So I’ve been reading Jaune’s book on the recommendation of Paul Seaton in the thread. It is a scholary triumph and has all kinds of suggestive stuff in it, although it’s just too French for me. Paul is right that it’s deficient in apporach or in its lack of approach.

1. p. 172: “Man’s inability to understand himself led Tocqueville to indulge in a truly Pascalian reflection in his chapter on poetry in democracy [SIC?] and related manuscripts. These are worth reading closely because they provide the key to the ‘esoteric’ side of Tocqueville the moralist (using ‘esoteric’ in Leo Strauss’s sense).” Well, I really think I was the first to notice something like that. But I’m glad J. does too. He doesn’t really bring the esoteric thing home, though.

2. pp. 174-75, note 63: “Tocqueville . . . contributed to the forumulation of a modern humanism that combined Socratism, Stoicism, and Christianity.” That combination isn’t a bad description of Tocqueville, and it is, of course, a perfect description of Walker Percy, who was influenced by Tocqueville only a very little. J. again doesn’t really adequately support his insight about the combination from the writing of Tocqueville. It can be done. And he doesn’t really show how and to what extent Tocqueville contributed to this “modern humanism,” which doesn’t appear to me to be that significant a movement. It is 21st century Thomism, and I want it to become a significant movement.

3. p. 183: “It is remarkable to discover the degree to which Tocqueville believed his ‘existential’ situation justified and confirmed his Jansenist-tinged [I would, not being French and all, prefer, Pascal-influenced] view of humanity.” Now J. does provide an abundance of support for this discovery, although he doesn’t really do everything that could be done with this evidence. It’s a bit annoying that he exaggerates the singularity of his discovery here.

There’s a lot more. Overall, everyone who downplays Pascal’s influence on T. should check this book out.

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Articles by Peter Lawler

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