Alexis de Tocqueville Criticism - Essay

Marvin Zetterbaum (essay date 1967)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Problem of Democracy," in Tocqueville and the Problem of Democracy, Stanford University Press, 1967, pp. 41-84.

[In this excerpt, Zetterbaum examines Tocqueville's attempts to reconcile the seemingly contradictory concepts of equality and individuality, justice and excellence, in modern democracy.]

Even if democracy is the only just social condition, it need not coincide with a condition of human excellence; it is not necessarily conducive to what is highest in man. This observation, along with the tension implied by it between justice and excellence, forced Tocqueville to make a critical choice. Traditionally, justice had been considered equivalent to...

(The entire section is 15110 words.)

Hugh Brogan (essay date 1981)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Tocqueville and the American Presidency." Journal of American Studies 15, No. 3, (December 1981): 357-75.

[In this essay, Brogan asserts that Tocqueville's assessment of the American Presidency in general, and Andrew Jackson in particular, was seriously flawed; Tocqueville underestimated the importance of both.]

In nothing is the difference between the Presidency today and in the nineteenth century more clearly symbolised than in the matter of accessibility. Today the President is closely guarded both for reasons of security and to save him from unreasonable calls on his time, and what is unreasonable is defined pretty strictly. For example, Mr. Walter Hickel,...

(The entire section is 8887 words.)

Catherine Zuckert (essay date 1981)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Not by Preaching: Tocqueville on the Role of Religion in American Democracy." The Review of Politics 43, No. 2, (April 1981): 259-80.

[In this essay, Zuckert argues that Tocqueville's position on the role of religion in democracy is internally consistent.]

Both Jack Lively and Marvin Zetterbaum comment on the paradoxical character of Alexis de Tocqueville's teaching in Democracy in America with regard to the importance of religious belief in maintaining liberal democracy.1 By concentrating on the political utility of religious belief to the point of indifference as to its content, they argue, Tocqueville undermines the very belief he...

(The entire section is 8831 words.)

James T. Schleifer (essay date 1982)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Tocqueville and Religion: Some New Perspectives." The Tocqueville Review IV, No. II (Fall-Winter 1982): 303-21.

[In this essay, Schleifer discusses Tocqueville's attitudes toward religion in America as expressed in Democracy in America.]

Anatomy of the Subject

Tocqueville's major ideas about religion appear very early in his American journey notes and remain by and large unchanged during the nine years when he was writing the Democracy. As early as the end of June 1831, after less than two months in the New World, his travel diaries and letters home refer to nearly all of the key themes relating to religion which would...

(The entire section is 7583 words.)

Edward Pessen (essay date 1982)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Tocqueville's Misreading of America, America's Misreading of Tocqueville." The Tocqueville Review IV, No. I, (Spring-Summer 1982): 5-22.

[In the following paper, presented at Hobart and William Smith Colleges' Tocqueville's American Journey: A Sesquicentennial Symposium, Pessen claims that Tocqueville's judgments of American life were more often based on preconceptions than observations.]

I am delighted to have been invited to participate in this celebration of Alexis de Tocqueville. For, as a conscientious worker, I have interpreted the invitation as a summons to reread Democracy in America. What a pleasure to lose oneself in a book of...

(The entire section is 7544 words.)

Roger Boesche (essay date 1987)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The New Despotism," in The Strange Liberalism of Alexis de Tocqueville, Cornell University Press, 1987, pp. 229-59.

[In this excerpt Boesche discusses Tocqueville's warnings of a "new despotism," potentially originating within American-style democracies, that would enslave the soul and would be brought about by equality, isolation, and abundance.]

With a Newtonian view of the political world, Madison and others offered a mechanical notion of political freedom in which free political institutions, once set in motion and properly balanced, continued to function almost by themselves. By contrast, Tocqueville pictured freedom as if he still agreed with Aristotle's...

(The entire section is 13458 words.)

Daniel T. Rodgers (essay date 1988)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Of Prophets and Prophecy," in Reconsidering Tocqueville's Democracy in America, edited by Abraham S. Eisenstadt, Rutgers University Press, 1988, pp. 192-206.

[In this excerpt, Rodgers measures the accuracy of Tocqueville's predictions for twentieth-century America.]

Democracy in America began as a piece of reportage, metamorphosed into a work in political philosophy, and became, at last, a book of prophecy. That is not the straightforward progression it may at first blush appear. The making of high theory out of reportage goes on every day, but prophecy is a rarer and more interesting phenomenon. Still more so is the canonization of prophets, the...

(The entire section is 5216 words.)

Edward T. Gargan (essay date 1992)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Tocqueville and the Postmodern Refusal of History," in Liberty, Equality, Democracy, edited by Eduardo Nolla, New York University Press, 1992, pp. 187-92.

[In this essay, Gargan points out Tocqueville's continuing relevance for postmodernists such as Jean-Francois Lyotard and Jean Baudrillard.]

In March of 1839 Tocqueville was elected to the Chamber of Deputies from Valognes. It was possible for him to take this step because the final volume of his Democracy was at last finished and would be published in 1840. In 1990 the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Democracy invited and continues to encourage reflections on the...

(The entire section is 2264 words.)

Cushing Strout (essay date 1992)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Tocqueville and American Literary Critics," in Liberty, Equality, Democracy, edited by Eduardo Nolla, New York University Press, 1992, pp. 143-52.

[In this essay, Strout discusses Tocqueville's comments and prophecies regarding American literature.]

Tocqueville's Democracy in America wavers between alarming prophecies about democracy in general and more sanguine comments about America in particular. What he sought in his book, as he confessed to his friend Kergorlay, was "less the complete picture of that foreign society than its contrasts and resemblances to our own."1 There is on the one hand the possible coming, especially in...

(The entire section is 4310 words.)

Henry Steele Commager (essay date 1993)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Political Equality and Economic Inequality," in Commager on Tocqueville, University of Missouri Press, 1993, pp. 93-110.

[In this excerpt, Commager considers the paradox of equality and individualisma paradox that preoccupied Tocquevilleand suggests that it poses even greater problems in the 1990s.]

The grand theme of Democracy in America is the reconciliation of equality or democracy—for he used the words interchangeably—with liberty. Democracy, he was confident, was the wave of the future (he was not really all that confident, but he insisted in the book that he was). Democracy had triumphed in America; its triumph in...

(The entire section is 5451 words.)

Zoltán Kövecses (essay date 1994)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Tocqueville's Passionate 'Beast': A Linguistic Analysis of the Concept of American Democracy." Metaphor and Symbolic Activity 9, No. 2, (1994): 113-33.

[In this analysis of the metaphors Tocqueville used to describe American democracy, Kovecses disagrees with the majority of critics who believe Tocqueville regarded American democracy in a positive light.]

In this article I argue that Tocqueville's view of democracy in Democracy in America (1835/1987) is in large measure given content and structure by the metaphor theme "DEMOCRACY IS A (PASSIONATE) PERSON." The analysis of Tocqueville's metaphors reveals that he saw...

(The entire section is 8662 words.)

Joshua Mitchell (essay date 1995)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Of Moderation and Motion: Mother Nature and Father Industriousness," in The Fragility of Freedom: Tocqueville on Religion, Democracy, and the American Future, The University of Chicago Press, 1995, pp. 132-40.

[In this excerpt, Mitchell examines Tocqueville's views on the relationship between activity and passivity and suggests that the vastness of the American wilderness encouraged both activity and "immoderation of desire."]


What we [Europeans] call love of gain is praiseworthy to Americans, and they see something cowardly in what we consider...

(The entire section is 3976 words.)

Pierre Manent (essay date 1996)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Democratic Man," in Tocqueville and the Nature of Democracy, translated by John Waggoner Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1996, pp. 53-65.

[Manent is one of many French writers showing a renewed interest in Tocqueville after a long period of neglect. In the following chapter, he analyzes the various traits of the democratic man as described by Tocqueville.]

Thus, the man of democratic societies, encountering and only wanting to encounter around him equal and similar individuals, does not submit to the influence of others. He searches in himself for his opinions, but he finds them there or recognizes them only if he also sees them in his fellow men,...

(The entire section is 4804 words.)