A biography of alexis de tocqueville a french historian

Even at the distance of two centuries many of his observations on democracy, equality and liberty sound frighteningly prescient.

A biography of alexis de tocqueville a french historian

A page from original working manuscript of Democracy in Americac.

A biography of alexis de tocqueville a french historian

Observing from the perspective of a detached social scientist, Tocqueville wrote of his travels through the United States in the early 19th century when the Market RevolutionWestern expansion and Jacksonian democracy were radically transforming the fabric of American life.

Tocqueville was an ardent supporter of liberty. The most recent translation from Arthur Goldhammer in translates the meaning to be as stated above. Examples of misquoted sources are numerous on the internet, [22] but the text does not contain the words "Americans were so enamored by equality" anywhere.

His view on government reflects his belief in liberty and the need for individuals to be able to act freely while respecting A biography of alexis de tocqueville a french historian rights. Of centralized government, he wrote that it "excels in preventing, not doing". As none of them is strong enough to fight alone with advantage, the only guarantee of liberty is for everyone to combine forces.

But such a combination is not always in evidence". He cites protective laws in France at the time that protected an estate from being split apart among heirs, thereby preserving wealth and preventing a churn of wealth such as was perceived by him in within the United States. On civil and political society and the individual[ edit ] Tocqueville's main purpose was to analyze the functioning of political society and various forms of political associations, although he brought some reflections on civil society too and relations between political and civil society.

For Tocqueville, as for Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Karl Marxcivil society was a sphere of private entrepreneurship and civilian affairs regulated by civil code.

Egoism springs from a blind instinct; individualism from wrong-headed thinking rather than from depraved feelings. It originates as much from defects of intelligence as from the mistakes of the heart.

Egoism blights the seeds of every virtue; individualism at first dries up only the source of public virtue.

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In the longer term it attacks and destroys all the others and will finally merge with egoism. In describing the American, he agreed with thinkers such as Aristotle and Montesquieu that the balance of property determined the balance of political power, but his conclusions after that differed radically from those of his predecessors.

Tocqueville tried to understand why the United States was so different from Europe in the last throes of aristocracy. In contrast to the aristocratic ethic, the United States was a society where hard work and money-making was the dominant ethic, where the common man enjoyed a level of dignity which was unprecedented, where commoners never deferred to elites and where what he described as crass individualism and market capitalism had taken root to an extraordinary degree.

Legislatures abolished primogeniture and entailsresulting in more widely distributed land holdings. This was a contrast to the general aristocratic pattern in which only the eldest child, usually a man, inherited the estate, which had the effect of keeping large estates intact from generation to generation.

As Tocqueville understood it, this rapidly democratizing society had a population devoted to "middling" values which wanted to amass through hard work vast fortunes. In Tocqueville's mind, this explained why the United States was so different from Europe. In Europe, he claimed, nobody cared about making money.

Alexis De Tocqueville Biography - Childhood, Life Achievements & Timeline

The lower classes had no hope of gaining more than minimal wealth while the upper classes found it crass, vulgar and unbecoming of their sort to care about something as unseemly as money and many were virtually guaranteed wealth and took it for granted.

At the same time in the United States, workers would see people fashioned in exquisite attire and merely proclaim that through hard work they too would soon possess the fortune necessary to enjoy such luxuries.

Despite maintaining that the balance of property determined the balance of power, Tocqueville argued that as the United States showed, equitable property holdings did not ensure the rule of the best men. In fact, it did quite the opposite as the widespread, relatively equitable property ownership which distinguished the United States and determined its mores and values also explained why the United States masses held elites in such contempt.

Ordinary Americans enjoyed too much power and claimed too great a voice in the public sphere to defer to intellectual superiors. This culture promoted a relatively pronounced equality, Tocqueville argued, but the same mores and opinions that ensured such equality also promoted mediocrity.

Those who possessed true virtue and talent were left with limited choices. They could join limited intellectual circles to explore the weighty and complex problems facing society, or they could use their superior talents to amass vast fortunes in the private sector.

Tocqueville wrote that he did not know of any country where there was "less independence of mind, and true freedom of discussion, than in America".

A writer is free inside that area, but woe to the man who goes beyond it, not that he stands in fear of an inquisition, but he must face all kinds of unpleasantness in every day persecution.


A career in politics is closed to him for he has offended the only power that holds the keys". Though a supporter of colonialism, Tocqueville could clearly perceive the evils that black people and natives had been subjected to in the United States.

Tocqueville devoted the last chapter of the first volume of Democracy in America to the question while his travel companion Gustave de Beaumont wholly focused on slavery and its fallouts for the American nation in Marie or Slavery in America. Tocqueville notes among the American races: The first who attracts the eye, the first in enlightenment, in power and in happiness, is the white man, the European, man par excellence; below him appear the Negro and the Indian.

These two unfortunate races have neither birth, nor face, nor language, nor mores in common; only their misfortunes look alike. Both occupy an equally inferior position in the country that they inhabit; both experience the effects of tyranny; and if their miseries are different, they can accuse the same author for them.

The men sent to Virginia were seekers of gold, adventurers without resources and without character, whose turbulent and restless spirit endangered the infant colony. No lofty views, no spiritual conception presided over the foundation of these new settlements.

The colony was scarcely established when slavery was introduced; this was the capital fact which was to exercise an immense influence on the character, the laws and the whole future of the South.Alexis de Tocqueville was born in Paris on July 29, Tocqueville's father was a royalist prefect from Normandy who supported the Bourbon monarchy, his great-grandfather was a liberal aristocrat killed in the French Revolution, and his mother was a devout Roman Catholic who strongly advocated a.

French historian of colonialism Olivier LeCour Grandmaison has underlined how Tocqueville Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont in America: Their Friendship and Their Travels, edited by Oliver Zunz, translated by Arthur Goldhammer (University of Virginia Press, ), pages.

Includes previously unpublished . About Alexis de Tocqueville Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville (French: [alɛksi ʃaʁl ɑ̃ʁi kleʁɛl də tɔkvil]; 29 July - 16 April ) was a French political thinker and historian best known for his works Democracy in America (appearing in two volumes: and ) and The Old Regime and the Revolution ().

Alexis de Tocqueville was a French political theorist and historian who went to the U.S.

Tocqueville, Alexis de

to study the American political model and published Place Of Birth: Paris, France. Jules Michelet: Jules Michelet, French nationalist historian best known for his monumental Histoire de France (–67). Michelet’s method, an attempt to resurrect the past by immersing his own personality in his narrative, resulted in a historical synthesis of great dramatic power.

Michelet was the son of a. TOCQUEVILLE, ALEXIS DE (–), French political theorist, historian, and political liberal. Alexis de Tocqueville remains best known as the author of two classics: De la démocratie en Amérique ( and ; Democracy in America) and L'ancien régime et la révolution (; The Old Regime.

Review: Alexis de Tocqueville by Hugh Brogan | Books | The Guardian