Alexis de Tocqueville: Prophet of Democracy in the Age of Revolution by Hugh Brogan - review by John Gray

John Gray

An Ambivalent Authority

Alexis de Tocqueville: Prophet of Democracy in the Age of Revolution


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In 1927 Paul Valéry wrote that Europe dreams of being ruled by an American Commission, and for many Europeans America is still seen as having an enviable freedom from the burdens of the past. There may be few who would now want to be subject to American rule but there are still many who see America as standing for a kind of freedom and equality to which Europeans can still only aspire. It is a view as common on the left of politics as on the right. There seem to be plenty of ex-communists and former Trotskyites who regard the United States with a loyalty and reverence of a sort they once reserved for the Soviet Union, and who round on critics of US policies as enemies of progress. Right across the spectrum of opinion America is seen as the supreme modern society, which more than any other embodies the future.

If any one writer can be said to be responsible for this view, it must be Alexis de Tocqueville. This acutely observant, high-strung French nobleman has been hugely influential in disseminating the idea that America is the country in whose path all others are bound – sooner or later, one

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