Front Page Titles (by Subject) Tocqueville: The Old Regime & Liberty - Literature of Liberty, Spring 1982, vol. 5, No. 1
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Tocqueville: The Old Regime & Liberty - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Spring 1982, vol. 5, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Tocqueville: The Old Regime & Liberty
“Tocqueville's Old Regime: Political History.” The Review of Politics 43 (June 1981): 81–111.
Tocqueville's The Old Regime and the French Revolution (1856), read as its author intended it to be read as political history, merits renewed study today. Tocqueville believed that an examination of historical particulars (the French Revolution and the earlier Old Regime) could yield universal principles of social existence. His work aims at the dual purpose: being both a scholarly study of the Revolution and (since the Revolution failed in its aims of social and political transformation through reason) a politically relevant work for his own day and ours.
Winthrop's detailed analysis of The Old Regime dissects that work's main theme of the contrast of virtue and liberty under the Old Regime and under the Revolution. Under the Old Regime the nobility never lost its spirit of free independence, although this spirit is distinct from one that supports an orderly and lawful political liberty. In Tocqueville's estimation, if the new regime is to be superior to the old, it must nurture man's natural desire for freedom and give precedence to political liberty over selfish economic prosperity. The Old Regime's intellectuals ignored considering liberty for the common people, confusing talk of reason and natural law with their own reason. In its turn, the French Revolution similarly failed since it failed to honor man's whole nature, including all his vices and virtues. “For Tocqueville, the regime that makes a whole of the human soul, of all its needs and desires, is one in which the natural love of liberty predominates.”
Tocqueville's thesis in The Old Regime “is that a proper appreciation of human liberty, its origin, meaning, possibilities, and limitations, is the necessary condition for sound politics and for sound political analysis as well.” His historical argument holds that regimes and individuals rise or fall to the extent that the human soul's desire for liberty is satisfied. Tocqueville wishes his readers to reflect on the themes of religion, Providence, and philosophy in relation to liberty and political history.
As political history, The Old Regime stands in opposition not only to the eighteenth-century French philosophes but to virtually all modern political thought. Against such teaching, Tocqueville insisted that political philosophy needs to combine the love of liberty and public virtue. Without such comprehensive teaching, regimes spawn vice and their own degeneration. Tocqueville saw in Machiavelli's political philosophy of self-interest (carried on by Descartes, Bacon, Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau) the ultimate origins (and flaw) of the French Revolution.