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Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–1859)

Author of Democracy in America

187+ Works 13,640 Members 93 Reviews 18 Favorited

About the Author

French writer and politician Alexis de Tocqueville was born in Verneuil to an aristocratic Norman family. He entered the bar in 1825 and became an assistant magistrate at Versailles. In 1831, he was sent to the United States to report on the prison system. This journey produced a book called On the show more Penitentiary System in the United States (1833), as well as a much more significant work called Democracy in America (1835--40), a treatise on American society and its political system. Active in French politics, Tocqueville also wrote Old Regime and the Revolution (1856), in which he argued that the Revolution of 1848 did not constitute a break with the past but merely accelerated a trend toward greater centralization of government. Tocqueville was an observant Catholic, and this has been cited as a reason why many of his insights, rather than being confined to a particular time and place, reach beyond to see a universality in all people everywhere. (Bowker Author Biography) show less


Works by Alexis de Tocqueville

Democracy in America (1835) 5,666 copies
Democracy in America, Volume 1 (1835) 1,027 copies
Democracy in America {abridged} (1956) 1,014 copies
Recollections (1893) 187 copies
Memoir on Pauperism (1997) 84 copies
Letters from America (2000) 56 copies
Journey to America (1959) 43 copies
American Institutions and Their Influence (1851) — Author — 31 copies
Tocqueville's America (1983) 18 copies
Regards sur le Bas-Canada (2003) 10 copies
Minnen (2015) 7 copies
Dizionario delle idee (1997) 6 copies
Cogunlugun Zorbaligi (2020) 5 copies
Correspondencia (1985) 3 copies
Democracy in America (abridged) — Author — 2 copies
Viaggi (1997) 2 copies
Toqueville (2013) 2 copies
Tocqueville au Bas-Canada (2017) 2 copies
De la colonie en Algérie (1837) — Author — 2 copies
Wspomnienia (1987) 2 copies
Listy (1999) 1 copy
Scritti politici (2013) 1 copy

Associated Works

The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart: A Poetry Anthology (1992) — Contributor — 388 copies
The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Volume 1 (1990) — Contributor, some editions — 255 copies
American Government: Readings and Cases (1977) — Contributor, some editions — 245 copies
The Portable Conservative Reader (1982) — Contributor — 210 copies
Life in the Iron Mills [Bedford Cultural Editions] (1997) — Contributor — 143 copies
American Heritage: A Reader (2011) — Contributor — 80 copies
Classics of Modern Political Theory : Machiavelli to Mill (1996) — Contributor — 48 copies
The liberal tradition in European thought (1971) — Contributor, some editions — 17 copies
Sources: Notable Selections in American Government (1996) — Contributor — 10 copies
Conservative Texts: An Anthology (1991) — Contributor — 8 copies
Escritos políticos (1964) — Contributor — 7 copies
Civiliser la démocratie (1998) — Contributor — 3 copies


18th century (59) 19th century (277) America (199) American (107) American history (574) American literature (60) American politics (47) anthology (99) classic (75) classics (92) culture (50) democracy (378) ebook (54) essays (47) fiction (56) France (205) French (153) French History (97) French Revolution (139) government (182) history (1,555) Kindle (52) Library of America (62) literature (85) non-fiction (656) philosophy (344) poetry (149) political philosophy (176) political science (396) political theory (213) politics (883) read (55) sociology (203) to-read (454) Tocqueville (91) travel (64) unread (95) US (68) US history (96) USA (312)

Common Knowledge

Canonical name
Tocqueville, Alexis de
Legal name
de Tocqueville, Alexis-Charles-Henri Clerel
Other names
DE TOCQUEVILLE, Alexis-Charles-Henri Clerel
DE TOCQUEVILLE, Alexis Charles Henri Clerel
Date of death
Burial location
Tocqueville Cemetery, Normandy, France
Paris, France
Place of death
Cannes, France
Cause of death
Places of residence
Cannes, France
Verneuil-sur-Seine, Île-de-France, France
Paris, France
Collège Royal, Metz
Lycée Fabert, Metz
political philosopher
Chamber of Deputies (1839)
Awards and honors
Académie française (1841)
Short biography
Alexis de Tocqueville was a political thinker and writer still famous today especially for his Democracy in America, the classic work that appeared in two volumes in 1835 and 1840 following his travels in the USA. Also in 1835, de Tocqueville married Mary Motley, an Englishwoman, against the wishes of his family because she was not an aristocrat.



Alexis de Tocqueville compares with disinterested honesty 19th century Democracy, especially American democracy, with the European aristocracies that preceded it. In this two-volume work, he outlines both the benefits and dangers of both social orders. With the certain knowledge that the age of the aristocracy is passed, de Tocqueville writes with the ultimate hope that his book will serve as a warning to citizens under democratic rule, that they will not succumb to the apathy that is their greatest enemy, which would allow the government to pursue its natural tendency to metastasize into the private realm of citizen, governing an ever greater number of minutiae in the personal lives of its subjects, and annulling the freedom that was originally sought in creating a democracy… (more)
Coffeehag | 32 other reviews | Oct 5, 2023 |
One of the most pivotal books in my college education. It got me to start rethinking the concept of prisons and mass incarceration in America.
beckyrenner | 12 other reviews | Aug 3, 2023 |
Alexis de Tocqueville was a prominent French politician and writer in the middle part of the 19th century, writing famous works on the Ancien (i.e. pre-1789) Regime in his country, and on American democracy. These are his recollections of the famous revolutionary events of 1848, primarily in France, but also elsewhere in Europe. De Tocqueville is a sharp observer of his political allies and adversaries, with a keen eye for political movements and the mechanics of constitutional reform. He is a moderate, pragmatic Republican during the revolution of 1848 which saw the demise of the very last French king, Louis-Philippe. His descriptions of various waves of revolutionary events in February, May and June 1848 come across as quite confusing and it was often hard to see who exactly among the competing factions in the National Assembly was in the ascendancy or not - the overwhelming impression one gets is of chaos and members of factions not really having a clear idea what their actual political aims are, other an inchoate opposition to the prevailing rulers. There are gaps in the narrative as de Tocqueville insists only on covering events he has personally witnessed, even at the expense of a sometimes somewhat incoherent story. He is worried by the rise of Louis Napoleon as President, sensing that he aims at proclaiming himself effective monarch, as indeed he does after the events of this book as Emperor Napoleon III (and arrests de Tocqueville at the same time, putting an end to the latter's political career). The last section of the book details de Tocqueville's experiences as Foreign Minister for a few months shortly before this time, negotiating with German states as Prussia comes to dominate amongst them; with Russian Emperor Nicholas I and with the Ottoman Empire. Interesting, but rather too detailed and as a first hand account inevitably does not give a rounded picture of events.… (more)
john257hopper | May 6, 2023 |
In The Ancien Régime and the Revolution, Tocqueville investigates the conditions within the political system of the ancien régime that led to the Revolution. He has done an impressive amount of research for the book, not only by reading the pertinent eighteenth century literature, but also by trawling through public documents of every kind, looking into the reports of the Estates and the provincial assemblies, as well as the registers of grievances (cahiers) of the different electoral districts. One of Tocqueville’s main points is (in his own words) "That the Centralization of the Administration Belongs to the Ancien Régime and is not the Work of the Revolution or of the Empire as is Maintained" – this is actually a direct quote of the heading of Chapter 2, Part 2. This centralization was one of the underpinnings of the absolute monarchy; more precisely it facilitated the collection of taxes and direct governmental control of all the provinces, not the least through the administrative offices of the Intendants (one in every province) and their sub-delegates, who all reported to the Controller-General (head of finances). At the same time, the Physiocrats were in full swing; these économistes who with their grand schemes of agricultural reform gave the government reason to sometimes even dictate which types of crops that should be grown in specific areas. As Tocqueville points out: "all those institutions which could pass as the Revolution’s own achievement had been heralded by them in advance and preached with enthusiasm." .... "we can already recognize in their books that revolutionary and democratic outlook which we know so well. Not only did they loathe certain privileges, diversity itself was odious. They worshipped equality even if it meant servitude. Whatever impeded them in implementing their plans was fit only for abolition. Contracts carried little respect; they had no regard for private rights, or rather there were for them no private rights strictly speaking but only public utility." (p. 159)
"According to the Economists, the state had not only to command the nation, but to shape it in a certain way. It was up to the state to fashion citizen’s minds according to a certain model they had predetermined; its duty was to fill their minds with certain ideas and their hearts with certain feeling considered necessary. In real terms, no boundaries were set to the state’s rights nor to what it could enact; not merely did it reform men, it totally changed them. It would perhaps be up to the state alone to make different people out of them! ‘The state makes men into whatever it wishes them to be,’ said [abbé] Bodeau. That saying sums up all the Economists' theories." .... "This unbounded power (...) was impersonal; no longer called the king, but the state... The rights of each citizen had to yield to the will of all." (p. 162)

Tocqueville presents a picture of a society where little is left untouched by the desire for reform - and sometimes the enacted reforms were given up only a few years later, adding to the confusion. The Estates had become isolated from each other, very much in spite of the official rhetoric of the time. The nobility had lost more and more of both their political and local influence, leaving them only with pointless privileges. The clergy on the other hand was more involved in local affairs, but they also (like the nobles) enjoyed tax exemption, while the peasants were left with the increasingly crushing burden of tax as well as the corvée (forced labour) – and (further aggravating this burden) with remnants of feudal order that had survived locally in large parts of the country. The bourgeoisie, on the other hand, could manage to evade paying tax by securing (or, indeed: buying) positions within local government. "Not only did the provinces increasingly resemble each other but, in every one of them, men of different social class, at least those of higher status than the common people, became ever more alike despite the individual differences in rank." (p. 86) Along with the nobility and gentry that still had sufficient means, many among the more prosperous peasants left the countryside and flocked to the small towns, the number of which were increasing in France more than in any other country in Europe. "Should a farmer work hard and finally succeed in acquiring a small property, he immediately persuaded his son to drop the plough, sent him to the town and bought him a public position." (p. 127) - And it would be conceivable that his son in turn would decide to buy the grandson a noble title, which the crown also sold to help fill its coffers..
The loss of political influence among the aristocracy meant the loss of the entire political class, and Tocqueville writes rather scathingly about the eighteenth century philosophes in France who, while they had lost all connection with and thereby also insight into practical politics, indulged in abstract theories kindled by "a desire to rebuild the society of their time following an entirely new plan which each of them traced by the light of his reason alone." (p. 142) .... "We had preserved .... one freedom from the ruins of all the others; we were able to philosophize almost without restriction.... All those men chafing from the daily practice of legislation soon fell in love with this literary form of politics. The taste for it affected even those whose nature and social position naturally kept them as far away as possible from abstract speculations. Not a single taxpayer bruised by the uneven distribution of the taille was not warmed by the idea that all men should be equal; any small landowner stripped bare by an aristocratic neighbour's rabbits was pleased to hear that every kind of privilege without exception was condemned by reason. Each public enthusiasm was thus cloaked in philosophy; public life was forced back into literature. Writers took hold of public opinion and found themselves for a time occupying the position which party leaders usually occupied in free countries.” (p. 143-44)

It is a pity that Tocqueville never got to write his planned book on the actual Revolution. His unique voice provides an invaluable contribution to the understanding of the time leading up to it, why it happened and also why it failed. And while some of his theories may have been made obsolete by historians of later times, that is of lesser importance - because it doesn't in any way diminish his analysis regarded as a whole. Also, his personal style makes it both a fascinating and engaging read. In the Introduction, Hugh Brogan writes of Tocqueville: "As he said himself, he belonged to no coterie, no party; as a writer and thinker he was something of a solitary, though his views were not always as unusual as he supposed. At any rate, he was not a socialist, a republican, or even a professor. Nevertheless, he was by background very much a man of his time." – Which is just another reason for reading him. His immediacy of style is another. I suppose that is one aspect of this book that adds to its' value as a classic – I actually found it hard to put down at times. This penetrating, in-depth analysis is still very much both relevant and thought-provoking, as well as immensely satisfying reading.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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saltr | 6 other reviews | Feb 15, 2023 |



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Alan S. Kahan Translator, Editor
Francis Bowen Editor, Translator
Henry Reeve Translator
Roger Boesche Editor, Translator
Hugh Griffith Introduction
Michael Kammen Introduction
Aurelian Criautu Editor/Translator
Jeremy Jennings Editor/Translator
Delba Winthrop Editor, Translator
George Lawrence Translator
John Stuart Mill Introduction
Alvin Lustig Cover designer
Harvey C. Mansfield Translator, Editor
Harold J. Laski Introduction
Stephen D. Grant Translator
Alan Ryan Introduction
Joseph Epstein Introduction
Ralph Raico Contributor
Daniel Boorstin Introduction
Max Lerner Editor
Gerald Bevan Translator
Eduardo Nolla Translator
François Furet Editor, Preface
Daniel J. Boorstin Introduction
John Lukacs Translator, Editor
Leonard Baskin Cover designer
Joan Casas Translator
Stuart Gilbert Translator
Hugh Brogan Introduction
Frederick Brown Editor, Translator
Fernand Braudel Introduction
A. P. Kerr Editor
Jennifer Pitts Editor, Translator
Emmet Larkin Translator, Editor
Gertrude Himmelfarb Introduction
James Toupin Translator
John Stone Editor
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