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33 of 40 people found the following review helpful
Many people in America have not read Alexis de Tocqueville's brilliant analysis of the American character, as he experienced on his trip to the United States in 1826. That's too bad, because his work brilliantly defines what is different about American society from any other one on Earth. As an aristocratic Frenchman, perhaps it was easier for him to see us as we are, by seeing how different we are from Europeans, Canadians, and Mexicans.
The concept of the book is to summarize de Tocqueville, and then to test his observations against what has happened since. I have not seen that done before, and looked forward to seeing the results.
When Michael Ledeen is describing de Tocqueville, or political thinking of that time, the book is superb. If the book had stopped there, it would have been a five star book. So if you want to read it for that background, you will be well rewarded. Alternatively, you can read de Tocqueville directly. I would prefer the original, but either would serve.
In his contemporary commentary on America, Mr. Ledeen is basically giving us a political sociology analysis. For such work, it is helpful to have facts that look from various perspectives and dimensions. The first problem with this book is that Mr. Ledeen prefers to give just one anecdote or one fact, and build his observations from that. That approach works well for stimulating debate, but falls short of being convincing about our unique character. I found this approach very suspect.
Second, Mr. Ledeen prefers to always come at the problem from the perspective of being paranoid about losing our ideal character. I think his point of view is a valid one, but there are others. For example, one can also talk optimistically about how we routinely avoid certain traps (like having the best people decide to become politicians, or failing to use private institutions to serve important social needs). Those other perspectives are missing. The result is a book that seems like an anti-Democrat (as in the political party) rant in many places.
The third problem is that the book seems to have been weakly researched. Facts and details seem just a little out of focus, as though drawn from long-remembered impressions, rather than real knowledge or research.
For example, I rarely see Jack Welch's (the famous CEO of General Electric) name misspelled in any publication or book. But in this book, he was "Welsh" all the way through. Now, I believe Mr. Welch is an Irishman by background, so I don't think it's an accurate description of his familial history, either.
Then, the book goes on to describe his Mr. Welch's pronouncements of 1980 as creative destruction. The ideas that Mr. Welch advocated in that year were well established and broadly in application throughout American business when he pursued them. He primarily was advocating that the company stay in businesses in which it could be the leader or have the second place in market share. He solved the company's deficiencies by simply selling the lower market share operations, not by destroying them. For example, Utah International (a mining operation) was sold within months of his taking the helm. It was only later that Mr. Welch began to downsize the remaining General Electric operations to get rid of excess layers of bureaucatic fat.
The ideas Mr. Welch advocated later in his career were actually more important to General Electric's success, such as freeing General Electric Capital to be very entrepreneurial, focusing on leadership training, and implementing Six Sigma. So at best, Mr. Welch is misdescribed due to misfocus in Mr. Ledeen's example. At worst, Mr. Ledeen simply doesn't seem to grasp the example. There are several other sections of the book that display these kinds of fundamental flaws about contemporary observations.
As a result, I have to grade the analysis of current society somewhere in the two to three star range, creating an average of three and a half or four stars for the whole book.
After you finish reading this book, test its thesis by thinking about the evolution of American business. De Tocqueville did not have too much to say about that institution. Mr. Ledeen has somewhat more to say, suggesting it is an inheritor of the free association tendency of Americans. But I wonder if it is not something more. Is it not the case that business is replacing many of the other institutions in its effectiveness and broader social focus? Now that theme would make an interesting book.
Guard your liberty jealously, from all who threat it . . . including a greedy or thoughtless majority, sloppy thinking, or corrupt leaders. Trust must be earned.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on July 11, 2005
This is an excellent book for that person is not knowledgeable about what our American ancestors thought about the elements of American political life that are so debated now. Ledeen presents de Tocqueville's `Democracy in America' in a straight forward, easy to read style. If you like what you read here, go for the big time and read de Tocqueville's `Democracy in America' and you will be the richer for it.

The importance of de Tocqueville is that he presents an American character that made America great. Whether you are of the Right or the Left, you cannot help but compare those character traits with our current... well, you fill in what you will.

A negative with Ledeen's work is his loss of focus by deviating to address President Clinton. I regret to say that was out of place.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2002
A.M. Ledeen's A.Tocqueville 's analyses of American spirit - relevant today?
The original "Democracy in America" is a well known university source of reference even now .In 1826 a French nobleman A.de Tocqueville devoted himself to study the American ideas concerning life under American Democracy started 200 years ago by the Pilgrims. He found the American character did not fundamentaly change, and the success of America is a direct result of its principles, which remain stable even when circumstances change. Ledeen 's analyses of them in today's conditions ( he describes the important characteristics and ideals ) as alive and well. The dynamic mindset for continuous improvement is more then materialism. Initiative is a permanent state of mind, esteem of personal liberty results in individualism and deep religious conviction gives a base for morality in dealing with the neighbour.
Equality is taken for granted in spite of status or wealth. This is true in the west as well as the east where the original settlers started. Northern neighbour Canada, is different, regimented and respectful of old world systems even though the nature and climate are similar. Americans created something new an free, left behind old habits and goals. Having lived in Europe and Latin America it impressed me as liberated from burdens of superficial formality .
He detects that Americans drive for a change. Every generation adopts new discoveries, destroys the old system and obstacles ruthlesly, expecting their sons to do better then the fathers.However they do respect the basic principles. There has been a confirmation by many that America can stay good even if there are many risks.
Tocqueville's insights into the American worldview and its application by the wide public led him to forecasts and warnings about the future expressed in detail by Ledeen. The future developments will bridge over fads like American feminism, Africanism and other trends ,as well as views of "intellectuals" who are considering themselves culturally superior and try to influence the political elite . They are for controls of centralized state and, as one of the powers of the expanded state they advance, removal of religious discourse from public forum. Tocqueville found and the recent polls quted by Ledeen still confirm it, that that the overwhelming majority of Americans do not agree with the anti-religious intellectuals and judges. The advice is: religion is a guarantee of freedom, as his native France has tested by trying to supress it.
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Ben Benda
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