Here’s Harvey Mansfield on the Jaume book discussed below, not so much highlighting the bad, but more the not-up-to-snuff:
M. Jaume’s book excels in the introduction of figures in Tocqueville’s lifetime, now forgotten, such as Frédéric Le Play, Silvestre de Sacy, Abel-François Villemain, …. He also considers the more familiar names—reactionaries such as Joseph de Maistre and Louis de Bonald, eminent monarchists such as …Malesherbes and …Chateaubriand, as well as the stalwarts of nineteenth-century French liberalism Benjamin Constant and François Guizot. Acting from afar and through intermediaries are the great figures of Pascal, Montesquieu, and Rousseau—whom Tocqueville mentions as having read from every day without intermediaries and in rather naughty violation of the protocol of M. Jaume’s intellectual history.
Gotta love that last bit. It points to Jaume’s basic limitation: he’s wide reader of what went into Tocqueville’s mind, but not a deep one of what came out of it. This pattern, if likely on the extreme side with Jaume, is a shortcoming of a lot of Tocqueville scholarship–the scholars get lost in the fascinating historical context, and neglect the hard work that his texts invite and demand:
With M. Jaume’s method, Tocqueville’s thoughts become “commonplaces,” always contextual and never creative. One of them is the phrase “social state,” but the way in which Tocqueville uses the phrase, as the “first cause” of America, is far from a commonplace of his or any time. …Of course he read the many contemporaries that M. Jaume describes and discusses, and M. Jaume has written a good book in the category of contextual studies, from which anyone can learn relevant facts of his life and thought useful for understanding him. It does not, however, show a path leading toward that understanding.
So instead of recommending Jaume, I’ll turn you to what is, so far, a pretty solid recent collection on Tocqueville, which I know contains one particularly rich essay, “Tocquevillean Thoughts on Higher Education in the Middle East,” by Joshua Mitchell, a leading participant in ongoing efforts to introduce genuine liberal arts education to the Arab world, in Quatar and Iraq specifically. (He’s also the author of the only book that even begins to adequately deal with the connections between Plato’s and Tocqueville’s takes on democracy, the subject of a my dissertation.) Mitchell served for two years as the Provost of the American University of Iraq-Sulaimani, and several more in the Georgetown extension campus in Quatar, and the essay is chock full of interesting reflections upon his experiences, interesting particularly for Arab-world analysts, advocates of Great-Books-style education, and Tocquevillean thinkers. A taste:
The idea that individuals rather than permanently ensconced political parties should animate society is a foreign idea in Iraq and in much of the Middle East. One reading of Tocqueville is…that much of the Middle East remains in the aristocratic age: the individual not yet having emerged into the light of day, men and women understand themselves in terms of their affiliations. Tocqueville’s aristocratic age, however, did not have political parties of this sort in it; the affiliations he had in mind were more or less inherited ones that pertained to family name and rank… There are still echoes of that…however, the mid-twentieth-century socialist revolutions that occurred throughout the region…dismantled much of that old order, but without firmly establishing the individual in its place.