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TO THE COMTE DE CIRCOURT. - Alexis de Tocqueville, Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville, vol. 2 
Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville. Translated from the French by the translator of Napoleon’s Correspondence with King Joseph. With large Additions. In Two Volumes (London: Macamillan, 1861). 2 vols.
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TO THE COMTE DE CIRCOURT.
Tocqueville, June 14, 1852.
Dear M. de Circourt,—
I received your instructive and interesting letter on the 21st of last month, and I should have thanked you for it sooner, if you had not yourself told me that I was not to think of answering it before the 15th of June. That time has come, and I will not let it slip.
I have not read the book by the Abbé Barruel,* but I have often heard it talked of, and often intended to read it. I have always been discouraged by believing his starting-point to be fundamentally wrong. His first proposition is, that the French Revolution (we may now venture to call it the European Revolution) was the result of a conspiracy. It seems to me that nothing can be more untrue. I do not say that, during the course of the eighteenth century, there may not have been secret societies and underground machinations undermining the ancient social system. Beneath all great movements you will find underhand conspiracies: they form the sub-soil of revolutions. But I feel certain that those secret societies were the symptoms of the disease, and not the disease itself—the effects, and not the causes. The change in opinions which produced the change in facts was effected in broad daylight by the combined efforts of all classes; writers, nobles, princes, all rushing out of the old system without knowing what other to adopt.
However, though the first and dominant idea may be erroneous, it may have led the author to make useful discoveries, just as the search for the philosopher’s stone was the origin of chemistry.
There is one part of the political and philosophical history of Germany which I do not understand, probably on account of my deplorable ignorance of German affairs.
In France, during the whole of the eighteenth century, philosophy properly so called—theoretic science—advanced in the same direction with practical ideas and public opinion. These were inclined to novelty. Theory taught the worthlessness of tradition, and treated all that was ancient as worn out rubbish. In Germany, on the contrary, if I am not mistaken, philosophical and social theories were opposed to the march of events, opinions, and habits; they clung to tradition and sought in the past the explanation of the present, and the rule for the future. It seems to me that the German philosophers and thinkers have always tended in this direction.
Now, this to me is inexplicable. I cannot imagine that the philosophy of a people should differ so widely from the ideas that govern its daily conduct, especially in a country like Germany, where theory has in general so great an influence over events. Has the revolutionary spirit in Germany taken a different course to that which it has taken in France? What was its course then? I wish that I could be enlightened upon this point. May it not be that the difference between the French and German philosophers has been this: they both condemned the present; ours wished to abolish it in order to adapt a new plan; and theirs in order to build upon the old foundation.
You have something better to do now, than to think about philosophy and to live in the past; you are in the best place in the world for seeing and forming an opinion, not only of German, but of all European affairs.* I am curious to know what impression they make upon you. I fancy that the picture before you does not differ much from that presented by France, or at least, differs only in detail: an almost total lack of energy in the public mind; new vigor in every government, and yet considerable prudence; great fear of war, and a strong desire to tolerate all that takes place in France, if it be possible.
I left Paris a fortnight ago, and since then I have been buried in this province, where I hope to see you before the end of the summer. I am very happy in my retreat, and wish for nothing but sunshine, which, in truth, we seldom enjoy. Although, when I was in Paris, I took care to see none but people who think with me in public matters, in the end I began to feel the need of solitude. For those, who like myself, have long led an active life, it is painful to speak, even with men of similiar opinions, when words lead and can lead to no overt act. After a time silence becomes a necessary relief. I should like to do better, still—to forget; but. . . .
[*]“Mémoires sur le Jacobinisme.”
[*]M. de Circourt was then at Hamburg.