Alexis de Tocqueville Additional Biography

Biography

Alexis de Tocqueville (tawk-veel) was born in Paris in 1805. As a child he displayed great powers of intelligence, and he was fortunate enough to be allowed to develop them through study and travel. His journey to the United States resulted in his first book, a study of the penal system of both the Old and New Worlds. This book, which appeared in 1832, was based on a long and hard exploration of a year’s duration, during which he familiarized himself with the nature of American culture. Another book, one which was to make him famous, was also a consequence of this journey. Democracy in America immediately raised Tocqueville to the status of a great European author.

Democracy in America was the answer of an empiricist to political theories derived largely from speculation. It was based on close study of institutions rather than on a theory of human nature, and it covered in great detail the economics, legal structure, and social structure of the United States. It covered, too, the dangers of democracy: the probability of increased centralization of power, the encroachment of oligarchy on popular rights. In the years after the publication of this great work Tocqueville took an active part in government and became a fascinated observer of the violent political changes of the 1830’s and 1840’s. During this period of his life, Tocqueville was building a factual and philosophical foundation for his last historical masterpiece.

The preoccupation of Tocqueville during these years was decidedly not with ideas or theories but with what he called the realities of...

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Bibliography

Commager, Henry Steele. Commager on Tocqueville. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1993. Analysis of Tocqueville’s writings. Includes an index.

Herr, Richard. Tocqueville and the Old Regime. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1962. The author, a specialist in modern French history, deals with the incompleteness and apparent inconsistencies of Tocqueville’s The Old Régime and the Revolution. An informative and well-written work with a selective bibliography and a useful index.

Laski, Harold J. “Alexis de Tocqueville and Democracy.” In The Social and Political Ideas of Some Representative Thinkers of the Victorian Age, edited by F. J. C. Hearnshaw. London: G. G. Harrap, 1933. Laski, a distinguished British liberal-left political analyst and a force behind the extension of the British welfare state, cogently examines Tocqueville’s views on social democracy and their relevance to modern democracies. No notes, bibliography, or index. Generally available.

Ledeen, Michael Arthur. Tocqueville on American Character: Why Tocqueville’s Brilliant Exploration of the American Spirit Is as Vital and Important Today as It Was Nearly Two Hundred Years Ago. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000. Evaluates Tocqueville’s American travels and their impact on him and his writings.

Mansfield, Harvey C., Delba Winthrop, and Philippe Raynaud. Tyranny and Liberty: Big Government and the Individual in Tocqueville’s...

(The entire section is 664 words.)