Penn State

Scott Metzger - Associate Professor of Education, Penn State University Park

Book Title: Democracy in America

Author: Alexis de Tocqueville (translated and edited by Harvey C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop)

Book Description:

Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America is a timeless work of democratic theory and political philosophy. Tocqueville viewed democracy not just as a form of government but as an inexorable historical force for equality with both admirable and troubling consequences -- in particular, what egalitarian tyranny of thought and conformity would do to intellectual and spiritual culture. How tensions between liberty and equality affect the intergenerational project of human knowledge is a critical question that has always brought me as an educator and scholar of the social studies back to Democracy in America. Democratic equality of conditions and opportunity have made it possible for more people than ever before in human history to participate in the enterprise of cumulative human knowledge, but potential stifling effects of majoritarian tyranny, isolating individualism, and restiveness caused by mobility and materialism may undermine the liberty of thought and cultural seriousness of purpose essential to the vibrancy of the enterprise. Free thinking, and ideas that are weighty rather than diverting, may wither under the "moral empire" of majority tastes and opinion (whether rationally informed or fleetingly irrational) against which there can be no appeal for its targets.

It is my hope that Penn State students of education and the history, political philosophy, and sociology of what Tocqueville called "democratic centuries" will always find this excellent translation of his foundational work and the masterly introduction by Harvey Mansfield and Delba Winthrop


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