Tocqueville and the Problem of Democracy

Tocqueville and the Problem of Democracy

Tocqueville and the Problem of Democracy

Tocqueville and the Problem of Democracy

Excerpt

A century and a quarter ago Alexis de Tocqueville broke in on the intellectual world with the astonishing pronouncement that democracy and democratic governments were inevitable, that they were soon to be the rule everywhere. Indeed, for a time this pronouncement seemed clearly correct: for the civilized countries democracy was right around the corner, while for their less fortunate cousins the way would be only a bit longer and more arduous. Oddly enough, however, at the close of the nineteenth century, when the prospects of the democratic revolution were seemingly at their peak, the man who had alerted the West to the inevitability of that revolution was forgotten, or at least unread. This was unfortunate, for Tocqueville could have been counted on to remind his readers that hosannas were premature, that much hard work remained in order (in Pierson's phrase) to "make démocratie safe for the world."

Tocqueville's "inevitability thesis" has prevented many readers from coming to terms with his central concern, the problem of democracy, by drawing their attention to two other concerns: whether democracy was or was not inevitable, and whether the concept of historical inevitability was valid. Today, when the triumph of democracy seems anything but inevitable, and the belief in historical inevitability itself is on the wane, it seems especially appropriate to place Tocqueville's inevitability thesis in its proper perspective, the perspective he intended. As I endeavor to show in Chapter I of this book, the inevitability thesis was . . .

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