In 2008, The French critic Lucien Jaume published an interpretation of Alexis de Tocqueville that won a prize from the Académie Française. An English version by the eminent translator Arthur Goldhammer has now appeared, which is a second recommendation. The book’s subtitle, “The Aristocratic Sources of Liberty,” reveals that it takes up a worthy and understudied topic in today’s theorizing about democracy—which amounts to a third recommendation. To put it more plainly and aggressively: Can a democracy sustain itself without the help of its rival, apparently its enemy, aristocracy?

M. Jaume does not raise this question directly. His book studies Tocqueville through Tocqueville’s French contemporaries. On the basis of a letter in which Tocqueville says that, in writing Democracy in America, he always had his own country in mind, M. Jaume concludes that...

 

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