Tocqueville between Two Worlds: The Making of a Political and Theoretical Life

Princeton University Press
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Alexis de Tocqueville may be the most influential political thinker in American history. He also led an unusually active and ambitious career in French politics. In this magisterial book, one of America's most important contemporary theorists draws on decades of research and thought to present the first work that fully connects Tocqueville's political and theoretical lives. In doing so, Sheldon Wolin presents sweeping new interpretations of Tocqueville's major works and of his place in intellectual history. As he traces the origins and impact of Tocqueville's ideas, Wolin also offers a profound commentary on the general trajectory of Western political life over the past two hundred years.

Wolin proceeds by examining Tocqueville's key writings in light of his experiences in the troubled world of French politics. He portrays Democracy in America, for example, as a theory of discovery that emerged from Tocqueville's contrasting experiences of America and of France's constitutional monarchy. He shows us how Tocqueville used Recollections to reexamine his political commitments in light of the revolutions of 1848 and the threat of socialism. He portrays The Old Regime and the French Revolution as a work of theoretical history designed to throw light on the Bonapartist despotism he saw around him. Throughout, Wolin highlights the tensions between Tocqueville's ideas and his activities as a politician, arguing that--despite his limited political success--Tocqueville was ''perhaps the last influential theorist who can be said to have truly cared about political life.''

In the course of the book, Wolin also shows that Tocqueville struggled with many of the forces that constrain politics today, including the relentless advance of capitalism, of science and technology, and of state bureaucracy. He concludes that Tocqueville's insights and anxieties about the impotence of politics in a ''postaristocratic'' era speak directly to the challenges of our own ''postdemocratic'' age. A monumental new study of Tocqueville, this is also a rich and provocative work about the past, the present, and the future of democratic life in America and abroad.

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About the author

Sheldon S. Wolin is Emeritus Professor of Politics, Princeton University. He also taught for many years at the University of California, Berkeley. His most famous book, Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought, influenced a generation of political theorists.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Feb 9, 2009
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Pages
664
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ISBN
9781400824793
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Language
English
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Genres
Philosophy / Political
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Sheldon S. Wolin
Politics and Vision is a landmark work by one of the great thinkers of the twentieth century. This is a significantly expanded edition of one of the greatest works of modern political theory. Sheldon Wolin's Politics and Vision inspired and instructed two generations of political theorists after its appearance in 1960. Substantially expanded for republication in 2004, it is both a sweeping survey of Western political thought and a powerful account of contemporary predicaments of power and democracy. In lucid and compelling prose, Sheldon Wolin offers original, subtle, and often surprising interpretations of political theorists from Plato to Rawls. Situating them historically while sounding their depths, he critically engages their diverse accounts of politics, theory, power, justice, citizenship, and institutions. The new chapters, which show how thinkers have grappled with the immense possibilities and dangers of modern power, are themselves a major theoretical statement. They culminate in Wolin’s remarkable argument that the United States has invented a new political form, "inverted totalitarianism,“ in which economic rather than political power is dangerously dominant. In this expanded edition, the book that helped to define political theory in the late twentieth century should energize, enlighten, and provoke generations of scholars to come.

Wolin originally wrote Politics and Vision to challenge the idea that political analysis should consist simply of the neutral observation of objective reality. He argues that political thinkers must also rely on creative vision. Wolin shows that great theorists have been driven to shape politics to some vision of the Good that lies outside the existing political order. As he tells it, the history of theory is thus, in part, the story of changing assumptions about the Good.

Acclaimed as a tour de force when it was first published, and a major scholarly event when the expanded edition appeared, Politics and Vision will instruct, inspire, and provoke for generations to come.

Sheldon S. Wolin
Democracy is struggling in America--by now this statement is almost cliché. But what if the country is no longer a democracy at all? In Democracy Incorporated, Sheldon Wolin considers the unthinkable: has America unwittingly morphed into a new and strange kind of political hybrid, one where economic and state powers are conjoined and virtually unbridled? Can the nation check its descent into what the author terms "inverted totalitarianism"?

Wolin portrays a country where citizens are politically uninterested and submissive--and where elites are eager to keep them that way. At best the nation has become a "managed democracy" where the public is shepherded, not sovereign. At worst it is a place where corporate power no longer answers to state controls. Wolin makes clear that today's America is in no way morally or politically comparable to totalitarian states like Nazi Germany, yet he warns that unchecked economic power risks verging on total power and has its own unnerving pathologies. Wolin examines the myths and mythmaking that justify today's politics, the quest for an ever-expanding economy, and the perverse attractions of an endless war on terror. He argues passionately that democracy's best hope lies in citizens themselves learning anew to exercise power at the local level.

Democracy Incorporated is one of the most worrying diagnoses of America's political ills to emerge in decades. It is sure to be a lightning rod for political debate for years to come. Now with a new introduction by Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Chris Hedges, Democracy Incorporated remains an essential work for understanding the state of democracy in America.

Sheldon S. Wolin
Democracy is struggling in America--by now this statement is almost cliché. But what if the country is no longer a democracy at all? In Democracy Incorporated, Sheldon Wolin considers the unthinkable: has America unwittingly morphed into a new and strange kind of political hybrid, one where economic and state powers are conjoined and virtually unbridled? Can the nation check its descent into what the author terms "inverted totalitarianism"?

Wolin portrays a country where citizens are politically uninterested and submissive--and where elites are eager to keep them that way. At best the nation has become a "managed democracy" where the public is shepherded, not sovereign. At worst it is a place where corporate power no longer answers to state controls. Wolin makes clear that today's America is in no way morally or politically comparable to totalitarian states like Nazi Germany, yet he warns that unchecked economic power risks verging on total power and has its own unnerving pathologies. Wolin examines the myths and mythmaking that justify today's politics, the quest for an ever-expanding economy, and the perverse attractions of an endless war on terror. He argues passionately that democracy's best hope lies in citizens themselves learning anew to exercise power at the local level.

Democracy Incorporated is one of the most worrying diagnoses of America's political ills to emerge in decades. It is sure to be a lightning rod for political debate for years to come. Now with a new introduction by Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Chris Hedges, Democracy Incorporated remains an essential work for understanding the state of democracy in America.

Sheldon S. Wolin
Politics and Vision is a landmark work by one of the great thinkers of the twentieth century. This is a significantly expanded edition of one of the greatest works of modern political theory. Sheldon Wolin's Politics and Vision inspired and instructed two generations of political theorists after its appearance in 1960. Substantially expanded for republication in 2004, it is both a sweeping survey of Western political thought and a powerful account of contemporary predicaments of power and democracy. In lucid and compelling prose, Sheldon Wolin offers original, subtle, and often surprising interpretations of political theorists from Plato to Rawls. Situating them historically while sounding their depths, he critically engages their diverse accounts of politics, theory, power, justice, citizenship, and institutions. The new chapters, which show how thinkers have grappled with the immense possibilities and dangers of modern power, are themselves a major theoretical statement. They culminate in Wolin’s remarkable argument that the United States has invented a new political form, "inverted totalitarianism,“ in which economic rather than political power is dangerously dominant. In this expanded edition, the book that helped to define political theory in the late twentieth century should energize, enlighten, and provoke generations of scholars to come.

Wolin originally wrote Politics and Vision to challenge the idea that political analysis should consist simply of the neutral observation of objective reality. He argues that political thinkers must also rely on creative vision. Wolin shows that great theorists have been driven to shape politics to some vision of the Good that lies outside the existing political order. As he tells it, the history of theory is thus, in part, the story of changing assumptions about the Good.

Acclaimed as a tour de force when it was first published, and a major scholarly event when the expanded edition appeared, Politics and Vision will instruct, inspire, and provoke for generations to come.

Sheldon S. Wolin
Sheldon Wolin was one of the most influential and original political thinkers of the past fifty years. Fugitive Democracy brings together his most important writings, from classic essays such as "Political Theory as a Vocation," written amid the Cold War and the conflict in Vietnam, to his late radical essays on American democracy such as “Fugitive Democracy,” in which he offers a controversial reinterpretation of democracy as an episodic phenomenon distinct from the routinized political management that passes for democracy today.

The breathtaking range of Wolin's scholarship, political commitment, and critical acumen are on full display in this authoritative and accessible collection. He critically engages a diverse range of political theorists, including Thomas Hobbes, Karl Marx, Max Weber, Hannah Arendt, John Rawls, Michel Foucault, and Richard Rorty. These essays grapple with topics such as power, modernization, the sixties, revolutionary politics, and inequality, all the while showcasing Wolin’s enduring commitment to writing civic-minded theoretical commentary on the most pressing political issues of the day. Here, Wolin laments the rise of conservatives who style themselves as revolutionary, criticizes Rawlsian liberals as abstract to the point of being apolitical, diagnoses postmodern theory as a form of acquiescence, and much more.

Fugitive Democracy offers enduring insights into many of today’s most pressing political predicaments, and introduces a whole new generation of readers to this provocative figure in contemporary political thought.

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