Tocqueville's Political Economy

By Richard Swedberg | Go to book overview

Chapter Seven
FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND ECONOMIC AFFAIRS

SOME OF Tocqueville's activities in the Chamber of Deputies have not been touched on thus far but must be discussed because they played an important role in his political activities during the years 1839–48. They pertain to his stance on the role of France in foreign affairs.

Foreign policy was one of Tocqueville's major interests during his years in politics. His maiden speech in the Chamber of Deputies, for example, addressed the issue of a major treaty between the European powers from which France had been excluded, something Tocqueville considered outrageous. What especially attracted Tocqueville to foreign policy issues, it seems, was that they were closely linked to the ideas of national pride and glory—two of his most cherished values.

Tocqueville wrote more on foreign policy than on any other topic in French politics during his years as a politician, and as part of this, he often touched on economic subjects. Most of what he wrote also dealt with the one aspect of France's foreign policy that Tocqueville regarded as absolutely essential to its national pride: the French colonies.

In discussing this topic I will explore in particular the economic dimension of the policies Tocqueville advocated. As we shall see, economic issues played a somewhat different role when national pride was linked to the colonies than when it was linked to domestic events.

In the latter, national pride was primarily used to counter the apolitical sentiments that came with the concern over moneymaking during the July Monarchy. In terms of the colonial question, in contrast, economic success was seen as positive and something to be sought after. Prosperous colonies, as Tocqueville saw things, would make the French proud and their national sentiments surge.

While the attempt to ensure French national pride is at the center of almost everything Tocqueville undertook in questions relating to foreign policy, he also had a general view of what French foreign policy should be like. This view was quite special, and few of his political friends seem to have shared it.

First, Tocqueville had a relentless animosity toward English foreign policy; in particular, he wanted to put an end to England's hegemony over the seas. From Tocqueville's perspective, England was ruled by an aristoc

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