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Why is Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America the best book “ever written on democracy and the best ever written on America?” Why is it indispensable both for understanding the country as well as defending it? In this Podcast, Harvey Mansfield, co-translator of Democracy in America (with Delba Winthrop), presents a detailed exposition of Tocqueville’s masterwork. Mansfield considers the major themes of Tocqueville’s work, including Tocqueville’s treatment of the idea of rights, the role of religion, men and women, self-government, and the relationship of liberty and equality. As Mansfield explains, Democracy in America advocates a more “political” version of the liberalism propagated by Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and other modern political philosophers. Americans, in Tocqueville’s account, learn the practice of self-government through the institutions they inherit and build upon. American practice therefore elevates the country and citizens above the individualism and narrow materialism that can follow from a liberalism too literally applied from a theory—e.g., the “state of nature.” As Mansfield puts it, Tocqueville remains even in our time the greatest resource we have for “defending a defensible liberalism.”

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