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Tocqueville, Alexis de

Tocqueville, Alexis de

WORKS BY TOCQUEVILLE

SUPPLEMENTARY BIBLIOGRAPHY

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) lived at the time of two revolutions, the democratic and the industrial; their impact upon the traditional order furnished him with the major themes of his scholarly work. Tension between traditional and modern values dominated Tocqueville’s life and writings. Convinced of the irreversibility of democracy and contemptuous of reactionaries who thought they could block this historical movement, he was nevertheless obsessed by the erosion of those traditional contexts and values—aristocracy, honor, localism, religion, cultural variety—on which European liberty had depended for so many centuries. In his personal life this conflict of values proved almost too great to contain, and in his final years he succumbed to melancholy, despairing of the future of liberty and culture in Europe.

It was this same tension, however, that provided the underlying creative impulse behind the extraordinarily dispassionate analyses of modern society contained in his two major works, Democracy in America (1835) and The Old Regime and the French Revolution (1856). In these, Tocqueville formulated analytical perspectives that were to prove fruitful both for the continued study of Western society and for the study of the non-Western societies which in the twentieth century are undergoing a modernization strikingly akin to what fascinated Tocqueville in the “first new nation,” the United States.

Behind Tocqueville’s analytical perspectives, and giving them coherence, is a unified philosophy of history that rests on what he called “the principle of equality.” What class struggle was for Marx, Gesellschaft for Tonnies, and rationalization for Max Weber, equalitarianism was for Tocqueville. Each of these men endowed a single dynamic aspect of the social order with decisive developmental significance. In Tocqueville’s eyes, the master principle of European history was the relentless leveling of social ranks that, he believed, had been going on since the end of the Middle Ages—a leveling as inexorable as it was universal in Europe, one that touched literally every sphere of society and culture. It is this principle of social development that gives meaning to the major areas of fact and insight into which his sociological work falls. There are four such areas: power, stratification, industrialism, and mass culture.

Power . Tocqueville was fascinated by the problem of power, particularly the power of the modern democratic state. The impact of centralized, massbased sovereignty upon the traditional authorities of family, local community, social class, and morality is a theme in his work second only to that of equalitarianism. The two themes are, indeed, inseparable. Tocqueville was not the first to emphasize the affinity between social equality and political centralization, but his Democracy in America is certainly the first systematic treatment of the subject, just as his Old Regime and the French Revolution is the first scholarly demonstration of the roots of the French Revolution in the history of European administrative centralization.

From the vantage point of contemporary sociology, three aspects of his consideration of power are noteworthy: the affinity between mass equality and bureaucracy, the role of public opinion, and the relation between political power and “secondary” or “intermediate” social authorities.

In the history of European polity, Tocqueville wrote (anticipating Weber), “the substitution of paid for unpaid functionaries is of itself …sufficient to constitute a real revolution” ([1835] 1945, vol. 1, p. 208). Democracy inevitably has an accelerative influence upon bureaucracy, for unpaid political service can be performed only by the rich and privileged, whose very existence frustrates the objectives of democracy. Hence it is possible, he wrote, to measure the progress of democracy in a nation by the rate of increase of paid functionaries.

Tocqueville saw the relation between bureaucratic centralization and social equalitarianism not only as historical but also as functional. All that erodes social hierarchy, regionalism, and localism is bound to intensify centralization in the state. Conversely, all that furthers the development of political centralization—war, dynastic ambition, and revolution—is bound to accelerate social leveling.

While the major cause of modern bureaucracy is the democratization of power, Tocqueville identified four factors which account for its variable intensity from nation to nation: revolution, the role of the lower classes, level of literacy, and war. When revolution ushers in democracy, as in France, it makes for a higher degree of initial centralization than is the case when democracy evolves gradually, as in the United States. When the lower classes hold the balance of power, administration tends to be centralized, for this is the only means whereby the lower classes can wrest power from local aristocracy. The lower the level of literacy in a population, the greater and more inevitable the tendency to concentrate administration in an educated, governing elite. Finally, “All men of military genius are fond of centralization …and all men of centralizing genius are fond of war” (ibid., vol. 2, p. 300).

The relation between Tocqueville’s “administrative centralization” and what Weber was to call “rationalization” is, of course, very close. Both saw conflict between bureaucracy and the democratic impulses that had helped produce it. Tocqueville’s depiction of the sort of despotism democratic nations have to fear is almost indistinguishable in tenor from that found two generations later in Weber’s melancholy ruminations on administrative rationalization. For both men, any future despotism would emerge not primarily from individuals or groups but from the bureaucratic system per se.

Tocqueville’s dominating interest in public opinion followed from his view that the locus of democratic power is in mass majorities. What he called “the tyranny of the majority”—at bottom the sway of public opinion—may be more stifling to individuality, as it was in America, than even the medieval Inquisition had been. Despite his profound interest in public opinion, he had no clear awareness of its sources. It does not seem to have occurred to him that public opinion is something that can be manufactured by minority pressure groups. He conceived of it as a more or less direct emanation from the political masses. But if he did not explore its sources and variable expressions, he nevertheless correctly identified it as a new and powerful force in the modern state, one henceforth crucial to the legitimacy of governments. Equally important, Tocqueville, in contrast to most political conservatives of his day, feared not the instability but the stability of public opinion in democracy, a stability so great, in his view, that not only political revolution but even intellectual innovation would become increasingly unlikely.

The role of “secondary” or “intermediate” authorities in democracy was a prime concern of Tocqueville’s. Liberty, in his view, has little to do with the breadth of political power or the extent of mass participation in it. Liberty can exist only where there are countervailing authorities which stand as buffers between the individual and the central government. Traditional secondary authorities—aristocracy, guild, commune—had been eroded by the impact of equalitarian democracy. Tocqueville asked what authorities, if any, had succeeded these. In Europe he found almost none; hence his growing pessimism about the future of liberty there. In America, however, the great profusion of voluntary associations, the power and independence of local communities, the professions (especially the legal profession), and the whole system of division of powers within the political government seemed to him the effective basis of a pluralism that might restrain the powers of both majority opinion and administrative centralization.

A distinction between authority and power is fundamental in Tocqueville, authority being the inner nature of association, rooted in function and allegiance, while power is coercion, generally with the implication of force externally applied. It is in terms of this distinction that his treatment of family, local community, master-servant, professional, and other social relationships can most readily be understood. Each of these, for Tocqueville, is a pattern of constraints as well as of activities, and its internal strength is a function of its relative immunity from political power.

Stratification . Tocqueville’s theory of social stratification follows from his conception of power. He is at the opposite extreme from Marx, who found in the capitalist class essentially the same union of power, wealth, and status that had characterized the feudal nobility. According to Tocqueville, the dominant tendency of modern history is toward the disengagement of these three elements from one another. Social class, in the sense of self-conscious and culturally distinct classes, is precluded in modern society by exactly the same forces that destroyed feudal aristocracy: political centralization, the greater importance of money, and civil equality. There are levels of wealth and privilege, but the nature of democracy and of a money-based economy prevents these levels from hardening into real classes. Tocqueville was by no means blind to the power of manufacturing interests and their remoteness from workers. Indeed, he speculated on how “an aristocracy may be created by manufactures.” But however dangerous the power of manufacturers may be to the politics of democracy, manufacturers do not and cannot constitute a genuine social class. For while the category is fixed by industrialism, the content is ever-changing; incessant mobility prevents the crystallizing of attitudes and culture, the sinking of roots, and the socially recognized eminence that social class requires.

What struck Tocqueville was the immense middle class in the United States. This class was neither rich nor poor; its position made it, in his view, a vast arena for status aspiration. Tocqueville’s theory of stratification, in short, rests on status mobility rather than class. The decline of traditional class, far from lessening the desire for elevation of status, only intensifies it. When it is birth alone that ranks men in society, Tocqueville observed, everyone knows exactly what his own position is in the social scale. “He does not seek to rise, he does not fear to sink.” But when equali-tarianism prevails and money becomes the basis of rank in society, the desire to rise is matched by the fear of sinking in the social scale. The principle of equality is accompanied not by love of equality but by obsession with social status. “When inequality of conditions is the common law of society, the most marked inequalities do not strike the eye; when everything is nearly on the same level, the slightest [inequalities] are marked enough to hurt it. Hence the desire of equality always becomes more insatiable in proportion as equality is more complete” (ibid., vol. 2, p. 138). It is preoccupation with status that above all else explains why “Americans are so restless in the midst of their prosperity": a restlessness making for unhappiness on a wide scale. In France, Tocqueville wrote, this status anxiety produces high rates of suicide; in America, high rates of insanity.

Tocqueville provided two classic paradigms of social status in modern democracy, each the subject of a long chapter. The first is the master-servant relation. Tension is the very essence of this relation, Tocqueville observed, given a setting in which civil equality is dogma as well as law. An “imperfect phantom of equality” haunts the mind of servant and master alike, making obedience as confused and reluctant a sentiment in the first as unwonted command is in the second. The same problem of context has dislocated the historic notion of honor. The social roots of this value, Tocqueville showed, are feudal, and all that has weakened the hierarchical and personal character of European society has weakened the structural possibility of honor as a cementing value. Yet honor, like status, is, he noted, a verbal obsession of Americans. The subtlety and perception of Tocqueville’s sociological treatment of these two values remained unmatched until Weber’s and Simmel’s work.

In one sphere only did Tocqueville see the outline and substance of genuine social class in America: the Negro-white relationship. In the South, where slavery made a caste of the Negro, issues of status and mobility were nonexistent, but if Negroes “are once raised to the level of freemen, they will soon revolt at being deprived of almost all their civil rights; and as they cannot become the equals of the whites, they will speedily show themselves as enemies” (ibid., vol. 1, p. 378). Equally perceptive are Tocqueville’s observations on the status of the Negro in the North, where, though legally free, the Negro encountered a different type of segregation. “I have remarked that the white inhabitants of the North avoid the Negroes with increasing care in proportion as the legal barriers of separation are removed by the legislature” (ibid., vol. 1, p. 375). It was visibility that made real assimilation between the two races a distant and dim prospect in Tocqueville’s eyes. Recalling the long ages required in Europe for the erasure of social distinction between noble and commoner, he wrote: “I despair of seeing an aristocracy disappear which is founded upon visible and indelible signs” (ibid., vol. 1, p. 358). The only real possibility of extreme social conflict, even revolution, that Tocqueville could foresee in America was that between Negro and white.

One final element of Tocqueville’s picture of stratification must be mentioned: intellectual and political elites. Here the social scene he was describing was not America but France, in the age just prior to the French Revolution. It was at this time, according to Tocqueville, that writers and philosophers became, for the first time, a significant political force, one that replaced traditional aristocracy. Intensely rationalist in temper, drawn to the uses of political power, and scornful of tradition, this group, which included all of the philosophes, became “a power in the country and ended up as its political leaders.” Burke preceded Tocqueville in identifying the political role of the literary elite in eighteenth-century France, but Tocqueville showed that such elites are as inevitable an emergent of modern society as any of the other types or groups.

Industrialism . Despite the overwhelmingly political nature of Tocqueville’s treatment of modernism, that is, his view that modern culture and the modern economy are direct consequences of the growth of power and of its diffusion, he was keenly aware of the social impact of the new industrialism. This is why he emphasized the money base of social stratification of the new democratic society and why he studied such matters as technology, division of labor, wages, land rents, and cyclical business depression. All of these were placed by Tocqueville within the political perspective of democracy. He did not share the view of the economists of his time that economic phenomena have either primary or self-contained reality. For Tocqueville, economic behavior is a derivative of politics rather than vice versa. Tocqueville foresaw recurring economic crisis as “an endemic disease” of modern democratic nations, but he attributed this not to any iron law of depression of wages under private property (indeed, Tocqueville prophesied the long-run rise of wages and democracy) but to the “democratic propensity” to convert slow-yield ownership of land into commercial holdings, thus destroying the historic balance between agriculture and commerce. He noted the absence in America of any genuine agrarian culture and mentality— democracy tends to “make agriculture itself a trade.” Land is brought into tillage in order that it may be resold, not farmed. As the politics of democracy breeds desire for advancement in the social scale, it aids also in the conversion of wealth into those forms—negotiable shares, money, credit —which are helpful to this advancement.

Tocqueville’s view of the human impact of technology and division of labor is rather pessimistic. Admitting that these forces stimulate economic production, he nevertheless thought that they represent a new form of enslavement and degradation of man. It is the specialization of the worker under industrialism that seemed to Tocqueville to be most fraught with evil. “In proportion as the principle of the division of labor is more extensively applied, the workman becomes more weak, more narrow-minded, and more dependent. The art advances, the artisan recedes” (ibid., vol. 2, p. 159).

Mass culture . Tocqueville was the first to assess systematically the effects of democracy and commercialism upon the arts, literature, religion, philosophy, and other areas of culture. Here, as in his perspectives on power and stratification, equalitarianism is the dominant element. He thought it unlikely that America would produce artists and writers of stature. His words were written, it is amusing to note, only a decade before the New England “renaissance” that brought forth such major writers as Melville, Hawthorne, Emerson, and Thoreau. Nevertheless, the reasons he gave have proved durable in the continuing sociological analysis of mass culture. There is, first, the power of mass opinion, which puts so heavy a premium upon conformity that true humanistic genius will be intimidated. Second is the fact that in democracy, literature and the arts in general become a trade. “The ever increasing crowd of readers and their continual craving for something new ensure the sale of books that nobody much esteems” (ibid., vol. 2, p. 61). Third is the gradual disappearance of great cultural themes in the wash of mediocrity that attends adulation of the common man and fear of the extraordinary. “In aristocracies a few great pictures are produced; in democratic countries a vast number of insignificant ones. In the former statues are raised of bronze; in the latter, they are modeled in plaster” (ibid., vol. 2, p. 51). Tocqueville did not doubt that there would be an unprecedented spread of literacy and taste for art and philosophy, but he feared that it would be at the level of the lowest common denominator.

In science Tocqueville foresaw the limitless practical application of what had already been discovered, but not the discovery of fresh knowledge, for while “the purely practical part of science is admirably understood,” it remains true that “hardly anyone in the United States devotes himself to the essential theoretical and abstract portion of human knowledge.” The spirit of technicism, Tocqueville thought, makes scientific vitality as unlikely as artistic, although in both areas “the number of those who cultivate science, letters, and arts becomes immense” (ibid., vol. 2, p. 42).

Philosophy and religion are shaped by the social contexts of both democracy and commerce. In philosophy there is a taste for broad, general ideas that are accessible to all without undue effort and which permit people to “flatter themselves that they can delineate vast objects with little pains and draw the attention of the public without much trouble” (ibid., vol. 2, p. 17). It is this intellectual predilection, according to Tocqueville, that creates a natural affinity between democracy and Cartesianism, with its emphasis on intuitively reached principles that are open to all men of common sense. Religion in democracy is characterized by a dislike of ceremony and form that affects even Roman Catholicism, whose priests in America “show less taste for minute individual observances” than is the case in Europe. Tocqueville was struck by the high rate of converts to Catholicism in the United States and explained this, first, by the theological affinity between Catholic doctrine and the notion of a leveled laity under the priest and, second, by the social affinity between Catholic minority status and those parties (chiefly the emerging Democratic party) in which equality rather than achievement or privilege is the goal. Tocqueville viewed drama, history writing, oratory, language, and the study of the classics from the same perspective, emerging in each instance with a conclusion that rests upon the spread of popular themes, forms, and idioms, and the unlikelihood of the kind of high quality that had been known in aristocratic ages.

Influence . Tocqueville’s impact was immediate upon scholars in both Europe and America, but the shape of this impact was very different on the two continents. In America, until about the 1940s, Tocqueville was thought of essentially as a political philosopher. Attention was fixed chiefly on the sections of the first volume of Democracy in America which are concerned with the processes of political government. For a long time he was hardly known in America as a sociologist of stratification, culture, religion, and industry. In Europe, it was the sociological elements of his work—those found in the second volume of Democracy in America and The Old Regime—that early proved of greatest influence. His distinction between power, class, and status and his emphasis upon the mass potential of modern democracy, upon administrative centralization, and upon the mass character of modern culture supplied the theoretical background for the more detailed and systematic treatments of these forces that flourished in the sociology of France, Italy, and Germany at the end of the century. Burckhardt, Taine, Le Play, Acton, Tonnies, Weber, Simmel, and Michels all employed perspectives based on Tocqueville.

Tocqueville and Marx are, in a real sense, the two magnetic poles of European sociology: Tocqueville, in his emphasis upon equalitarianism and the separation of power, wealth, and status, and his preview of totalitarianism as resulting from the leveling of classes; Marx, in his emphasis upon class conflict, the coalescence (in the bourgeoisie) of power, wealth, and status, and his vision of freedom finally achieved through the very equality that, for Tocqueville, carried the seeds of despotism.

Robert A. Nisbet

[See also Anglo-American SOCIETY; Democracy; Mass SOCIETY; Pluralism; Politics, Comparative; Presidential government; Public opinion; Social mobility; Stratification, Social; Voluntary Associations; and the biographies of Bagehot; Bryce; Le play; Lindsay; MichelS; Simmel; Tonnies; Weber, Max.]

WORKS BY TOCQUEVILLE

(1832) 1964 Beaumont de la bonniniere, Gustave auguste de; and Tocqueville, Alexis deOn the Penitentiary System in the United States and Its Application in France. New ed. With an introduction by Thorsten Sellin and a foreword by Herman R. Lantz. Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press. → First published in French.

(1835) 1945 Democracy in America. 2 vols. Translated by Henry Reeve, revised by Francis Bowen, and edited by Phillips Bradley. New York: Knopf. → First published in French. A new edition, translated by George Lawrence, edited by J. P. Mayer, and with an introductory essay by Max Lerner, was published by Harper in 1966. Paperback editions were published in 1961 by Vintage and by Schocken.

(1856) 1955 The Old Regime and the French Revolution. Translated by Stuart Gilbert. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. → First published as L’ancien regime et la revolution.

(1893) 1949 The Recollections of Alexis de Tocqueville. Edited by J. P. Mayer. New York: Columbia Univ. Press. → First published posthumously in French. A paperback edition was published in 1959 by Meridian.

Oeuvres completes d’Alexis de Tocqueville. 2d ed. Published by Mme. de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont. 9 vols. Paris: Levy, 1866-1878. → The first edition was published in 1860-1865.

Oeuvres, papiers et correspondances. Final edition by J. P. Mayer. Vols. 1—. Paris: Gallimard, 1951—. → Volumes 1, 2, 31, 51-2, 6, 9, and 12 have been published to date.

SUPPLEMENTARY BIBLIOGRAPHY

Eichthal, Eugene D’ 1897 Alexis de Tocqueville et la democratie liberale. Paris: Levy.

Goring, Helmut 1928 Tocqueville und die Demokratie. Munich: Oldenbourg.

Marcel, R. Pierre 1910 Essai politique sur Alexis de Tocqueville. Paris: Alcan.

Mayer, J. P. 1960 Alexis de Tocqueville: A Biographical Study in Political Science. New York: Harper.

Nisbet, Robert A. 1967 The Sociological Tradition. New York: Basic Books.

Pierson, George W. 1938 Tocqueville and Beaumont in America. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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"Tocqueville, Alexis de." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Tocqueville, Alexis de

Tocqueville, Alexis de 18051859

BIBLIOGRAPHY

The French statesman and political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville was born July 29, 1805, in Paris and died April 16, 1859, in Cannes. Much of his life was devoted to scholarship and public service. He is most famous for writing Democracy in America (18351840), a sweeping and perceptive study of American democratic life. His other important work is The Old Regime and the French Revolution (1856). As a young man, Tocqueville studied law and began his public service by working at the courts in Versailles. Later in his life, he became active in French politics, holding several elected offices.

Tocquevilles family was part of the French petite noblesse and had suffered greatly during the French Revolution (17891799). Consequently, it is not surprising that he held some aristocratic sympathies, along with concerns about the hazards of democratic excess. Still, Tocqueville was intrigued by democratic society and its potential for advancing personal liberty. He was also convinced that the spread of democracy was irresistible. For this reason, he wanted to better understand its benefits and dangers. This interest led him to visit the United States between May 1831 and February 1832. His crosscountry tour took him to seventeen of the then existing twenty-four states. He spent a great deal of time in the metropolitan areas of the Northeast. He also traveled through such regions as the Great Lakes, the Ohio Valley, the Gulf Coast, and the South Atlantic. After returning to France, Tocqueville spent several years reflecting on his experiences and doing additional research. During this period, he wrote Democracy in America, which was published as two volumes in 1835 and 1840.

Democracy in America is considered a classic study because of its shrewd insights into the psychological, sociological, political, and institutional nature of American democracy. The book covers an exceptionally wide range of topics dealing with the democratic condition. Underlying this extensive analysis, however, is a desire to safeguard human freedom by better understanding democratic dispositions, passions, and tendencies.

According to Tocqueville, the most fundamental characteristic of the democratic age is equality. Its effect on democratic society is ubiquitous in both the public and private spheres. The influence of [equality] extends far beyond political mores and laws it creates opinions, gives birth to feelings, suggests customs, and modifies whatever it does not create ([18351840] 2000, p. 9). Moreover, it inspires a strong and ardent attachment among democratic citizens. The benefit of equality is that it expands the reach of liberty and opportunity. Consequently, it gives all citizens a chance to take more control of their own lives.

Although equality had a fundamental influence on American society, inequalities did exist. Slavery, in particular, was a well-established practice in the southern states. Tocqueville, however, viewed slavery as a practice in retreat and destined to be abolished. He claimed, Whatever efforts the Americans of the South make to maintain slavery, they will not forever succeed. Slavery amid the democratic liberty and enlightenment of our age is not an institution that can last ([18351840] 2000, p. 363). Still, Tocqueville was pessimistic about the future of race relations in the United States. Regardless of how slavery ended, he foresaw great misfortunes. He believed that conflict between the races could only be avoided by isolation or complete intermingling. Once slavery ended, isolation would be impossible, but white racism would prevent significant intermingling. As a result, the races would be left in a condition of precarious coexistence, producing a dangerous struggle for power.

Tocqueville also felt that equality could become dangerous if taken to an extreme. When people become too enamored with equality, they will do anything to maintain it, including sacrificing their liberty. The idea of equality can also be dangerous because it lends a daunting form of moral authority to the opinions of the majority. Because everyone is considered equal, the larger number of individuals in the majority is equated with superior judgment and greater utility. The opinions of the majority carry such great weight that they can lead to political tyranny, social conformity, and intellectual monotony.

Tocqueville argued that two other democratic dispositions, individualism and materialism, can also be threats to liberty. These inclinations are dangerous because they cause citizens to lose interest in public affairs. Individualism compels people to isolate themselves from the greater society and withdraw into small groups of family and friends. Materialism leads people to focus obsessively on their own private prosperity and to disregard public duties. The neglect of civic responsibilities can result in the development of a paternalistic despotism. Personal rights and freedoms are hindered and enervated as citizens become entangled in a network of petty, complicated rules ([18351840] 2000, p. 692).

Tocqueville claimed that it is possible to overcome these and other threats to liberty with the proper institutions, mores, and values. The presence of numerous and robust civil associations, for example, serves to protect individuals from an overbearing government. An independent press informs the public and facilitates associational activity. Religions that are able to inspire benevolence and instill a strong sense of spirituality can help counter the influences of individualism and materialism. The concept of self-interest properly understood links the performance of civic duties with private advantage. Prudent political leaders protect liberty through statecraft and soulcraft. Educated citizens are aware of the seductive dangers of extreme equality. Tocqueville concludes by noting that the future of democracy is not predestined; the people will determine if equality will lead to servitude or freedom.

The Old Regime and the French Revolution is Tocquevilles attempt to understand the origins of the French Revolution. It examines the nature of French society prior to 1789. His primary claim is that the revolution was prompted by the political centralization of the state. Moreover, the revolution itself was a failure because it also centralized political power. Although The Old Regime has not attracted the attention of Democracy in America, it is still considered an important account of the social conditions that led to the French Revolution.

Tocquevilles ideas about the democratic condition continue to exert a considerable influence on contemporary academic and political discourse. Of particular importance are his discussions of unchecked individualism and the importance of associational membership, which are frequently referenced in scholarly research on civil society and social capital. His pithy observations about democracy and democratic life are often quoted by politicians and popular commentators. The continuing relevance of Tocquevilles work should not be surprising. He provides a seminal and perhaps the best account of the dangers of democracy and its threats to liberty.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Jardin, André. 1988. Tocqueville: A Biography. Trans. Lydia Davis with Robert Hemenway. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux.

Tocqueville, Alexis de. [18351840] 2000. Democracy in America. Trans. George Lawrence; ed. J. P. Mayer. New York: HarperCollins Perennial.

Tocqueville, Alexis de. [1856] 1955. The Old Regime and the French Revolution. Trans. Stuart Gilbert. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Johnny Goldfinger

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Tocqueville, Alexis de

Tocqueville, Alexis de (1805–59) An early French sociologist who travelled to the United States between 1831 and 1832 to observe democracy at work. His classic work Democracy in America (1835–40) identifies within democracies a tension between equality and liberty which cannot easily be reconciled. Since democracy tends to undermine hierarchy, it discourages the formation of intermediate groupings between the individual and society, and therefore promotes tendencies towards individualism and centralization which, if unchecked, will result in an authoritarian state. This proposition was illustrated in a systematic comparison of France and the United States. The post-revolutionary history of the former country revealed the dangers of attempting to impose equality without first establishing the liberty of self-government: administrative centralism fostered revolutionary despotism. In the case of the United States, the well-entrenched constitutional principle of federalism provided for a multiplicity of intermediate voluntary associations, and a decentralized mode of government to which people had ready access, and in which they could participate. In both cases, however, Tocqueville warned against the ‘tyranny of the majority’, by which ‘every citizen, being assimilated to ail the rest, is lost in the crowd’. His work is thus the starting-point for many debates about the nature of mass society (including, for example, D. Reisman's The Lonely Crowd, 1950, and R. Bellah's Habits of the Heart, 1985).

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Tocqueville, Alexis de

Alexis de Tocqueville (älĕksēs də tôkvēl´), 1805–59, French politician and writer. A nobleman, he was prominent in politics, particularly just before and just after the Revolution of 1848 (see revolutions of 1848), and was minister of foreign affairs briefly in 1849. His observations made in 1831–32 during a government mission to the United States to study the penal system resulted in De la démocratie en Amérique (2 vol., 1835; tr. Democracy in America, 4 vol., 1835–40), one of the classics of political literature. A liberal whose deepest commitment was to human freedom, Tocqueville believed that political democracy and social equality would, inevitably, replace the aristocratic institutions of Europe. On his visit he noticed and then noted in his great work a number of uniquely American characteristics: its citizens' pronounced focus on religion, their individualism, the decentralization of their political affairs, the participatory quality of its citizenship as well as the implicit dangers of its conformity, its system of majority rule, and the threat of despotism. He analyzed the American attempt to have both liberty and equality in terms of what lessons Europe could learn from American successes and failures. Tocqueville's other important works are L'Ancien Régime et la révolution (1856; tr. 1856), which stressed the continuance after the French Revolution of many trends that had begun before, and his Recollections (1893; tr. by A. Teixeira de Mattos, 1896; complete ed. by J. P. Mayer, 1949). There are numerous English editions of his works, correspondence, and travel notebooks.

See biographies by J. P. Mayer (tr. 1960, repr. 1966), J. Epstein (2006), H. Brogan (2007), and L. Damrosch (2010); studies by E. T. Gargan (1965), M. Zetterbaum (1967), S. I. Drescher (1968), R. Boesche (1987), L. E. Shiner (1988), S. A. Hadari (1989), S. Wolin (2001), J. Elster (2009), and L. Damrosch (2010).

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Tocqueville, Alexis de

Tocqueville, Alexis de (1805–59) French historian. Sent on a fact-finding tour to the USA by the French government, he produced Of Democracy in America (1835), the first in-depth study of the US political system. His later work includes L'Ancien Régime et la Révolution (1856).

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"Tocqueville, Alexis de." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/tocqueville-alexis-de