Tocqueville's Political Economy

By Richard Swedberg | Go to book overview

Chapter Eight
THREATS TO THE DEMOCRATIC ECONOMY

TOCQUEVILLE remained active in politics for a few years after 1848, his last year in the Chamber of Deputies. During this period a number of important events took place. First and foremost was the 1848 revolution, which ushered in a new regime. Tocqueville was elected to the new political assembly, which represented a personal triumph since a much larger number of people were allowed to vote. He also helped draw up the constitution for the Second Republic, and in 1849 he served as minister of foreign affairs. In 1851 he resigned from public life in protest against the coup d'état of Louis-Napoleon.

There is a certain dramatic quality to Tocqueville's activities during the years 1848–51. He lived through the revolution that took place in February 1848 as well as the street battles in Paris later that summer. And after his many attempts to play an important role in French politics, he finally succeeded. The image of Tocqueville as a great author but a failed politician is not altogether correct. Tocqueville spent a decade in France's most important political assembly, and his career peaked during his last few years in public service. By the time he withdrew from public life, he was a well-known and respected national figure.

We also want to know how these historical events and personal successes during 1848–51 affected Tocqueville's way of thinking and of analyzing reality. Did they bring out something new in Tocqueville as a person and thinker, and if so, how did they affect his way of looking at the economy? Was he still convinced that it was important to arouse political passions in order to fight materialism and individualism? Did he still believe that practice was superior to theory, in political as well as economic life? And what about the changes that took place in French society during these years— the new sides of democratic society and the democratic economy that were coming to the fore through the revolution and the reaction against it?


TOCQUEVILLE'S LAST YEARS IN POLITICS, 1848–51

Everything that happened after 1848 to Tocqueville as a political actor is in some way related to the 1848 revolution. The revolution was preceded

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