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Alexis de Tocqueville

The French aristocrat wrote the first great account of American democracy. But Tocqueville is misread if turned into a prophet or philosopher. We should see him as a travel writer and historian

By Hugh Brogan   130

Alfred E Smith, the much-loved governor of New York state for most of the 1920s, was famous for his unpretentious way with words; it authenticated him as a man of the people. So it is easy to see why he blue-pencilled a certain press release that was to be issued in his name: “People might think I could quote Thomas Jefferson, but De Tocqueville, never!”

This anecdote does more than illustrate Al Smith’s character: it also pinpoints the position of Alexis de Tocqueville in American culture. He is remembered as a wise man who wrote a glowing book about democracy…

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