political responsibilities, Tocqueville never stopped moving or learning. He wanted to understand what made political communities tick, what elite and popular mores they rested on, and how they were adjusting to rapid social and economic change—the rise of democracy and the Industrial Revolution, to be sure, but also the expansion of empire and the emergence of socialism. He lauded the orderly, Catholic-dominated society of Quebec; presciently diagnosed the boisterous but dangerously chauvinistic politics of Germany; considered England the freest and most unequal place on Earth; deplored the poverty he saw in Ireland; and championed French colonial settlement in Algeria.
Drawing on correspondence, published writings, speeches, and the recollections of contemporaries, Travels with Tocqueville Beyond America is a panoramic combination of biography, history, and political theory that fully reflects the complex, restless mind at its center.
In a magisterial biography, [Jennings] retraces the footsteps of Tocqueville, not just across America, but on his other foreign excursions—always with a notebook in hand and driven by a voracious intellectual curiosity…A highly readable introduction to the work of one of the 19th century’s most insightful political theorists, as well as a persuasive defence of his ideas.
Jennings proves a splendid guide to Tocqueville’s travels…Tocqueville’s was, Beaumont wrote, ‘a great intelligence united with a noble heart.’ This same Tocqueville comes through in…Travels With Tocqueville—a man of moral seriousness, who combined subtlety with common sense, an original thinker both whom and about whom one cannot read too often or too much.
Jennings offers a sweeping account of the nineteenth-century French aristocrat. Through a thorough examination of Alexis de Tocqueville’s personal correspondence, the author has produced a biography not only of the man in question, but also of his close friend and fellow political scientist Gustave de Beaumont. Their stories are intertwined and, in Jennings’s eyes, an understanding of their relationship is integral to understanding Tocqueville’s work…Jennings excels in his treatment of the relationship between Tocqueville and Beaumont.
Composed in an unvarnished but attractive style, alive to scholarly controversy but not mired in it, respectful of the reader’s intellect, and profoundly knowledgeable about its subject matter…Jennings’s book successfully reframes one of modernity’s most worked-over European writers and offers an elegant introduction to the mind-melting complexity of the international interactions that reshaped the nineteenth-century world.
Tocqueville, an aristocrat at heart—despite his serious liberal commitments—who liked to associate with people in similar positions and was influenced by them, nonetheless appears in Jennings’ portrait as a discerning tourist…Americans, he perceived, shared an implicit belief in human perfectibility…This kind of observation is what makes Tocqueville such a rewarding author to read.
Travels with Tocqueville Beyond America invites reflection…on what it is to travel and theorize a ‘new political science for a world altogether new.’ By implication, Jennings also invites reflection on the significance of home and our points of departure, on our loves of the new and of the old, and on the quest for rest in a restless, rapidly shifting world.
Jennings has given us nuance against the cliché of Tocqueville; he has given us the process and the dynamics—not just the results and expected outcomes. Jennings is not just interested in ‘the man who understood democracy’…Instead, Jennings has given us more: the man who also questioned democracy and the democratic process.
[As] Jennings illustrates in his new book, not only were Tocqueville’s extensive wanderings remarkable for their variety and length. He looked at cities ranging from Manchester to Quebec City and countries as different as Ireland and Switzerland through an uncommon lens…Without his penchant for travel, Tocqueville would not have been the figure whose ideas continue to fascinate and stimulate.
A superb study of the distinctive character of Tocqueville’s mind. Few scholars are as well equipped as Jennings to offer such penetrating insights into the origins of Tocqueville’s comparative method of political analysis.
This is intellectual biography at its best. Following Tocqueville on his many travels, and drawing extensively on his letters and journals, Jennings offers an erudite and riveting new portrait of the great liberal thinker whose influence is still keenly felt on both sides of the Atlantic.
Guiding us along Tocqueville’s paths through North America, Europe, and North Africa, Jennings deftly analyzes his abundant and meticulous notes on each place that he visited. At every turn, this book considerably enriches our understanding of Tocqueville’s democracy as inherently comparative.
This is what many of us have waited for: a readable and engaging account of Tocqueville’s myriad travels and their impact on his intellectual development. Written by one of the leading experts on French political thought, it is at once impeccably researched, insightful, and thought-provoking. In short, a brilliant book.
- 544 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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