Harvey Mansfield
Political Theorist; Author; Professor, Harvard

Whom would you like to interview?

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Harvey Mansfield asks what Tocqueville would think of today's America?

Harvey Mansfield

Harvey C. Mansfield, William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Government, studies and teaches political philosophy. He has written on Edmund Burke and the nature of political parties, on Machiavelli and the invention of indirect government, in defense of a defensible liberalism and in favor of a Constitutional American political science. He has also written on the discovery and development of the theory of executive power, and has translated three books of Machiavelli’s and (with the aid of his wife) Tocqueville's Democracy in America. His book on manliness has just been published. He was Chairman of the Government Department from 1973-1977, has held Guggenheim and NEH Fellowships, and has been a Fellow at the National Humanities Center. He won the Joseph R. Levenson award for his teaching at Harvard, received the Sidney Hook Memorial award from the National Association of Scholars, and in 2004 accepted a National Humanities Medal from the President.  He has hardly left Harvard since his first arrival in 1949, and has been on the faculty since 1962.


Question: Whom would you interview if you could interview anyone?

Harvey Mansfield: Because it would be good to be Odysseus in Hades and ask some of the shades what they think of their lives after they’ve led them. No …. let’s see … If I … Alright, so I will chose a dead person: Tocqueville. I would like to know what he thinks about democracy in America today. It would be speculation; but I think he would not be surprised. And I think he would be, on the whole, pleased. He would be especially impressed by the way we got through the Civil War, and with how we managed to destroy slavery and, more recently, Jim Crow and the second class status of former slaves more successfully than a democratic country could ever expect it to do. And that’s because it’s harder for a Democratic country to abolish slavery than I think it is than for a non-democratic country. A democratic country believes in the principle of consent. And the problem was that there were many slave owners who wanted their right to consent to have slaves. And that, I think, was the biggest challenge sort of between Tocqueville’s time and ours. There have been others, too, obviously things that are more recent. I would like to know what he thought of the return of religion in our time obviously. He had a low opinion of Islam, but a high opinion of religion in general. So what would he say to that? Those are the things on which I would like to question him.

Recorded on: 6/13/07