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...
(The entire section is 655 words.)