Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER 18: From Egoïsme to Individualisme - The Making of Tocqueville's Democracy in America
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CHAPTER 18: From Egoïsme to Individualisme - James T. Schleifer, The Making of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America 
The Making of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, Foreword by George W. Pierson (2nd edition) (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).
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From Egoïsme to Individualisme
The word individualisme first appeared in the early 1820s in the writings of Joseph de Maistre and other Frenchmen; after 1825, it could be found quite regularly in the works of the Saint-Simonians.1 René Rémond has even noted that by 1833 to 1835 certain journalists specifically applied individualisme to the American republic.2 So the term was not strictly speaking one of those new words to describe new things for which Tocqueville had issued so eloquent a call. But its use was still relatively rare enough, even in 1840, to cause Tocqueville to comment: “Individualisme is a word recently coined to express a new idea. Our fathers only knew about égoïsme.”3
Henry Reeve’s translation of the 1840 Democracy saw the term’s first appearance in English. Reeve felt obliged to add a personal note explaining his inability to offer any familiar English equivalent and apologizing for the neologism. Tocqueville’s book, along with those of Michel Chevalier and Friedrich List, also introduced the word to America.4
Curiously, in the United States (and to a lesser degree in England) the term would have a heavily positive connotation quite at odds with the typically pejorative use of individualisme by Tocqueville and most other Frenchmen. To Americans, especially as the nineteenth century progressed, the word would conjure up images of extensive political and economic freedoms. Tocqueville’s own diary remarks about the “fundamental social principles” in the United States of self-reliance and of individual independence and responsibility had captured something of what Americans would later mean by “individualism.”5 But Tocqueville’s own understanding of the term would consistently be quite different.
In 1840 Tocqueville would begin his explanation by attempting carefully to distinguish égoïsme and individualisme.
Egoïsme is a passionate and exaggerated love of self which leads a man to think of all things in terms of himself and to prefer himself to all.
Individualisme is a calm and considered feeling which disposes each citizen to isolate himself from the mass of his fellows and withdraw into the circle of family and friends; with this little society formed to his taste, he gladly leaves the greater society to look after itself.
Egoïsme springs from a blind instinct; individualisme is based on misguided judgment rather than depraved feeling. It is due more to inadequate understanding than to perversity of heart.
Egoïsme sterilizes the seeds of every virtue; individualisme at first only dams the spring of public virtue, but in the long run it attacks and destroys all the others too and finally merges in égoïsme.
Egoïsme is a vice as old as the world. It is not peculiar to one form of society more than another.
Individualisme is of democratic origin and threatens to grow as conditions get more equal.6
Key elements in this definition were the peaceful and reflective nature of individualism and Tocqueville’s insistence that, despite apparent prudence, individualism arose from short-sighted and erroneous judgments. He also stressed that individualism was new, the result of advancing démocratie, and that, unlike égoïsme which largely fixed attention on the solitary “I,” individualism stimulated the creation of a narrow, sacrosanct society of family and friends which then became the exclusive concern of each person.
Two letters between Tocqueville and Royer-Collard cast additional light upon certain features of this explanation. In the summer of 1838, Alexis and Marie arrived in Normandy where the husband hoped to find solitude and quiet for his writing and the wife hoped to supervise the undertaking of badly needed renovations of the old château. Alexis’s loud complaints about the noise of workmen and the incessant interruptions by visiting local dignitaries soon demonstrated the magnitude of his miscalculations. In the midst of his troubles, Tocqueville could not help reflecting on the nature of these provincial visitors. “I have again found much good will and no end of attention here. I am attached to this population, without, all the same, concealing its faults which are great. These people here are honest, intelligent, religious enough, passably moral, very steady: but they have scarcely any disinterestedness. It is true that égoïsme in this region does not resemble that of Paris, so violent and often so cruel. It is a mild, calm, and tenacious love of private interests, which bit by bit absorbs all other sentiments of the heart and dries up nearly all sources of enthusiasm there. They join to this égoïsme a certain number of private virtues and domestic qualities which, as a whole, form respectable men and poor citizens. I would pardon them all the same for not being disinterested, if they sometimes wanted to believe in disinterestedness. But they do not want to do so, and that, in the midst of all the signs of their good will, makes me feel oppressed. Unfortunately only time can help me escape an oppression of this type, and I am not patient.”7
In reply the old Doctrinaire reminded Tocqueville that what he saw was not in any way peculiar to Normandy. “You are peeved about the country where you live; but your Normans, they are France, they are the world; this prudent and intelligent égoïsme, it is the honnêtes gens of our time, trait for trait.”8
This “mild, calm, and tenacious love of private interests” which helps to form “respectable men and poor citizens,” this égoïsme of 1838, closely paralleled Tocqueville’s later description of individualisme. So aside from the implication that the good bourgeoisie of La Manche helped to shape Tocqueville’s image of individualisme, these two letters raise a more significant question. Did Tocqueville’s adoption by 1840 of the word individualisme signify that he had truly moved beyond this earlier notion of égoïsme? Or had he merely given a new name to a concept which he had already repeatedly defined?
Not only were many descriptions from 1835 and 1840 (and in between) similar, but also Tocqueville’s 1840 list of essential remedies for égoïsme or individualisme would largely reiterate the prescriptions of 1835.9 It is also significant that Tocqueville would liberally and apparently indiscriminately sprinkle both the terms égoïsme and individualisme throughout his final 1840 text.10
Yet despite great similarities and Tocqueville’s habitually inexact use of key words, the individualisme of the 1840 Democracy would differ in certain significant ways from the égoïsme of 1835, or even 1838. In the second half of his book, Tocqueville would describe at length two additional causes of individualisme, would examine some new intellectual facets of the concept and, most important, would painstakingly expose its eventual political consequences.
Tocqueville had long recognized that the growth of démocratie and the gradual development of democratic social conditions favored the spread of selfishness and of a sense of individual helplessness in a society. But by 1840 he would also indict the esprit révolutionnaire as one of the forces that most exacerbated individualisme.11 In a summary of essential ideas about égoïsme, he declared:
Egoïsme. How démocratie tends to develop the égoïsme natural to the human heart. When conditions are equal, when each person is more or less sufficient unto himself and has neither the duty to give nor to receive from anyone else, it is natural that he withdraws into himself and that for him society ends where his family ends.
Only widespread enlightenment can then teach him the indirect utility that he can gain from the prosperity of all. Here, as in many other things, only democratic institutions can partially correct the evils which the democratic social state brings forth.
What makes democratic nations selfish is not so much the large number of independent citizens which they contain as it is the large number of citizens who are constantly arriving at independence.
That is a principal idea.
Feeling of independence which, for the first time, grips a multitude of individuals and exalts them. This means that égoïsme must appear more open and less enlightened among people who are becoming democratic than among people who have been democratic for a long time.
Considering everything, I do not believe that there is more égoïsme in France than in America. The only difference is that in America it is enlightened and in France it is not. The Americans know how to sacrifice a portion of their personal interests in order to save the rest. We want to keep everything and often everything escapes us.
Danger if conditions equalize faster than enlightenment spreads. Here perhaps a transition to the doctrine of enlightened self-interest (intérêt bien entendu).12
This passage, probably dating from the early months of 1836, again underscored the link between démocratie and égoïsme and the importance of enlightened self-interest. It also repeated the definition of égoïsme as a feeling of individual detachment and exclusive concern for private interests and attempted to explain some significant differences between France and America. Tocqueville apparently believed that his own country suffered from a more virulent égoïsme because France had only recently undergone a democratic revolution (or was still in the midst of it); America, born in equality, had not required such an abrupt upheaval.13
As the composition of his work went forward, Tocqueville became increasingly aware that an important difference existed between the changes caused by advancing démocratie and the effects of certain revolutionary forces which he sensed were still at work in France. “Idea to express probably in the Preface. All existing democratic peoples are more or less in a state of revolution. But the state of revolution is a particular condition which produces certain effects that must not be confused and that are unique to it. The difficulty is to recognize among democratic peoples what is revolutionary and what is democratic.”14
Elsewhere he reflected: “Idea to put well in the foreground. Effects of démocratie, and particularly harmful effects, that are exaggerated in the period of revolution in the midst of which the democratic social condition, moeurs, and laws are established.... The great difficulty in the study of démocratie is to distinguish what is democratic from what is only revolutionary. This is very difficult because examples are lacking. There is no European people among which démocratie has completely settled in, and America is in an exceptional situation. The state of literature in France is not only democratic, but revolutionary. Public morality, the same. Religious and political opinions, the same.”15
In the “Rubish” of the final section on the political consequences of democracy,16 Tocqueville attempted yet another statement of the problem and a fuller definition.
Separate with care the esprit Démocratique and the esprit Révolutionnaire.... Definition of the esprit révolutionnaire:
Taste for rapid change; use of violence to bring them about.
Scorn for forms.
Scorn for established rights.
Indifference for means, considering the ends [desired].
Doctrine of the useful (utile).
Satisfaction given to brutal appetites.
The esprit révolutionnaire, which is everywhere the greatest enemy of liberty, is so among democratic peoples above all; because there is a natural and secret link between it and Démocratie. A revolution can sometimes be just and necessary; it can establish liberty; but the esprit révolutionnaire is always detestable and can never lead anywhere except to tyranny.17
So the revolutionary spirit, mentality, or attitude was responsible for some of the worst abuses during times of democratic advances.18 It was France’s revolutionary heritage—rather than démocratie by itself—which helped to explain the severe dislocations and looming problems which so clearly faced that nation by the late 1830s. Repeatedly in the 1840 Democracy, Tocqueville would resort to this explanation of what would otherwise have remained a baffling paradox. How did it happen that although America was the more thoroughly democratic nation, yet France more consistently witnessed the flaws and excesses of démocratie?
The second part of Tocqueville’s book would argue that France should attempt to avoid some of the ills of démocratie by becoming more democratic. French political life had to be harmonized with the nation’s increasingly democratic social condition; democracy had to be injected into politics. Individualisme, for instance, might be mitigated by local liberties and freedom of association. But his final volumes also often reminded readers of the recent and as yet incomplete nature of France’s democratic revolution. That, too, helped to explain the intensity of French problems, especially the apparent epidemic of individualisme.19
In 1835 Tocqueville had devoted only a few pages to the American desire for material well-being. But by 1840 he would place much more emphasis on the goût du bien-être and the love of material pleasures.20 A reason for this greater attention, in addition to his growing personal sensitivity to the materialism of the age, was probably a sharper awareness of the link between material desires and individualisme; each encouraged the other. The “democratic taste for material well-being,” he stated in a draft, “leads men to become absorbed in its pursuit or enjoyment.” Individualisme “causes each person to want to be occupied only with himself.”21
In the 1840 Democracy, Tocqueville exposed the preoccupation with material comfort which prevailed in democratic societies and then proceeded to explain his anxiety about such single-minded attachments. “The reproach I address to the principle of equality is not that it leads men away in the pursuit of forbidden enjoyments, but that it absorbs them wholly in quest of those which are allowed. By these means a kind of virtuous materialism may ultimately be established in the world, which would not corrupt, but enervate, the soul and noiselessly unbend its springs of action.”22
What he feared, in part, was the gradual fixation of men on their small, private material interests and their consequent failure to contribute time and energy to wider public concerns. So democratic materialism also hastened democratic individualisme; and the final result might well be the loss of liberty.23
Tocqueville’s formal definitions of individualisme (in manuscripts and text) usually stressed the withdrawal of individuals into petty private concerns and their indifference toward larger social issues. But his lengthy treatment in 1840 of democratic materialism added (though only implicitly) an additional feature to his definition: the relentless pursuit of physical ease for oneself and one’s family. This single-minded striving for well-being diverted the talents and energies of individuals from public life as effectively as any sense of isolation or weakness. So individualisme actually had two faces: one passive—helplessness and withdrawal; the other active—a passion for material comfort.
In Tocqueville’s broadening analysis of individualisme, the 1840 Democracy would not only disclose two major additional causes, the revolutionary spirit and materialism, but would also explore the possible intellectual results of individualisme. On an undated page from the 1840 “Rubish,” Tocqueville remarked that “There are in individualisme two kinds of effects that should be well distinguished so that they can be dealt with separately. 1. the moral effects, hearts isolate themselves; 2. the intellectual effects, minds isolate themselves.”24 And in a sheet enclosed with the original working manuscript of the chapter entitled “Concerning the Philosophical Approach of the Americans,” he surveyed the development of what he would call “indépendance individuelle de la pensée.”25
In the Middle Ages we saw that all opinions had to flow from authority; in those times philosophy itself, this natural antagonist to authority, took the form of authority; it clothed itself in the characteristics of a religion. After having created certain opinions by the free and individual force of certain minds, it imposed these opinions without discussion and compelled the [very] force that had given birth to it.
In the eighteenth century we arrived at the opposite extreme, that is, we pretended to appeal all things only to individual reason and to drive dogmatic beliefs away entirely. And just as in the Middle Ages we gave philosophy the form and the style of a religion, so in the eighteenth century we gave religion the form and the style of philosophy.
In our times, the movement still continues among minds of the second rank, but the others [know?] and admit that received and discovered beliefs, authority and liberty, individualisme and social force are all needed at the same time. The whole question is to sort out the limits of these pairs.
It is to that [question] that I must put all my mind.26
In the margin, Tocqueville carefully (and luckily) penned the date: “24 April 1837.”
Here is the earliest dated use by Tocqueville of the term individualisme that has yet been uncovered in the voluminous drafts and manuscripts of the Democracy.27 But what is most intriguing about this first dated instance is Tocqueville’s relatively favorable or at least neutral usage. Here he apparently grouped individualisme with liberty and intellectual discovery as opponents of authority and imposed belief.
Tocqueville would argue in the 1840 Democracy that the tendency toward individualisme caused men in democratic ages to abandon traditional intellectual authorities and to rely on their own powers of reason. His basic sympathy for a certain independence of mind would be evident, but he would worry, first, that intellectual self-reliance might be pushed too far, and, second, that men would too quickly find a dangerous substitute for the authorities of old: the judgment of the public. The intellectual independence of individuals might thus succumb to the dictates of the mass.28
Perhaps Tocqueville’s relatively approving use of individualisme in the fragment above once again reflected the depth of his anxiety about a possible loss of freedom of ideas. Of all the ways in which the mass might stifle the individual, the suppression of personal thought and opinion struck him as the most terrible. So in democratic times, a fierce intellectual self-reliance, a stubborn defense of one’s own mental independence apparently did not seem as potentially dangerous to Tocqueville as did other facets of individualisme. Only a profoundly rooted raison individuelle indépendante could possibly resist the enormous pressure of society as a whole.29
The 1835 Democracy had predicted despotism as a result of the unequal struggle between “each citizen ... equally impotent, poor, and isolated” and “the organized force of the government.”30 But the 1840 volumes would now go beyond this to offer a detailed examination of the relationships among individualisme, centralization, and despotism.31
The decline in individual energy and concern created a social and political vacuum into which the bureaucracy rushed. The “Rubish” of the large chapter entitled “How the Ideas and Feelings Suggested by Equality Influence the Political Constitution”32 offered a succinct but revealing description of the trend. “Individualisme—the habit of living isolated from one’s fellows, of not concerning oneself with anything that is common business, of abandoning this care to the sole, clearly visible representative of common interests, which is the government. Chacun chez soi; chacun pour soi. That is the natural instinct which can be corrected.”33
Tocqueville also realized that, at the same time, the suffocating effects of a centralized and omnipresent government in turn further discouraged any private efforts. If unchecked, this relentless cycle of reinforcement would ultimately end in total “individual servitude,”34 the hallmark of the New Despotism. So the final portion of his book would serve primarily to express his concern for the survival of indépendance individuelle in democratic times.35 “To lay down extensive but distinct and settled limits to the action of the government; to confer certain rights on private persons, and to secure to them the undisputed enjoyment of those rights; to enable individual man to maintain whatever independence, strength, and original power he still possesses; to raise him by the side of society at large, and uphold him in that position; these appear to me the main objects of legislators in the ages upon which we are now entering.”36
Often overlooked in Tocqueville’s excellent analysis of the political effects of démocratie is his discussion of what he would call its liberal tendencies. His apprehensions about individualisme, centralization, and despotism would largely focus the last chapter of his book on the negative influences of advancing equality. His grim warnings divert attention from his praises for the encouragements which démocratie gave to liberty.
On an extra sheet in the working manuscript, he explicitly recognized certain redeeming democratic features:
In the published chapter, these ideas would first be explained and then be subsumed by the phrase “love of independence.”38 Various drafts elaborated further on this democratic encouragement of independence and revealed Tocqueville’s strong approval of this influence. In one version he declared: “Begin by establishing the first tendency of equality toward individual independence and liberty. Show that this tendency can go as far as anarchy. In general it is the democratic tendency that people fear the most; and it is the one that I consider the greatest element of salvation that equality leaves us. Finish by indicating that this is not, however, the strongest and most continuous tendency that equality suggests. How through phases of anarchy (because of individualisme) democratic peoples tend however in a continuous manner toward the centralization of power.”39
Another draft stated: “Two contrary tendencies, not equally sustained, not equally strong, but two tendencies. The one toward individual independence; the other toward the concentration of power. ... As for me, I consider the taste for natural independence as the most precious gift which equality has given to men.”40
In 1840, the text would expand upon these ideas.41 And in his penultimate chapter Tocqueville would add: “The men who live in the democratic ages upon which we are entering have naturally a taste for independence; they are naturally impatient of regulation, and they are wearied by the permanence even of the condition they themselves prefer. They are fond of power, but they are prone to despise and hate those who wield it, and they easily elude its grasp by their own mobility and insignificance.
“These propensities will always manifest themselves, because they originate in the groundwork of society, which will undergo no change; for a long time they will prevent the establishment of any despotism, and they will furnish fresh weapons to each succeeding generation that struggles in favor of the liberty of mankind. Let us, then, look forward to the future with the salutary fear which makes men keep watch and ward for freedom, not with that faint and idle terror which depresses and enervates the heart.”42
So strong was Tocqueville’s attachment to what was, in less noble terms, the cantankerous, free individual that he once again found himself at the brink of serious contradiction. In a draft he wrote: “I have shown ... how, as equality became greater, each man, finding himself less dependent and more separated from his fellows, felt more inclined to consider himself apart and to live in isolation.” In a note immediately following, he observed: “This implies a contradiction with what precedes on the idea of centralization.”43
In a passage in his working manuscript he declared that “during the centuries of equality, each man, living independent of all of his fellows, gets used to directing without constraint his private affairs. When these same men meet in common, they naturally have the taste and the idea of administering themselves by themselves. So equality carries men toward administrative decentralization; but at the same time it creates powerful instincts which lead them away from it.”44
Here was an idea directly contrary to the relationship between démocratie and centralization which Tocqueville had posited years earlier. In the margin of this fragment he suggested: “Perhaps keep this for the place where I will speak about the liberal instincts created by equality.”45 Instead, however, he would simply strike these sentences from the final text. In 1840, the implied contradiction between the love of independence and the tendency toward centralization would remain for perceptive readers to ponder. Any explicit mention had been carefully deleted.
At the heart of Tocqueville’s analysis of égoïsme or individualisme remained an abiding paradox that could be traced back at least as far as his references in 1830 to the struggle between la force individuelle and la force sociale. While condemning individualisme, Tocqueville consistently upheld the goal of indépendance individuelle. “In our times, those who fear an excess of individualisme are right, and those who fear the extreme dependence of the individual are also right. Idea to express somewhere necessarily.”46
He believed that individuals should not occupy themselves solely with their own affairs and ignore the needs of the wider society. Yet he was also persuaded that perhaps the highest purpose of a society was the fullest possible development of the dignity and freedom of the individual. He decried the tendency in democratic times for the individual to limit his efforts to a narrowly defined circle of concern. Yet he also deeply desired a secure and independent sphere of action for each person free from any unnecessary intrusions of public power. Democratic society must not be allowed to swallow up the individual, and yet each person must be led to a higher sense of his public responsibilities and to a healthy willingness to engage in common affairs. What America had taught him was some means of reconciling these private and public interests.
A statement of the essence of this paradox appeared in yet another of Tocqueville’s drafts. “To sustain the individual in the face of whatever social power, to conserve something for his independence, his force, his originality; such must be the constant effort of all the friends of humanity in democratic times. Just as in democratic times it is necessary to elevate society and lower the individual.”47
In February 1840, a letter to Henry Reeve summarized Tocqueville’s beliefs.
The great peril of democratic ages, you may be sure, is the destruction or the excessive weakening of the parts of the social body in the face of the whole. Everything that in our times raises up the idea of the individual is healthy. Everything that gives a separate existence to the species and enlarges the notion of the type is dangerous. The esprit of our contemporaries turns by itself in this direction. The doctrine of the realists, introduced to the political world, urges forward all the abuses of Démocratie; it is what facilitates despotism, centralization, contempt for individual rights, the doctrine of necessity, all the institutions and all the doctrines which permit the social body to trample men underfoot and which make the nation everything and the citizens nothing.
That is one of my fundamental opinions to which many of my ideas lead. On this point I have reached an absolute conviction; and the principal object of my book has been to give this conviction to the reader.48
This statement to Reeve underscored an additional peculiarity of Tocqueville’s attachment to indépendance individuelle. To combat individualisme, to preserve the strength and the dignity of the individual, he assigned a predominant role to “the parts of the social body,” to the corps secondaires, principally self-governing localities and associations of all sorts. In democratic times, la force individuelle required new means of sustenance.49 What Tocqueville proposed, in short, was to save the individual by encouraging the small group or the artificially created community. The individual would be buoyed up not by his own efforts or powers, but by the support of his fellows. Again we come face to face with paradox.
Concern for the integrity of the individual is one of the bedrocks of Tocqueville’s book and outlook. At least as early as 1830, he had been alert to the tension between the individual and the society at large; and an acute awareness of that ancient struggle had informed the writing of his entire book. Whether Tocqueville labeled it force individuelle or indépendance individuelle, his desire for preserving the dignity of each human being remained at the core of the Democracy.
The fundamental solution to this ageless problem, Tocqueville argued, was to seek a deeper understanding of private and public interests and so to attempt the establishment of a new harmony between individual and social needs. This basic concept, which Tocqueville variously called égoïsme intelligent or intérêt bien entendu, had been among the many lessons of America. But it should also be noted that Tocqueville’s anxiety about accelerating individualisme, like his interest in centralization, perhaps reflected more his concerns about the social and political conditions of France and French attitudes in the 1830s than his knowledge of American society. In fact, it might be said that on these matters, he kept forgetting America.
The 1840 volumes of the Democracy introduced a significant new reason for individualisme, the esprit révolutionnaire, and that cause served as yet another important analytic device throughout the last part of Tocqueville’s book. It helped to explain not only the spread of individualisme, but also the increasing trend toward centralization, for example.
By the late 1830s, Tocqueville was increasingly persuaded that France’s revolution had not ended in 1830, but was still proceeding and was perhaps even permanent.50 So a second fundamental historical force, esprit révolutionnaire, came to join démocratie in the second part of Tocqueville’s work. Indeed, his attention during the 1840s and 1850s would be drawn more and more away from démocratie and toward revolution. (The latter along with the persistent theme of centralization would clearly come to the fore in Tocqueville’s L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution.) Even by the late 1830s, the trend toward démocratie was apparently facing increasing competition for Tocqueville’s attention from the concept of esprit révolutionnaire.
In 1840 Tocqueville also specifically acknowledged and briefly discussed the significance of a third basic development, industrialization. So by the time the last section of his masterpiece was drafted, Tocqueville was writing about the conjunction of three great forces: démocratie, revolution, and industrialization. The focus of his work was still on démocratie and its influences and possibilities, but, as Tocqueville then recognized, the future of France and, more generally, of Western civilization ultimately hinged on the interplay of these three developments. Presumably one reason for the not uncommon opinion that the last is also the best and most profound portion of the Democracy is Tocqueville’s masterful treatment of the complex interrelation of these forces.51 His work and thought had significantly broadened. Although that tendency presented certain well-recognized dangers of abstraction and lack of precision, it also allowed once again for great depth and insight.
So the 1840 volumes, more than the first two, presented a persistent problem of balance both for Tocqueville and his readers. Not only did he resort more frequently to double and triple comparisons of America, England, and France, but he also attempted, sometimes unsuccessfully, to distinguish clearly between what was American and what was democratic, or between what was democratic and what was revolutionary.52 When his growing recognition of industrialization is remembered, it becomes clear that, especially by the late 1830s, Tocqueville had become a sort of ambitious and sometimes highly skilled intellectual juggler, bravely attempting to keep a large number of key concepts simultaneously in motion.
We may go beyond this observation to suggest that Tocqueville liked to think in contraries. His penchants for learning by comparison and for making distinctions sometimes led him to (or even over) the brink of contradiction. But more often his mental inclinations simply caused him to see concepts as pairs in tension. Our examination of the making of the Democracy has suggested several significant examples of this intellectual trait. Démocratie, he wrote at various times, exhibited opposite tendencies: toward thinking for oneself and toward not thinking at all; toward suspicion of authority and toward the concentration of power; toward individual independence and toward conformity and submission to the crowd; toward a social and political activity so intense that it spilled over into intellectual and cultural pursuits and toward a pandering of mind and soul to reigning ideas and values. The major task for responsible and thoughtful persons in democratic times was, in one sense, to “sort out the limits of these pairs.” The resulting inescapable tensions (and paradoxes) were a hallmark not only of periods of advancing equality, but also of Tocqueville’s masterpiece itself.
Most of the major themes treated by Tocqueville in his book are so intricately linked that to grab hold of one is inevitably to pull many others along as well. This tightly knit character is especially apparent when the triple notions of centralization, despotism, and individualisme are involved. Particularly in the final section of the 1840 Democracy, the three ideas become virtually inextricable. To the extent that Tocqueville has an identifiable “doctrine,” centralization, despotism, and individualisme (or their opposites: pluralism, liberty, and indépendance individuelle) are its Trinity; and démocratie, its One.
What Tocqueville Meant by Démocratie
[1. ]On the history and meanings of the words individualisme and individualism, consult the following articles: Steven Lukes, “The Meanings of ‘Individualism’ ” and “Types of Individualism”; Léo Moulin, “On the Evolution of the Meaning of the Word ‘Individualism’ ”; Koenraad W. Swart, “Individualism in the Mid-Nineteenth Century (1826–1860).” See also two books: Albert Shatz, L’Individualisme économique et social: ses origins—son évolution—ses formes contemporaines; and the more recent fine study of Tocqueville’s ideas on individualisme, Jean-Claude Lamberti, La Notion d’individualisme chez Tocqueville.
[2. ]Rémond, Etats-Unis, 2:670.
[3. ]Democracy (Mayer), p. 506.
[4. ]See Steven Lukes, “The Meanings of ‘Individualism,’ ” pp. 58–63.
[5. ]See Tocqueville’s remarks dated 30 September 1831, Pocket Notebook 3, Mayer, Journey, p. 149.
[6. ]“Of Individualism in Democracies,” Democracy (Mayer), pp. 506–7. In the “Rubish” of this chapter Tocqueville wrote: “Individualisme, isn’t it simply the disposition which men have to set themselves apart?” Drafts, Yale, “Rubish,” CVg, tome 3.
[7. ]Tocqueville to Royer-Collard, Tocqueville par Saint-Pierre-Eglise, 23 June 1838, O.C. (Mayer), Jardin, 11:64; my translation.
[8. ]Royer-Collard to Tocqueville, Châteauvieux, 21 July 1838, ibid., p. 66; my translation.
[9. ]See Democracy (Mayer), pp. 509–13.
[10. ]For examples, see Democracy (Mayer), pp. 508–9, 509–10.
[11. ]Consult, for example, “How Individualism Is More Pronounced at the End of a Democratic Revolution Than at Any Other Time,” ibid., pp. 508–9.
[12. ]Drafts, Yale, CVa, Paquet 8, cahier unique, pp. 7–8.
[13. ]Cf. Louis Hartz’s famous thesis built on Tocqueville’s observation: Louis Hartz, The Liberal Tradition in America.
[14. ]Drafts, Yale, CVk, Paquet 7, cahier 2, p. 42.
[15. ]Ibid., cahier 1, pp. 51–53.
[16. ]The fourth part of the 1840 volumes, “On the Influence of Democratic Ideas and Feelings on Political Society,” Democracy (Mayer), pp. 665–705.
[17. ]Drafts, Yale, “Rubish,” CVg, tome 4, for the chapter entitled “Continuation of the Preceding Chapters,” Democracy (Mayer), pp. 695–705.
[18. ]The esprit révolutionnaire fostered not only individualisme but also centralization; it therefore greatly increased the chances for despotism. For elaboration of possible results of the revolutionary spirit, see in the 1835 volumes, Democracy (Mayer), pp. 59, 97; in the 1840 volumes, ibid., pp. 432–33, 460–61, 505–6, 508–9, 548, 578–79, 632–33, 634–45, 669–70, 674–79, 688–89, 699–700. Also related to Tocqueville’s efforts to explain this paradox would be his concept of époque de transition; see the chapter on the possible new Dark Ages above.
[19. ]See Democracy (Mayer), pp. 508–9.
[20. ]See, in the 1835 work, ibid., pp. 283–86, 375–76; for 1840, consult especially the second part of the 1840 volumes, “The Influence of Democracy on the Sentiments of the Americans,” chapters 10–16, ibid., pp. 530–47.
[21. ]Drafts, Yale, CVd, Paquet 5, p. 2.
[22. ]Democracy (Bradley), 2:141. Cf. the entire chapter, “Particular Effects of the Love of Physical Pleasures in Democratic Times,” Democracy (Mayer), pp. 532–34, especially p. 533.
[23. ]For elaboration, see a remarkable passage, Democracy (Mayer), pp. 540–41.
[24. ]“On the Use Which the Americans Make of Associations in Civil Life,” Drafts, Yale, “Rubish,” CVg, tome 3. Cf. Democracy (Mayer), pp. 509–13, 515–16.
[25. ]For the chapter which opens the 1840 work, see Democracy (Mayer), pp. 429–33.
[26. ]Original Working Ms., Yale, CVIa, tome 3.
[27. ]Most other dated pages with the word individualisme were written in 1838; see, for example, Drafts, Yale, CVd, Paquet 5, p. 1, 28 July 1838. An undated instance of Tocqueville’s shift in usage from égoïsme to individualisme may be found in one of his drafts; Drafts, Yale, CVa, Paquet 8, pp. 28–32, especially p. 29.
[28. ]Consult “Concerning the Philosophical Approach of the Americans,” Democracy (Mayer), pp. 429–33; also see “Concerning the Principal Source of Beliefs among Democratic Peoples,” pp. 433–36.
[29. ]Cf. chapters 14 and 16 above.
[30. ]Democracy (Mayer), p. 314; already quoted above.
[31. ]For elaboration, consult especially the final portion of the 1840 work, “On the Influence of Democratic Ideas and Feelings on Political Society,” ibid., pp. 665–705.
[32. ]This is an earlier title for the fourth book or final portion of the 1840 Democracy. Tocqueville at first planned a single, long chapter.
[33. ]Drafts, Yale, “Rubish,” CVg, tome 4. Cf. Drafts, Yale, CVg, Paquet 9, cahier 2, p. 35.
[34. ]Democracy (Mayer), pp. 676, 679.
[35. ]Tocqueville frequently used indépendance individuelle and similar terms; see especially ibid., pp. 679, 681, 688, 691–92, 695–96, 699–700, 701–2, 703–4.
[36. ]Democracy (Bradley), 2:347.
[37. ]“Equality Naturally Gives Men the Taste for Free Institutions,” Original Working Ms., Yale, CVIa, tome 4.
[38. ]See the chapter entitled “Equality Naturally Gives Men the Taste for Free Institutions,” Democracy (Mayer), pp. 667–68.
[39. ]Drafts, Yale, CVk, Paquet 7, cahier 2, p. 44. Cf. Democracy (Mayer), pp. 667–68, 687–89, 701–2.
[40. ]Drafts, Yale, CVk, Paquet 7, cahier 2, pp. 45–46.
[41. ]See, for example, Democracy (Mayer), p. 667; also Democracy (Bradley), 2:305.
[42. ]Democracy (Bradley), 2:348.
[43. ]Drafts, Yale, CVd, Paquet 5, pp. 9–10.
[44. ]“Continuation of the Preceding Chapters,” Original Working Ms., Yale, CVIa, tome 4. Cf. Democracy (Mayer), pp. 701–2.
[45. ]“Continuation of the Preceding Chapters,” Original Working Ms., Yale, CVIa, tome 4. Cf. Democracy (Mayer), pp. 701–2.
[46. ]Drafts, Yale, CVg, Paquet 9, cahier 2, p. 151.
[47. ]Drafts, Yale, CVk, Paquet 7, cahier 2, p. 41.
[48. ]Tocqueville to Henry Reeve, Paris, 3 February 1840, Correspondance anglaise, O.C. (Mayer), 6:1, pp. 52–53.
[49. ]See Democracy (Mayer), p. 696.
[50. ]After his experiences of 1848 and 1849, Tocqueville would be persuaded that the revolution was, unfortunately, a permanent state for France; see Gargan, Critical Years, pp. 181, 188.
[51. ]This final section is entitled “On the Influence of Democratic Ideas and Feelings on Political Society.”
[52. ]In addition, Tocqueville repeatedly contrasted models of “aristocratic” and “democratic” societies.