"THE NATIONS OF OUR TIME CANNOT PREVENT THE CONDITIONS OF MAN FROM BECOMING EQUAL": TOCQUEVILLE'S DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA
TOCQUEVILLE, Alexis de. Democracy in America… Translated by Henry Reeve. WITH: Democracy in America. Part the Second. London: Saunders and Otley, 1838, 1840. Four volumes. Octavo, original brown cloth. $12,500.
First and early English translations of Tocqueville's classic work, "one of the most important texts in political literature" (PMM 358), comprising together the complete translation in English (third edition in English of the first part and the first edition in English of the second), with folding color-outlined "Statistical Map of North America."
"One of the most important texts in political literature" (PMM 358) and "the first systematic and empirical study of the effects of political power on modern society" (Nisbet), Democracy in America originated in a trip commissioned by the French government to study the American penal system in 1831-32. "This is by far the best book ever written about America, and the most penetrating book ever written about democracy. It won instant acclaim, not only in the writer's native France, where Royer-Collard declared: 'Nothing equal to it had appeared since Montesquieu,' but in England, where John Stuart Mill hailed it as 'among the most remarkable productions of our time.' Its central theme is that democracy has become inevitable; that it is, with certain qualifications, desirable; but that it has great potentialities for evil as well as good, depending upon how well it is understood and guided. In the view of de Tocqueville, the greatest danger that threatens democracy is its tendency toward the centralization and concentration of power… There is revived interest in Tocqueville today because of what seems like the uncanny clairvoyance of his prophecies. For example (this by a Frenchman in 1835): 'There are at the present time two great nations in the world, which started from different points, but seem to tend towards the same end. I allude to the Russians and the Americans… The principal instrument of [America] is liberty; of [Russia] servitude. Their starting point is different and their courses are not the same; yet each of them seems marked by the will of Heaven to sway the destinies of half the globe'" (Hazlitt, 163).
Tocqueville "had been impressed, in America, by the success with which the principles of liberty and equality evolved in the Old World had been applied to meet the needs of a new civilization governed by different ideals and different physical conditions… he set down his observations on the American people and the American political scene in La Démocratie en Amérique… His conclusions were that the trend of history was irresistibly towards equality; and that the future of France, indeed of the Western world, was bound up with the acceptance of democratic principles, these being the one effective means of avoiding submission to tyranny" (Harvey & Heseltine, 711). In 1835, the first edition of the first part of the work (Volumes I and II) was published in Paris, followed in the same year by the English translation, "and throughout the intellectual circles of western Europe both democracy and America took on a new aspect and a new significance in political speculation" (NYU, 955). The first edition of the second part of the work (Volumes III and IV) was published in Paris in 1840. Howes T278, 279. Sabin 96060. Bookseller blindstamp to front free endpaper of first volume; binder's ticket to rear pastedown.
Spine gilt somewhat faded, light wear to spine ends, inner paper hinges of Volume II of first part tender. An extremely good set in the original cloth.