Harvey Mansfield
Harvey Mansfield
Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America
ISBN: 0226805328
Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America
Alexis de Tocqueville's book he wrote on his return to France from America in 1831 remains the most often quoted book about the United States. Harvey Mansfield and Delba Winthrop's new translation is the first to appear in three decades, and the only one to provide notes identifying events and allusions no longer familiar to today's readers.
—from the publisher's website
Video Clip Search is not available for this video.
TRANSCRIPT
Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America
Program Air Date: December 17, 2000

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Harvey Mansfield, in your new edition of "Democracy in America," you write at the beginning, `"Democracy in America" is, at once, the best book ever written on democracy and the best book ever written on America.'
Professor HARVEY MANSFIELD, AUTHOR, "DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA": I think that's right. It--it is those two things, and it's about those two subjects. It's about democracy, the logic of democracy, which is best shown in America, and it's also about the peculiarities of America, the country where the Puritans landed, where Indians were mistreated and where blacks were enslaved, brought over. So America has its own characteristics, but it's democracy. And for Tocqueville, especially, and perhaps still for us today, it represents democracy in the world. It's the most advanced democratic country. So if you want to look at democracy, you have to look at democracy in America.
LAMB: What is democracy?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Democracy is rule of the people, literally, but Tocqueville has a--a different understanding. He--he speaks especially of the equality of conditions in America; that people are similar to one another and that they--and if they aren't, nonetheless, they still regard themselves as similar. So he thinks of it as a social condition more than as a form of government or if--though he certainly is interested in government, the government seems to be a consequence of a democratic society.
LAMB: Now this is a 722-page tome...
Prof. MANSFIELD: Right.
LAMB: ...sells for $35, published by the University of Chicago. And you're listed as `translating, editing and an introduction by Harvey Mansfield and Delba Winthrop.'
Prof. MANSFIELD: Who's she?
LAMB: Your wife.
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yes.
LAMB: But--but go back to the beginning of this.
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yeah.
LAMB: You translated this from French to English?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yes. That's possible. It took us a while. It took us about five years. It--it would have gone quicker if we knew at the beginning what we knew at the end, because you learn as you go along. My experience had been mostly with Italian. I've translated Machiavelli into--into English, so--which is, by the way, much harder than this. B--but--so neither of us were--are experienced translators, but we loved Tocqueville and we loved this book. And we thought that the pr--two preceding translations, one of which was made in Tocqueville's time by a friend of his, an Englishman, a--a translation which Tocqueville criticized as being too aristocratic in tone; and the other which is--was done in America in the 1960s, and that's a little bit better, but it's not accurate enough.

So we wanted a more accurate translation, one with a few notes that tells a reader th--things that they don't necessarily know, like when was the Hundred Years War, things like that, and that g--is more careful about Tocqueville's key terms, because he wasn't just an observer or a traveler, though he was those things, he was also a thinker. He said, `I saw in America the image of democracy itself.' That's a kind of theoretical statement.
LAMB: Alexis de Tocqueville was born when, lived where, came to America what years?
Prof. MANSFIELD: He was born in 1805; died 1859. He came to America in 1830 to '31. He lived most of his life, well, divided between Paris, because he was a member of the French Academy and hung out there, especially during the time of Louis Napoleon, when French republicanism was under a shadow, and, of course, he had his--his ancestral estate in Normandy. He's Alexis de Tocqueville, and the `de' means `from.' So he was from a place called Tocqueville, and you can still visit that place in Normandy, as I know you have.
LAMB: When did you first get the idea of doing a translation?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Not too long before we actually began it. In fact, a publisher had--another publisher had approached us to edit an existing translation, and that wasn't possible, but we said, `Why don't we do one on our own?' Because we both worked on the book so much.
LAMB: When did you first get introduced to "Democracy in America"?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Oh, surely, that was when I was in college.
LAMB: Where was that?
Prof. MANSFIELD: That was at Harvard, where I've been all my life of--since age 17, except for two periods; once in the Army, and once, my first job at the University of California in Berkeley ….
LAMB: What year did you graduate from Harvard?
Prof. MANSFIELD: I graduated in 1953, which is--was a while ago, having read Tocqueville.
LAMB: And in--under what circumstances did you first read it, and were you interested from the beginning?
Prof. MANSFIELD: I would have read it in a government course because I was a major in government or political science. I don't remember, really, reading it first time, but it was--it's such a classic. My head is filled with the other cla--classics I was reading at the time: Plato and Aristotle and so on. This is the cl--`the' classic about America--the Federalists perhaps, too, but let's put them together: the Federalists and Tocqueville. So this is about our own country and it's a classic. That's what excited us.
LAMB: When did you meet your wife?
Prof. MANSFIELD: In--let me see, that must have been in 1967. She was a former student of mine.
LAMB: How long have you been married?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Since 1978.
LAMB: And how long did you--have you worked together on projects like this, and how do you do it?
Prof. MANSFIELD: No. This is our--this is our first project together, and we approached it very warily because we thought we might get into fights, but we didn't. That was a great discovery we made, and I--and I can then offer it to other authors who are afraid of working with their wives. It can be done--or--or--or with their husbands. It can be done. You--and the way to do it is not to spend too much time cheek to cheek, but you work on something, then you give it to the other and then she works on it, corrects what you've done, hands it back and you correct. And only at the very end, if you fail to agree, so to speak, in writing, do you actually discuss. You've got to keep the discussion to a minimum because discussion means arguing. But, nonetheless, it came out perfectly well for us.
LAMB: Do you both speak and write French?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yeah. We both speak it and write it not well. No, we couldn't--translating from English back into French, that we couldn't do. And that brings up a kind of secret of translation; that the language you really have to know is the one you're going into. The--the--the French, there are obviously some puzzles in Tocqueville's text. It's hard in places to understand his French, but you can figure it out. The real difficulty is finding the right English to--for the French equivalence.
LAMB: How much difference is there between what you've translated and what the other two have?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Well, th--we all--all three of us did the--the full book. The--the first one, by Henry Reeve, an Englishman--as I said, was Tocqueville's friend--was quite loose and, for example, didn't even keep his paragraphs. Tocqueville's writing is--is--is peculiar to him because he has very long sentences and very short paragraphs. There were sometimes even one-sentence paragraphs. We--we thought that was very important for his style.

And the other one, the other translator, the more recent one, the American George Lawrence, came out in the '60s, th--th--that's much more readable and more up to date than the Henry Reeve one, but it's--it's--it's not as accurate, we think, as ours, and it doesn't have the notes that we had. And sometimes when he en--encounters a difficulty in the French, he makes a kind of end run around it in--instead of reproducing the difficulty. We think that if--if something's difficult to read in French, it also ought to be a little bit difficult to read in English. So...
LAMB: When you pick up and start reading your introduction, Aristotle...
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yeah.
LAMB: ...Montesquieu, Descartes...
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yeah.
LAMB: ...lots of names, and--and the--one of the questions I wanted to ask you, as someone who's taught all this all these years...
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yeah.
LAMB: ...what's the purpose of us studying these things?
Prof. MANSFIELD: It's to get beyond the newspapers and magazines. Most people read newspapers or watch TV, and if they want to get profound, they read magazines. But the people who write magazines have read these books, so if you really want to get back to the sources of things, you have to read the--the books of philosophy, which is where the ideas that get spread into the world first originate, and where they first originate is where they're most deeply and most sharply, often, stated.

So--so it's to get back to the first source of things, and the reason for doing that is so that you don't depend on other people. It's a kind of root to being independent or even free. A free person in the highest sense of free is someone who doesn't live off another person's word or doesn't live by the authority of his society and our society, the authority of public opinion. And--and the way to achieve this independence is by reading, especially, the great books, the classic books.
LAMB: Besides the obvious and inviting you to do BOOKNOTES because of "Democracy in America," there seems to be a Mansfield thread running through a number of discussions we've had recently. This book i--is not one that you've written, but it's some 20 people who you've taught who came together to write essays about you or something that you've taught them. What's it like when 20 of your former students get together to do something called "Educating The Prince: Essays in Honor of Harvey Mansfield"?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Well, it is an honor for that to happen. It--it's not terribly unusual, and there's even a German word for it, (German spoken), which means a kind of celebration writing. And it's meant to be for professors who are retiring or who have just died, but I'm not quite ready to retire, and I'm not dead yet. So they did it a little bit prematurely. Nonetheless, there were 20, and there are some other students who could have been included. So I'm looking forward to volume two.
LAMB: Have you read it?
Prof. MANSFIELD: I've read most of it, but it--I--I s--I read it a little bit at a time because I savor it.
LAMB: It says here that--Bill Kristol has the introduction. He says, `If justice is given to each his due, this is an injustice. I'm confident I speak for all the contributors to this volume when I assert that these efforts of his students fall short of what Harvey Mansfield deserves. Does this make Harvey Mansfield a teacher of injustice?'

But--but I wanted to read this para--or sentence in the introduction by Bill Kristol: `But it is Mansfield's moral courage that has em--has emboldened him to fight unpopular and principled battles against the degradation of his beloved Harvard, which he attended and where he has taught for virtually his entire academic career.' What's he talking about?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Well, I occasionally get up and make speeches, often in the form of questions, at Harvard faculty meetings, and I question the people at the polished table, I call them--those are the deans and the president who preside at such meetings--because I think they're presiding over a decline at Harvard. And I said I've been there essentially all my life, and I've seen this happen, and it--it--it bothers me very deeply.
LAMB: What's the decline? Why is it happening?
Prof. MANSFIELD: The decline is in our standards, especially, and this comes about through political correctness and th--through--through the int--introduction of more and more political courses and a more and more political way of looking at education. When I was young, it was really hard to know--know, say, what political party the professor was in. After a while, you could scope it out, but it--it--it wasn't something that was obvious. Now that's quite obvious, and it--and--and a bad thing that goes along with this is that the students start to choose their courses according to the politics of the professor.

Another sign of the decline in standards is great inflation. At Harvard now, just about half the grades that are given are A's. That's Harvard undergraduates. Al Gore went to Harvard. He is not a dumb fellow, but all the time that he was Harvard I--at Harvard, I think he got one A minus. Are our students that much smarter, say, than such a man who has risen to become a presidential candidate or pro--possibly president? Th--that, I think, is a--a very bad sign. It shows that professors aren't able to look a student in the eye and say, `You're an average student. You're good because you're at Harvard, but, still, by our standards, that's a C.' And the greatest C has almost disappeared from view. To give a student a C at Harvard now is like thrusting a sword into his vitals.
LAMB: How many students do you teach e--a semester now?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Oh, it varies a lot because some of my courses are small seminars, and others, lecture courses. At the most in a lecture course, I would get 100 or 100-plus. I'm not one of the m--most popular lecturers at Harvard, for example, like my friend Michael Sandel, who gets 700, 800 s--like that. But I--I suppose I have a certain local notoriety. They know my name, and some of them don't want to come because they fear they might get not a C, but possibly a B-plus.
LAMB: How many non-A's do you give out in a group of 100 students?
Prof. MANSFIELD: That's confidential. But, I mean, the--the difficulty is I have to go along with this grade inflation to some extent myself. Otherwise, you're just punishing your own students. So my grades are--are s--somewhat stiffer than most people's, but not terribly, not what I think we should really be doing. So I--it's--it's like dealing with a currency that's been debased, see? You--you've got to go with the flow to some extent. That's one place where you can't stand out by yourself with moral courage.
LAMB: On this program a couple of weeks ago, Dena Easton, who's written a book called the "Gang of Five," mentioned your name. I want to show the audience and you what she had to say and then follow up with some questions about something else she talks about.
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yeah. (Excerpts from previous BOOKNOTES)
Ms. DEAN EASTON: They tended to have mentors. They tended to--for example, Bill Kristol at Harvard. A very famous Straussian named Harvey--Harvey Mansfield really shaped his thinking.
LAMB: Still--still going at Harvard.
Ms. EASTON: Is still going at Harvard.

Well, Bill Kristol--a very important thing to understand about the school of philosophy that he comes from: These are not people of faith, shall we say. Religion--they believe in religion for other people, but not for themselves. So this whole crop of graduate students, these Straussians, followers of Leo Strauss, the philosopher, who, by the way, believed that a virtuous citizenry is much more important than equality or--or opportunity or all these other things that we've come to believe are important...
LAMB: We did he live, by the way?
Ms. EASTON: He lived until 1973. He was a--he was German philosopher who came to the United States. And--and Bill Kristol was sort of the second generation of Straussians. And these folks became quite influential, particularly in the Reagan administration.
LAMB: Did--bid Leo Strauss teach Bill Kristol, or did he know him?
Ms. EASTON: No. He--he--no. He--he--but his--one of his proteges, Harvey Mansfield, who is a--as I said before, a very preeminent straussian at Harvard, taught Bill, and that was--that was key. (End of excerpts)
LAMB: Did you agree with what he said about Leo Strauss?
Prof. MANSFIELD: That's not bad compared with what you often hear, `a virtuous citizenry.' I mean, one--one can certainly find ways to--to reconcile virtue with equal opportunity. You might say that equal opportunity is what gives virtue an opportunity, a chance. So--but--but it is--Strauss' own politics were on the conservative side. That certainly has to be said.

His main aim, however, was not political. It was to revive political philosophy in this century. He thought that political philosophy was under decl--was in a decline, and even an eclipse; that people had forgotten its original meaning. So he especially wanted to go back to the Greeks, to Socrates and Plato, Aristotle, Xenophon, the--the ancient writers, and to see what they had to inspire our thinking. It was thinking that he was concerned with more than doing or--or the politics of our day.
LAMB: Did you have him in class?
Prof. MANSFIELD: I never did. I--because I was always at Harvard, and Strauss was at Chicago. He had a low opinion of Harvard. He said th--that the only thing that people say good about Harvard is that the students are good there, he said. But in Germany, he said, when we thought a university was good, it was because the professors were good. And somehow he thought that the professors were better at the University of Chicago than at Harvard.
LAMB: Did you ever meet him?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Of course I met him, yes. And this was--but it was late, just as I was finishing my PhD.
LAMB: Is it fair then to call you a Straussian?
Prof. MANSFIELD: It is fair. I've--I'm certainly a--a follower---some people use the meaner word, `disciple' of--of Leo Strauss.
LAMB: What else does he stand for?
Prof. MANSFIELD: He stands for the notion, also, of esoteric writing; that philosophers, when they wrote, composed their works in such a way as to speak to their own time, but also to future times, to other philosophers in future times. So they spoke ironically; that is, with l--layers of meaning. This is something which comes out of Socrates, who was known for his irony. And it's something which he'll use every day as a teacher. When you're a teacher, you always begin at the beginning, which means that when you're talking to your students, you hold back something. You don't say everything that you know right away. You introduce the subject. Well--well, if you take that idea and make it into a general principle or a way of writing, that's what he was concerned with.
LAMB: If we saw three or four books on your shelf--I know you've got a lot more than that, but--of your favorite philosophers...
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yeah.
LAMB: ...I know that Machiavelli must be in there somewhere...
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yes.
LAMB: ...who's on that shelf?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Oh, Machiavelli and Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Rousseau, the Germans not so much. That's enough. That's enough.
LAMB: Machiavelli, you've written a lot about.
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yeah.
LAMB: "The Prince" and all that. Why? Who was he?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Right. An Italian. Or was he a Florentine? He lived in the 15th, early 16th century. He wrote two books especially: "The Prince," which everyone reads, and "The Discourses on Livy," which not quite so many people read. It's a longer book.

He challenged the view that politics should be about the best or should aspire to make us better than we are. He thought that it's enough to make us more secure or more free in a kind of low sense of the term free. And so he thought that those who tried to set a moral standard in politics came to grief and produced more harm than good because they ignite, they incite others and incite passions in people. And you can cause as much trouble trying to do good--in fact, more trouble, he thought--than trying to do evil.

So he taught princes dirty tricks, you might say, of how to succeed. An example: You must always either caress someone or kill him. It is either be nice or get rid of him. Don't do something in the middle, like offend him and leave him angry and in a mood to get revenge against you. That would be an example.
LAMB: Is there a way to apply "The Prince" and Machiavelli to today?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Well, sure. Our--our politicians, consciously or unconsciously, use little tricks like that all the time. I think that one is used very frequently. The--another example would be: How do you get people to be on your side if you've just moved into a new office? And Machiavelli suggests, `Well, pay no attention to your former friends. The trouble with them is that they expect something from you because they were on your side,' see? `But make deals or appoint your former enemies. Those people have no expectations. They're very grateful if you even give them a call. And if you actually appoint them, they'll be much more loyal to you than will your former friends.'
LAMB: What do you think it means today--and you hear it all the time--that `he's Machiavellian' when they refer to somebody anywhere in politics or even in business?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Well, some--some sort of scheming evil. I would say that's...
LAMB: Is that fair?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yes, I think that is, on the whole, fair. But, I mean, ultimately, Machiavelli thought this would make--it would make things better for humanity.
LAMB: Do you agree with him?
Prof. MANSFIELD: I don't think I do. But, nonetheless, I somehow love him and love his writing because he punctures our moral complacency. I think that's the chief views of him in teaching or in--in reading him in--in colleges or--or outside.
LAMB: Did you translate "The Prince"?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yes.
LAMB: What year?
Prof. MANSFIELD: That would have been, I think, in about--in the ear--1985, something like that.
LAMB: Well, if three people now, including you and your wife--actually, four people--have translated Tocqueville's "Democracy in America", how many people over the years have translated "The Prince"?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Hundreds. There are--translations of "The Prince" are a dime a dozen, I can tell you. There's...
LAMB: Was yours any different than the others?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yes, much better. It was, I mean, much more accurate. It had a certain style to it, I hope. I mean, there are a couple of friends of mine who have--even other Straussians, who have translated it. You could say there are three Straussian translations of the prints. But s--somehow, you know, looking at the thing very conservatively and objectively, I like mine the best.
LAMB: Go back to Leo Strauss for a moment. What did he--how big was he? What did he sound like? And what kind of a person was he to be around?
Prof. MANSFIELD: He was a small man, quite small, the stature of a tyrant, you might say, like Napoleon. But he was a--he liked that kind of joke. He was a very funny man. He gossiped, and he appreciated the jokes that philosophers told, looked for them. That was one reason why he liked Machiavelli so much; there's an awful lot of comedy, a lot of joking in Machiavelli. So th--that was one thing that struck me when I first met him. Then, also, I was in a reading group of his, and th--just the--the power of his intellect was amazing to me.
LAMB: Did he have an accent?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Sure. Yeah, he had an--he had a German accent all his life, although he picked up English very quickly and started writing beautiful English not long after he arrived in the United States, which was I--I think around 1941, just--just in time.
LAMB: Where did you grow up?
Prof. MANSFIELD: I grew up in several places, but as my--I--I was born in New Haven, Connecticut, where my father was a professor at a university there, whose name I forget. And then I came to Washington, DC, as my father was in the OPA, if you know what that was, the Office of Price Administration, during World War II. And so as a kid, I grew up right here in--in DC.
LAMB: I assume you're referring to Yale--is what you couldn't remember.
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yes. OK. Thank you.
LAMB: So when did you get interested in--in philosophers and then teaching them?
Prof. MANSFIELD: That was through a man who's a mentor of mine, and--and his name is Sam Beer. He--I--was a--was a professor, is now retired, in the Harvard Government Department. And I met him my sophomore year and was utterly taken with this man, this wonderful manly man. It was not that long after World War II, and he used to wear his Army overcoat to class and stride up and down the platform like a--like a soldier talking to his--like a general talking to his troops, or at least that's the way I felt or maybe it's just the way I romanticize it now. But he was a wonderful man, and he--and--and--and to say it again, and his interest was especially in American and British politics and how to use political philosophy to understand those better.
LAMB: When did you decide to teach?
Prof. MANSFIELD: It's hard to say when I decided, because I sort of glided into becoming a--a professor. I can remember one of my section leaders--it was at Harvard then. It was the graduate students who teach there, saying to me--even as I was a freshman, he said, `It--it's fated. You're--you're fated to become a professor.' And I--I never--I never really stopped, I--I don't think, and looked at alternatives and thought about doing something else. It was in the family.
LAMB: In looking at the book, "Educating the Prince," essays in honor of you, I'm looking at Clifford Orwin.
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yes.
LAMB: Do you remember Clifford Orwin?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Of course.
LAMB: He's writing "Rousseau on the Problem of Invisible Government."
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yes.
LAMB: Who--what--how long ago did you teach him, do you remember?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yeah. That was in the 1970s that he was Harvard--at Harvard. He came from Cornell. I had a number of my students come from Cornell, because Allan Bloom taught at--at Cornell at that time. And Allan Bloom would send his best or maybe his near best to me at Harvard to be polished up. We gave them a little refinement.
LAMB: He starts off by writing, `Among Harvey Mansfield's signal achievements is to have exposed the preoccupation of modern thinkers with the art or science of invisible government of that government which governs best because at least--because it--it least seems to govern.' What's he saying, and what--what--does--does he reflect what you taught?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yeah, that--he does. That's a principle of modern government, which comes out of Machiavelli, but which is best known to us as representative government. As we talk about our representatives, the House of Representatives, what does that mean? It means that our governors represent us, so they claim to be us, in a sense. They're doing what we want them to do or at least what we put them in office to do. Now that--what that tends to do is to conceal the fact that they are governing or imposing on us, passing laws which we have to obey or doing things which change our lives. So it makes it seem as if government comes from us, the--the governed; that that's really what we say or we believe. And--but the tendency of that is to make government invisible or less oppressive, sort of less as if it's somebody bossing you around and more as if it's something you asked for yourself.
LAMB: Ralph Hancock.
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yeah.
LAMB: He's--`Necessity, morality, Christianity.' He writes, `For Mansfield's Machiavelli, the essence of religion is the need of most people to have their cake and eat it, too; to believe in goodness, their own and ultimately the world's, yet without sacrificing the human necessity of acquisition.' What's that saying?
Prof. MANSFIELD: That's a--that's lot in--in one sentence. Yes, well, Machiavelli believes like Je--Jesse Ventura; that religion is for the weak or that it's for people who think that if you are good, the world won't mistreat you. If you are good, nothing bad will happen to you. And you have to believe in God in order to make sure that nothing bad will happen to you. Maybe it will in this world, but in the next world, it won't. And so this gives you the illusion that goodness is enough, that you can live by that. So that--that, I think, is Machiavelli's...
LAMB: Af--after studying all this all your life and all these philosophers, wh--where is your own head when it comes to religion?
Prof. MANSFIELD: That's really hard for me. I take it seriously as a claim to truth. And there are friends of mine who are strongly religious, like Ralph Hancock, who--who--who very much impress me, but--but I can only say that the--the faith hasn't come to me. And I--I feel as if I'm open, but it hasn't come.
LAMB: Did it ever?
Prof. MANSFIELD: No, it never. I grew up in a--a sort of liberal, secular family. So I never had a religious education, which perhaps would have been better, but s--I don't resent that. I--in fact, I--most of the Bible that I've read has been from the works of atheists, from the works of philosophers who are criticizing the Bible. They took it seriously and I try to do the same, if not in their spirit.
LAMB: What's happened to your politics over the years?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Well, I started off as a liberal in college, and I turned conservative in graduate school soon after. That would be in the middle 1950s.
LAMB: What changed you?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Wh--what changed me was communism, anti-communism. I was a very--I was a--a vigorous anti-Communist, and it seemed to me that the conservatives were much more reliable on that issue than liberals, though there were some liberals like my father, a Cold War liberal, who was never tempted by communism and was a strong opponent of it. Nonetheless, it seemed to me that the con--conservatives had the advantage on that issue, and then gradually I began to work into other more conservative positions as well.
LAMB: How many other conservative professors have you met at Harvard?
Prof. MANSFIELD: About a half-dozen out of 750, say, that I know of.
LAMB: Right.
Prof. MANSFIELD: And there may be some others who are--who vote Republican in the privacy of the--of--of the voting booth, when nobody's watching you, except God. But for the most part, it's a very liberal institution. It's quite changed from when I first got there. It's much more diverse in the sense of many more blacks and Hispanics and a lot more foreigners. And, of course, women are now half-and-half with men at Harvard. But as to diversity of opinion, that has gone way, way down.
LAMB: What about the students?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Students are smart. It's still the place where good students want to go.
LAMB: Are they all liberal?
Prof. MANSFIELD: No. I see a good number who aren't, and I wish I saw more who are liberal. But I would say maybe a quarter of Harvard students are conservatively i--inclined, a quarter to a third who might vote--might vote Republican. So the students--and that's true of graduate students as well. The students are a--a lot more conservative than the faculty or the administration.
LAMB: "Democracy in America"--what did you hope to accomplish by a new translation, spending all that time, five years?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yes.
LAMB: By the way, how many copies did Chicago print for the first printing, do you know?
Prof. MANSFIELD: I don't. I don't know. I hope enough. They hope enough. But I--I--I hope people will go out and get it and make it scarce.
LAMB: Why?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Because it's--it--I--I go back to what we said in our first sentence in the--in the introduction. It's the best book on democracy and the best book on America. That's really why we did it. We wanted to make this available in a--in a more literal and a more accurate translation than it was before, the same reason why I translated Machiavelli. And, by the way, the Straussians have done quite a bit of translating of sort of major classical works because we do it with a different principle, and that principle is that the author knows what he wants to say. So it's very important to be as accurate as you can when you get it into English.
LAMB: If Alexis de Tocqueville came back to this country and did his nine-month tour again and went around to the different places he had visited back in 1830, 1831, what--what do you think he would write this time?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yes, revisiting, what he would see that's new. Well, the place of women is utterly different from what he said in his book. We've gone to gender neutrality, a kind of gender-neutral society, in which women have equal rights in public as well as private. Tocqueville says in his book that the place of men--or men and women in America are equal, but they have very different places or destinies. Now that's no longer true, and I'm sure that would impress him.

He would also be interested in what's happened to black Americans. Tocqueville had a sort of pessimistic view of what might happen. He was fearful of a race war, and, of course, we did have a war, but it wasn't a--a race war. So he would be very interested to see that blacks are somehow much more integrated as Americans than he would have expected, I think. What else? All the...
LAMB: Well, let me ask you this: What would he think of the presidency?
Prof. MANSFIELD: The presidency. It's become still more of a tribune than it was when he saw it and, therefore, much more powerful, in a sense; weak in another sense. He saw Andrew Jackson, and he didn't much care for Andrew Jackson. He thought that Andrew Jackson was a weak president. He is usually considered today by historians and political scientists to be a strong one, but Tocqueville's understanding of weak was somebody who went along with the people too much. And so I think looking at the presidency today, he would say, `Yes, it's strong and they're stronger in the sense that he occupies the center of the stage much more even than Jackson did. But it's weaker in the sense that he re--he re--people rely now--presidents rely now on polls and focus groups.'
LAMB: What would he think of the judi--excuse me--the judiciary?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Well, he saw the power of the judiciary. I don't think he would be surprised. He's famous for one of his remarks in that book; that in America, somehow every political question becomes a judicial one. And I don't think he would be surprised at--at the fact that if you look in our generation, most of the big--big decisions that have been made as to how our life is actually lived--a gr--great example, abortion--have been made by the judiciary.
LAMB: He called--I don't have the exact word, but I--sentence, but he called the members of the House of Representatives `vulgar.' He--at least that was the translation that I read...
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yeah.
LAMB: ...before yours.
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yes.
LAMB: He--he--do you think he...
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yes, he did say that.
LAMB: What would he think of them--was that the word you translated, vulgar?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yes. Yeah.
LAMB: Would--would he think that today?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yes. We--well, I think we've maybe polished up our act a little bit. We're not as coarse as we used to be. We don't drink as much whiskey. There are no spittoons in the--in--in the halls of Congress as there used to be. And--and they're--it's--we're not as rustic, or not as many of us are farmers, and the farmers that we do have are businessmen now. So our life has become more industrial, more technological, more professional. But it still somehow remains deeply democratic.
LAMB: Robert Putnam was here talking about bowling alone, and he is not a conservative, I assume...
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yes.
LAMB: ...you can say that. but he endorsed Tocqueville and...
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yes. Of course.
LAMB: ...loved his the community association work and you endorsed him.
Prof. MANSFIELD: That's right.
LAMB: Is he left? Is he right? Was he a conservative?
Prof. MANSFIELD: He's--he really is both. There are--or at least there are parts in him that both liberals and conservatives like. Liberals like his communitarian aspect, the fact that he says Americans don't bowl alone, as--as Bob Putnam says. And conservatives like his attack on big government, on--Tocqueville says that big government leads to a people that suffers under sort of a mild schoolmaster; despotism, he even says. So somehow liberals and conservatives both like Tocqueville, but what that probably means is that they overlook the parts in him that go against what they like to believe.
LAMB: What would you recommend to someone who's never dipped into this big book? I mean, it's a two-part series. One--I mean, two parts. One came out in 1835, as you point out, and one in 1840. It's a big book.
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yeah.
LAMB: How--how would you go about studying it?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Well, the first thing you might do, just to get yourself interested, is to look at some of the most interesting parts, like the five chapters on women in the second volume or the pages on--on American blacks in the end of the first volume, or the Indians. These are some of the most famous passages. His contrast between America and Russia, sort of two democratic countries--which way will the democratic future take us? Toward America or toward Russia? That is a kind of democratic despotism, as he understood it. So that's what would I do. I would dip into it first and then go back to the beginning and--and--and pa--spend a lot of time on the introduction.
LAMB: Did you do, in the course of your study--do you--have you ever done anything Tocqueville, like did you go to the Binicki Library at Yale and look at all of his papers and things like that?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yes. I've been there once.
LAMB: Help you at all?
Prof. MANSFIELD: But...
LAMB: I mean, make a difference?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Well, I--it didn't make a--much of a difference with our translation because we--we're dealing with what he actually chose to say. What they have at the Binicki Li--Library is his manuscripts, which are certainly wo--wonderful and--to look at. And his--he wrote on one side of the page, and then on the other side of the page he put his footnotes and left room for other thoughts and for al--also, for comments by his brother and his father, who read his--his text and made little criticisms. And there's actually a--an--an addition in French which gives you in the margin these remarks by his--his family and his--not many authors have that happen to him--them, I mean, so--to have your father and--and brother sa--say what he thinks of you. But--what they think of you. But it's a--yeah, so it--it--it's--it's wonderfully interesting, but--but it--it--it wasn't all that much use to us as translators.
LAMB: He--when he came here and--and he was 25, 26 years old while he was here, and he obviously wrote when he was in his 20s, in this book here that we were talking about earlier, the "Educating The Prince" book, that has a lot of your--20 of your--of your former students in it, just lends me to--I mean, you've seen a lot of minds. When you're 25 and 26, has your--has your mind developed enough that you--I mean, has it developed as much as it's going to, as to what you know and how you can reason?
Prof. MANSFIELD: No, I don't think so, not in--not in philosophy or--not in political philosophy, especially. In--in mathematics, yes. If you're not a famous mathematician by the time you're 25, I suppose you won't be one. But philosophy or--or especially political philosophy depends upon or uses experience. You have to le--learn what human beings are like. That's one point. And then another point is that there's literature at--at--with something like mathematics or different branches of science, you're on a frontier. Everything that's being done now is the best that's ever been done. But with political philosophy, that's by no means the case. What's being down now is not as good as what used to be done in the great books or in the classics. So it takes a long time to develop a mature understanding of those books, reading them over and over, and teaching them helps as well. So you'll get better. And you would be in your--at your best, I would say, in your 50s or 60s, even.
LAMB: When did you sense that people were starting to follow you?
Prof. MANSFIELD: I don't--I still don't have that sense. And I--I--I'm not sure that they are. So--so I have to just enter a demurrer on that.
LAMB: But--well, they must if--if there's a book written with 20 of your former students, somebody...
Prof. MANSFIELD: Well, I--yes. It--it's a big honor, but for me. A lot of other professors, too, get books like this, and so it's not unknown.
LAMB: What do you think you do that gets people interested enough to do something like this? I mean, what is it about your style? Can you give us more on that?
Prof. MANSFIELD: It's hard because maybe I'm not that conscious about my style. I don't think it's my written work so much as my teaching. And there, I try to open each lecture with some reference to today or to a problem today and then show why the book that we're going to study helps you understand that problem. And once in a while, I try for a cute formulation. I think that may help. And at the end and even during the lecture, I take a lot of questions because I don't want people to turn off in the middle because they got lost. So I think those are things that help.
LAMB: Can you tell at--at what point in the semester students start to really click in and what is it that changes their--you know, your...
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yes.
LAMB: ...the chemistry you see in there?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Sure. When they've read the book before the class and start asking you questions about things you've left out, then you know you're clicking; then you know they're working on their own and they're not simply following or maybe not quite following the lectures.
LAMB: What would you--what do you think Tocqueville would think of television if he came back...
Prof. MANSFIELD: Wow.
LAMB: ...and its impact on the United States?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yeah. That it somehow heightens the effects of democracy. I mean, who am I to put words in Tocqueville's mouth, but this is what occurs to me: that it makes government even more immediate than democratic government is, and that it kind of substitutes--here I'm with Bob Putnam. It substitutes for a--a better and more active participation. It tells you what's going on--well, today, we're--we're looking at--or--or in the Israel--in Israel or in Middle East or what--or whatever. It doesn't tell you what's going on in Cambridge, Mass, or--well, there's a channel about that, but you're probably not going to be watching that. So it--in other words, it doesn't tell you about problems that you can do something about or that you have a chance in your daily life, through association. Tocqueville is a great one for association.
LAMB: Is that good or bad?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yeah. Either--yeah.
LAMB: I mean, is this good or bad?
Prof. MANSFIELD: It's good. This is probably bad. That it's a kind of--it's a substitute for association. I think that's what Put--what Putnam argues, and I think there's truth in that.
LAMB: Based on what you've seen in the past, what would you predict for the future of this country?
Prof. MANSFIELD: I have a kind of hope, rational hope, that we'll hang on. America is not something eternal; it's humanly made. And so it's not going to last forever. At some point, we'll decline and fall, but I--I'm--I have a certain confidence, and I'm not going to make any bets--bets a--against my own country.
LAMB: How about the world and democracy?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Well, we've seen these great triumph of democracy in the 20th century. Two terrible opponents appeared--fascism and communism. Fascism was destroyed directly in a war. Communism destroyed itself through collapse. And so it seems as if we're the only game in town right now. I think that's a little bit deceiving, because I think that our liberal democratic philosophy has defects in it, or at least difficulties in it, which will be open to challenge, the same--perhaps the same kind of challenge.

The Fascists or the Nazis thought that democracy is--is--is--is too sheepish, too leveling. There's nothing interesting or exciting or demanding that ever happens. It's ignoble. And the Communists thought that democracy was too selfish, too oppressive, too nasty. They thought that you needed a society which deals with the whole and keeps us from being quite so selfish. While I think those are still two tendencies of our democracy and so we may, again, get challenges to it which are based on those--those two difficulties.
LAMB: I didn't ask you earlier. Delba Winthrop--your first wife?
Prof. MANSFIELD: She's my second wife.
LAMB: Did you have children?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Yes.
LAMB: Any of them professors?
Prof. MANSFIELD: No. One's a banker. One's a lawyer. They both make more money than I do.
LAMB: And Delba Winthrop's role in this--what does she do full-time?
Prof. MANSFIELD: She teaches at--at Harvard in the Extension School, which is a night school. She teaches a course on the same sort of thing that I do. And she also administers a program that I run called the Program--or she and I run called the Program on Constitutional Government, wh--which we use to bring people to Harvard who otherwise wouldn't be invited.
LAMB: What does that mean?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Well, people who are not PC, people like Alan Bloom or Miss Manners or Ward Connerly, James McWorter we're trying to get. Most of them are conservatives or are literary people like Tom Wolfe, who have a--perhaps a conservative bent. But not all of them--and the--as I say, the common characteristic is that no one else will invite them.
LAMB: Where do you put them?
Prof. MANSFIELD: We--they do give us halls to have them lecture from, and we have a very good arrangement with the Kennedy School, which has a--an an excellent foreign series to bring outside speakers to Harvard.
LAMB: Why wouldn't they be invited if you weren't doing this?
Prof. MANSFIELD: Because for--for most of Harvard, the Republican Party or the conservative belief simply doesn't exist. It--it's--it's hard to overstate just how oblivious they are to the fact that in America, there are two parties, at least. In Washington, one knows this all the time. It--I mean, and it's taken for granted. But in Cambridge, Mass, that's not the case. So they think that they're being perfectly open when they have a liberal and a leftist. That's diversity, but it isn't.
LAMB: What's your next book?
Prof. MANSFIELD: A book on manliness. What I've done so far isn't controversial enough, so I want to do something that will really stir them up.
LAMB: Our guest has been the co-editor of this book, "Democracy in America," Harvey Mansfield, and this is the third translation in history of this book, which he calls the greatest book ever written on democracy or America. Thank you very much.
Prof. MANSFIELD: Thank you.


Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2003. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.