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By Alexis de Tocqueville

A strong new translation of de Tocqueville?s influential examine the origins of recent France

during this penetrating examine, Alexis de Tocqueville considers the French Revolution within the context of France?s heritage. de Tocqueville fearful that even supposing the progressive spirit used to be nonetheless alive and good, liberty was once now not its fundamental goal. simply because the first Republic had fallen to Napoleon and the second one had succumbed to his nephew Napoleon III, he feared that every one destiny revolutions may well adventure an identical destiny, perpetually imperiling the advance of democracy in France.

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Extra info for Ancien Regime and the French Revolution

Sample text

It was already signalling its make-up and its spirit. It was its real self. Not only did I find in its first struggles the reason for what it was to become but, still more perhaps, the forecast of what it was finally to create. For the Revolution had two distinct phases: the first occurred when the French appeared to aim for the entire abolition of the past; the second when they attempted to recover a vestige of what they had abandoned. As a result, a large number of constitutional laws and customs from the Ancien Regime disappeared suddenly in 1789 only to resurface a few years later, just as certain rivers plunge underground only to re-emerge a little further on, showing us the same water but between new banks.

Readers will have to be constantly on their guard, or they may not notice that The Ancien Regime is more than merely an item of historiography, and Tocqueville himself much more than an out-of-date theorist of the causes of the Revolution. True, he does not quite escape the fate of obsolescence. There is a paradox here. He is an absolutely limpid writer who occasionally rises to great eloquence; his thought is complex but his style, over which he took enormous pains, is simple. As a result he is enjoyable and instructive at first reading, and each new reading will yield new discoveries.

In the truest sense of the word, a classic author is one who is perpetually present. With few exceptions, the great historians have left the room. Alexis de Tocqueville is one of the exceptions. Open any of his books at any page and you will hear a living, individual voice, that most precious of literary achievements. It does not hector, its language is plain, the topics which it discusses are frequently as dry as the most tedious pedant could require; but it is agreeable. Not everyone will want to listen, and nobody is in the mood for the same author every day; but the chances are high that anyone who enjoys reading and thinking about history will from time to time gain profit and pleasure from reading Tocqueville, even though he has been dead for nearly a hundred and fifty years.

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