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Tocqueville, The Man Who Understood Democracy 



October 4, 2023


This is a virtual event. A Zoom link will be sent before the event.

“French-American Histories, one story, two narratives” is a program of virtual talks launched by the Villa Albertine in collaboration with the Federation of Alliances Françaises USA. Each episode reveals a different facet of the vibrant French-American tapestry, through interviews with leading scholars, experts, and practitioners conducted by Dr. Iris de Rode, an expert in the history of French-American relations. The interviews will be broadcasted live and recorded monthly at the French Embassy or other locations in the United States. For October, we are thrilled to host Prof. Olivier Zunz for an episode focusing on Alexis de Tocqueville.

“Tocqueville, the man who understood democracy”

An Interview with Prof. Olivier Zunz: Professor University of Virginia, author of: The Man who Understood Democracy: The life of Alexis de Tocqueville. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2022)

Alexis de Tocqueville, the famous French political thinker and historian, is widely regarded as a profound and insightful observer of democracy. Through his seminal work, “Democracy in America,” Tocqueville delved into the intricacies of American society, analyzing its strengths, challenges, and potential pitfalls. He recognized the delicate balance between individual liberty and the need for social cohesion, and he foresaw the potential dangers of majority tyranny and the erosion of democratic institutions. Tocqueville’s keen observations on the virtues and vulnerabilities of democracy, his emphasis on the importance of civil society, and his nuanced understanding of the complexities of human nature continue to resonate today. His work serves as a timeless guide, offering invaluable insights into the nature of democracy and providing a foundation for the ongoing exploration and improvement of democratic systems around the world.

Olivier Zunz is James Madison Professor of History at the University of Virginia and an internationally recognized expert on the life and work of Alexis de Tocqueville.



240 years ago, fighting side by side for American independence, France was the first ally of the newly formed United States of America. Since then, the two countries have stood firm as “Sister Republics”, championing shared principles of democracy, freedom, and equality. The durable partnership has been characterized by a shared ambition and a common necessity for cooperation in a wide variety of fields in an increasingly globalized world. These encounters, spanning more than two centuries and ranging from the military to economic policy, agriculture, trade, philosophy, art, science and technology, have resulted in dynamic, fruitful and inspirational cross-exchanges that have shaped the destiny of both countries.

The two countries have numerous similarities but also separate histories, cultures, and institutions, making the relation dynamic and creative, but also at times contentious. Over the years, comparable concepts that have been implemented in the distinct French and American cultures have flourished, but also encountered alteration, adaptation or even opposition, requiring hurdles to be overcome and compromises to be found. France and the United States have frequently expressed their conviction in a single, unifying story, yet they needed two narratives to tell their peoples: One Story, Two Narratives.

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