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 ?
El mismo hecho de elegir como interlocutor a Alexis de Tocqueville e insistir en calificarle como "el gran pensador catolico frances" (p.
Alexis de Tocqueville, "Memoir on Pauperism," in Tocqueville and Beaumont on Social Reform, ed.
Luego de esta breve descripcion de la laicidad del Estado, me ocupare de senalar como Alexis de Tocqueville esboza particularmente los dos pilares de la misma, esto es, la separacion entre la Iglesia y el Estado, y la persona como fundamento de tal diseno constitucional.
Este articulo es un ejercicio comparativo de las filosofias politicas de Montesquieu y de Alexis de Tocqueville, en vista del problema de la corrupcion.
Nearly two centuries ago, Alexis de Tocqueville warned against the growth of the centralising, paternalistic state, "an immense and tutelary power" that would ultimately spare its people "all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living".
But as Alexis de Tocqueville said: "we must face the future with that salutary fear which makes us watch and fight and not that kind of ill horror and laziness that weakens our hearts and empties them".
Reflecting on the 1848 Revolution in France, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote,
No, not that democracy--though that may be debatable--and not the "Democracy in America" written by Alexis de Tocqueville.
It is more interesting, if less reliable, than Andre Jardin's authoritative 1984 biography of the Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville, 1805-1859.
Much like a contemporary Alexis de Tocqueville, Mark Laita has traveled far and wide to capture the essence of American culture, combing the land for subjects who "wear their occupation, lifestyle or region's burden on their faces and bodies.
The recent resurgence of antidemocratic attitudes makes it more urgent than ever that our nation reengage with a fundamental question: Does the American way of life require a participatory democracy and an engaged citizenry, as Alexis de Tocqueville observed in the 1830s when he wrote, "The political activity that pervades the United States must be seen in order to be understood.
So, the history of ECD in America is not just a way into the politics of the folk, it permits a re-examination of left-liberal political culture in America and the prevailing wisdom about associational life, advanced by Alexis de Tocqueville in the 1840s and the political scientist Robert Putnam more recently, as the quintessential democratic experience.

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