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Posts Tagged ‘de Tocqueville

“Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom”*…

Lynn Hunt on Alexis de Tocqueville, who left France to study the American prison system and returned with the material that would become Democracy in America

Alexis de Tocqueville was a study in contradictions: a French aristocrat of proud heritage who trumpeted the inevitable, salutary rise of democracy, using the United States as his exemplar; a cosmopolitan with an English wife and many friends in the Anglo-American world who brandished a fervent French nationalism; an antislavery advocate who felt no discomfort in supporting the French colonization of Algeria and hired as his main assistant Arthur de Gobineau, who later published one of the founding texts of white supremacy; and finally a man of delicate constitution who undertook an arduous trip on horseback into the wilderness of northern Michigan in order to see Native Americans and new settler communities for himself. Such inconsistencies make for a fascinating story, and in The Man Who Understood Democracy, Olivier Zunz, a French-educated historian who has taught US history for decades at the University of Virginia, shows that he is ideally suited to tell it.

Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, published in two volumes in 1835 and 1840, became an instant classic and has remained one to this day. On its hundredth anniversary in 1935, the French government presented a bust of the author to Franklin D. Roosevelt, and an article at the time referred to the book as “perhaps the greatest, most lucid, and most impartial commentary that free institutions in general, and American self-government in particular, had ever received.” Democracy in America served as a kind of textbook for US students for many generations, but it is now more often cited than read. That dutiful disregard may be the fate of all such masterworks, especially one that runs about eight hundred pages, but Zunz has succeeded in restoring its appeal, first by vividly retracing its origins and then by skillfully evoking the enduring excitement and relevance of its analysis…

Alexis de Tocqueville, the Frenchman who unpacked the tension between freedom and equality in the United States: “‘A Great Democratic Revolution’.”

* Alexis de Tocqueville– who went on to observe that “Americans are so enamored of equality, they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom.”

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As we dedicate ourselves to democracy, we might note that today is Fibonacci Day, as today’s date is often rendered 11/23, and the Fibonacci sequence (also here and here) begins 1, 1, 2, 3…

Five Ways to Celebrate Fibonacci Day.

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“There is nothing permanent except change”*…

 

Your correspondent is off for his annual retreat to the family seat, and a chance to compete in “the Talladega 500 of eating contests,” the Pawleys Island Marathon Meat Meet (your correspondent’s category: free-style).  Regular (Roughly) Daily service should resume on or around August 11.

Meantime, to keep readers amused, a pair of tools that enable armchair travel– through time as well as space.  Y’all be good!

 

315 Bowery in lower Manhattan: once the omphalos of Punk and New Wave, now a John Varvatos boutique…

From Brian Foo at the New York Public Library Labs…

As a web developer who works on a screen and an illustrator that works on paper, I have always admired those who could paint big—often on impossibly large and inconveniently placed walls—only to be erased in a matter of weeks or days. The ephemeral nature of street art is what makes it simultaneously appealing and frustrating as a viewer. However, Google Maps recently rolled out a feature allowing users to go back in time on its Street View. I immediately thought to check out the well-known wall on Bowery & Houston and found that Google captured the painted wall dating back to 2007. Here’s a sampling from 2007 to present. I added a few images of the wall that I found while perusing the web to fill in some of the gap years that Google didn’t capture.

Foo developed two tools, both available openly on the NYPL site:  the first corrects and aligns the perspectives of the different angles in street-view photos over time.  The second, the one used on the photo of the late-lamented CBGG at the top of this post, allows one to layer views from different times by “painting” one view onto another.  Try them out (and see more of his examples) at “Peeling Off The Painted Layers of NYC Walls: Experiments With The Google Street View Archive.”

* Heraclitus

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As we check the tags, we might send insightful birthday greetings to Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville, born on this date in 1805.  After a trip to the U.S. to study its penal system, de Tocqueville, whose observations had, happily, ranged much more broadly, published De la Démocratie en Amérique (Democracy in America), a pioneering work of (the not-yet-named fields of) sociology and political science– one still powerfully relevant to those concerned to understand the United States.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 29, 2014 at 1:01 am

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