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"A War of the Chamber Pots"
"A presidential election in the United States may be looked upon as a time of national crisis. . . . A fever grips the entire nation." Is this a comment on Hillz vs. the Donald? No, it's Alexis de Tocqueville, one of the most prescient minds in history, writing in the 1830s about American elections. What would he think about the 2016 election? Arthur Goldhammer, translator of a new edition of Tocqueville's Recollections, tried to answer that question recently in a highly entertaining piece in The Nation.
We asked Olivier Zunz, editor of Recollections, for his thoughts on Tocqueville’s persistent relevance in the political discussion. “If Americans are familiar with Democracy in America and its famously vivid and still relevant passages concerning the presidential election, they should also turn to Recollections. Less well-known to the American readership is the fact that Tocqueville thought that politics was more important than political philosophy, although he was better suited for the latter. Tocqueville ran for reelection to the National assembly in France’s first male universal suffrage contest after the Revolution of 1848. He campaigned on the stump in his native Normandy only to describe the political battle: ‘all the petty vexations and calumnies and war of chamber pots that go with any election plunge me into dark ennui.’ How appropriate an image for what we are living through now!”
Kirkus Reviews confirms Tocqueville’s uncanny ability to shed light on the politics of our own time in their review of Recollections. The book is a “shrewd, on-the-ground account of how political change is made—and unmade.” Tocqueville, Kirkus says, “is seemingly incapable of writing a dull sentence, and he is a master of the cool put-down.” The book is “in many ways as relevant as the day it was written and great fun to read.”
Alexis de Tocqueville's Recollections: The French Revolution of 1848 and Its Aftermath, edited by Olivier Zunz and translated by Arthur Goldahmmer, is available now.