Last week I went to a very interesting program at the Collège de France on this little book by Edouard Laboulaye, celebrating the bicentennial of this lesser known luminary of France. The book Paris en Amérique itself appeared in 1863 and was well-received although it is difficult to find copies today. Laboulaye was a member of the Collège de France and the founder of the Société de Législation Comparée, a learned comparative law society still in existence today. Unlike Tocqueville, Laboulaye never visited America (although he did interview Tocqueville). But he was inspired by American democracy, so much so that he served as president of the Franco-American Union which raised the funds to erect the Statute of Liberty as a gift from France to the United States, and it was by virtue of his efforts that the donations were collected for its accomplishment. Walter Gray’s biography describes Laboulaye as “France’s leading Americanist [who] not only interpreted America for his countryment, but he also wished for and was partially succesful in establishing American democracy in France.”
The colloquium was a wonderful intellectual feast, presided over by Mireille Delmas-Marty, Professor of the Collège de France, with participation by Jean-Louis Halperin, from the Ecole Normale Superieure, Benedicte Fauvarque-Cosson, the brilliant Presidente of the Société de Législation comparée, and two dear American colleagues, George Bermann and Vivian Curran. Following the first half of the program, participants were treated to a wonderful intervention from Justice Stephen Breyer, who spoke about his new book. Additional participants were Senator and Judge Robert Badinter, Judge Guy Canivet, Mireille Delmas-Marty and Antoine Garapon, Secretary General of the Institute des Hautes études sur la justice. Justice Breyer spoke eloquently on the important role of the judiciary in preserving democracy.
Perhaps the most astonishing feature of the program was it’s extraordinary intellectual content, as well as the emphasis on Franco-American cooperation. No doubt Tocqueville would have been delighted! Paris in America indeed!