Alexis de Tocqueville

Historian, Author

1805 – 1859

91

Who was Alexis de Tocqueville?

Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville was a French political thinker and historian best known for his works Democracy in America and The Old Regime and the Revolution. In both of these, he analyzed the improved living standards and social conditions of individuals, as well as their relationship to the market and state in Western societies. Democracy in America was published after Tocqueville's travels in the United States, and is today considered an early work of sociology and political science.

Tocqueville was active in French politics, first under the July Monarchy and then during the Second Republic 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.

He argued that the importance of the French Revolution was to continue the process of modernizing and centralizing the French state which had begun under King Louis XIV. The failure of the Revolution came from the inexperience of the deputies who were too wedded to abstract Enlightenment ideals.

Famous Quotes:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Grant me thirty years of equal division of inheritances and a free press, and I will provide you with a republic.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Scarcely any political question arises in the United States that is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question.
  • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • There are two things which will always be very difficult for a democratic nation: to start a war and to end it.

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Born
Jul 29, 1805
Paris
Also known as
  • Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville
Nationality
  • France
Profession
Died
Apr 16, 1859
Cannes

Submitted
on July 23, 2013

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