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tv   Q A  CSPAN  June 21, 2010 6:00am-7:00am EDT

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eo damrosch and his book about alexis de tocqueville. >> leo damrosch, what is the most interesting personal thing you learned about alexis de tocqueville? >> he was not the kind of olympian, abstract theorist that we assume he was. we have all read part or all of "democracy of america." he was a volatile, emotional, very complicated kind of depressive the young man. he was very adventurous. when he was in america, he was 25, and he was having an adventure. >> when did he live and when did he come to the united states? >> he was born in 1805. his parents had been executed merely because they were french aristocrats. he grew up in a very privileged family.
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they wanted the old monarchy back. he knew it was not coming back. he came to america in 1831 when he was just 25. he wanted to study our prison system, which he had been mandated to do by his government. he wanted to understand why this great democracy succeeded when france was having one revolution after another. >> he came with a companion, mr. beaumont. who was he and why did he join him on the trip? >> they were best friends. they were apprentice magistrates at versailles. they expected a lifelong career in government, which they did have. it was a kind of essential partnership. beaumont was the gregarious one. he was a lot of fun. someone once said they complemented each other like the oil and vinegar in a salad. beaumont would break the ice and be a kind of social inspiration for tocqueville, and he also looked up to his friend.
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he thought tocqueville was a kind of genius. he admired him. >> back in 1997 and 1998, we did a lot of tocqueville. some of the audience are probably going, oh, no, there they go again. i want to ask why there has not been as much of this in the last ten years. you'll see what i am talking about. >> alexis de tocqueville -- >> you know his story. "democracy of america." you know his journey. alexis de tocqueville. 160 years ago, france was his home, but america was just ahead. it was here that he found the words to write "democracy of america," a book that is still part of today's political conversation. >> we went over to the chateau in france. those politicians and those
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writers were talking about him all the time. i have not heard much about him in the last 10 years. am i right? have i just missed it? >> he is still quoted. the problem is he can be quoted on every side of the spectrum. he was very broad-minded. there is more than one side to a question. you can quote him and seem to contradict him. president reagan's speech writers could quote tocqueville, but people may have overdosed on him. that is too bad. i do not think the great book is read as much as it deserves. >> what made these publishers think you could sell this? >> i have a wonderful editor who loves ideas and the history of ideas, as well as american history. i think he thought this was a way to open up to tocqueville's
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ideas. his great book was 800 pages long. i think many of us have forgotten to finish it. this showed the human side of where it came from. >> where do you reside? >> boston, massachusetts. i teach at harvard. >> how long have you been at harvard? >> 20 years. >> where were you born? >> i was born in manila three months before the war began. i spent my toddler years in a japanese internment camp. my father was a missionary. they went back after the war. i recently read an excellent biography about a missionary's son. we had some things in common. we left the philippines and came back when i was about nine. my family lived mostly in maine after that. i went to prep school in connecticut. i am kind of a rootless person. after my education was over, i taught at university of virginia here in college park. then i went to harvard.
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>> the three schools you went to? >> undergraduate, yale. two graduate years at cambridge. then i finished at princeton. >> how many years were you in the internment camp? >> the better part of the three. i was three when there was a brilliant rescue. they dropped paratroopers into our camp which was a perilous situation. the americans had landed. the guards were panicking. we might not have lived. they got us all out alive -- many of them infirm, elderly people and children like me. that was my first memory was being rescued from that camp. >> do you remember the first moment this was an idea for a book? >> i do. i had finished a biography jean-jacques rousseau. i wanted to keep up on my french.
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i thought i would take a look at the "democracy of america." i would recommend a recent book in the library of america series, which is a beautiful translation of tocqueville. i got curious about where this book came from. what did he know about america? i discovered it had been 70 years since anyone thought about the journey he took. the light bulb went off. i thought this would be an interesting subject. >> we spent a lot of time with george pearson, who wrote that book you are talking about)5xç 0 years ago. how did you approach it differently? >> his book was a classic and we all rely on that. he was a professor at yale. he had a huge trove of tocqueville at yale. it is very dated, written in
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the 1930's. there have been so many wonderful historians and political scientists who have written on tocqueville since then that there is an enormous range of context that a writer today could bring that he was not able to. also, he was trying to identify who everyone was. a couple of hundred people get mentioned in the notebooks and letters. he traced them and found out who they were. it is not a very readable book. i did not think it brought jacksonian america to life. it is just following the journey. >> why is that a problem? >> i speak for myself as a history buff. i feel like we have overdosed on the founders, wonderful as they were. they were 18th-century british, colonial gentlemen who lived in a world utterly unlike ours, although they helped create ours.
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jackson was our first populist president. we had become a great commercial nation. we were expanding at an incredible rate into the hinterland. it was the beginning of the america that we all know. i called my book "tocqueville's discovery of america," but it was really my voyage of discovery, too. >> how did you go about it? >> i read a lot of historians -- biographers of jackson and historians of the period, and also quite a bitñ?tdgnñ politic÷ science writing about tocqueville. f=ñ"tocqueville between two worlds" had the theme being that he was neither a reactionary aristocrat -- he was caught in between. 2[qit gives him a breadth and
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depth of perspective. i did a lot of reading on that to get up to speed on my subject. i read other books. there is a quite surprising number of them. to mention a couple, frances trollope, the mother of the great novelist anthony, spent two weird years in cincinnati trying to recover from a bankruptcy, then went back to england and wrote a book saying how awful the americans were. the book is full of prejudice and snobbery. although she is very intelligent, she barely gets a sense of what america really was. even the great dickens, who was here 10 years later, was quite snobbish. one thing that struck me, anecdotally, was tocqueville's english was excellent by the time he left nine months later after getting here, but it was never that of a native speaker.
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british people come over and they are offended by americanisms. "go the whole hog." "keep cool." they even called her children "honey," which she got was outrageous. >> did americans buy trollope's book? >> they felt insulted and betrayed by these visitors that they had entertained had entertained hospitably. she was very conservative and very stern. she was hoping to show that democracy was so evil that it ought to be prevented.
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this author was more progressive and more liberal. she was a very intelligent woman. she wrote a three-volume book on american culture. it is full of interesting reflections. she liked american speech. at one point, she was in a stagecoach, and one of the other passengers said, he is a smart fellow. the other one said, he could not see through a ladder. >> talk about the research. you say in here that you translated from the french to the english some of the letters and the marginalia. how did you find that? mm+>> a lot of it is in print, t not really in english. everything that is not printed tends to be at yale. that great collection includes copies that have now been lost.
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there are anecdotal materials. there are scraps that did not get into "democracy of america" because they may have seemed too storytelling, but they are very rich. they are among tocqueville's papers as rejected materials. >> maybe you can shed some light on this experience. i am not academic. when we set out to do our tocqueville thing in the late- 1990's, we went to the library at yale. one fellow refused to let us see the material. we're not academics. i suspect you had a different
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experience. i suspect he is not there. we were astounded. we wanted to do a whole series. we wanted to show the audience. they said no. i never met the man. he never came out. what was that about? >> it must be different now. there are a lot of independent scholars, who have no academic position, who write wonderful books. i know our librarian would welcome anybody who came. i do not know why that happened. >> did you get to put your hands on the material? >> they brought big boxes of notes and letters and so on -- a wonderful collection. they were very generous. it was a carefully-controlled room. they make sure you did not leave with any of their possessions. >> i want to take this a step farther. i have been baffled by this.
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we n france. have you been there? they have a room where they keep a lot of the papers of tocqueville. we wanted to see some of them. the count was very generous to us, but he did not want us to see anything but one letter. i, personally, wanted to see one of the notebooks. i will show you some video in a moment. they would not let me see it until we did a program. what were those and why were they important? did you see them? >> i looked at one. supposed to be a sketch of a log cabin. i did not end up using it. there were little notebooks that he kept so that he could jot down an accurate account of what he heard.
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he could keep them in his pocket. >> are they available? >> they are printed. the thing is -- it may sound like -- using primary sources when you ought to, but if something has been printed by a good scholar, there will be notes explaining things that are confusing or they will correct something that they knew got corrected some other place. they are more helpful than the original. >> what did you learn from those notebooks? >> pearson was the first one to publish them. ïfi certainly learned that
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tocqueville had a really omnivorous interest in things. he was trained as a lawyer. he often talked to lawyers. he wrote down details about the law. for example, he tried to describe what he was interested in penitentiaries. jails were just holding tank to get people off the street. they would throw in pickpockets and mass murderers and everybody all in one big room, giving each other grief and bribing the jailers, teaching each other criminal techniques. it was a very reformist idea that penitentiaries -- maybe prisoners could be rehabilitated and come out as better human beings. this experiment was being tried in america. they visited sing sing and new york. it was a high-minded, ethical
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idea that the person should be under absolute isolation. the only book would be the bible. he would then repent. in fact, they went crazy. they could not stand it. reformists concluded that they should have some work to do. tocqueville was allowed to interview these guys. he spent a week and a half writing it all down because it was so moving -- the tragic despair. what was meant to be high- minded reform was in fact a form of appalling torture.
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>> besides the notebooks, did he take other notes? >> they wrote very long, detailed letters home, with the understanding that the families would keep them and it would be a kind of ongoing journal of the voyage. beaumont also kept a diary privately. unfortunately, we do not have that. it is not just a published "democracy of america," but all of the loose papers that might have gotten in it and did not, plus the notebooks, and the letters home. it is a rich array of resources. >> i want to share with you this moment. i learned how to get interested in this from people like you who do the research. we were on the trail to see the notebook. we were told we could not see them. i did get the chance -- you will see. let's watch. before we do that -- the woman
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that you will see -- >> she is a distinguished tocqueville scholar. >> they shared everything with her. you will see why this mattered to me. what do you have? >> that is a tocqueville notebook. >> this is what he used to keep a diary during his trip? how many of these did he have? >> he had four. >> when he was in the united states, how many did he have? >> this one. there is a political one, too. >> what is this? >> that one is alphabetical.
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by the letters. >> this is how he kept his notes. you can see it was very exciting for me and why. that seemed to be a very important part of tocqueville. >> absolutely. >> you did not go to paris? >> no, i did not. this is a book about america. it is not an original piece of tocqueville research. it was more trying to animate what our culture was like at that moment. most of the main ideas in "democracy of america" were originally suggested by americans, because he was a great listener. some of them are very distinguished people like john quincy adams. some of them are utterly
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unknown. the notebooks are full of the ideas that blossomed into chapters in this book. >> you talk about this in your book -- his attitude toward andrew jackson. when did he meet with him? >> it was toward the end when he was disillusioned. most people remember that, in 1824, you have the most populist votes, but there were four candidates, not a majority. what looked like a backroom deal -- for the four years, jackson should have been president and he was not. in 1828, he was elected. most of the patricians that tocqueville met at the beginning of his trip feared jackson.
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they thought he won an irrelevant battle in new orleans and that was all that had gotten him the reputation. it was terribly shortsighted. jackson had charisma. he had great leadership qualities. tocqueville just did not get it. >> how long did they meet? >> half an hour, at most. it was not hard to arrange a meeting in the white house in those days. they shook hands with the president, who was exhausted, ill, had no idea his reputation in the great book was at stake. he was polite to a couple of young frenchmen. >> how did he meet john quincy adams? >> it was at the house of a politician in boston. the politician is notorious for droning on for two hours at gettysburg where lincoln gave his historic address.
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according to tocqueville, adams had willingly lost the presidency in 1828, rather than compromise his principles. he had been elected to the house of representatives, which seems like an extraordinary choice for a politician to make, having been president. in addition, adams thought deeply about american history. he was the son of one of the founders, spoke perfect french, had a great diplomatic career. tocqueville was deeply impressed by his wisdom. >> tocqueville lived for how many years? >> a total of 53. he had tuberculosis. later, he would have repeated breakdowns and recoveries. >> how long was he married and who did he marry? >> that is interesting, too. he fell in love with a middle- class englishwoman.
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he kept his engagement secret from his family for several years. he was secretly engaged when he was in this country, though intensely flirtatious. i might regress on that, because it is quite interesting. beaumont and he noticed that young, unmarried american women were perfectly free to hang out, unchaperoned, with young men, and speak very freely with them. in france, they would have been rigidly controlled. it never went further than that. in france, once they were married, it was assumed they would take a lover on the side. american women went on being virtuous and chaste, or so he believed. given his tendency to find reasons, he thought there was a reason.
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he thought marriages in his class in france were dynastic transactions -- two families made these in negotiations. of course they would take a lover if they did not like each other. in america, it was the heart of what would otherwise be a totally competitive individualism. people chose who they married and they wanted them. they wanted to be faithful. >> if he came here today, did the same trip, what would he think? >> there were feminists in his time. he had the deepest respect for his wife's intelligence. i do not think he would be surprised. i did not think he was a prophet
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of change. one blogger said, " tocqueville was really into hot, american chicks." >> this is from beaumont. you mentioned that beaumont and tocqueville were aristocrats. define that. >> they came from families with inherited titles. there is a chateau at a village called tocqueville. it is incorrect to call him "de tocqueville." if you inherit a title from a place name in france, it would be "tocqueville."
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charles de gaulle was putting on airs. the important thing was that you were born into a social rank which was permanently yours. the first thing he said when he got to new york was, this is an unbelievably egalitarian society. some people were very rich and many were very poor. in principle, anyone could change their position in the social scale. they knew it and believed it. if they could not make it in the east, they might go west. they might hack out a piece of the wilderness and get rich, you know, in the boonies. there is some truth to that. there was no equivalent -- not even those boston people -- it was a permanent authentication of status. >> we have video from a series
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we did on the chateau. you can see what it looks like. it is in normandy, not far away from omaha beach. we did not go to the beaumont village. you can see it there. the ancestry -- we have not been in touch with them for 13 years, but another count lived there. it came down to him through his wife, who was a descendant of one of the brothers of tocqueville. >> he had no children. that is why it went to his brother. >> why is that? did they decide not to have children? >> they wanted to. he is very dynastic. he wanted his name to be inherited. who knows why? health problems, perhaps. >> back to the beaumont comments -- "the americans are a
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nation of merchants, devoured by a hunger for wealth that brings many far from honorable passions along with it, such as greed, fraud, and bad faith. they seem to have but one single thought and one single goal, which is to make their fortune." has that changed? >> even beaumont and tocqueville would have put it differently by the end of the trip. they were staggered by the commercial frenzy. in the class they grew up in, you were supposed to be above mere money. there was a snobbishness toward making money. in a society which does not have inherited status, how much you make is a way of proving that you have made it. inevitably, people are measured
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by their wealth, they thought. it is what they strive for. when he wrote his great book some years later, reflecting on this, he said, "there is a peculiar melancholy in the american character." since you could always have more, you never got enough. the goal always recedes from you. i think that is the kind of insight he would bring today. >> what was like in france? >> the commercial class were servants. you would not dirty your hands with money. when he published this masterpiece, he did not know how to deal with the publisher. this was all news to him. i think he was impressed in america, not so much by money- making simply in itself, but by the energy with which people would create a career for themselves. can i give you one quick
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anecdote? cincinnati was still the edge of the frontier. the city was still being created. the streets had not been laid out. he said, "this is democracy without limit." after all, if you grew up in john quincy adams' family, theyñ were a 200-year-old patrician establishment in boston. in cincinnati, everyone had just arrived. by 1830, there were 1 million people. there was an example that tickled me. there was a 23-year-old lawyer who had just arrived from new hampshire. he was considering a career in public service. he said, they are so crude. you have to get drunk with them. i do not know if i can do that. he thought it might be better at the national level. it was salmon p. chase. he ended up as chief justice of the u.s. supreme court.
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that was exactly what tocqueville was seeing. this 23-year-old nobody had left new england to create a life for himself, not just making money, but making a world for oneself. >> what did you think of the book itself, "democracy of america"? i have two versions. i have an abridged version that i think i paid $4 for. it is tiny. >> that is the original english translation. tocqueville got to know that author and corresponded with him. >> how does that compare to the one you are recommending now? >> he was kind of careless. i do not think his french was so great. tocqueville's english was not so perfect that, even if he had
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seen it, and i don't think he did, that he would have caught everything. the real problem is that tocqueville's style is very abstract and formal. the french critics have said it is the classic french style of the 17th century. he describes the choctaw indians on their way to the trail of tears. you do not hear the shouts. the tragic sorrow is profound. for that, you need music and rhythm. most translations do not have that. >> i did not see this one in your book. >> harvey is a great political scientist. he and his wife did that translation. do not think it catches the flavor of the original. the one that i recommended -- it is by a very good translator
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-- and it does get something more like the flow and the power of the language. >> did you read "democracy of america" in french? >> yes. >> what is the different feeling when you read it in french versus when you read it in any english? >> a french sentence can go on for quite a long time without losing its way, because the clauses depend upon each other in a very predictable way. you always know that you are moving forward steadily. you can kind of listen to the music or the rhythm of the language. to put it into english, usually you have to break it down, find pauses, start the thought over again, so that it does not just wear you out by trudging along, which is what a too-literal translation will do.
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>> i looked back at some of your earlier writings. you spent a lot of time writing about -- i assume thinking about the 1700's. samuel johnson -- who was he? >> he was a great english writer in the middle part of the 18th century. he edited the first great dictionary of our language. he was the first great editor of shakespeare. he wrote essays which are very deep and thoughtful, though not much read. he wrote a set of biographies called "lives of the poets." i got interested in him when i was very young. >> why did you get interested? >> he was a very interesting figure. there was a book called "the
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achievement of samuel johnson." he was seriously neurotic, deeply melancholy, and had ocd -- which was not even diagnosed until the 1980's. he had compulsive behavior. out of his troubled personality, he created this deep, wise perspective on human life that is a great achievement. >> when did he live? >> 1729 to 1774. >> who was james boswell? >> he was a scottish aristocrat who came down to london to have a good time when he was in his early 20's. he wrote a very enjoyable diary.
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he was also a collector of great men. he had a very judgmental father. his father was a scottish judge. we would say he was looking for a father figure. he fastened onto johnson and made johnson his hero. he wrote down extended conversations that he had been present at that johnson had presided over. it is kind of an amazing recreation of the voice and spirit of this hero of his. >> what got you interested in this? in following rousseau or johnson or tocqueville? >> i never stopped being a student. i always wondered whether that was a little cowardly of me. i just kept getting degree after degree. i love teaching.
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i am always interested in ideas and where they come from. that is why i do something like biography. when i wrote that book about rousseau, here was a person who had worked as the lowest household servant and experience every kind of discrimination. when it comes to himself as an intellectual writing books, he was really pouring his soul into the message that he had. likewise with tocqueville. i was trying to show that the great democracy in america is not a product of abstract reflection. he is listening to sam houston and john quincy adams and backwoods storekeepers.
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>> the producer of this program told me that this might be your first television interview. >> yes. >> you have never been interviewed on television before? >> if you write academic books, they have a readership of other academics, and many of them are your rivals. it is a very specialized game, indeed. americans are not interested in rousseau, so there was no likelihood of publicity. >> let me ask you, what is the biggest reason we should read rousseau now? >> we should read him because of his insight into society. "the discourse on the originals of inequality." it is an incredible kind of imaginative feat to say not
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"how does inequality work and did god intend it that way," but "what is it about america -- about a culture that always stratifies?" and then the social contract, which had a lot to do with the u.s. constitution and is why he was one of tocqueville's favorite writers. when tocqueville was in boston, one of his informants was a young german immigrant. he had fought at the battle of waterloo in his teenage years and been shot through the chest and neck. he recovered and went back home to germany. he was put in jail as a political radical. he found his way to boston and became a journalist. he gave tocqueville the idea of "habits of the heart." the idea was this, and it is
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right at the heart of the social contract -- what makes a system work is not the written constitution or the code of law, but it is the shared belief of a people and their common cause. the legal system will assist that, but it cannot cause it. modern writers lament the apparent decay of that. >> i was just going to ask what you think of this country. how are we doing? >> in one sense, not so different from those jacksonian populists. the french government was hypercentralized. if you wanted to repair the town hall, you had to send a requisition, wait months for the red tape, and finally they would
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get back to you. in america, everything was local initiative. he was overwhelmed by that. he would see now what he predicted. as the country gets bigger and stronger, as it becomes a world power, as its incredible resources make inevitable, as it runs out of frontier and bumps into the pacific, you do need a huge central government. individuals may think they do not want it, but each of them has something he wants government to give him. by the time it is over, it will not be the america of the 1830's. he absolutely did foresee that. all the efforts to resist that kind of collectivity would strike him as the spirit of the country that he knew. he would feel that the habits of the heart have decayed, that the religious sense of a shared mission that he found all over
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this continent -- he would probably think that has largely faded. >> do you have your own ideas about what is right and wrong, where a country ought to go? do you have your own political views? >> i do. i would rather not pontificate about areas that i do not know. >> if he came here today and made this trip around the united states for nine months, what would he predict? >> he predicted a lot of it. he thought that the two most powerful countries in the world would be the united states and russia. he said the deepest fundamental basis of a society tends to persist through everything. just as the french government of his time was highly
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bureaucratic, it had inherited the bureaucracy of the monarchy. it had executed the aristocrats, but continued doing what they did. he said russia had the czars and it would always have a dictatorship. he had that kind of prophetic insight. there were the irish immigrants, the italians, the black people from south to north, emancipation -- he thought, like everybody, that there was a civil war coming. he briefly saw the southern culture and he thought it could not survive, based on the aristocracy of whites who did not work and black people who did. the west had hardly been opened at all. he would be more impressed by the diversity. what he saw was mostly a homogenous country. >> he contributed to something called "the liberty bell"?
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>> right. >> that is an abolitionist publication. this is what he said. he was talking about this country.
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he wrote that in 1856. >> and in english, by the way. >> long after "democracy of america." he was still listened to in this country? >> he had american friends that he corresponded with frequently. it was like it had given him a kind of identity as a thinker and politician, which tragically made him a marginal figure in french politics, which was very ideological. he was too moderate and too thoughtful to belong to either of the more powerful extremes. as to the treatment of slaves, there is actually a wonderful 100-page chapter in "democracy of america" on race relations. it was written years and years before that passage that we just heard. the single informant that meant
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the most was sam houston. it was pure chance that he encountered him. he was coming down the mississippi in a steamboat. the choctaw indians were being put ashore. the stallion came galloping up with a big guy on him. it was houston, not yet the hero of texas. he had been governor of tennessee. he quit in a marital scandal of some kind. he took a cherokee wife. he was on his way to washington to try to persuade jackson to modify indian removal policy. he thought this raffish character could not have been governor of a state. people of tennessee had sent to the congress an individual who could not read with ease and had no fixed address. he saw houston as a really interesting guy with a wealth of
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experience. houston gave him this idea -- the indian has been brought up from infancy to be totally self-reliant, to make every decision for himself, to be put in life-threatening tests which only he can surmount. he will never surrender an iota of that liberty to any authority, therefore he cannot assimilate, therefore they are going to be exterminated. he said the black slave was at the other extreme. he has never been permitted to make one choice for himself. he has lost the language of his ancestors. he does not know what their religion was. he has no culture from his former land. white society will not accept him. there was little in-between. that was what tocqueville was working from, not just the politics, but the tragic betrayal of human rights. >> you have been more public with this book than in the past. have you done other media?
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>> i have done quite a few radio interviews, very enjoyable. sometimes face to face, sometimes by remote connection. i've given a number of talks in various places, which is particularly pleasurable. >> as a professor, you're in the classroom with students in front of you at harvard. over the years, as much as the media has changed, what has happened to the students? >> they are consumers of media. even harvard students respond to the kind of platform personality that they have been accustomed to on tv. everyone of us who did not begin our career at harvard began
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teaching differently -- even when i got there 20 years ago -- in order to appeal to an audience that rightly expects a kind of energy and enthusiasm. >> how have you changed? >> probably in that way. but on the other hand, this may be more true of harvard. we have quite a few big, lecture courses where one-on-one contact is with the graduate teaching assistant. what they want from the professor is a kind of talking head. when i began my career at the university of virginia -- that was in the 1970's -- it was partly the time of protests. everything was dialogue and exchange. you expected the students to quarrel and argue with you. a good teacher would be persuaded to hit the ball back over the net. now, it is as if they want to be told, partly because they think you probably know better than they do, but also because they want to get an a, and they think that if they write down what you think, they are likely to get back what they want. i miss the 1970's.
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>> you have a course available on the enlightenment? >> i decided to create a course to surround rousseau with the kinds of things they ought to know more about. it was primarily to teach myself. it ended up being a very enjoyable course for 12 years. >> did you record it every year? >> the teaching company did tailored segments. >> did you write it out in advance? >> you do not read it verbatim. i had a teleprompter. the teaching company issued a
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lot of them as video. i think it is now entirely audio. i think you receive ideas better if it is only through your ears -- when you're driving or doing the dishes, for example, not necessarily watching people in face-to-face. >> what do you say to someone who might be listening and trying to put it all together? what is the best way to learn about samuel johnson, rousseau, the enlightenment, and tocqueville -- all of this intellectual work? how can the average person better understand this? >> i think courses like those are a sort of way in. i believe in the original text. rousseau's text is powerful. i did not mention "confessions," a title that he
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borrowed from augustine. he literally invented modern biography. every autobiography before his time -- and i have tried to confirm this -- would spend, at most, two or three pages on the first 20 years of their life. those do not matter. then they become who they are and the story begins. rousseau spends 200 pages on those first formative years. the experiences and relationships in that time shape you. he was also a successful novelist. it is brilliantly written. it is like a novel. >> i want to go back to alexis de tocqueville. he lived 53 years. what were the last couple of years of his life like? >> very disappointing.
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there was a revolution in 1848 and he was briefly made foreign minister of france -- the job he had been waiting all his life to do. nothing very important happened during that brief time. napoleon iii declared himself emperor and got rid of his government. tocqueville was out of a job again. his health was very bad. he only lived to write the prologue about the great french revolution, which is a classic. he died disappointed. he had wanted to give his life for his country. they did not want his service. >> the attempt to emulate the american model got him nowhere. >> he thought there should be a bicameral legislature. it has always worked well for us.
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there is a very good and a recent biography of tocqueville. when the president was elected in the 1960's, he said france finally had a tocquevillian democracy after trying everything else. >> what does it mean when there -- what does the republic mean? >> it is not a monarchy. it is a constitution with a new system of voter franchise and so on. it keeps starting over again. >> you quote him saying, "you will not easily comprehend the degree of apathy i have fallen into. i'm hardly even in the condition of a spectator, since a spectator at least pays attention and i do not take the trouble to. this is due to the ever- deepening darkness that overspread the picture, always so dark, known as the future." how would he feel today?
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>> probably more so. he said that the 1830 revolution in france -- though he was not entirely sympathetic with it -- was an exciting moment of belief in some kind of shared cause. there was a kind of electricity in the air. by the 1850's, it was just politics as usual. the ideals of the past were long gone. >> the name leo damrosch comes from? >> originally from germany. now poland. >> we will put some video on the screen of the village of tocqueville, where he is buried. there is a statue near the church where he is buried. it is one of the very few statues you can find of him.
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the author for our program has been leo damrosch, harvard professor. the name of the book is "tocqueville's discovery of america." >> thank you very much for inviting me. [captioning performed by national captioning institute] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2010] >> [speaking french] [captioning performed by national captioning institute] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2010]
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[speaking french] >> up next, your calls live on
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