The American Family and Boundaries in Historical Perspective

  • David Brion Davis
  • Carol F. Hoover


Since the 1840s, and especially since the 1940s, many Americans have turned almost compulsively to Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America as the authoritative fountainhead of historical self-understanding. Tocqueville’s prestige, which admittedly has had its ups and downs, owes something to his refreshing departure from the English empirical tradition, or to what the 11th edition of The Encyclopaedia Britannica calls his “excess of the deductive spirit.” As one of the founders of classical sociology, he was also the first European to apply systematic social theory to American institutions. But I suspect that Tocqueville’s appeal to Americans rests mainly on his ability to portray the United States as the vanguard of a long-term and irresistible movement toward democratization and modernization and to explain this revolutionary process by continual contrast with a premodern and aristocratic European tradition. Though Tocqueville was only 26 when he toured America in 1831, he soon became a cultural father-figure. For not only did he serve as interpreter and spokesman for the aristocratic past, but he assumed the role of an enlightened parent who accepts the inevitability of growth and change, who wants to understand, and who offers counsel designed to mitigate the excesses and hazards of freedom.


American Woman Historical Perspective American Family Wife Beating York Review 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1979

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Brion Davis
    • 1
  • Carol F. Hoover
    • 2
  1. 1.Yale UniversityNew HavenUSA
  2. 2.National Institute of Mental HealthBethesdaUSA

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