A Democrat of the Head

“A perfect democracy is the most shameless thing in the world.”

—Edmund Burke

Hugh Brogan has lived a long time—since the late 50’s, when he was reading history at St. John’s College, Cambridge—with the subject of this biography.  Across the decades, though his affection for Alexis de Tocqueville has not lessened, his skepticism in regard to the man’s social and political understanding appears to have increased.  Brogan consistently deplores (over 700 pages) what he considers Tocqueville’s snobbery, his expressed fears of democracy’s susceptibility to tyranny by the majority, his preference for the notables over the commonality of Frenchmen in his day and for constitutional monarchy over socialism, his supposed “obsession with property”—in short, his unwillingness to go for the radical-liberal agenda whole hog, which strikes Hugh Brogan as reactionary.  And yet, to my mind, it doesn’t matter; Brogan’s strictures may be irritating, but they cannot and do not spoil a splendid work, which amounts to a model of the biographer’s art.  They have at least the virtue of being honest and forthright, where another man, working indirectly by insinuation and innuendo, might have warped the whole project through fake objectivity.  Brogan is free to disagree...

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