Politesse and Public Opinion in Stendhal’s Red and Black

European Journal of Political Theory 4 (4):367-392 (2005)
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Abstract

Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America is one of the most celebrated 19th-century explorations of the rise of democracy as a social condition. However, Tocqueville is not the only political thinker of his immediate era to raise questions about the costs and benefits of democracy. This article will consider Stendhal’s novel The Red and the Black as an immediate precursor to Tocqueville’s criticisms of tyrannical public opinion and other ambivalent features of democracy. Like Tocqueville, Stendhal ponders the breakdown of aristocratic standards of politeness and the equally oppressive sway of democratic public opinion that replaces them. Despite their shared assumptions about the challenges of democracy, however, Stendhal’s vision of freedom seems decidedly bleaker than Tocqueville’s

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