Notes on Tocqueville

Notes on Tocqueville - Notes on Tocqueville Alexis de...

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Notes on Tocqueville Alexis de Tocqueville was a French aristocrat (as we shall see, this was important in how he understood what the US was like) who lived from 1805-1859. He came to the US for nine months in 1831 to observe revisions of the prison system, but ended up seeing so much more. His two-volume work Democracy in America (the final volume was published in 1840) was an immediate classic and remains one of the most influential books on political thought (and is now enjoying something of a renaissance). Tocqueville saw the US as the country of the future. By this I mean that he recognized that the changes that had taken place in the US would inevitably arrive in Europe as well. Thus, he wanted to learn all he could about them. In a sense, Tocqueville was concerned with those three pillars of the French Revolution: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity (though today we might use a more gender-neutral term). Liberty and equality might, at some extreme point, be equivalent: "Let us suppose that all the members of the community take a part in the government, and that each one of them has an equal right to take a part in it. As none is different from his fellows, none can exercise a tyrannical power: men will be perfectly free, because they will be entirely equal; and they will be perfectly equal because they will be entirely free."(Vol.2, Book 2, Chap. 1) Since this was not likely to happen in practice, Tocqueville thought it useful to separate these two human ideals. Tocqueville believed that the ideal of equality was the "ruling passion" in democratic ages. He was concerned that this love of equality might open citizens up to breaches of their liberty - or in Tocqueville's words, to despotism. One of Tocqueville's most important arguments is that, in short, in the US, despotism was prevented by fraternity (this may be a stretch in the use of the word fraternity) - that is, by associations between people. But let's look in more detail: Tocqueville argues that individualism (as opposed to the more general egotism) is a
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This note was uploaded on 10/19/2010 for the course SOCIOLOGY 23451 taught by Professor Goldengate during the Spring '10 term at UCSD.

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Notes on Tocqueville - Notes on Tocqueville Alexis de...

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