Political debates in 21st century America have raised numerous questions about the ideal direction for the nation’s future. A historical perspective can illuminate the foundations of this democracy, and provide a clearer picture of how to proceed in the modern era. Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic work, Democracy in America, has for nearly two centuries provided an outsider’s perspective on what the author believed made the United States a successful democracy. This entirely new abridgement, edited and introduced by John D. Wilsey, makes the work accessible to students of history, philosophy, religion, sociology, and political science while remaining true to the original text. Tocqueville’s thoughts on American democracy thus are rendered clear and concise, helping modern students of American institutions to understand what the nation has historically valued, as viewed from the outside.
John D. Wilsey has achieved something near impossible—the abridgement of Alexis de Tocqueville’s masterpiece Democracy in America while retaining its core contributions to our understanding of Jacksonian America up to the present. In his introduction, Wilsey provides readers an excellent guide for understanding Tocqueville’s treatment of equality, democracy, liberty, and especially slavery. This volume is perfect for high school and college students, but any curious reader could pick up a copy to start his or her study of this classic text.
—James M. Patterson, assistant professor of politics, Ave Maria University
Democracy in America has always been essential reading for students of American history and of the history of political and social thought. But teachers on the secondary-school and undergraduate levels who might otherwise make generous use of Tocqueville’s luminous text have often been daunted by the length and expense entailed in assigning the whole book. For such teachers and their students, this careful abridgment of the Democracy, trimmed to half its original length and framed by the editor’s thoughtful introductory essay, will prove to be just what the doctor ordered.
—Wilfred M. McClay, G. T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty, and director of the Center for the History of Liberty, University of Oklahoma
Tocqueville’s unparalleled analysis of the American experiment—his praise of it, and his prescient warnings about a people detached from virtue and religion—should be required reading for every American citizen. This superb abridgment communicates the power of the original in a way that makes thinking with Tocqueville easier than ever. Recommended!
—C. C. Pecknold, associate professor of theology, The Catholic University of America
Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–1859) was a French political philosopher and historian, best known for his works Democracy in America and The Old Regime and Revolution. He was a pioneer in modern political science and sociology, famously analyzing the societal changes provoked by democratic society. Actively engaged in French politics most of his life, he retired after Napoleon’s 1851 coup and focused on his writing. He died of tuberculosis in the spring of 1859.
John D. Wilsey (PhD, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Assistant Professor of History and Christian Apologetics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary at the Houston campus, where he teaches courses on Western civilization, American politics, and American religious history. He is the author of American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion: Reassessing the History of an Idea (IVP Academic, 2015). Dr. Wilsey’s research focuses on American religious nationalism and public theology, and Alexis de Tocqueville’s work figures prominently in his studies.