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Tocqueville and the American Experiment

Explore what many historians still consider to be the greatest book on U.S. Democracy ever written.
Tocqueville and the American Experiment is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 91.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Tocqueville and the American Experiment I have read Tocqueville Democracy in America Translated by Arthur Goldhammer. Upon listening to Tocqueville and the American Experiment I found an enhanced understanding of the subject matter in Tocqueville’s text.Professor Cook loud clear creative presentation most informative as well as entertaining.
Date published: 2022-07-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course! I am very pleased with this course. The professor is knowledgeable and enthusiastic. I highly recommend it.
Date published: 2022-07-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exquisite For many years I've wanted to learn more about Tocqueville's much-revered book on America's experiment with democracy, but at 700+ dense pages I've just never gotten around to it. The series of lectures painlessly brings to life both the author and his book: Tocqueville s fascinating man, his travels across the United States in the 1830s, and his insightful understanding and analysis of our evolving culture, values and form of government in the first 50 years of our nation.
Date published: 2022-07-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Appropriate for the content Normally I choose only video courses, but this presenter has done so many other insightful courses that I can picture him in my mind. Although this course isn’t new, it is a powerful reminder that our democracy has always been a work in progress and needs to be cultivated to move us toward “real” democracy for everyone.
Date published: 2022-03-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is a wonderful lecture series For someone who has never read Tocqueville, but always wanted to know more, this was exactly what I wanted. I am thoroughly amazed at the prescience of this amazing man. I would encourage everyone to listen to this series.
Date published: 2021-12-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great presentation on a lessor known figure in ear Professor Cook is always a great and vigorous presenter. Tocqueville’s writing presents an ‘outsides’ view of the early American experiment, looking initially at the American system of jails and such, from a French viewpoint. His mission is to study and document this strange new American experiment. Provides an interesting, outsiders, view. Professor Cook, does his usual good job of presenting the material. This course was in audio format. I assume the DVD would be just a picture of Professor Cook pacing a rug. A video format with some supporting picures, maps, video would enhance it.
Date published: 2021-10-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great listen ! I just purchased this recently and have only listened to 4 lectures so far so I can't really give it 5 stars. I am also reading Tocqueville's book Democracy in America. Listening to this course makes the reading easier.
Date published: 2021-10-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Should be mandatory study for everybody in America Another 5-star class by a 5-star professor. I've taken several of Professor Cook's classes. I find Professor Cook's teaching style to be excellent. I have been aware of Tocqueville for decades but never launched into his 700-page book. I have seen it referenced in many political science books/papers and quoted by many prominent politicians. I should have read the entire book decades ago. What Tocqueville observed and commented on is as relevant today as it was in the 1800's. I can't expect schools to require reading a 700-page book; but, a class of this length (with some selected excerpts to read) as part of a senior high school curriculum would be very useful to future American adults. You can not help but think about American politics today compared to Tocqueville's insightful comments after listening to these lectures.
Date published: 2021-09-22
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Was the greatest book on U.S. democracy ever written crafted by a Frenchman visiting this country some 175 years ago? Why would such a book be relevant in today's ever-changing political landscape? Professor William R. Cook of the State University of New York, Geneseo, leads a 24-lecture, spirited exploration of Alexis de Tocqueville and his unique observations of this young nation that resulted in Democracy in America.


William R. Cook

In some ways, being detached from the world allows you also to be united with the world.


State University of New York, Geneseo
Dr. William R. Cook is the Distinguished Teaching Professor of History at the State University of New York at Geneseo, where he has taught since 1970. He earned his bachelor's degree cum laude from Wabash College and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa there. He was then awarded Woodrow Wilson and Herbert Lehman fellowships to study medieval history at Cornell University, where he earned his Ph.D. Professor Cook teaches courses in ancient and medieval history, the Renaissance and Reformation periods, and the Bible and Christian thought. Since 1983 Professor Cook has directed 11 Seminars for School Teachers for the National Endowment for the Humanities. His books include Images of St. Francis of Assisi and Francis of Assisi: The Way of Poverty and Humility. Dr. Cook contributed to the Cambridge Companion to Giotto and edits and contributes to The Art of the Franciscan Order in Italy. Among his many awards, Professor Cook has received the Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching. In 1992 the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education named him New York State's Professor of the Year. In 2003 he received the first-ever CARA Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Medieval Studies from the Medieval Academy of America.

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01: An Overview of "Democracy in America"

The course begins with a brief overview of Tocqueville's masterwork. Written to educate the French about democracy, it was originally published as two separate volumes, released five years apart.

32 min
Alexis de Tocqueville—A Brief Biography

02: Alexis de Tocqueville—A Brief Biography

Professor William R. Cook introduces the young French nobleman, trained as a lawyer, whose most famous book was only one achievement in a life marked by several, including service as France's foreign minister and a history of the French Revolution still regarded as a classic.

31 min
The Journey to America

03: The Journey to America

Though Tocqueville rarely describes specific events or conversations, his letters and journals allow us to follow him on his trip and get an excellent feel for the experiences he and his colleague, Gustave de Beaumont, have in America.

31 min
Equality of Conditions and Freedom

04: Equality of Conditions and Freedom

This lecture considers the meaning and implications of what Tocqueville introduces in "Democracy in America's" first paragraph as the foundation of the democratic enterprise: the concept he calls "equality of conditions."

30 min
The Foundations of the American Experience

05: The Foundations of the American Experience

Although democracy transcends any particular manifestation of it, Tocqueville stresses specific elements of the American experience that lead to its particular expression of democratic principles, including its roots in England, its form of Protestant Christianity, and its geography.

30 min
Does America Have a Mixed Constitution?

06: Does America Have a Mixed Constitution?

Americans are often taught that we have a classical republic, consisting of elements of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. However, Tocqueville challenges this idea by arguing that there is only one overarching principle at work in America: democracy.

31 min
The American Constitution

07: The American Constitution

This lecture examines Tocqueville's admiration and concern of the American Constitution, with special focus on the role of the federal judiciary, especially the Supreme Court, and the eligibility of a president for re-election.

31 min
The Judiciary and Lawyers in America

08: The Judiciary and Lawyers in America

We shift to other levels of the judiciary to see what Tocqueville has to say about justices of the peace, lawyers, and the vital role of juries as schools of democracy.

31 min
Democracy and Local Government

09: Democracy and Local Government

For Tocqueville, democracy to a large extent trickles up rather than down, with local elections and offices providing both efficiency and a democratic laboratory, both of which are dangerously subject to damage by the centralization of administration.

31 min
Freedom of Speech in Theory and Practice

10: Freedom of Speech in Theory and Practice

This lecture examines Tocqueville's views on the necessity and danger of freedom of speech, including his discussion on the limitations placed on speech not by law, but by custom.

31 min
Freedom of the Press

11: Freedom of the Press

We see how Tocqueville's views on freedom of the press clearly evolved between his work's two volumes and also enjoy the opportunity of using his own journal's word-by-word record of a conversation he had on this subject as a case study of his interviewing method.

31 min
Political Parties

12: Political Parties

Political parties as we understand them were only in their infancy when Tocqueville arrived in America. We examine his definition of "great" and "small" parties in explaining why the new realities of his time demand a new political science.

31 min
The Problem of the Tyranny of the Majority

13: The Problem of the Tyranny of the Majority

For Tocqueville, the danger of the tyranny of the majority is one of the most serious facing a democratic society. With even institutional safeguards offering insufficient protection, he looks to political associations as an essential barrier against that tyranny.

31 min
Political Associations

14: Political Associations

Tocqueville defines political associations as groups of people united for a particular political purpose. He examines how they function and how they act effectively to advocate for the particular issue they agree about.

31 min
Civil Associations

15: Civil Associations

The great complements to political associations in a democracy are civil associations, those private organizations without a political focus. Tocqueville argues that they not only help bind Americans together, but also are important to the functioning of democracy.

31 min
Blacks and Indians

16: Blacks and Indians

Tocqueville cannot paint a picture of America without dealing with race, especially black slavery and the "Indian problem." Although some of his predictions have not proved accurate, his perspective can be helpful in understanding contemporary American society.

31 min
Mores and Democracy

17: Mores and Democracy

This lecture examines what Tocqueville calls the mores of democracy including the possible implications as we seek to help nations without a tradition of democracy quickly create egalitarian and free societies.

31 min
Christianity and Democracy

18: Christianity and Democracy

Democracies are prone to changing values because of their majoritarian nature. Hence, an important question is: Where is the anchor of democracy to be found? For Tocqueville, that answer is in religion generally and Christianity specifically.

31 min
Education and Culture in Democracies

19: Education and Culture in Democracies

This lecture examines Tocqueville's belief that education in America is broad but shallow, with the average person knowing more than his or her counterpart in Europe, but with America lacking great scientists, writers, philosophers, and artists.

31 min
Individualism in America

20: Individualism in America

Tocqueville's different take on the trait he called "individualism" creates a useful prism through which to examine this quintessentially American phenomenon and what he saw as its dangerous tendency to cause Americans to withdraw from the public sphere.

30 min
The Desire for Wealth in America

21: The Desire for Wealth in America

Tocqueville is disturbed by the materialism he sees in America, with people so caught up in pursuing riches that they ignore other important aspects of what it means to be human, and even fears a long-range threat to equality of conditions.

31 min
The Democratic Family

22: The Democratic Family

This lecture focuses on Tocqueville's observations of the modern democratic family, with special focus on the role of women, both in the daily life of America and in its success.

31 min
Are Democracy and Excellence Compatible?

23: Are Democracy and Excellence Compatible?

From the time of the ancient Greeks, people have debated whether democracy destroys excellence or encourages it. This lecture examines the question of excellence or mediocrity as it is raised in a variety of contexts throughout Democracy in America.

30 min
Tocqueville’s Unanswered Questions

24: Tocqueville’s Unanswered Questions

The course concludes by reviewing Tocqueville's most important insights and applying them to the next 175 years of American history. Of course, our nation's story is still developing, but we can ask which possibilities that Tocqueville outlines are at present those in the ascent.

32 min