Tocqueville's Political Economy

By Richard Swedberg | Go to book overview
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Epilogue
THINKING WITH TOCQUEVILLE

You shew a phenomenon, in all kinds of previously
unsuspected relations to all the other things
that surround it.

—JOHN STUART MILL to Tocqueville, 1835

Connection or synthesis is the only act which cannot
be given through the objects, but must be carried
out by the subject itself.

—IMMANUEL KANT, Critique of Pure Reason

TOCQUEVILLE never wrote the treatise on how to improve political economy and related sciences that he referred to in his letter to Kergorlay from 1834.1 In hindsight it is obvious that he would never have undertaken such an enterprise. The form of a treatise did not suit him, whatever the topic. It was much too abstract for his taste, and it did not allow for the organic mixture of facts and ideas that he wanted. His method of always analyzing the economy as part of society instead of separating it out along the lines of Mill was another reason why he would not be interested in writing a separate treatise on the economy.

This does not mean that Tocqueville had not thought enough on economic topics during his thirty-year career as a writer and a politician to fill a book-long treatise. But his ideas on economics are scattered throughout his work since they are part of his overall analysis of society. They can be found in bits and pieces, inviting further thought and elaboration— and some systematization. This is especially the case if we want to answer the question raised in chapter 3: where do Tocqueville's ideas about the economy lead and are they relevant today?

Tocqueville was active at a very special time in the history of social science: the early 1800s when economics and sociology were in the air but had not yet found the forms they would later take. In Tocqueville's time, it was not as clear as it is now, or even fifty years after Tocqueville's death, what the modern nature of social science, including economics and sociology, would look like.

Instead a number of different approaches for how to analyze society and its various activities were tried out, and one of these was that of Tocque

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