THE FIRST TIME Tocqueville met with the English economist Nassau Senior has been recorded by Senior's daughter:
One day in the year 1833 a knock was heard at the door of the Chambers in
which Mr. Senior was sitting at work, and a young man entered who an-
nounced himself in these terms: “I am Alexis de Tocqueville, and I have come
to make your acquaintance.” He had no other introduction.1
Tocqueville and Senior quickly became friends, and their friendship lasted till Tocqueville's death some twenty-five years later. The two especially liked to talk about politics, but they also touched on economic topics to which Tocqueville always attached a special importance.
Many readers of the work of Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–59) have felt as fortunate as Nassau Senior in being introduced to Tocqueville; they have similarly come to regard him as a friend with whom to argue, agree, and disagree. Tocqueville's readers have especially come to appreciate his analyses of politics and society; today he is regarded as a major figure in political theory as well as a classic in sociology.
One area that has not found many commentators is Tocqueville's views on economics. This is a pity because Tocqueville, as I will try to show in this book, developed an analysis of economic phenomena that in some ways is as interesting and evocative as his analysis of politics. There is, first and foremost, his magnificent portrait and analysis in Democracy in America of the entrepreneurial economy in early nineteenth-century America. When Tocqueville traveled in the United States during 1831– 32 the country had just begun its economic takeoff that would eventually transform the nation into the world's most powerful capitalist economy. There is also the outstanding picture of a traditional and blocked economy in The Old Regime and the Revolution. What drives much of the economic analysis in the latter work is how the French state for centuries had undermined the economic confidence and capacities of the French people. There are also some striking ideas on economic phenomena in Tocqueville's less-known writings, such as Memoir on Pauperism and his travel notes from his journeys to England and Ireland.
Besides entrepreneurship and how the state can discourage economic initiative, Tocqueville also discusses many other economic topics. There is, first of all, his general thesis that the mores (moeurs) of a country primarily explain economic behavior.2 This is a strikingly modern idea that many