Tocqueville Alexisde(1805-59) French political scientist and member of the Chamber of Deputies, widely considered to be one of the first comparative political and historical sociologists. His analysis of the political experience of America in the 1830s was undertaken in the belief that lessons could be learnt that would be applicable to Europe, especially France. In Democracy in America (1835-40) he argued that democracy – the condition of equality – was an irresistible tendency in modern societies, but that unchecked it held considerable dangers for ‘liberty’, by which he meant responsible self-government based on ‘enlightened self-interest’. Democracy, because it tended to undermine all hierarchy and to abolish all intermediary bodies between the individual and society, was likely to be accompanied by two further tendencies: individualism and centralization, which together could lead to tyranny. In America, Tocqueville found these tendencies held in check, though not absent, by two factors. Firstly, the American colonies had been accustomed to self-government. Secondly, through the principle of federalism, the American constitution after the Revolution remained a fragmented one, providing multiple points of access for individuals to participate. Tocqueville's conclusion was that where democracy came without such prior establishment of‘liberty’ it was likely to lead to tyranny. It was this scenario which, in The Old Regime and the French Revolution (1856), Tocqueville concluded had been enacted in France. Revolutionary France had lacked the conditions which made democracy compatible with liberty, including the lack of a strong middle class. In his comparative analysis of political arrangements Tocqueville especially emphasized what subsequently came to be called POLITICAL CULTURE. His analysis of the preconditions for, and character of, modern democracy strongly influenced later theorists. see DEMOCRACY, INTERMEDIATE GROUPS, PLURALISM, MASS SOCIETY.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000