Alexis de Tocqueville: Wikis


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Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville
Full name Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville
Born 29 July 1805(1805-07-29)
Paris, France
Died 16 April 1859 (aged 53)
Cannes, France
Era 19th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Enlightenment, Classical liberalism
Main interests History, Political philosophy, Sociology
Notable ideas Classical liberalism, Voluntary association

Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville (29 July 1805, Paris – 16 April 1859, Cannes) was a French political thinker and historian best known for his Democracy in America (appearing in two volumes: 1835 and 1840) and The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856). In both of these works, he explored the effects of the rising equality of social conditions on the individual and the state in western societies. Democracy in America (1835), his major work, published after his travels in the United States, is today considered an early work of sociology and political science.

An eminent representative of the classical liberal political tradition, Tocqueville was an active participant in French politics, first under the July Monarchy (1830–1848) and then during the Second Republic (1849–1851) which succeeded the February 1848 Revolution. He retired from political life after Louis Napoléon Bonaparte's 2 December 1851 coup, and thereafter began work on The Old Regime and the Revolution, Volume I.



Alexis de Tocqueville came from an old Norman aristocratic family with ancestors who participated in the Battle of Hastings in 1066. His parents, Hervé Louis François Jean Bonaventure Clérel, Comte de Tocqueville, an officer of the Constitutional Guard of King Louis XVI, and Louise Madeleine Le Peletier de Rosanbo, narrowly avoided the guillotine due to the fall of Robespierre in 1794. After an exile in England, they returned to France during the reign of Napoleon. Under the Bourbon Restoration, his father became a noble peer and prefect.

Tocqueville, who despised the July Monarchy (1830–1848), began his political career at the start of the same period, 1830. Thus, he became deputy of the Manche department (Valognes), a position which he maintained until 1851. In parliament, he defended abolitionist views and upheld free trade, while supporting the colonisation of Algeria carried on by Louis-Philippe's regime. Tocqueville was also elected general counsellor of the Manche in 1842, and became the president of the department's conseil général between 1849 and 1851.

In 1831, he obtained from the July Monarchy a mission to examine prisons and penitentiaries in America, and proceeded thither with his life-long friend Gustave de Beaumont. He returned in less than two years, and published a report, but the real result of his tour was the famous De la Démocratie en Amerique, which appeared in 1835.[1]

Apart from America, Tocqueville also made an observational tour of England, producing Memoir on Pauperism. In 1841 and 1846, he traveled to Algeria. His first travel inspired his Travail sur l'Algérie, in which he criticized the French model of colonisation, which was based on an assimilationist view, preferring instead the British model of indirect rule, which avoided mixing different populations together. He went as far as openly advocating racial segregation between the European colonists and the "Arabs" through the implementation of two different legislative systems (a half century before implementation of the 1881 Indigenous code based on religion).

After the fall of the July Monarchy during the February 1848 Revolution, Tocqueville was elected a member of the Constituent Assembly of 1848, where he became a member of the Commission charged with the drafting of the new Constitution of the Second Republic (1848–1851). He defended bicameralism (the existence of two parliamentary chambers) and the election of the President of the Republic by universal suffrage. As the countryside was thought to be more conservative than the labouring population of Paris, universal suffrage was conceived as a means to counteract the revolutionary spirit of Paris.

During the Second Republic, Tocqueville sided with the parti de l'Ordre against the socialists. A few days after the February insurrection, he believed that a violent clash between the Parisian workers' population led by socialists agitating in favor of a "Democratic and Social Republic" and the conservatives, which included the aristocracy and the rural population, was inescapable. As Tocqueville had foreseen, these social tensions eventually exploded during the June Days Uprising of 1848. Led by General Cavaignac, the repression was supported by Tocqueville, who advocated the "regularization" of the state of siege declared by Cavaignac, and other measures promoting suspension of the constitutional order.[2] Between May and September, Tocqueville participated to the Constitutional Commission which Wrote the new Constitution. His propositions underlined the importance of his American experience as his amendment about the President and his reelection[3].

A supporter of Cavaignac and of the parti de l'Ordre, Tocqueville, however, accepted an invitation to enter Odilon Barrot's government as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 3 June to 31 October 1849. There, during the troubled days of June 1849, he pleaded with Jules Dufaure, Interior Minister, for the reestablishment of the state of siege in the capital and approved the arrest of demonstrators. Tocqueville, who since February 1848 had supported laws restricting political freedoms, approved the two laws voted immediately after the June 1849 days, which restricted the liberty of clubs and freedom of the press. This active support in favor of laws restricting political freedoms stands in contrast of his defense of freedoms in Democracy in America. A closer analysis reveals, however, that Tocqueville favored order as "the sine qua non for the conduct of serious politics. He [hoped] to bring the kind of stability to French political life that would permit the steady growth of liberty unimpeded by the regular rumblings of the earthquakes of revolutionary change.″[4]

Tocqueville then supported Cavaignac against Louis Napoléon Bonaparte for the presidential election of 1851. Opposed to Louis Napoléon's 2 December 1851 coup which followed his election, Tocqueville was among the deputies who gathered at the Xe arrondissement of Paris in an attempt to resist the coup and have Napoleon III judged for "high treason," as he had violated the constitutional limit on terms of office. Detained at Vincennes and then released, Tocqueville, who supported the Restoration of the Bourbons against Bonaparte's Second Empire (1851–1871), quit political life and retreated to his castle (Château de Tocqueville). Against this image of Tocqueville, biographer Joseph Epstein has concluded: "Tocqueville could never bring himself to serve a man he considered a usurper and despot. He fought as best he could for the political liberty in which he so ardently believed—had given it, in all, thirteen years of his life [....] He would spend the days remaining to him fighting the same fight, but conducting it now from libraries, archives, and his own desk."[5] There, he began the draft of L'Ancien Régime et la Révolution, publishing the first tome in 1856, but leaving the second one unfinished.

Tocqueville's professed religion was Roman Catholicism.[6]

Translated Versions of Democracy in America and Effects on Meaning

Henry Reeve, translated circa 1839[7] This translation was completed by Reeve with work from Francis Bowen and Phillips Bradely. Tocqueville provided a critique of the translation as follows "Without wishing to do so and by following the instinct of your opinions, you have quite vividly colored what was contrary to Democracy and almost erased what could do harm to Aristocracy.” Although it is not exactly clear what is meant, there are two general thoughts on its meaning. First, that Tocqueville believe the translation to be deffective, or second, that Tocqueville was startled by his own voice.[8] It is unclear exactly what was Tocqueville's opinion of the translation from Reeve, a reproduction of the actual letter with translation into English would be helpful.

Richard D. Heffner, translated circa 1956[9]

Harvey C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop, translated circa 2000[10]

Arthur Goldhammer, translated circa 2004[11] The most recent translation of the text by Tocqueville, the translation stresses to require the reader to think more about the text instead of relying on "instant opinions" provided by previous translations. A speech from the translator given at Harvard University provides a keen insight into the development of his translation[12]

To shed light on the possible inaccuracies of the original translation, the title of the text should be "On Democracy in America", however this was changed by Reeve. Although not a complete rewrite, the clarity that Tocqueville wrote with depended on its concreteness and by making words interchangeable at will, it does have an effect on the meaning especially to readers who do not put the effort to research the text or read it in its native French.

Democracy in America

In Democracy in America, published in 1835, Tocqueville wrote of the New World and its burgeoning democratic order. Observing from the perspective of a detached social scientist, Tocqueville wrote of his travels through America in the early 19th Century when the market revolution, Western expansion, and Jacksonian democracy were radically transforming the fabric of American life. He saw democracy as an equation that balanced liberty and equality, concern for the individual as well as the community.

Tocqueville wrote of "Political Consequences of the Social State of the Anglo-Americans" by saying "But one also finds in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to want to bring the strong down to their level, and which reduces men to preferring equality in servitude to inequality in freedom" in Volumes One, Part I, Chapter 3. He further comments on equality by saying "Furthermore, when citizens are all almost equal, it becomes difficult for them to defend their independence against the aggressions of power. As none of them is strong enough to fight alone with advantage, the only guarantee of liberty is for everyone to combine forces. But such a combination is not always in evidence."[13]. The above is often misquoted as a slavery quote due to previous translations of the French text. The most recent translation from Arthur Goldhammer in 2004 translates the meaning to be as stated above. Examples of misquoted sources are numerous on the internet[14], the actual text does not contain the words "Americans were so enamored by equality" anywhere in the text.

Tocqueville explicitly cites inequality as being incentive for poor to become rich, and notes that it is not often two generations within a family maintain success, and that it is inheritance laws that split and eventually break apart someone's estate that cause a constant cycle of churn between the poor and rich, thereby over generations making the poor rich and rich poor. He cites protective laws in France at the time that protected an estate from being split apart amongst heirs, thereby preserving wealth and preventing a churn of wealth such as was perceived by him in 1835 within in the United States of America.

As critic of individualism, Tocqueville thought that through associating, the coming together of people for mutual purpose, both in public and private, Americans are able to overcome selfish desires, thus making both a self-conscious and active political society and a vibrant civil society functioning independently from the state. The main purpose of Tocqueville was analysis of functioning of political society and various forms of political associations, although he brought some reflections on civil society too (and relations between political and civil society). For Tocqueville as for Hegel and Marx, civil society was a sphere of private entrepreneurship and civilian affairs regulated by civil code [15].

Tocqueville's penetrating analysis sought to understand the peculiar nature of American political life. In describing America, he agreed with thinkers such as Aristotle and Montesquieu that the balance of property determined the balance of political power, but his conclusions after that differed radically from those of his predecessors. Tocqueville tried to understand why America was so different from Europe in the last throes of aristocracy. America, in contrast to the aristocratic ethic, was a society where hard work and money-making was the dominant ethic, where the common man enjoyed a level of dignity which was unprecedented, where commoners never deferred to elites, and where what he described as crass individualism and market capitalism had taken root to an extraordinary degree.

Tocqueville expressed interest in the unique American condition of equality in terms of income, using the 90/10 inequality ratio. His hypothetical analysis could later be applied to the Kuznets Curve. Tocqueville's data is consistent with the early stages of income equality of a developing country, which is not surprising considering America's heavy reliance on agriculture in the early nineteenth century. Tocqueville writes "Among a democratic people, where there is no hereditary wealth, every man works to earn a living...Labor is held in honor; the prejudice is not against but in its favor." [16]

Alexis de Tocqueville

The uniquely American morals and opinions, Tocqueville argued, lay within the origins of American society and derived from the peculiar social conditions that had welcomed colonists in prior centuries. Indeed, the basis of much of the colonization was the search for religious freedom, the right to worship the Almighty in one's own way. Unlike Europe, venturers to America found a vast expanse of open land. Any and all who arrived could own their own land and cultivate an independent life. Sparse elites and a number of landed aristocrats existed, but, according to Tocqueville, these few stood no chance against the rapidly developing values bred by such vast land ownership. With such an open society, layered with so much opportunity, men of all sorts began working their way up in the world: industriousness became a dominant ethic, and "middling" values began taking root.

This equality of social conditions bred political and civilian values which determined the type of legislation passed in the colonies and later in the states. By the late 18th Century, democratic values which championed money-making, hard work, and individualism had eradicated, in the North, most remaining vestiges of old world aristocracy and values. Eliminating them in the South proved more difficult, for slavery had produced a landed aristocracy and web of patronage and dependence similar to the old world, which would last until the antebellum period before the Civil War.

Tocqueville asserted that the values that had triumphed in the North and were present in the South had begun to suffocate old-world ethics and social arrangements. Legislatures abolished primogeniture and entails, resulting in more widely distributed land holdings. Landed elites lost the ability to pass on fortunes to single individuals. Hereditary fortunes became exceedingly difficult to secure and more people were forced to struggle for their own living.

This rapidly democratizing society, as Tocqueville understood it, had a population devoted to "middling" values which wanted to amass, through hard work, vast fortunes. In Tocqueville's mind, this explained why America was so different from Europe. In Europe, he claimed, nobody cared about making money. The lower classes had no hope of gaining more than minimal wealth, while the upper classes found it crass, vulgar, and unbecoming of their sort to care about something as unseemly as money; many were virtually guaranteed wealth and took it for granted. At the same time in America workers would see people fashioned in exquisite attire and merely proclaim that through hard work they too would soon possess the fortune necessary to enjoy such luxuries.

But, despite maintaining with Aristotle, Montesquieu, and others that the balance of property determined the balance of power, Tocqueville argued that, as America showed, equitable property holdings did not ensure the rule of the best men. In fact, it did quite the opposite. The widespread, relatively equitable property ownership which distinguished America and determined its mores and values also explained why the American masses held elites in such contempt.

More than just imploding any traces of old-world aristocracy, ordinary Americans also refused to defer to those possessing, as Tocqueville put it, superior talent and intelligence. These natural elites, who Tocqueville asserted were the lone virtuous members of American society, could not enjoy much share in the political sphere as a result. Ordinary Americans enjoyed too much power, claimed too great a voice in the public sphere, to defer to intellectual superiors. This culture promoted a relatively pronounced equality, Tocqueville argued, but the same mores and opinions that ensured such equality also promoted, as he put it, a middling mediocrity.

Those who possessed true virtue and talent would be left with limited choices. Those with the most education and intelligence would either, Tocqueville prognosticated, join limited intellectual circles to explore the weighty and complex problems facing society which have today become the academic or contemplative realms, or use their superior talents to take advantage of America's growing obsession with money-making and amass vast fortunes in the private sector. Uniquely positioned at a crossroads in American History, Tocqueville's Democracy in America attempted to capture the essence of American culture and values.

Though a supporter of colonialism, Tocqueville could clearly perceive the evils that blacks and Indians had been subjected to in America. Tocqueville notes that among the races that exist in America:

The first who attracts the eye, the first in enlightenment, in power and in happiness, is the white man, the European, man par excellence; below him appear the Negro and the Indian. These two unfortunate races have neither birth, nor face, nor language, nor mores in common; only their misfortunes look alike. Both occupy an equally inferior position in the country that they inhabit; both experience the effects of tyranny; and if their miseries are different, they can accuse the same author for them.[17]

Tocqueville contrasted the settlers of Virginia with the middle-class, religious Puritans who founded New England, and analyzed the debasing influence of slavery:

"The men sent to Virginia were seekers of gold, adventurers without resources and without character, whose turbulent and restless spirit endangered the infant colony...Artisans and agriculturalists arrived afterwards...hardly in any respect above the level of the inferior classes in England. No lofty views, no spiritual conception presided over the foundation of these new settlements. The colony was scarcely established when slavery was introduced; this was the capital fact which was to exercise an immense influence on the character, the laws and the whole future of the South. Slavery...dishonors labor; it introduces idleness into society, and with idleness, ignorance and pride, luxury and distress. It enervates the powers of the mind and benumbs the activity of man. On this same English foundation there developed in the North very different characteristics.


Tocqueville concluded that removal of the Negro population from America could not resolve the problem as he writes at the end of the first Democracy:

If the colony of Liberia were able to receive thousands of new inhabitants every year, and if the Negroes were in a state to be sent thither with advantage; if the Union were to supply the society with annual subsidies, and to transport the Negroes to Africa in government vessels, it would still be unable to counterpoise the natural increase of population among the blacks; and as it could not remove as many men in a year as are born upon its territory within that time, it could not prevent the growth of the evil which is daily increasing in the states. The Negro race will never leave those shores of the American continent to which it was brought by the passions and the vices of Europeans; and it will not disappear from the New World as long as it continues to exist. The inhabitants of the United States may retard the calamities which they apprehend, but they cannot now destroy their efficient cause.

In 1855, he wrote the following text published by Maria Weston Chapman in the Liberty Bell: Testimony against Slavery

I do not think it is for me, a foreigner, to indicate to the United States the time, the measures, or the men by whom Slavery shall be abolished.

Still, as the persevering enemy of despotism everywhere, and under all its forms, I am pained and astonished by the fact that the freest people in the world is, at the present time, almost the only one among civilized and Christian nations which yet maintains personal servitude; and this while serfdom itself is about disappearing, where it has not already disappeared, from the most degraded nations of Europe.
An old and sincere friend of America, I am uneasy at seeing Slavery retard her progress, tarnish her glory, furnish arms to her detractors, compromise the future career of the Union which is the guaranty of her safety and greatness, and point out beforehand to her, to all her enemies, the spot where they are to strike. As a man, too, I am moved at the spectacle of man's degradation by man, and I hope to see the day when the law will grant equal civil liberty to all the inhabitants of the same empire, as God accords the freedom of the will, without distinction, to the dwellers upon earth.[19]

According to him assimilation of blacks would be almost impossible and this was already being demonstrated in the Northern states. As Tocqueville predicted, formal freedom and equality and segregation would become this population's reality after the Civil War and during Reconstruction — as would the bumpy road to true integration of blacks.

Assimilation, however, was the best solution for Native Americans. But since they were too proud to assimilate, they would inevitably become extinct. Displacement was another part of America's Indian policy. Both populations were "undemocratic", or without the qualities, intellectual and otherwise, needed to live in a democracy. Tocqueville shared many views on assimilation and segregation of his and the coming epochs, but he opposed Gobineau's scientific racism theories as found in The Inequality of Human Races (1853–1855).[20]

Toqueville was also something of a forward thinking prophet when, in his Democracy In America he almost seems to predict the future of the world in the Cold War saying "There are now two great nations in the world, which starting from different points, seem to be advancing toward the same goal: the Russians and the Anglo-Americans... Each seems called by some secret design of Providence one day to hold in its hands the destinies of half the world." [21].

The 1841 discourse on the Conquest of Algeria

French historian of colonialism Olivier LeCour Grandmaison has underlined how Tocqueville (as well as Michelet) used the term "extermination" to describe what was happening during the colonization of Western United States and the Indian removal period.[22] Tocqueville thus expressed himself, in 1841, concerning the conquest of Algeria:

As far as I am concerned, I came back from Africa with the pathetic notion that at present in our way of waging war we are far more barbaric than the Arabs themselves. These days, they represent civilization, we do not. This way of waging war seems to me as stupid as it is cruel. It can only be found in the head of a coarse and brutal soldier. Indeed, it was pointless to replace the Turks only to reproduce what the world rightly found so hateful in them. This, even for the sake of interest is more noxious than useful; for, as another officer was telling me, if our sole aim is to equal the Turks, in fact we shall be in a far lower position than theirs: barbarians for barbarians, the Turks will always outdo us because they are Muslim barbarians.

In France, I have often heard men I respect but do not approve of, deplore that crops should be burnt and granaries emptied and finally that unarmed men, women and children should be seized. In my view these are unfortunate circumstances that any people wishing to wage war against the Arabs must accept. I think that all the means available to wreck tribes must be used, barring those that the human kind and the right of nations condemn. I personally believe that the laws of war enable us to ravage the country and that we must do so either by destroying the crops at harvest time or any time by making fast forays also known as raids the aim of which it to get hold of men or flocks.[23][24]

Whatever the case, we may say in a general manner that all political freedoms must be suspended in Algeria.[25]

Tocqueville thought the conquest of Algeria was important for two reasons: first, his understanding of the international situation and France’s position in the world, and, second, changes in French society.[26] Tocqueville believed that war and colonization would "restore national pride, threatened," he believed, by "the gradual softening of social mores" in the middle classes. Their taste for "material pleasures" was spreading to the whole of society, giving it "an example of weakness and egotism"." Applauding the methods of General Bugeaud, Tocqueville went as far as saying that "war in Africa" had become a science: "war in Africa is a science. Everyone is familiar with its rules and everyone can apply those rules with almost complete certainty of success. One of the greatest services that Field Marshal Bugeaud has rendered his country is to have spread, perfected and made everyone aware of this new science."[27]

Tocqueville advocated racial segregation in Algeria with two distinct legislations, one for each very separate communities.[28] Such legislation would eventually be enacted with the Crémieux decrees and the 1881 Indigenous Code, which gave French citizenship only to European settlers and Algerian Jews, while Muslim Algerians were confined to a second-grade citizenship.

Tocqueville's opposition to the invasion of Kabylia

In opposition to Olivier Le Cour Grandmaison, Jean-Louis Benoît claimed that given the extent of racial prejudices during the colonization of Algeria, Tocqueville was one of its "most moderate supporters." Benoît claimed that it was wrong to assume Tocqueville was a supporter of Bugeaud, despite his 1841 apologetic discourse. It seems that Tocqueville changed viewpoint in particular after his second travel to Algeria in 1846. Hereafter, he criticized Bugeaud's desire to invade Kabylia (home of the Berbers) in a 1847 speech to the Assembly. Tocqueville, who did advocate racial segregation between Europeans and Arabs, judged otherwise the Berbers. In an August 22, 1837 proposal, Tocqueville distinguished the Berbers from the Arabs. He considered that these last ones should have a self-government (a bit on the model of British indirect rule, thus going against the French assimiliationist stance).

Tocqueville's views on the matter were complex, and evolved over time. Even though in his 1841 report on Algeria Tocqueville admitted that Bugeaud succeeded in implementing a technique of war that enabled him to defeat Abd al-Qadir's resistance and applauded him on one hand, he opposed on the other hand the conquest of Kabylia in his first Letter about Algeria (1837). In this document, he advocated that France and the French military leave Kabylia apart to preserve a peaceful zone so as to try and develop commercial links. In all his subsequent speeches and writings he kept on being against any attempt towards intrusion into Kabylia.

During the debate concerning the 1846 extraordinary funds, Tocqueville denounced Bugeaud's conduct of military operations, and succeeded in convincing the Assembly of not voting the funds in support of Bugeaud's military columns.[29] Tocqueville considered Bugeaud's will to invade Kabylia, despite the opposition of the Assembly, as a seditious move in front of which the government opted for cowardice.[30][31]

Report on Algeria (1847)

In his 1847 Report on Algeria, Tocqueville declared that Europe should avoid making the same mistake they made with the European colonization of the Americas in order to avoid the bloody consequences.[32] More particularly he reminds his countrymen of a solemn caution whereby he warns them that if the methods used towards the Algerian people remain unchanged, colonization will end in a blood bath. The 1847 caution went unheeded and the heralded tragedy did happen.

Tocqueville includes in his report on Algeria that the fate of their soldiers and finances depended on how they treated the natives and established a sound government. Creating peace in the country would reduce the number of soldiers. However, by treating the inhabitants of Algeria as an obstacle then the two sides would be subject to much conflict and strife.

References In Popular Literature

Tocqueville was quoted in several chapters of the Toby Young's memoirs, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People to explain his observation of widespread homogeneity of thought even amongst intellectual elites at Harvard University, during his time spent there. He is frequently quoted and studied in American history classes. Tocqueville is the inspiration for Australian novelist Peter Carey in his 2009 novel, Parrot and Olivier in America.[33]

See also


  1. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg "Tocqueville, Alexis Henri Charles Maurice Clerel, Comte de". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911. 
  2. ^ "Regularization" is a term used by Tocqueville himself, see Souvenirs, Third part, p.289–290 French ed (Paris, Gallimard, 1999).
  3. ^ Coutant Arnaud, Tocqueville et la constitution democratique, Paris, Mare et Martin, 2008, 680 p.
  4. ^ P. 148, "Alexis De Tocqueville: Democracy's Guide," Joseph Epstein, HarperCollins Publishing, 2006.
  5. ^ P. 160, "Alexis De Tocqueville: Democracy's Guide," Joseph Epstein, HarperCollins Publishing, 2006.
  6. ^ Pp. 282-283. Tocqueville, Alexis de. Democracy in America. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2000.
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ Zaleski, Pawel (2008). "Tocqueville on Civilian Society. A Romantic Vision of the Dichotomic Structure of Social Reality". Archiv für Begriffsgeschichte (Felix Meiner Verlag) 50. 
  16. ^
  17. ^ Beginning of chapter 18 of Democracy in America, "The Present and Probably Future Condition of the Three Races that Inhabit the Territory of the United States".
  18. ^ Democracy in America, Vintage Books, 1945, p. 31-32
  19. ^ in Oeuvres completes, Gallimard, T. VII, pp. 1663–1664.
  20. ^ See Correspondence avec Arthur de Gobineau, quoted by Jean-Louis Benoît
  21. ^ Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, pp.412-13
  22. ^ Olivier LeCour Grandmaison (2005-02-02). "Le négationnisme colonial". Le Monde. (French)
  23. ^ 1841 — Extract of Travail sur l’Algérie, in Œuvres complètes, Gallimard, Pléïade, 1991, p. 704 & 705.
  24. ^ Olivier LeCour Grandmaison (June 2001). "Torture in Algeria: Past Acts That Haunt France — Liberty, Equality and Colony". Le Monde diplomatique.  (quoting Alexis de Tocqueville, Travail sur l’Algérie in Œuvres complètes, Paris, Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1991, pp 704 and 705).(English)
  25. ^ Olivier LeCour Grandmaison (2001). "Tocqueville et la conquête de l'Algérie". La Mazarine. (French)
  26. ^ Olivier LeCour Grandmaison (June 2001). "Torture in Algeria: Past Acts That Haunt France — Liberty, Equality and Colony". Le Monde diplomatique. (English)
  27. ^ Alexis de Tocqueville, "Rapports sur l’Algérie", in Œuvres complètes, Paris, Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1991,p 806 (quoted in (English) Olivier LeCour Grandmaison (June 2001). "Torture in Algeria: Past Acts That Haunt France — Liberty, Equality and Colony". Le Monde diplomatique. >
  28. ^ Travail sur l'Algérie, op.cit. p. 752 (quoted in (English) Olivier LeCour Grandmaison (June 2001). "Torture in Algeria: Past Acts That Haunt France — Liberty, Equality and Colony". Le Monde diplomatique. )
  29. ^ Tocqueville, Oeuvres completes, III, 1, Gallimard, 1962, pp.299–300).
  30. ^ Tocqueville, Oeuvres completes, III, 1, Gallimard, 1962, pp. 303.
  31. ^ Tocqueville, Œuvres complètes, III, 1, Gallimard, 1962, pp. 299–306.
  32. ^ Arguments in favor of Tocqueville, Jean-Louis Benoît (French)
  33. ^

Further reading

  • Allen Barbara : Tocqueville, Covenant, and the Democratic Revolution: Harmonizing Earth with Heaven. — Lexington : Lexington Books, 2005.
  • Audier Serge: Tocqueville retrouvé : Genèse et enjeux du renouveau tocquevillien. — Paris : Librairie Philosophique Vrin, 2004.
  • Benoît Jean-Louis : Comprendre Tocqueville, Armand Colin/Cursus, Paris 2004.
  • Benoît Jean-Louis : Tocqueville : un destin paradoxal. — Paris : Bayard, 2005.
  • Benoît Jean-Louis : Tocqueville moraliste, Honoré Champion, Paris 2004.
  • Benoît Jean-Louis et Keslassy Eric : Alexis de Tocqueville Textes économiques Anthologie critique, Pocket/Agora, Paris 2005.[1]
  • Benoît Jean-Louis : Tocqueville, Notes sur le Coran et autres textes sur les religions — Paris : Bayard, 2005[2][3]
  • Boesche Roger Tocqueville's Road Map: Methodology, Liberalism, Revolution, And Despotism, 2006)
  • Boudon Raymond: Tocqueville aujourd’hui. — Paris : Odile Jacob, 2005.
  • Brogan Hugh: Alexis De Tocqueville, Profile Books, 2006.
  • Coutant Arnaud: Tocqueville et la constitution democratique, Paris, Mare et Martin, 2008, 680 p.
  • Coutant Arnaud: Une Critique republicaine de la democratie liberale, de la democratie en Amerique, Paris, Mare et Martin, 2007, 560 p.
  • Drescher Seymour : Dilemmas of Democracy : Tocqueville and Modernization, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1964.
  • Drescher Seymour : Tocqueville and England , Harward University Press, 1964.
  • Drescher, Seymour. Dilemmas of Democracy: Tocqueville and Modernization. University of Pittsburgh Press, 1968.
  • Epstein Joseph : Alexis De Tocqueville: Democracy's Guide, 2006.
  • Gannett Robert T.: Tocqueville Unveiled: The Historian and His Sources for the Old Regime and the Revolution, The University of Chicago Press, 2003.
  • Guellec Laurence : Tocqueville : l'apprentissage de la liberté. Michalon, 1996.
  • Guellec Laurence : Tocqueville et les langages de la démocratie. — Honoré Champion, 2004.
  • Kahan Alan : Aristocratic Liberalism : The Social and Political Thought of Jacob Burckhardt, Johns Stuart Mill and Alexis de Tocqueville, Oxford University Press, 1992.
  • Keslassy Eric: Le libéralisme de Tocqueville a l'épreuve du paupérisme. — Paris : L'Harmattan, 2000.
  • Lively, Jack. The Social and Political Thought of Alexis De Toqueville. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962.
  • Manent Pierre : Tocqueville et la nature de la démocratie. — Fayard, 1993. — 181 p. — ISBN 2-213-03036-7, Tel-Gallimard, 2006
  • Mélonio Françoise : Tocqueville and the French, University of Virginia Press, 1998.
  • Mélonio Françoise : Tocqueville et les Français. — Paris : Aubier Montaigne, 1993.
  • Mitchell Harvey : Individual Choice and the Structures of History — Alexis de Tocqueville as an historian reappraised, Londres : Cambridge University Press, 1996.
  • Mitchell, Joshua: The Fragility of Freedom: Tocqueville on Religion, Democracy, and the American Future. Chicago, 1995.
  • Pierson George : Tocqueville and Beaumont in America, — Oxford University Press, New-York, 1938, réédition, 1996.
  • Pitts Jennifer : A Turn to Empire, Princeton University Press, 2005.
  • Richter Melvin and Baehr Peter : Dictatorship in History and Theory: Bonapartism, Caesarism, and Totalitarianism, Publications of the German Institute, Cambridge University Press, 2004.
  • Schleifer, James : The Making of Tocqueville's Democracy in America, — Chapell Hill : University of North Carolina Press, 1980.
  • Shiner Larry : The Secret Mirror: Literary Form and History in Tocqueville’s Recollections, Ithaca & Londres, Cornell University Press, 1988.
  • Welch Cheryl : De Tocqueville, Oxford University Press, 2001.
  • Welch Cheryl : The Cambridge Companion to Tocqueville, Cambridge University Press, 2006.
  • Williams Roger L. : "Tocqueville on Religion," Journal of the Historical Society, 8,4 (2008), 585-600.
  • Wolin Sheldon : Tocqueville between two Worlds, Princeton University Press, 2001.


  • Du système pénitentaire aux États-Unis et de son application en France (1833)—On the Penitentiary System in the United States and Its Application to France, with Gustave de Beaumont.
  • De la démocratie en Amerique (1835/1840)—Democracy in America. It was published in two volumes, the first in 1835, the second in 1840. English language versions: Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. and eds., Harvey C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop, University of Chicago Press, 2000; Tocqueville, Democracy in America (Arthur Goldhammer, trans.; Olivier Zunz, ed.) (The Library of America, 2004) ISBN 978-1-93108254-9.
  • L'Ancien Régime et la Révolution (1856)—The Old Regime and the Revolution. It is Tocqueville's second most-famous work.
  • Recollections (1893)—This work was a private journal of the Revolution of 1848. He never intended to publish this during his lifetime; it was published by his wife and his friend Gustave de Beaumont after his death.
  • Journey to America (1831–1832)—Alexis de Tocqueville's travel diary of his visit to America; translated into English by George Lawrence, edited by J. P. Mayer, Yale University Press, 1960; based on vol. V, 1 of the Œuvres Complètes of Tocqueville.
  • L'Etat social et politique de la France avant et depuis 1789 —Alexis de Tocqueville
  • Memoir On Pauperism: Does public charity produce an idle and dependant class of society? (1835) originally published by Ivan R. Dee. Inspired by a trip to England. One of de Tocqueville's more obscure works.
  • Journeys to England and Ireland 1835

External links

Cultural offices
Preceded by
Jean-Gérard Lacuée de Cessac
Seat 18
Académie française

Succeeded by
Henri Lacordaire
Political offices
Preceded by
Édouard Drouyn de Lhuys
Minister of Foreign Affairs
2 June 1849–31 October 1849
Succeeded by
Alphonse de Rayneval

This article incorporates text from the public-domain Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913.



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Laws are always unstable unless they are founded on the manners of a nation; and manners are the only durable and resisting power in a people.

Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville (29 July 180516 April 1859) was a French political thinker and historian, most famous for his work Democracy in America.



  • Né sous un autre ciel, placé au milieu d'un tableau toujours mouvant, poussé lui-même par le torrent irrésistible qui entraîne tout ce qui l'environne, l'Américain n'a le temps de s'attacher à rien ; il ne s'accoutume qu'au changement, et finit par le regarder comme l'état naturel à l'homme ; il en sent le besoin ; bien plus, il l'aime : car l'instabilité, au lieu de se produire à lui par des désastres, semble n'enfanter autour de lui que des prodiges...
    • Born often under another sky, placed in the middle of an always moving scene, himself driven by the irresistible torrent which draws all about him, the American has no time to tie himself to anything, he grows accustomed only to change, and ends by regarding it as the natural state of man. He feels the need of it, more he loves it; for the instability; instead of meaning disaster to him, seems to give birth only to miracles all about him.
    • National Character of Americans—first impressions (1831) Oeuvres complètes, vol. VIII, p. 253
  • As one digs deeper into the national character of the Americans, one sees that they have sought the value of everything in this world only in the answer to this single question: how much money will it bring in?
  • Les meilleures lois ne peuvent faire marcher une constitution en dépit des mœurs ; les mœurs tirent parti des pires lois. C'est là une vérité commune, mais à laquelle mes études me ramènent sans cesse. Elle est placée dans mon esprit comme un point central. Je l'aperçois au bout de toutes mes idées.
    • The best laws cannot make a constitution work in spite of morals; morals can turn the worst laws to advantage. That is a commonplace truth, but one to which my studies are always bringing me back. It is the central point in my conception. I see it at the end of all my reflections.
    • De la supériorité des mœurs sur les lois (1831) Oeuvres complètes, vol. VIII, p. 286
  • So many of my thoughts and feelings are shared by the English that England has turned into a second native land of the mind for me.
    • Journeys to England and Ireland (1835)
  • The French want no-one to be their superior. The English want inferiors. The Frenchman constantly raises his eyes above him with anxiety. The Englishman lowers his beneath him with satisfaction.
    • Journeys to England and Ireland (1835)
  • Il était aussi grand qu'un homme puisse l'être sans la vertu.
  • I studied the Koran a great deal. I came away from that study with the conviction there have been few religions in the world as deadly to men as that of Muhammad. So far as I can see, it is the principal cause of the decadence so visible today in the Muslim world and, though less absurd than the polytheism of old, its social and political tendencies are in my opinion to be feared, and I therefore regard it as a form of decadence rather than a form of progress in relation to paganism itself.
  • We are sleeping on a volcano... A wind of revolution blows, the storm is on the horizon.
    • Speaking in the Chamber of Deputies just prior to to outbreak of revolution in Europe (1848)
  • Socialism is a new form of slavery.
    • Notes for a Speech on Socialism (1848)
  • As for me, I am deeply a democrat; this is why I am in no way a socialist. Democracy and socialism cannot go together. You can't have it both ways.
    • Notes for a Speech on Socialism (1848)
  • La démocratie étend la sphère de l'indépendence individuelle, le socialisme la reserre. La démocratie donne toute sa valeur possible à chacque homme, le socialisme fait de chaque homme un agent, un instrument, un chiffre. La démocratie et le socialisme ne se tiennent qu par un mot, l'égalité; mais remarquez la différence: la démocratie veut l'égalité dans la liberté et le socialisme veut l'égalité dans la gene et dan la servitude.
  • Translation (from Hayek, The Road to Serfdom): Democracy extends the sphere of individual freedom, socialism restricts it. Democracy attaches all possible value to each man; socialism makes each man a mere agent, a mere number. Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.
  • Égalité is an expression of envy. It means, in the real heart of every Republican, " No one shall be better off than I am;" and while this is preferred to good government, good government is impossible.
    • Variant: Equality is a slogan based on envy. It signifies in the heart of every republican: "Nobody is going to occupy a place higher than I."
    • Conversation with Nassau William Senior, 22 May 1850 Nassau, p. 94
  • It is almost never when a state of things is the most detestable that it is smashed, but when, beginning to improve, it permits men to breathe, to reflect, to communicate their thoughts with each other, and to gauge by what they already have the extent of their rights and their grievances. The weight, although less heavy, seems then all the more unbearable.
  • History, it is easily perceived, is a picture-gallery containing a host of copies and very few originals.
    • Variant translation: History is a gallery of pictures in which there are few originals and many copies.
    • Old Regime (1856), p. 88
  • The French are ... the most brilliant and the most dangerous nation of Europe, and the one that is surest to inspire admiration, hatred, terror, or pity, but never indifference.
    • Variant translation: The French constitute the most brilliant and the most dangerous nation in Europe and the best qualified in turn to become an object of admiration, hatred, pity or terror but never indifference.
    • Old Regime (1856), p. 245
  • He who seeks freedom for anything but freedom's self is made to be a slave.
    • Variant translation: The man who asks of freedom anything other than itself is born to be a slave.
    • Old Regime (1856), p. 204
  • The regime which is destroyed by a revolution is almost always an improvement on its immediate predecessor, and experience teaches that the most critical moment for bad governments is the one which witnesses their first steps toward reform.
    • Variant translation: The most dangerous moment for a bad government is when it begins to reform.
    • Old Regime (1856), p. 214
  • The last thing abandoned by a party is its phraseology, because among political parties, as elsewhere, the vulgar make the language, and the vulgar abandon more easily the ideas that have been instilled into it than the words that it has learnt.
    • France Before The Consulate, Chapter I: "How the Republic was ready to accept a master", in Memoir, Letters, and Remains, Vol I (1862), p. 266
    • Variant translation: The last thing a political party gives up is its vocabulary. This is because, in party politics as in other matters, it is the crowd who dictates the language, and the crowd relinquishes the ideas it has been given more readily than the words it has learned.
    • Variant translation: The last thing that a party abandons is its language.
  • I have come across men of letters who have written history without taking part in public affairs, and politicians who have concerned themselves with producing events without thinking about them. I have observed that the first are always inclined to find general causes whereas the second, living in the midst of disconnected daily facts, are prone to imagine that everything is attributable to particular incidents, and that the wires they pull are the same as those that move the world. It is to be presumed that both are equally deceived.
  • For the first time in sixty years, the priests, the old aristocracy and the people met in a common sentiment—a feeling of revenge, it is true, and not of affection ; but even that is a great thing in politics, where a community of hatred is almost always the foundation of friendships.
  • Alternative translation: In politics... shared hatreds are almost always the basis of friendships.

Democracy in America, Volume I (1835)

We are sleeping on a volcano... A wind of revolution blows, the storm is on the horizon.
  • God does not need to speak for himself in order for us to discover definitive signs of his will; it is enough to examine the normal course of nature and the consistent tendency of events. I know without needing to hear the voice of the Creator that the stars trace out in space the orbits which his hand has drawn.
    • Introduction
  • If a [democratic] society displays less brilliance than an aristocracy, there will also be less wretchedness; pleasures will be less outrageous and wellbeing will be shared by all; the sciences will be on a smaller scale but ignorance will be less common; opinions will be less vigorous and habits gentler; you will notice more vices and fewer crimes.
    • Introduction
  • By the side of these religious men I discern others whose looks are turned to the earth more than to Heaven; they are the partisans of liberty, not only as the source of the noblest virtues, but more especially as the root of all solid advantages; and they sincerely desire to extend its sway, and to impart its blessings to mankind. It is natural that they should hasten to invoke the assistance of religion, for they must know that liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith; but they have seen religion in the ranks of their adversaries, and they inquire no further; some of them attack it openly, and the remainder are afraid to defend it.
    • Introduction
  • The Indian knew how to live without wants, to suffer without complaint, and to die singing.
    • Chapter I
  • Step back in time; look closely at the child in the very arms of his mother; see the external world reflected for the first time in the yet unclear mirror of his understanding; study the first examples which strike his eyes; listen to the first words which arouse within him the slumbering power of thought; watch the first struggles which he has to undergo; only then will you comprehend the source of his prejudices, the habits, and the passions which are to rule his life. The entire man, so to speak, comes fully formed in the wrappings of his cradle.
    • Chapter II
  • The surface of American society is covered with a layer of democratic paint, but from time to time one can see the old aristocratic colours breaking through.
    • Chapter II
  • I know of no country, indeed, where the love of money has taken stronger hold on the affections of men, and where the profounder contempt is expressed for the theory of the permanent equality of property.
    • Chapter III, Part I
  • There is in fact a manly and legitimate passion for equality that spurs all men to wish to be strong and esteemed. This passion tends to elevate the lesser to the rank of the greater. But one also finds in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to want to bring the strong down to their level, and which reduces men to preferring equality in servitude to inequality in freedom.
    • Chapter III, Part I
    • Often misquoted as: Americans are so enamored of equality that they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom.
  • Furthermore, when citizens are all almost equal, it becomes difficult for them to defend their independence against the aggressions of power.
    • Chapter III
  • "The will of the nation" is one of those expressions which have been most profusely abused by the wily and the despotic of every age.
    • Chapter IV
  • With much care and skill power has been broken into fragments in the American township, so that the maximum possible number of people have some concern with public affairs.
    • Chapter V
  • The New Englander is attached to his township because it is strong and independent; he has an interest in it because he shares in its management; he loves it because he has no reason to complain of his lot; he invests his ambition and his future in it; in the restricted sphere within his scope, he learns to rule society; he gets to know those formalities without which freedom can advance only through revolutions, and becoming imbued with their spirit, develops a taste for order, understands the harmony of powers, and in the end accumulates clear, practical ideas about the nature of his duties and the extent of his rights.
    • Chapter V
  • Useful undertakings which require sustained attention and vigorous precision in order to succeed often end up by being abandoned, for, in America, as elsewhere, the people move forward by sudden impulses and short-lived efforts.
    • Chapter V
  • In order to enjoy the inestimable benefits that the liberty of the press ensures, it is necessary to submit to the inevitable evils it creates
    • Chapter XI
  • The power of the periodical press is second only to that of the people.
    • Chapter XI
  • In countries where associations are free, secret societies are unknown. In America there are factions, but no conspiracies.
    • Chapter XII
  • A democratic government is the only one in which those who vote for a tax can escape the obligation to pay it.
    • Chapter XIII
  • In America, conscription is unknown; men are enlisted for payment. Compulsory recruitment is so alien to the ideas and so foreign to the customs of the people of the United States that I doubt whether they would ever dare to introduce it into their law.
    • Chapter XIII
  • The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.
    • Chapter XIII
  • In the United States, except for slaves, servants and the destitute fed by townships, everyone has the vote and this is an indirect contributor to law-making. Anyone wishing to attack the law is thus reduced to adopting one of two obvious courses: they must either change the nation's opinion or trample its wishes under foot.
    • Chapter XIV
  • An American cannot converse, but he can discuss, and his talk falls into a dissertation. He speaks to you as if he was addressing a meeting; and if he should chance to become warm in the discussion, he will say "Gentlemen" to the person with whom he is conversing.
    • Chapter XIV
  • I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America.
    • Chapter XV
  • In America the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion; within these barriers an author may write what he pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them.
    • Chapter XV
  • Laws are always unstable unless they are founded on the manners of a nation; and manners are the only durable and resisting power in a people.
    • Chapter XVI
  • In cities men cannot be prevented from concerting together, and from awakening a mutual excitement which prompts sudden and passionate resolutions. Cities may be looked upon as large assemblies, of which all the inhabitants are members; their populace exercises a prodigious influence upon the magistrates, and frequently executes its own wishes without their intervention.
    • Variant translation: In towns it is impossible to prevent men from assembling, getting excited together and forming sudden passionate resolves. Towns are like great meeting houses with all the inhabitants as members. In them the people wield immense influence over their magistrates and often carry their desires into execution without intermediaries.
    • Chapter XVII
  • If it be of the highest importance to man, as an individual, that his religion should be true, the case of society is not the same. Society has no future life to hope for or to fear; and provided the citizens profess a religion, the peculiar tenets of that religion are of very little importance to its interests.
    • Variant translation: Though it is very important for man as an individual that his religion should be true, that is not the case for society. Society has nothing to fear or hope from another life; what is most important for it is not that all citizens profess the true religion but that they should profess religion.
    • Chapter XVII
  • The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other; and with them this conviction does not spring from that barren traditionary faith which seems to vegetate in the soul rather than to live.
    • Chapter XVII
  • Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot. How is it possible that society should escape destruction if the moral tie is not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed? And what can be done with a people who are their own masters if they are not submissive to the Deity?
    • Chapter XVII
  • They all attributed the peaceful dominion of religion in their country mainly to the separation of church and state. I do not hesitate to affirm that during my stay in America I did not meet a single individual, of the clergy or the laity, who was not of the same opinion on this point.
    • Chapter XVII
  • The Americans never use the word peasant, because they have no idea of the class which that term denotes; the ignorance of more remote ages, the simplicity of rural life, and the rusticity of the villager have not been preserved among them; and they are alike unacquainted with the virtues, the vices, the coarse habits, and the simple graces of an early stage of civilization.
    • Chapter XVII
  • Among these widely differing families of men, the first that attracts attention, the superior in intelligence, in power, and in enjoyment, is the white, or European, the MAN pre-eminently so called, below him appear the Negro and the Indian.
    • Chapter XVIII
  • The most formidable of all the ills that threaten the future of the Union arises from the presence of a black population upon its territory; and in contemplating the cause of the present embarrassments, or the future dangers of the United States, the observer is invariably led to this as a primary fact.
    • Chapter XVIII
  • You may set the Negro free, but you cannot make him otherwise than an alien to the European. Nor is this all we scarcely acknowledge the common features of humanity in this stranger whom slavery has brought among us. His physiognomy is to our eyes hideous, his understanding weak, his tastes low; and we are almost inclined to look upon him as a being intermediate between man and the brutes.
    • Chapter XVIII
  • No natural boundary seems to be set to the efforts of man; and what is not yet done is only what he has not yet attempted to do.
  • Variant: What is not yet done is only what we have not yet attempted to do.
    • Chapter XVIII
  • I am obliged to confess that I do not regard the abolition of slavery as a means of warding off the struggle of the two races in the Southern states. The Negroes may long remain slaves without complaining; but if they are once raised to the level of freemen, they will soon revolt at being deprived of almost all their civil rights; and as they cannot become the equals of the whites, they will speedily show themselves as enemies.
    • Chapter XVIII
  • The whole life of an American is passed like a game of chance, a revolutionary crisis, or a battle.
    • Chapter XVIII
  • There are at the present time two great nations in the world—allude to the Russians and the Americans— All other nations seem to have nearly reached their national limits, and have only to maintain their power; these alone are proceeding—along a path to which no limit can be perceived.
    • Chapter XVIII
  • In the United States a man builds a house to spend his latter years in it and he sells it before the roof is on. He plants a garden and lets it just as the trees are coming into bearing. He brings a field into tillage and leaves other men to gather the crops. He embraces a profession and gives it up. He settles in a place which he soon afterward leaves to carry his changeable longings elsewhere. If his private affairs leave him any leisure he instantly plunges into the vortex of politics and if at the end of a year of unremitting labour he finds he has a few days' vacation, his eager curiosity whirls him over the vast extent of the United States, and he will travel fifteen hundred miles in a few days to shake off his happiness.
    • Chapter XXIX

Democracy in America, Volume II (1840)

  • In the United States, the majority undertakes to supply a multitude of ready-made opinions for the use of individuals, who are thus relieved from the necessity of forming opinions of their own.
    • Book One, Chapter II
  • General ideas are no proof of the strength, but rather of the insufficiency of the human intellect.
    • Book One, Chapter III
  • Muhammad brought down from heaven and put into the Koran not religious doctrines only, but political maxims, criminal and civil laws, and scientific theories. The Gospels, on the other hand, deal only with the general relations between man and God and between man and man. Beyond that, they teach nothing and do not oblige people to believe anything. That alone, among a thousand reasons, is enough to show that Islam will not be able to hold its power long in ages of enlightenment and democracy, while Christianity is destined to reign in such ages, as in all others.
    • Book One, Chapter V
  • The main business of religions is to purify, control, and restrain that excessive and exclusive taste for well-being which men acquire in times of equality.
    • Book One, Chapter V
  • There is hardly a pioneer's hut which does not contain a few odd volumes of Shakespeare. I remember reading the feudal drama of Henry V for the first time in a log cabin.
    • Book One, Chapter XIII
  • They certainly are not great writers, but they speak their country's language and they make themselves heard.
    • Book One, Chapter XIII
  • By and large the literature of a democracy will never exhibit the order, regularity, skill, and art characteristic of aristocratic literature; formal qualities will be neglected or actually despised. The style will often be strange, incorrect, overburdened, and loose, and almost always strong and bold. Writers will be more anxious to work quickly than to perfect details. Short works will be commoner than long books, wit than erudition, imagination than depth. There will be a rude and untutored vigor of thought with great variety and singular fecundity. Authors will strive to astonish more than to please, and to stir passions rather than to charm taste.
    • Book One, Chapter XIII
  • The genius of democracies is seen not only in the great number of new words introduced but even more in the new ideas they express.
    • Book One, Chapter XVI
  • There is hardly a member of Congress who can make up his mind to go home without having despatched at least one speech to his constituents; nor who will endure any interruption until he has introduced into his harangue whatever useful suggestions may be made touching the four-and-twenty States of which the Union is composed, and especially the district which he represents.
    • Book One, Chapter XXI
  • The debates of that great assembly are frequently vague and perplexed, seeming to be dragged rather than to march, to the intended goal. Something of this sort must, I think, always happen in public democratic assemblies.
    • Book One, Chapter XXI
  • I think that democratic communities have a natural taste for freedom: left to themselves, they will seek it, cherish it, and view any privation of it with regret. But for equality, their passion is ardent, insatiable, incessant, invincible: they call for equality in freedom; and if they cannot obtain that, they still call for equality in slavery.
    • Book Two, Chapter I
  • Not only does democracy make every man forget his ancestors, but also clouds their view of their descendants and isolates them from their contemporaries. Each man is for ever thrown back on himself alone, and there is danger that he may be shut up in the solitude of his own heart.
    • Book Two, Chapter II
  • Americans of all ages, all stations of life, and all types of disposition are forever forming associations... In democratic countries knowledge of how to combine is the mother of all other forms of knowledge; on its progress depends that of all the others.
    • Book Two, Chapter V
  • I am far from denying that newspapers in democratic countries lead citizens to do very ill-considered things in common; but without newspapers there would be hardly any common action at all. So they mend many more ills than they cause.
    • Book Two, Chapter VI
  • What most astonishes me in the United States, is not so much the marvelous grandeur of some undertakings, as the innumerable multitude of small ones.
    • Book Two, Chapter XIX
  • In democratic ages men rarely sacrifice themselves for another, but they show a general compassion for all the human race. One never sees them inflict pointless suffering, and they are glad to relieve the sorrows of others when they can do so without much trouble to themselves. They are not disinterested, but they are gentle.
    • Book Three, Chapter I
  • It is easy to see that, even in the freedom of early youth, an American girl never quite loses control of herself; she enjoys all permitted pleasures without losing her head about any of them, and her reason never lets the reins go, though it may often seem to let them flap.
    • Book Three, Chapter IX
  • In America a woman loses her independence for ever in the bonds of matrimony. While there is less constraint on girls there than anywhere else, a wife submits to stricter obligations. For the former, her father's house is a home of freedom and pleasure; for the latter, her husband's is almost a cloister.
    • Book Three, Chapter X
  • The principle of equality does not destroy the imagination, but lowers its flight to the level of the earth.
    • Book Three, Chapter XI
  • Nothing is quite so wretchedly corrupt as an aristocracy which has lost its power but kept its wealth and which still has endless leisure to devote to nothing but banal enjoyments. All its great thoughts and passionate energy are things of the past, and nothing but a host of petty, gnawing vices now cling to it like worms to a corpse.
    • Book Three, Chapter XI
  • In America, more than anywhere else in the world, care has been taken constantly to trace clearly distinct spheres of action for the two sexes, and both are required to keep in step, but along paths that are never the same.
    • Book Three, Chapter XII
  • I have no hesitation in saying that although the American woman never leaves her domestic sphere and is in some respects very dependent within it, nowhere does she enjoy a higher station. And if anyone asks me what I think the chief cause of the extraordinary prosperity and growing power of this nation, I should answer that it is due to the superiority of their women.
    • Book Three, Chapter XII
  • However energetically society in general may strive to make all the citizens equal and alike, the personal pride of each individual will always make him try to escape from the common level, and he will form some inequality somewhere to his own profit.
    • Book Three, Chapter XIII
  • Nothing seems at first sight less important than the outward form of human actions, yet there is nothing upon which men set more store: they grow used to everything except to living in a society which has not their own manners.
    • Book Three, Chapter XIV
  • It is the dissimilarities and inequalities among men which give rise to the notion of honor; as such differences become less, it grows feeble; and when they disappear, it will vanish too.
    • Book Three, Chapter XVIII
  • Commerce is naturally adverse to all the violent passions; it loves to temporize, takes delight in compromise, and studiously avoids irritation. It is patient, insinuating, flexible, and never has recourse to extreme measures until obliged by the most absolute necessity. Commerce renders men independent of each other, gives them a lofty notion of their personal importance, leads them to seek to conduct their own affairs, and teaches how to conduct them well; it therefore prepares men for freedom, but preserves them from revolutions.
    • Variant translation: Trade is the natural enemy of all violent passions. Trade loves moderation, delights in compromise, and is most careful to avoid anger. It is patient, supple, and insinuating, only resorting to extreme measures in cases of absolute necessity. Trade makes men independent of one another and gives them a high idea of their personal importance: it leads them to want to manage their own affairs and teaches them to succeed therein. Hence it makes them inclined to liberty but disinclined to revolution.
    • Book Three, Chapter XXI
  • Consider any individual at any period of his life, and you will always find him preoccupied with fresh plans to increase his comfort.
    • Book Three, Chapter XXI
  • In no other country in the world is the love of property keener or more alert than in the United States, and nowhere else does the majority display less inclination toward doctrines which in any way threaten the way property is owned.
    • Book Three, Chapter XXI
  • If there ever are great revolutions there, they will be caused by the presence of the blacks upon American soil. That is to say, it will not be the equality of social conditions but rather their inequality which may give rise thereto.
    • Book Three, Chapter XXI
  • Two things in America are astonishing: the changeableness of most human behavior and the strange stability of certain principles. Men are constantly on the move, but the spirit of humanity seems almost unmoved.
    • Book Three, Chapter XXI
  • When an opinion has taken root in a democracy and established itself in the minds of the majority, it afterward persists by itself, needing no effort to maintain it since no one attacks it. Those who at first rejected it as false come in the end to adopt it as accepted, and even those who still at the bottom of their hearts oppose it keep their views to themselves, taking great care to avoid a dangerous and futile contest.
    • Book Three, Chapter XXI
  • I cannot help fearing that men may reach a point where they look on every new theory as a danger, every innovation as a toilsome trouble, every social advance as a first step toward revolution, and that they may absolutely refuse to move at all.
    • Book Three, Chapter XXI
  • There are two things which a democratic people will always find very difficult—to begin a war and to end it.
    • Book Three, Chapter XXII
  • No protracted war can fail to endanger the freedom of a democratic country.
    • Book Three, Chapter XXII
  • All those who seek to destroy the liberties of a democratic nation ought to know that war is the surest and shortest means to accomplish it.
    • Book Three, Chapter XXII
  • Every central government worships uniformity: uniformity relieves it from inquiry into an infinity of details.
    • Book Four, Chapter III
  • They (the emperors) frequently abused their power arbitrarily to deprive their subjects of property or of life: their tyranny was extremely onerous to the few, but it did not reach the greater number; .. But it would seem that if despotism were to be established amongst the democratic nations of our days it might assume a different character; it would be more extensive and more mild, it would degrade men without tormenting them.
    • Book Four, Chapter VI
  • After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the government then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small, complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence: it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.
    • Book Four, Chapter VI
  • I should have loved freedom, I believe, at all times, but in the time in which we live I am ready to worship it.
    • Book Four, Chapter VII
  • As the past has ceased to throw its light upon the future, the mind of man wanders in obscurity.
    • Variant translation: When the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness.
    • Book Four, Chapter VIII


  • In the end, the state of the Union comes down to the character of the people. I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there. In the fertile fields and boundless prairies, and it was not there. In her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits, aflame with righteousness, did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.
    • This has often been attributed to de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, but erroneously, according to "The Tocqueville Fraud" in The Weekly Standard (13 November 1995). This quote dates back to at least 1922 (Herald and Presbyter, September 6, 1922, p. 8)
    • There's an earlier variant, without the memorable ending, that dates back to at least 1886:
      I went at your bidding, and passed along their thoroughfares of trade. I ascended their mountains and went down their valleys. I visited their manufactories, their commercial markets, and emporiums of trade. I entered their judicial courts and legislative halls. But I sought everywhere in vain for the secret of their success, until I entered the church. It was there, as I listened to the soul-equalizing and soul-elevating principles of the Gospel of Christ, as they fell from Sabbath to Sabbath upon the masses of the people, that I learned why America was great and free, and why France was a slave.
      • Empty Pews & Selections from Other Sermons on Timely Topics, Madison Clinton Peters; Zeising, 1886, p. 35
  • It's not an endlessly expanding list of rights — the 'right' to education, the 'right' to health care, the 'right' to food and housing. That's not freedom, that's dependency. Those aren't rights, those are the rations of slavery — hay and a barn for human cattle.
    • P. J. O'Rourke, in Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut‎ (1996), p. 227
  • The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money.
    • This is a variant expression of a sentiment which is often attributed to Tocqueville or Alexander Fraser Tytler, but the earliest known occurrence is as an unsourced attribution to Tytler in "This is the Hard Core of Freedom" by Elmer T. Peterson in The Daily Oklahoman (9 December 1951): "A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy."
    • Variant: The American Republic will endure, until politicians realize they can bribe the people with their own money.


  • Tocqueville, Alexis de (1985). Roger Boesche. ed. Selected letters on politics and society. University of California Press. p. 296. ISBN 0520050479. OCLC 10696017.  

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