"BY FAR THE BEST BOOK EVER WRITTEN ABOUT AMERICA, AND THE MOST PENETRATING BOOK EVER WRITTEN ABOUT DEMOCRACY": RARE AND IMPORTANT FIRST EDITION OF TOCQUEVILLE'S CLASSIC DE LA DEMOCRATIE EN AMERIQUE IN HANDSOME CONTEMPORARY BOARDS, EXTRAORDINARY PRESENTATION COPY INSCRIBED BY TOCQUEVILLE
TOCQUEVILLE, Alexis de. De la Democratie en Amerique. Paris: Librairie de Charles Gosselin, 1835. Two volumes. Octavo, contemporary half red calf gilt, marbled boards, papers and edges. Housed in custom cloth chemises and half morocco slipcase. $62,000.
First edition presentation copy in the original French of the first two volumes of Tocqueville's classic work, one of no more than 500 copies published, inscribed by Tocqueville in Volume I "Donne par l'Auteur, 1836." "One of the most important texts in political literature" (PMM 358). Accompanied by the two volumes of the second edition of Part II in a contemporary binding.
"This is by far the best book ever written about America, and the most penetrating book ever written about democracy. It won instant acclaim, not only in the writer's native France, where Royer-Collard declared: 'Nothing equal to it had appeared since Montesquieu,' but in England, where John Stuart Mill hailed it as 'among the most remarkable productions of our time.' Its central theme is that democracy has become inevitable; that it is, with certain qualification, desirable; but that it has great potentialities for evil as well as good, depending upon how well it is understood and guided. In the view of de Tocqueville, the greatest danger that threatens democracy is its tendency toward the centralization and concentration of power… There is revived interest in Tocqueville today because of what seems like the uncanny clairvoyance of his prophecies. For example (this by a Frenchman in 1835): 'There are at the present time two great nations in the world, which started from different points, but seem to tend towards the same end. I allude to the Russians and the Americans… The principal instrument of [America] is liberty; of [Russia] servitude. Their starting point is different and their courses are not the same; yet each of them seems marked by the will of Heaven to sway the destinies of half the globe" (Hazlitt, The Free Man's Library, 163).
Democracy in America is "the first systematic and empirical study of the effects of political power on modern society" (Nisbet). The work originated in a trip commissioned by the French government to study the American penal system in 1831-1832. In 1835, the first edition of the first part of the work (Volumes I and II) was published in Paris, "and throughout the intellectual circles of western Europe both democracy and America took on a new aspect and a new significance in political speculation" (NYU, 955). (The first part contains Tocqueville's most important and famous observations, and is often found by itself. The first edition of the second part of the work was later published in Paris in 1840). Tocqueville "had been impressed, in America, by the success with which the principles of liberty and equality evolved in the Old World had been applied to meet the needs of a new civilization governed by different ideals and different physical conditions… he set down his observations on the American people and the American political scene in La Democratie en Amerique… His conclusions were that the trend of history was irresistibly towards equality; and that the future of France, indeed of the Western world, was bound up with the acceptance of democratic principles, these being the one effective means of avoiding submission to tyranny" (Harvey & Heseltine, 711). Included here are also second editions of the two volumes of the second part (Paris: Librairie de Charles Gosselin, 1840), published in the same year as the first edition. Howes T278. Sabin 96060.
With large folding map hand-finished in color at rear of Volume I. Map fine, scattered foxing to text, a bit of faint marginal dampstaining in Volume II. Contemporary binding quite handsome. An extraordinary landmark, rare and important, and very rare inscribed by Tocqueville himself.