Alexis de Tocqueville

Alexis de Tocqueville (älĕksēs də tôkvēl´), 1805–59, French politician and writer. A nobleman, he was prominent in politics, particularly just before and just after the Revolution of 1848 (see revolutions of 1848), and was minister of foreign affairs briefly in 1849. His observations made in 1831–32 during a government mission to the United States to study the penal system resulted in De la démocratie en Amérique (2 vol., 1835; tr. Democracy in America, 4 vol., 1835–40), one of the classics of political literature. A liberal whose deepest commitment was to human freedom, Tocqueville believed that political democracy and social equality would, inevitably, replace the aristocratic institutions of Europe. On his visit he noticed and then noted in his great work a number of uniquely American characteristics: its citizens' pronounced focus on religion, their individualism, the decentralization of their political affairs, the participatory quality of its citizenship as well as the implicit dangers of its conformity, its system of majority rule, and the threat of despotism. He analyzed the American attempt to have both liberty and equality in terms of what lessons Europe could learn from American successes and failures. Tocqueville's other important works are L'Ancien Régime et la révolution (1856; tr. 1856), which stressed the continuance after the French Revolution of many trends that had begun before, and his Recollections (1893; tr. by A. Teixeira de Mattos, 1896; complete ed. by J. P. Mayer, 1949). There are numerous English editions of his works, correspondence, and travel notebooks.

See biographies by J. P. Mayer (tr. 1960, repr. 1966), J. Epstein (2006), H. Brogan (2007), and L. Damrosch (2010); studies by E. T. Gargan (1965), M. Zetterbaum (1967), S. I. Drescher (1968), R. Boesche (1987), L. E. Shiner (1988), S. A. Hadari (1989), S. Wolin (2001), J. Elster (2009), and L. Damrosch (2010).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Alexis de Tocqueville: Selected full-text books and articles

FREE! Democracy in America By Alexis de Tocqueville; Henry Reeve D. Appleton, vol.1, 1899
FREE! Democracy in America By Alexis de Tocqueville; Henry Reeve D. Appleton, vol.2, 1901
Tocqueville's Political Economy By Richard Swedberg Princeton University Press, 2009
Tocqueville and the Problem of Democracy By Marvin Zetterbaum Stanford University Press, 1967
Tocqueville Today By Kimball, Roger New Criterion, Vol. 19, No. 3, November 2000
Dilemmas of Democracy: Tocqueville and Modernization By Seymour Drescher University of Pittsburgh Press, 1968
Tocqueville and Beyond: Essays on the Old Regime in Honor of David D. Bien By Robert M. Schwartz; Robert A. Schneider University of Delaware Press, 2003
Boats against the Current: American Culture between Revolution and Modernity, 1820-1860 By Lewis Perry Oxford University Press, 1993
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 10 "Tocqueville: Wilderness and Civilization"
Here the People Rule: Selected Essays By Edward C. Banfield American Enterprise Institute, 1991 (2nd edition)
FREE! The Recollections of Alexis de Tocqueville By Alexis de Tocqueville; Alexander Teixeira de Mattos Macmillan, 1896
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