Alexis de Tocqueville

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Tocqueville, Alexis de


Born July 29, 1805, in Verneuil (now Verneuil-sur-Seine, in the department of Yvelines); died Apr. 16,1859, in Cannes. French sociologist, historian, and politician.

Tocqueville was a member of an aristocratic family. In 1831 and 1832 he traveled in the USA, studying its penal system. He also made frequent visits to Great Britain, where he made contacts with English liberals. In 1835 he published Democracy in America (Russian translation, 1897). The book made him famous and led to his acceptance into the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences in 1838 and the Académie Française in 1841. In 1839, Tocqueville won a seat in the Chamber of Deputies. He was elected to the Constituent Assembly in 1848 and a year later to the Legislative Assembly, where he served as vice-president. He also acted briefly as minister of foreign affairs in 1849. A leader of the conservatives (“the party of order”), Tocqueville was imprisoned in 1851 in the castle of Vincennes for having signed a petition demanding that Louis Napoleon Bonaparte be brought to trial. After his release he withdrew from politics.

In Democracy in America, Tocqueville, recognizing that bourgeois democratic reforms are inevitable, examined the relationship between liberty and equality in bourgeois society, as well as the interaction of political power and society in general. According to Tocqueville, negative elements in bourgeois egalitarianism make it a source of despotism. For example, political centralization—which was advocated by those seeking to curtail the privileges of the feudal aristocracy—combined with administrative centralization and consequent bureaucratization greatly increases the power of the state. Conversely, equality gives rise to individualism, restricting citizens’ concerns and interests to the private sphere and thereby creating a fertile soil for despotism. Such a “distorted” tendency toward equality reduces everyone to the level of the mass and leads to “equality in slavery.”

Whether the tendency toward despotism is realized, however, depends to a large extent on the stability of communal institutions and associations that function between the individual and the state. In the USA, according to Tocqueville, these tendencies are opposed by, among other things, a federal form of government, regional diversity, and freedom of political and other association.

In The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856; Russian translation, 1918), Tocqueville sought to trace the continuity between the past and the new order in France. He asserted that the feudal regime could have been abolished without revolution. To understand the origin of the French Revolution, he examined archive materials of the prerevolutionary period.

Tocqueville’s moderately conservative ideas had a great influence on such bourgeois social thinkers as H. Taine, G. Sorel, F. Tönnies, M. Weber, and K. Mannheim.


Oeuvres completes, vols. 1–12. Paris, 1951–64.
In Russian translation:
Vospominaniia. Moscow, 1893.


Mayer, I. Alexis de Tocqueville. New York, 1940.
Nisbet, R. The Sociological Tradition. New York, 1967.


References in periodicals archive ?
De Toqueville offers an explanation for the seeming inconsistency between general approval for jury trials and the more biting comments of the modern critics.
In his book Democracy in America, de Toqueville said he was struck by the positive role of religion in American society.
And we probably shouldn't attempt to completely break the strong, independent, action-oriented culture that de Toqueville found in America.
De Toqueville observed in Democracy in America: "I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America.
De Toqueville found early America lacking in many respects, but not in respect of the strength of its citizens' relationships.
Schaff's view and vision of America are favorably compared with those of other nineteenth-century writers, such as Robert Baird, Alexis de Toqueville, and Josiah Strong.
As Alexis de Toqueville expresses it: "Le christianisme avait detruit la servitude et les Chretiens du XVI siecle l'ont retablie.
As Alexis de Toqueville observed more than 140 years ago in ``Democracy in America'': ``In a local community (in the United States) a citizen may conceive of some need which is not being met.
Harrison surveys the literature of the nineteenth century, which includes the work of Alexis de Toqueville (who believed the South American republics the most miserable on earth) and the Argentine Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, as well as works by intellectuals (pensadores) of this century.
Dooley a "great philosopher," and the renowned 19th-century liberal French statesman and political writer Alexis de Toqueville probably would have agreed.
Alford's reading of Alexis de Toqueville on association and the place of association in the formation of identity, in this respect, is compelling.