Literature of Liberty: Tocqueville, Liberalism, and Radicalism

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Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–1859) burst upon the Atlantic intellectual scene in 1835 with the publication of the first volume of Democracy in America (the second volume followed in 1840). His comparative approach to the historical sciences has earned him the title of “the Montesquieu of the United States.” Tocqueville has been ranked with Jacob Burckhardt and Lord Acton among the historians who contributed to a broader understanding of historical processes. Wilhelm Dilthey, the great student of the historical-cultural sciences, considered Tocqueville an “original historical thinker” who was “undoubtedly the most illustrious of all political analysts since Aristotle and Machiavelli.” Dilthey concluded: “another important example of the application of his analysis in the practical field lies in his recognition of the dangers of an exaggerated centralization, and in his insights into the blessings of self-help and self-government…”

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