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Tocqueville’s Democracy in America

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Source: Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition of De la démocratie en Amérique, ed. Eduardo Nolla, translated from the French by James T. Schleifer. A Bilingual French-English editions, (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2010). Vol. 1. Chapter: Editor’s Introduction.

Copyright: This bilingual edition of Tocqueville’s work contains a new English translation of the French critical edition published in 1990. The copyright to the French version is held by J. Vrin and it is not available online. The copyright to the English translation, the translator’s note, and index is held by Liberty Fund.

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Editor’s Introduction

“Man obeys first causes of which he is unaware, secondary causes that he cannot foresee, a thousand caprices of his fellows; in the end, he puts himself in chains and binds himself forever to the fragile work of his hands.”

Alexis de Tocqueville

“I have spoken and dreamed a great deal about what I have seen; I believe that if I had the leisure after my return, I would be able to write something passable on the United States. To embrace the whole in its entirety would be foolishness. I am incapable of aiming at a universal exactitude; I have not seen enough for that; but I already know, I think, much more than we have ever been taught in France about it, and certain points of the picture can be of great, even current interest.”22

Published in two parts, in 1835 and 1840 successively, republished more than one hundred and fifty times and translated into fifteen languages, Democracy in America has elicited an enormous interest since its appearance. Elevated to the status of a classic of political philosophy and, as such, probably the last great text of that discipline, Tocqueville’s work continues to attract readers, researchers, thinkers, and politicians, thanks to a modernity that few works of the nineteenth century can claim.

Regarding Democracy, the question of its topicality is often discussed. This is entirely appropriate if by it we mean that this exceptional work still continues to be understood and studied.

With the perspicacity that was characteristic of him, Tocqueville envisaged the reception of his book in this way: “Some will find that at bottom I do not like democracy and that I am harsh toward it; others will think that I imprudently favor its development. I would be happier if the book were not read, and perhaps that happiness will come.”23

Readers have not failed to multiply, but they have indeed divided as the author forecast. It could not have been otherwise since this contradictory interpretation coincides precisely with Tocqueville’s thinking and its development.



Alexis de Tocqueville belonged to an old Norman family, Clérel, which took the patronymic de Tocqueville in 1661.24 In the following centuries, the family, Clérel de Tocqueville, left their land from time to time to serve the church or the crown, imitating in this their ancestor, Guillaume Clarel, who had participated in the battle of Hastings.

The Revolution surprised a family firmly established on the Cotentin peninsula, on good terms with its vassals, and honoring its seigniorial duties. When the revolutionary tide reached Normandy, it carried away only the dovecote of the château. It took from the Tocqueville family just the privilege of raising pigeons.

Hervé de Tocqueville welcomed the revolution with a certain sympathy. After a short stay in Brussels, disgust for the life of the émigré—the notes of his son on the depravity of a powerless aristocracy are the direct echo of the opinions of the father—led him to return to Paris, where he enlisted in the national guard. On 10 August 1792, Hervé de Tocqueville was part of a section of the national guard that, coming from the faubourg Saint-Victor, was preparing to defend the Tuileries. Rallying to the opinion of citizens met along the way, the men who made up the section decided to march against the palace; following this sudden change of opinion Hervé surreptitiously abandoned the section.

After several months in Picardy, Hervé returned to Paris in January 1793. At the end of the month, he went to Malesherbes and, on March 12, married Louise Le Peletier de Rosanbo, granddaughter of the famous Malesherbes.

The refuge at Malesherbes protected its inhabitants until the end of autumn. The defender of Louis XVI was strongly urged to leave France, but he stubbornly remained, intending perhaps to serve as the defender of the Queen. On 17 and 19 December, two members of the revolutionary committee arrested all the inhabitants of the château. Hervé de Tocqueville, his wife, the Peletier d’Aunay family, and the young Louis de Rosanbo owed their lives only to 9 Thermidor. They would see Malesherbes, Madame de Rosanbo, Jean-Baptiste de Chateaubriand, and his wife perish.25

The unpublished memoirs of Hervé de Tocqueville speak, not without some melancholy, about moments spent in the company of Malesherbes and other prisoners at Port-Libre (Port-Royal).26 The months that preceded the trial and inevitable sentence of death for Malesherbes brought forth within Hervé a boundless admiration for the noble old man who with dignity mounted the scaffold following his daughter and granddaughter.

Such events must have been evoked many times in the family, and Alexis always saw in his great-grandfather, Malesherbes, an exemplary figure without peer.27 At one time he would conceive the project of writing a book on his ancestor. The idea would come to nothing, but the shadow of Malesherbes hovers over many pages of Democracy.28 A bust of the President of the Cour des Aides, placed on the worktable of the author, would preside silently over the writing of many works.

Under the Empire, the Tocqueville family lived in Paris in the winter and at Verneuil in the summer, where Hervé 29 accepted the more or less symbolic position of mayor.30 The education of the children was entrusted to the Abbé Lesueur, who had been Hervé’s private tutor and who did not hide his partiality for Alexis.31 Several documents attest to the anti-liberal tendencies of Lesueur as well as to his position as an intransigent Catholic monarchist; in this he seemed in better agreement with the ultra sympathies of the Countess de Tocqueville than with the more conciliatory and intelligent position of her husband.32

The days of the future author of Democracy were occupied by the lessons of the Abbé, reading sessions with the family, composition exercises, and visits by relatives and friends.33 The private tutor believed in a brilliant future for his pupil.34 Like his brothers and his intimate friend, Louis de Kergorlay,35 the young Alexis considered a military career.

We perhaps owe the abandonment of Alexis’s military plans to the Abbé Lesueur’s insistence: “My dear Édouard,” wrote the Abbé in 1822, “you must counsel him against becoming a military man. You know the drawbacks better than we, and I am sure that he will rely more on his brothers than on his father. That character, Louis de Kergorlay, put this idea in his head. They are going to meet again, and indeed my plan is to ask M. Loulou to leave us alone and to mind his own business.”36

A distant cousin, from a quite similar family background, Kergorlay had established the bonds of a profound friendship with Tocqueville. They expressed it in an abundant correspondence that deals as much with Tocqueville’s works as with books, parliamentary opinions, and the matrimonial plans of Kergorlay; it also includes many commentaries and recommendations of the latter on the writings of his friend.37 Kergorlay’s mark on the pages of Democracy is clear and easy enough to spot.

With the Restoration, Hervé began a roving career as a prefect, beginning in 1814 in Maine-et-Loire. Hervé afterward fulfilled the same functions in Oise and in Dijon (1816). In 1817, he accepted the prefecture of Metz, where he remained until 1823. He then moved to Amiens, and in 1826 was finally back in Versailles. His nomination as a peer of France on 4 November 1827 forced him, for reasons of incompatibility of duties, to leave his position in January 1828. The July Revolution would eliminate the peerage and remove him forever from political life.38

The Countess Louise de Tocqueville, who seemed never to have been able to recover from her months of detention, followed her husband in his different posts until 1817, the moment that she settled definitively in Paris. The family correspondence shows her prostrate, requiring the constant attention of those around her. Alexis lived with her until 1820.

In April of that year, while his two brothers began their military careers, Alexis rejoined his father in Moselle to complete his studies at the royal college of Metz, which he finished in 1823.39 He then returned to Paris to begin his studies in law.40

At the end of 1826, his law studies finished, Tocqueville started on a journey to Italy and Sicily in the company of his brother, Édouard. His nomination as juge auditeur at Versailles, on 5 April 1827, precipitated his return to Paris.

The Machine at Law

Tocqueville spent the first months at the prefecture of his father. Following the latter’s resignation, he then shared an apartment with a new friend, Gustave de Beaumont.41

The family Bonnin de La Bonninière originated in Touraine. It had spread into the neighboring provinces and had recently acquired the patronymic de Beaumont. At the beginning of the century the Count Jules de Beaumont, his wife, and their four children lived at the château de La Borde, at Beaumont-la-Chartre, in Sarthe. Jules de Beaumont was the mayor there during the Empire. It was in this setting, little different from that of Verneuil, that Gustave had spent his childhood.

The Tocquevilles devoted afternoons to reading and conversation, including among their visitors Chateaubriand, who profited particularly from his visits to work on his Moïse. At the home of the Beaumonts, the family read together and devoted itself to music, painting, and charitable works.42

Even if the Beaumont family belonged to the minor provincial nobility and could not include among its ancestors a Lamoignon de Malesherbes, the family had, like the Tocqueville family, distinguished itself in arms and was related to the Lafayette family.

In February 1826, Gustave de Beaumont was named substitut du procureur du roi at Versailles. Tocqueville struck up a friendship with him when he assumed his responsibility as juge auditeur,43 in June 1827.

The future author of Democracy chose a legal career with some hesitation. He was afraid of turning into a “machine at law.”44 His first weeks of work as a magistrate showed him the deficiencies of his legal preparation and revealed a certain trouble speaking in public that he would regret all his life. He would attribute a large part of his failure in politics to this difficulty.

Gustave de Beaumont placed him under his protection. It was the beginning of a friendship that, Tocqueville would say, “was born already old.”45 Heine from his perspective would compare the two friends to oil and vinegar.46 The first letter that still exists of their correspondence goes back to the month of October 1828. It is devoted to a long reflection on A History of England From the First Invasion by the Romans to the Commencement of the Reign of William the Third, by John Lingard, which Tocqueville shared with his “dear future collaborator.”47 The two friends shared readings and together attended Guizot’s course on the history of civilization in Europe.48

In September 1829, Beaumont was named substitut for the department of Seine. The distance that separated him from his friend did not interrupt their friendship. Beaumont came to Versailles as soon as his work allowed. Tocqueville now shared his apartment with Ernest de Chabrol, who took Beaumont’s place at the court of première instance at Versailles.

The July Revolution broke out soon after. It was going to change considerably the life of the two young magistrates.

The July Days

Although they belonged to a milieu largely hostile to the French Revolution, Tocqueville and Beaumont were not contemporaneous with the event. As such, their ideas, without being completely opposite to those of their relatives, were inevitably different. They witnessed the July Revolution with more disillusionment and sadness than hatred.

In a letter to Henry Reeve,49 Tocqueville admitted:

Some absolutely want to make me a party man and I am not; I am given passions and I have only opinions, or rather I have only one passion, the love of liberty and human dignity. In my view, all governmental forms are only more or less perfect means to satisfy that holy and legitimate passion of men. I am given alternately democratic or aristocratic prejudices; I would perhaps have had one or the other, if I had been born in another century and in another country. But the chance of my birth has made it very easy for me to defend myself from both. I came into the world at the end of a long Revolution that, after destroying the old state, had created nothing lasting. The aristocracy was already dead when I was born, and democracy did not yet exist; so my instinct could not carry me blindly toward either the one or the other. I lived in a country that for forty years had tried a bit of everything without settling definitively on anything, so I wasn’t easily influenced regarding political illusions. As part of the old aristocracy of my country myself, I had neither hatred nor natural jealousy against the aristocracy, and since this aristocracy was destroyed, I did not have any natural love for it either, for we are strongly attached only to what is alive. I was close enough to it to know it well, far enough away to judge it without passion. I will say as much about the democratic element. No family memory, no personal interest gave me a natural and necessary inclination toward democracy. But as for me, I had received no injury from it; I had no particular reason to love it or to hate it, apart from those provided by my reason. In a word, I was in such good equilibrium between the past and the future that I felt naturally and instinctively drawn to neither the one nor the other, and it did not take great efforts for me to look calmly at both sides.50

If Tocqueville exaggerated the coldness and disinterestedness with which he observed the two opposing options, he was sincere in the idea that history could just as easily have made him an ultra as a liberal.

Beaumont found himself in a quite similar situation. In Paris on 30 July 1830, he wrote in his memoirs: “All the men wore a tri-colored ribbon in their button hole, or a cockade on their hat. I did not have one; no one said anything to me. But when someone approached me yelling ‘Long live the Charter’ in a demanding tone, I gave the same cry, and it didn’t cost my conscience anything to do so.”51

The following day, Tocqueville returned to the town hall of Versailles the musket and ammunition that he had received the day before as a member of the national guard and declared to Ernest de Blosseville: “There is nothing more to be done; everything is finished. At the gate of Saint-Cloud, I have just seen the convoy of the monarchy pass by, the King, the children of France, the ministers are in carriages surrounded by body guards. And well! Would you believe, the escutcheons of the royal carriages are hidden beneath mud coverings.”52

From the time of the appointment of the Polignac government on 8 August 1829,53 Tocqueville and Beaumont expected an event of this type. A partisan of the Bourbons, Tocqueville owed a certain loyalty to his social origins, but the accomplished deed of the change of dynasty led him in fact to discover a great fidelity to France.54 It was far from the intention of Tocqueville and Beaumont to qualify themselves as liberals in 1830. Nonetheless, the fact of putting the honor of France as well as the principles of the Charter and of liberty before the Bourbons put them closer to liberal positions than they (and Tocqueville in particular) believed.

This loyalty to the nation rather than to the Bourbons nevertheless isolated them from their milieu. Friends and relatives withdrew from public life as the possibility of overturning the monarchy seemed more unreal, in particular after the month of August, when all officials were asked to swear an oath of loyalty to Louis-Philippe. At that moment Hippolyte de Tocqueville and Louis de Kergorlay left the army, and Hervé lost his title of peer of France.55

For their part, Tocqueville and Beaumont were confronted with a difficult choice: swear an oath to the new king or abandon their judicial careers. Tocqueville swore an oath, and justified his decision by the fear of anarchy:

I swore an oath to the new government. I believed that by acting in this way I have fulfilled the strict duty of a Frenchman. In our current state, if Louis-Philippe were overthrown, it would certainly not be to the profit of Henry V, but of the republic and of anarchy. Those who love their country must therefore rally openly to the new power that is arising, since it alone can now save France from itself. I despise the new king; I believe his right to the throne less than doubtful, and yet I will support him more firmly, I think, than those who smoothed the way for him and who will not take long to be his masters or his enemies.56

When Henrion, a friend of aristocratic origin, criticized Tocqueville’s decision, the latter responded in words that leave no doubt about his position:

The morning of the ordinances I declared before the assembled tribunal that henceforth resistance seemed legitimate to me and that I would resist in my narrow sphere. When the movement went so far as to overthrow the dynasty, I hid from no one my opposition to this measure. I said that I would wage civil war if it took place. Once it was an accomplished fact, I continued to believe what I had always believed, that the strictest duty was not toward a man or a family, but toward country. The salvation of France, at the point where we were, seemed to me to be in maintaining the new king. So I promised to support him, without hiding the fact that I did not do it for him. I protested that I did not intend an oath that bound me forever to any cause other than to the interest of our country, and I did not hide the fact that the moment that the new dynasty became incompatible with that interest, I would conspire against it.57

It was out of these precise circumstances that the idea of the journey to America was born.58 The plan and its realization did not take much time. On 31 October 1830, six days after Tocqueville took the oath a second time, following his nomination to the post of juge suppléant, the two magistrates presented to the government a proposal for a mission whose purpose was to study the American penal institutions.59

It involved describing and understanding the advantages and disadvantages of the two systems in use in the United States. The Pennsylvania system provided for incarceration in solitary confinement night and day as well as individual work by each person in his cell. The Auburn system, in the state of New York, provided for imprisonment in solitary confinement and work in common, but under the strict law of silence.

About his American plans, Tocqueville gave the following argument that he confided to his friend Stoffels:

My position in France is bad on all points, at least as I see it; for either the government will consolidate itself, which is not very probable, or it will be destroyed.

In the first case, my situation is not very pleasant and will not be for a long while. I do not want advancement, because that would tie me to men whose intentions I suspect. So here I am, an obscure juge suppléant, having no way to make myself known, even in the narrow sphere in which I am enclosed; for if I become part of the opposition, as a member of the public prosecutor’s office, I do not even have the honor of being removed from office; they will be content to keep me quiet by preventing me from working in court. If I support those men, I am doing something that is in accord with neither my principles nor my position. So there I am necessarily reduced to the role of a neutral, which is to say to the most pitiful role of all, especially when you occupy a lower grade. To all of that, add that the future is until now so obscure that it is impossible to say which party we should, in the interest of our country, desire to have the definitive victory.

Now, suppose that this government is overthrown; amid the disruption that will follow, I have no chance to make myself known, for I am starting too low. I still have done nothing to attract public attention. In vain would I try to do my best; this revolution would find me too young or too ob∼scure. I would certainly warmly embrace the banner of the party that ap∼peared to me the most just, but I would serve in its lowest ranks, which would scarcely suit me.

There is my future in France; I sketched it without exaggeration. Now, suppose that, without ceasing to be a magistrate and still maintaining my rights of seniority, I go to America; fifteen months go by; the parties become clear in France; you see clearly which one is incompatible with the grandeur and tranquility of your country; you then return with a clear and decided opinion and free of any engagement with whomsoever in the world. This journey, all by itself, has drawn you out of the most common class; the knowledge that you have acquired among so celebrated a people finally brings you out of the crowd. You know just what a vast republic is, why it is practical here, impractical there! All the points of public administration have been successively examined. Returning to France, you feel, certainly, a strength that you did not have when you left. If the moment is favorable, some publication can alert the public to your existence and fix the attention of the parties on you. If that does not happen, oh well! Your journey at least did you no harm, for you were as unknown in America as you were in France, and returning to your country you are entirely as suited to advance as if you had remained there. There, I think, is a plan that is not in all ways absurd.60

It is therefore understood that initially the book on the United States was considered a means: that of opening the doors of a political career for its author. But the publication that Tocqueville is referring to in the cited passage still lacked a name and substance. Moreover, the initial intention of Tocqueville and Beaumont was to publish a shared text on the political institutions and mores of the North Americans. So we are a long way from the birth of Democracy in America and Marie, ou l’esclavage aux États-Unis.

The reasons that Beaumont had for leaving France for a time were not very far from those of Tocqueville. In Marie, he gave the following romantic version that he put in the mouth of the protagonist:

Toward the year 1831, a Frenchman resolved to go to America with the intention of settling there. This plan was inspired by various causes. A recent revolution had revived in his country political passions that were believed to be extinct. His sympathies and his convictions carried him toward one party; his family ties kept him in another. Thus placed between his principles and his feelings, he constantly felt some conflict; to follow the movements of his heart, he would have to stifle the voice of his reason; and if he remained faithful to his beliefs, he would offend his dearest affections.61

It could also be that Beaumont had refused to remove two compromising documents relating to the trial of the Baroness de Feuchères, and it has been suggested that the government sent him to the United States with the intention of removing him from the matter.62 The Baroness de Feuchères was, we recall, an adventuress of English origin. She was accused of having murdered her lover, the old Prince de Condé. The person who undoubtedly profited the most from the death of the latter turned out to be Louis-Philippe himself, since his son was the direct heir of the largest portion of the wealth of the last Condé. If it is incorrect that the French government sent Beaumont to the United States for the purpose of removing him from the trial, it remains true that it was bent on including a magistrate of aristocratic origin in a trial in which the king could be implicated. By proceeding in this way, the government shielded itself from the suspicions of the legitimists and, if the judgment ever implicated the conduct of the monarch,63 it could always turn against a lawyer who did not have the reputation of being favorable to the new regime.


Tocqueville and Beaumont left for America on April 2, 1831. Their baggage included dozens of letters of introduction and a few works on the United States: those of Volney and of Cooper, a history of the United States, and the book by Basil Hall. They did not need them very much. All the information that they were curious about was to be provided on site. It seemed to them that the book they planned to write upon their return had to concern America as much as democracy, and they were very impatient to know both.

During the crossing of the Atlantic, they translated one part of Basil Hall’s work64 as preparation for their research on the prisons; they learned about the history of the United States and discussed the Cours d’économie politique of Jean-Baptiste Say.

On the afternoon of 9 May, they reached Newport. They were in New York the next day. They would remain in the United States until 20 February 1832.65

Upon their arrival, Tocqueville and Beaumont discovered that the publicity that their official mission had received in the American press opened every door to them.66 So the official study of the penitentiary system and the unofficial research on that new form of government called democracy seemed to look very promising.

Concerning democracy, the greatest difficulty was found not in America, but in France.

Once first impressions had passed, the two friends realized that their eagerness to know and understand American society required above all a real knowledge of French society, which they lacked. The purpose of their journey became more precise. It would concern a double and simultaneous intellectual journey whose subject would be France as well as America. “I will admit to you that what most prevents me from knowing what is happening on this point in America,” wrote Tocqueville to his friend Blosseville, “is being almost completely ignorant of what exists in France.”67 This observation is found many times in his correspondence.

It then became imperative to contact colleagues, friends, and relatives in order to obtain the information necessary for understanding America by way of understanding France.

On this point, Tocqueville began by asking his father, Chabrol, and Blosseville for information about the French administration:

You must [...] provide another [service] to Beaumont and to me—he wrote to Ernest de Chabrol—which is, perhaps you’re going to laugh, to instruct us as fully as possible on what people think at home about this country. Since we left France, we have lived with Americans, either on the ship that carried us, or since our arrival here; as a result, we have become accustomed by degree, and without abrupt transitions, to the new order of things in the midst of which we live. We have already largely lost our national prejudices about this people. And yet you sense how necessary it is for us to know the opinions that prevail at home if we want to modify them and even if we desire to study particularly here what can be useful for enlightening minds.

About twenty questions followed concerning French ideas on American political institutions, on the national character, on the different classes of society, on the commercial situation, the future of the country, its position in religious matters, etc.

To what cause do you attribute the prosperity of this nation? Is it political institutions or material and industrial causes? [...] Do you think there are political parties in the United States? How far do you think the spirit of equality is pushed here? Is it in the mores or in the laws? What form do you think it takes?68

In order not to influence the responses of his informants, Tocqueville decided not to share with them his impressions about America except by chance. The first letter to his family contained a long description of the journey and of the arrival in America, but reflections about American society had to wait until the letter to Édouard dated 28 May:

We are very truly in another world here; political passions are only at the surface; the profound passion, the only one that deeply moves the human heart, the passion of every day, is the acquisition of wealth, and there are a thousand ways to acquire it without disturbing the State. You would have to be blind, in my opinion, to want to compare this country to Europe and to adopt in one what works in another; I believed it before leaving France; I believe it more and more examining the society in the midst of which I now live; they are a people of merchants who occupy themselves with public affairs when their work leaves spare time. I hope that on our return to Europe, we will be able to say something good on this subject; perhaps no one is better placed to study a people than we are.69

A letter to Ernest de Chabrol, a few days after that one, returned to the same idea:

Imagine, my dear friend, if you can, a society composed of all the nations of the world: English, French, Germans ..., everyone having a language, a belief, opinions that are different; in a word, a society without common prejudices, sentiments, ideas, without a national character, a hundred times happier than ours. More virtuous? I doubt it. There is the point of departure. What serves as a bond for such diverse elements, what makes all of that a people? Interest. There is the secret. Particular interest that pokes through at every instant, interest that, moreover, arises openly and calls itself a social theory.70

Only the exceptional physical conditions of the United States seemed to justify the survival of the republic and allow the free exercise of interest: “America finds itself, for the present, in such a favorable physical situation that particular interest is never contrary to general interest, which is certainly not the case in Europe.”71

At the beginning, as we see, Tocqueville was above all recalling Bodin and Montesquieu.72 We must wait until the end of the journey to see climatic theories given a less important place. The final versions of the manuscript of Democracy still emphasize the decisive importance of the physical setting on American democracy, however.73

Tocqueville also thought that it was the exceptional physical conditions of the United States that allowed the Americans to get along without public power.74 If a public career was closed to ambition, a thousand others were open to the Americans. In America “the entire world seems [...] a malleable material that man turns and shapes as he wills.”75

The element that thwarted the harmful effects of the unlimited desire for money soon appeared clearly; it was religion. At the end of June Tocqueville wrote to his family: “Never have I felt so much the influence of religion on the mores and the social and political state of a people than since I have been in America, and it is impossible here to ignore the necessity of this force for motivating and regulating human actions.”76

Before the multitude of sects and doctrines, the author had no doubt about the one that was suitable for democracy:

I have always believed, you know, that constitutional monarchies would arrive at the republic; and I am persuaded as well that Protestantism will necessarily end up at natural religion. What I am saying to you is felt very deeply by many religious souls here; they are revolted at the sight of this consequence of their doctrines, and the reaction throws them into Catholicism, whose principle is very questionable, but where, at least, everything is linked together.77

Exceptional physical conditions, private interest, religion, in that it puts a brake on the inordinate taste for material wealth—these are, from the first weeks of the American journey, the three elements that profoundly marked Tocqueville’s arguments.

In the months that followed, natural conditions would no longer cover physical circumstances strictly speaking, but would also include the point of departure and the origin of the United States; interest would take various forms: individualism, monotony, love of material enjoyments, manufacturing aristocracy, industrialization of art and of life; religion would also be called patriotism, honor, and general ideas. But, added to a certain theory of history, the three initial elements—physical conditions, interest and religion—would continue to form the framework of the entire system of Democracy.

The journey led Tocqueville and Beaumont from New York to Albany and Buffalo; it let them briefly see the great wilderness beyond Detroit, at Pontiac and Saginaw; it took them to the Great Lakes and to Canada in order to bring them back afterward to New England and New York. From there, the travelers went to the west and the south. They saw Philadelphia and Baltimore; they passed through Philadelphia again in order to see next Cincinnati, Louisville, Nashville, Memphis, and New Orleans.78 They returned to the north by Montgomery, Norfolk, Washington, and finally New York.

All of this allowed scarcely any leisure. As Tocqueville wrote to Louis de Kergorlay: “What categorizes a traveler are his questions, his research, and not the degree of facility with which he expresses himself in the national language.”79 The two magistrates, transformed into indefatigable questioners, interrogated, took notes, read and observed.80 Tocqueville made rough notebooks in which he noted the result of his research. Beaumont did the same and carefully recorded each of their interviews.81

Tocqueville’s notes are not truly a travel diary, nor do they constitute the only material out of which his theory is going to emerge.82 Reading them provides little information about his principal ideas. If you are unaware of the theoretical presuppositions of the author, the notes are sometimes uninteresting, even insignificant. The fragments of conversations, various remarks, and interviews only make some sense on the condition that they be considered not as the beginning of reflections on the United States but as stages in an intellectual process predating the American journey.

It is not by chance, or by some peculiar mental skill, that the whole book is already found in the first impressions about America.83 Even if he wrote the opposite to some of his correspondents,84 Tocqueville was in America as much to observe the facts that would allow him to write Democracy as to give body and substance to a certain idea of Democracy that he already had in mind before the American journey.85

The theory began to take shape by bits and pieces in the letters sent to France. “Keep this letter, I beg of you,” wrote Tocqueville to his mother, “it contains details that I do not have the time to note and that I will find again later with pleasure.”86 This request was found in all of his travel correspondence.

We must not forget, however, that Tocqueville did not travel alone. If, in the end, the two friends each offered to the public his own version of democracy, it is no less true that until their return to France the notion of a great work on democracy in America was elaborated in concert, in the “duel of minds” that Tocqueville mentioned several times. It is difficult in these conditions to decide on the paternity of an idea, or the origin of a citation. The final result would forever obliterate the daily debates of the two travelers.

As has sometimes been said, Beaumont had more than the effect of a catalyst on Tocqueville. He drew Tocqueville’s attention to many phenomena in American society. He collaborated with energy on the writing and revision of Democracy. Finally he produced an admirable social novel meant to accompany the work of his friend. Beaumont’s notes could have given an idea of the intellectual debate with Tocqueville. In their absence, Beaumont’s criticisms of the manuscript of Democracy, the drafts of his own books, and the reading of his publications bring clearly to light an intelligence that was only slightly inferior to that of Tocqueville.

It is difficult to pinpoint the moment when the book project ceased to be shared. The first news from America sent by Beaumont spoke of “our great work.”87 In a letter to his mother dated 7 October, he mentioned for the first time “my plans,” and the expression was found again in the correspondence that follows.88 Between May and October, Beaumont discovered, then got to know more closely the American Indians, and as George W. Pierson noted, perhaps this is what explains the abrupt change in his plans.89

If family correspondence spoke with enthusiasm about the brilliant future that their works on America were to bring to the travelers, the letters addressed to colleagues remained nonetheless quite vague:

You speak to me about what could be written about America, noted Tocqueville to an unknown recipient, and I do not know at all if I will ever have the occasion to publish the least thing on this subject; the general tableau of English America is an immense work absolutely beyond my strength, and from another perspective, if I abandon the idea of the whole, I no longer know to which details to pay particular attention. So I have limited myself until now to gathering a host of diverse documents and partial observations. I enjoy this work, and it interests me deeply; but will it ever be useful to me for anything? I assure you that the further I go, the more I doubt it.

But, as you say, there would be piquant new insights to present about this country. Except for about ten people in Paris who, like you, are not absorbed by the politics of the day, America is as unknown as Japan; or rather, people talk about it as Montesquieu did about Japan. The Americans argumenti causa are made to say and do a host of things, in honor of true principles, that the poor fellows are very innocent of, I swear.90

Tocqueville was obviously not interested in disclosing to his superiors that what most interested him in America was not the project officially announced, but writing about the American republic. Only Le Peletier d’Aunay seemed to have been let in on the secret: “I expected a good work from you,” wrote d’Aunay to Tocqueville in August 1831, “and this field of your observations makes me certain of it. You will show us this America much more exactly than all the other travelers, beginning with Liancourt and Volney. Nothing will escape, I am sure, from the observation of your solid intelligence. On your return, give the government the report promised. But save, for your reputation, your glory, the full journey to that country.”91

Beaumont and Tocqueville in America had different interests, but their intention was to publish their books simultaneously, as two parts of the same work. In 1831, and for some time after, their books constituted the two sides of the same coin. They would become distinct only later. The first edition of Système pénitentiaire still announced a joint work on America by Gustave de Beaumont and Alexis de Tocqueville, with the title Institutions et mœurs américaines. A month after the publication of Système pénitentiaire, a letter from Tocqueville to Edward Everett still suggested a collaborative work: “We are now busy, M. de Beaumont and I, composing a more general work on America.”92

On 20 February 1832, Tocqueville and Beaumont left New York to return to France.

Tocqueville hardly considered any longer taking up the duties that he had at Versailles. He entertained other plans that he revealed in confidence to Ernest de Chabrol: “I do not know if I must withdraw entirely,” he confessed, “as I am often tempted to do, or try to advance; what I see clearly at least is that I will not put on the robe of juge suppléant again. I will no longer be seen at Versailles, or I will be seen with another title. This point is decided (but between us).”93

The Penitentiary System

After returning to France at the end of March, Beaumont rejoined his family in Sarthe, while Tocqueville remained in Paris.

Beaumont began to write the report on the penitentiary system and met Tocqueville in Paris in mid-April in order to ensure his collaboration. Weeks passed. As Beaumont moved ahead preparing the report on the prisons, Tocqueville was plunged into a great despondency from which he did not want to emerge for work on any intellectual endeavor.94 He seemed incapable of adapting to the idleness that followed the year of feverish agitation spent in North America. He accepted visiting the prison of Toulon, then those of Geneva and Lausanne in May and June, but the largest part of the work of writing the report fell to Beaumont.95

Before these journeys, Tocqueville came to the aid of his friend, Louis de Kergorlay, implicated in the adventure of the Duchess de Berry. On 9 March, for the first and last time, Tocqueville exercised his profession as a lawyer. He defended Kergorlay who, acquitted, was soon set free.96

The defense of one of the prisoners of the Carlo Alberto must not suggest that Tocqueville had changed his position about the subversive efforts to overthrow the July Monarchy. If he preferred the Bourbons, if his friendship for Kergorlay was unshakable, he remained clearly opposed to the violent expulsion of the reigning monarch. The American letters already revealed the fear of a precipitous return to Europe in case of the overthrow of the monarchy97 and the fear of seeing the “hothead,”98 Hippolyte, involved in such an overthrow.

As for his opinion about the ultras, it can be clarified by a letter in which, sensing that his older brother was tempted to take some radical decision against the July Monarchy, Tocqueville expressed himself in these terms:

Amid the chaos in which we find ourselves, I seem to see one incontestable fact. For forty years we have made immense progress in the practical understanding of the idea of liberty. Peoples, like individuals, need to become educated before they know how to act. I cannot doubt that our people advance. There are riots in the large cities, but the mass of the population calmly obeys the laws; and yet the government is useless. Do you think as much would have happened forty years ago? We are harvesting the fruit of the fifteen years of liberty that we enjoyed under the Restoration. Aren’t you struck to see the extreme left protest that it wants to proceed only by legal measures and, at the same time, to hear the royalists declare that they must appeal to public opinion, that public opinion alone can give strength to the throne, that it must be won over before anything else? Amid all the miseries of the present time and the fit of high fever that gave us the July Revolution, don’t you find reasons to hope that we will finally reach a settled social state? I do not know if we are made to be free, but what is certain is that we are infinitely more capable of being so than forty years ago. If the Restoration had lasted ten years longer, I believe we would have been saved; the habit of legality and constitutional forms would have entirely gotten into our mores. But now, could things be put back in their place; could a second Restoration take place? I see many obstacles. The greatest of all without question is found in the personnel of the royalist party that would triumph. Never will you make the most active portion of the royalist party understand that there are concessions without which they cannot hope to govern, that to be lasting the legitimist monarchy must be national, must ally itself with the ideas of liberty or be broken by them. If the Bourbons ever regain the throne, they will make use of force, and they will fall again. Perhaps in France we have what is needed to create a government that is strong because of military glory, but not a government that is strong solely because of right. Right can indeed help to maintain a government if it is skillful, but not to protect it from its own failings.

In any case, it seems to me that the behavior of the royalists is well conceived. I am pleased to see them stand on the ground of legality, to see them work to win the majority and not to make the minority triumph by force. That fact augurs well. If they had always acted like this, they would have spared themselves and France great misfortunes. Moreover, by adopting in this way what is reasonable in the ideas of liberty, they assume in everyone’s eyes a tacit commitment to respect those ideas, if they are ever the masters. Many among them become convinced by their own words, without expecting to. They acquire the habit of associating, of appealing to public opinion, all the free and constitutional habits that they never had. This spectacle reassures me a bit about the future. I hope that after so many conflicts we will succeed in saving ourselves from anarchy and despotism.99

The pages of a plan for a review100 that Tocqueville and Beaumont at one time intended to establish with the participation of Blosseville, Chabrol, Montalembert, and a few others put clearly in view the political convictions of the future editors:

They [the editors of the review] do not feel prejudices in favor of the government created by the July Revolution; they do not want to destroy it. They place themselves neither against it nor within it, but next to it, and they want to try to judge its acts without passion and without weakness. If the free expression of the national will brought the elder branch of the Bourbons back to the throne, if a restoration could take place while assuring the nation of the rights that are its due, the editors of the review would see the event with pleasure; they would consider it as a favorable measure of future social progress. But they want a restoration only on those conditions; and if it must take place in a totally other way and lead to opposite results, they would regard it as a duty to oppose it.101

The plan was soon abandoned, probably at the end of the summer of 1833.

When he was not yet finished with his report and not thinking only about the creation of a review, Beaumont was again faced with the shadowy affair of the Baroness de Feuchères. This time it concerned a trial for defamation by the baroness against the Rohan family, descendants of the Prince de Condé. Beaumont refused to take charge of it and explained that he knew nothing about the question, that he was working on his report, that the eighteen-month leave that had been granted to him had not yet ended.102 The response was not long in coming. On 16 May 1832, he was removed from his duties.

Little satisfied by a profession that weighed on him, uncertain of his qualities for exercising it, Tocqueville found in the dismissal of Beaumont the pretext for honorably abandoning the legal career. As soon as he learned the news in Toulon, he presented his resignation.103

Once the work of drafting the report on the penitentiary system was finished, Tocqueville reviewed the text written by Beaumont, collaborated actively on the introduction, and wrote part of the notes. The two magistrates submitted their report on 10 October. Du système pénitentiaire aux États-Unis et de son application en France appeared in January 1833.

The First Democracy

The work on the penitentiary system was generally well received. Reviews noted with satisfaction the full account of the question and the impartial presentation of the advantages and disadvantages of the two systems in use in the United States. If the authors seemed to lean toward the system used in Pennsylvania, they did not seem to forget either the high cost of the construction of a penitentiary of this type or the danger of keeping the prisoners isolated in their cell night and day. In August, the Académie des sciences morales et politiques awarded the Montyon prize to Système pénitentiaire.

Tocqueville and Beaumont had planned to complete their American journey with a visit to England. They thought that England would offer an image of the Americans before their departure for the United States as well as that of a society midway between aristocratic France and democratic America. They also thought that England was at the dawn of a revolution that would lead to democracy. The cholera epidemic that broke out at the end of 1831 had precipitated their return to France. Once the prison report was published, Tocqueville went to England from August 3 to September 7, 1833.104

“By going to England, I wanted [...] to flee for a time from the insipid spectacle that our country presents at this moment. I wanted to go to relieve my boredom a bit among our neighbors. And besides! Some claim that they are definitely going to begin a revolution and that one must hurry to see them as they are. So I hastened to go to England as to the final performance of a beautiful play.”105

A few days spent on the other side of the Channel enlightened Tocqueville about his error. England was not on the eve of a revolution. Unlike the French aristocracy, the English aristocracy was open; it continued to exercise ancestral duties and the inferior classes of society could attain aristocracy by money.106

“The English aristocracy,” wrote Tocqueville in his notes, “belongs very much by its passions and its prejudices to all the aristocracies of the world, but it is not based on birth, something inaccessible, but on the money that everyone can acquire; and this single difference allows it to resist, when all the others succumb either to peoples or to kings.”107

A week after his arrival in London, he wrote to Beaumont: “In short, I do not recognize in anything here our America.”108 If, following these observations, England did not serve strictly speaking as a reference point for the American and French situations, it was no less one of the keys for understanding America. It is evoked throughout Democracy.

Upon his return to Paris, Tocqueville began writing his book.109 To do this, he settled into the attic of his parents’ house, on rue de Verneuil. Beaumont, for his part, made a short journey to the Midi where his book began to take the double form of a novel and a social commentary.

In a later letter to his wife, Tocqueville would evoke the first months spent writing his book as follows:

When I wrote Democracy in America, I had none of the advantages [notably a librarian at his disposal], but I had the youth, ardor, faith in a cause, and hope that allowed me to do without the kindness of librarians and the favor of archivists. Cuvier created in a garret the admirable works that earned him a beautiful house in which he set up a beautiful special room intended for the study of each of the subjects that interested him. It was a whole series of apartments each of which was as if impregnated with the particular idea that the author wanted to treat. From the moment when he was so admirably aided in his work, he did hardly anything considerable; and perhaps he sometimes came to regret the garret. But he would have found it old and cold. Those who want to return to the garret in which they passed the years of an intense and fruitful youth cannot do so. My own garret was a small room on the rue de Verneuil, where I worked in deep obscurity on the work that would bring me out of that obscurity. You are part of that memory, like all of those memories in my life that deserve to be remembered. The day was occupied by my work. Nearly every evening was spent near you.110

Provided with his notes on the United States, publications brought back from America, an ample correspondence with Americans and Frenchmen, his own letters, and a list of the subjects of his notes,111 Tocqueville drew up the initial plan of his book.

The first outline included three categories: “Political society (relations between the federal and particular governments and the citizen of the Union and citizen of each state), civil society (relations of the citizens with each other), religious society (relations between God and the members of society, and of the religious sects with each other).”112

Tocqueville continued by specifying what should be found under each division:

Political society.

In political society there are two principles to which all the others are connected; the first, sovereignty of the people, democracy, whose principle divides and dissolves; the second, federation, whose principle unites and preserves.

He then noted, in two columns, the ideas that correspond to each principle:

Sovereignty of the people.

Democracy, no counter-balance. Tyranny of the majority—no aristocracy; difficulty of an aristocracy in America. Gentlemen farmers.

Government of the majority; public opinion; stubbornness of the majority once formed—formation and working of parties.

Public offices (administrative officials particularly enforce the laws between the State and individuals—judicial officials more especially the laws between individuals; the first belong to political society, the second to civil society). Public offices are small matters.—Why? Municipal administrationPresidency of the United StatesArmyFinances.

  • Elections—binding mandates.
  • Town meetings.
  • Convention.
  • Freedom of the press—ways and effects.
  • Public instruction.
  • Laws—Their mobile character.
  • Militia (perhaps should be carried to the other side).
  • Obedience to laws. Oath

(Everything that precedes is nothing more than the means that the majority uses to express and to maintain itself, and those that are put to use by the minority to attack or to defend itself.)”

Under the word federation, we read the following:


Causes for the weakness of all federal governments—especially for the United States—future of the Union—diverse interests—multiplication—Centralization—distinguish between that of the federal government and that of the states themselves—almost non-existent—the lack of centralization already felt—however less dangerous than it will become. Causes that will make it more dangerous.

  • Federal tax—tariff.
  • Canals.
  • Roads.
  • Banks of the United States.
  • Land sales.
  • Indians.
  • Maritime commerce, free trade.
  • Patents.

Show how the various Presidents since Jefferson have successively stripped the federal government of its attributions—concessions to democracy—that is to say, to the principle on the opposite side.113

The section with the theme society included in turn:

Civil society.

Entry. The appointment of magistrates is the work of the political powers, but since their duties are principally for the purpose of regulating the relations and the rights of citizens with each other, they belong to civil society.

  • Jurisdiction.
  • Common law.
114YTC, CVh, 1, p. 26.
Civil laws: Slavery, equality—Negroes
Civil state—inheritances—paternal power.
Criminal laws: Duel—gambling—drunkenness—fornication—etc.
Jury—public prosecutor’s office—lawyers.
Commercial laws: Bankruptcy.
Interest on money.
Mores: American character.
To make money.
Washington—costume of the Lyceums.114

Finally, religious society:

Religious society.

Nomenclature of the various sects—From Catholicism to the sect that is farthest removed from it.

Quakers, Methodists—Point out what is antisocial in the doctrines of the Quakers, Unitarians.

Relations of the sects with each other.

Freedom of religion—Toleration: from the legal aspect; from the aspect of mores.


Place of religion in the political order and its degree of influence on American society.115

Certain ideas outlined in this first sketch would not be found again in the definitive version. The canals, roads, gambling, etc. were so many elements that would be abandoned in the process of writing.116 Others would be joined to the second part, such as the army, paternal power, Catholicism, the desire to make money.

The fundamental idea of the entire book, the keystone on which Tocqueville’s whole theory rests, the idea for understanding the struggle between aristocracy and democracy, between a principle that divides and a principle that unites, was already evident.

Once the general lines of the work were drawn, Tocqueville attacked the work of writing in the strict sense. For this, he followed a singular system that he described in this way to Duvergier de Hauranne:

I think what is best for me to do is to follow the method that I have already followed for writing the book that just appeared [Old Regime ], and even for the Democracy. I am going to tell you about it, although it is disagreeable to talk for so long about oneself, because, knowing it, you will perhaps be able to give me some good advice. When I have whatever subject to treat, it is quasi-impossible for me to read any books that have been written on the same matter; contact with the ideas of others agitates and disturbs me to the point of making the reading of these works painful. So I refrain, as much as I can, from knowing how their authors have interpreted the facts that occupy me, the judgment that they have made of them, the diverse ideas that these facts have suggested to them (which, parenthetically, exposes me sometimes to repeating, without knowing it, what has already been said). It requires of me, on the contrary, an unbelievable effort to find the facts by myself in the documents of the time; often in this way I obtain, with immense labor, what I would have easily found by following another path. Once this harvest is gathered so laboriously, I withdraw into myself, as if into a very closed space; in a general review, I examine with an extreme attention all the notions that I have acquired by myself; I compare them, I link them, and then I make it a rule to explicate the ideas that came spontaneously to me from this long work without any consideration whatsoever for the consequences that these men or those men can draw from them. It is not that I am not extremely sensitive about the opinion of different readers; but experience has taught me that, as soon as I wanted to write with a preconceived viewpoint, to uphold a thesis, I absolutely lost all true talent, and that I was not able to do anything of value, if I did not limit myself to wanting to make clear what was most real in my impressions and in my opinions.117

If Beaumont informed Tocqueville in a summary way about the works that appeared on the United States, the author went forward alone and scarcely consulted any books on America, with the exception perhaps of the book by Chevalier.118

The writing moved ahead at a good pace. In November 1833, Tocqueville thought he would finish the part devoted to the institutions of the United States (what now constitutes the first part of the first volume of this edition) before the first of January 1834, and at one moment had the idea of publishing the first volume before the second.119

This plan was abandoned, and Tocqueville buckled down immediately to writing the second part, which little by little increased to an extent beyond what the author had foreseen. In addition, the part devoted to the American political institutions was reviewed and corrected several more times and, before being completed, required the aid of several collaborators.

Even as he worked relentlessly on his book, Tocqueville helped Beaumont with the writing of his.120 Their collaboration continued throughout the whole following year, in Paris and in Sarthe. The influence of Tocqueville on the writing of Marie is difficult to measure. Beaumont’s manuscripts bear the trace of conversations and of comments by Tocqueville, but the small number of available manuscripts does not allow us to assess the true extent of his influence.121 Beaumont consulted his friend about certain passages of his book and even at the last moment asked for his opinion about certain fragments that were too reminiscent of Chateaubriand.122

At the beginning of the year 1834, Tocqueville hired an American living in Paris, Francis Lippitt,123 to help him in the compilation of the documents that he brought back from the United States. At the house of the author’s parents, Faubourg St. Germain, Lippitt compiled books and brochures, newspaper clippings and diverse documents.

Theodore Sedgwick, another American whom Tocqueville contacted when he still needed information about the United States, but whom he did not hire, seems to have played a more important role. His journal bears the traces of several interviews with Tocqueville that would exercise a clear influence on several points of Democracy.124

Once the writing of the principal part of the work was finished (only the last chapter of the second part was missing), Tocqueville had a copy of his manuscript made and circulated. In this way his brothers and his father, Gustave de Beaumont, and Louis de Kergorlay read the quasi-totality of the work. A few passages were read aloud at the evening gatherings of Madame Ancelot.125

When Édouard, on 15 June, wrote to his brother to share his observations critiques, only the revision of the second part remained to be done in order to complete the work. Tocqueville worked on the revision during the month of July, striking out a great deal and in some places retaining only one out of three pages of the initial draft. The same month, he contacted the publisher, Charles Gosselin, who committed to publishing the text in November. He planned a printing of five hundred copies.

On 14 August 1834, Tocqueville left Paris for the château de Gallerande, in Sarthe, and there joined Beaumont. The two friends spent their days hunting and making final corrections on their texts.

Once the work was finished, a title remained to be found.

In 1833 the book by Tocqueville and Beaumont had been announced with the title American Institutions and Mores.126 Once Beaumont’s project became differentiated from that of Tocqueville, the latter, in March 1834, announced to Senior the publication of a book on “American institutions.”127 Beaumont kept the term “American mores.” In July, at the time of Tocqueville’s arrangements with his publisher, the treatise on American institutions received the title “The Dominion of Democracy in the United States”;128 in a perhaps later note announcing the publication and contained in the drafts of the first part, we find “The Dominion of Democracy in America,” while a first version of the same announcement mentioned “The Dominion of Democracy in the United States.” In mid-October, with the book in proofs, the publisher wrote to the author to ask him the title of his book. That is when Tocqueville chose Democracy in America.129

In the Courier Français of 24 December 1834,130 Léon Faucher announced the publication of the work and reproduced a few passages from Democracy in America. The text appeared with this title in January 1835.131

The Reception of Democracy

If it is true that the workers in the print shop had shown Tocqueville’s book particular attention and interest, the dazzling success of the Democracy was no less totally surprising to its author.

Tocqueville thought that the recent political tension with the United States would not fail to increase interest in and curiosity about the American continent and could therefore create a favorable situation for the success of the Democracy. But readers seem to have been attracted immediately by something far beyond the simple effect of timeliness. Moreover, if the indemnity affair—indemnities that the Americans had demanded from the French since the Napoleonic period—could be profitable to Tocqueville in France, such was not the case in America, where the publication of the Democracy was delayed until 1838.132

The appearance of the Democracy was unanimously acclaimed. Chateaubriand, Lamartine, Guizot, and Royer-Collard never tired in their praise. Very few publications met its appearance with silence. The reviews of Salvandy133 and Sainte-Beuve134 alone were enough to consecrate the author.135

“Not one of the chapters of this book,” wrote Sainte-Beuve, “fails to testify to one of the best and most assured minds, to one of those minds most appropriate for political observation, a field in which we find so few striking and solid strides since the incomparable figure of Montesquieu.”136 The name of the great légiste also appeared from the pen of Salvandy who, in the Journal des débats,137 proposed for Democracy the subtitle “The Spirit of American Laws.”138

Among the number of discordant voices, the following can be cited:

It is with a very particular predilection that this author offers for the admiration of the peoples of Europe a republic in which are found three colors, one color who are the masters, two other colors; a country of tri-colored humanity in which the red men who are the natural masters find themselves being exterminated by the white men who are the usurpers; in which the Black men are sold jumbled together with animals in the public square. A touching example of equality, admirable evidence of independence that it is currently stylish to take as the model in Europe, to see as the standard for true perfectibility!139

American readers, for their part, downplayed certain critical observations of the author about American society,140 but would acknowledge the impartiality of the work and particularly its clear superiority over the commentaries of English travelers.

Foreign publications did not spare compliments. The English found in Tocqueville an abundance of arguments against the American republic141 and recalled in reviews the precarious character of the experiment.142 The London and Paris Courier of 14 January 1836 asserted on its part: “Much, indeed, has been written by Englishmen respecting America, and a good deal by visitants from the continent of Europe. But with the solitary exception of the Démocratie en Amérique, by M. de Tocqueville, nothing absolutely has been written by a foreigner which approaches to an accurate delineation of our political organization.”

When, in December, the Moniteur du commerce mentioned “this excellent book that everyone has known and judged for a long time,” the remark did not seem exaggerated. Democracy was in fashion, and the Académie des sciences morales et politiques ratified the public’s interest with the Montyon prize, which bestowed on the author twelve thousand francs.

For its part, the publication of Marie, ou l’esclavage aux États-Unis143 brought a success in no way inferior to that of Democracy.144 Between 1835 and 1842, there would be five editions of the novel by Gustave de Beaumont. It would fall afterward, and very wrongly, into oblivion. Its reception was generally warm, though measured, although the Quarterly Review did not hesitate to declare it “the most interesting [book] that has ever yet been published on the subject of American society and manners by a native of the European continent.”145 Francisque de Corcelle wrote the review for the Revue des deux mondes.146

The principal failing of the book was proclaimed immediately. Marie had the peculiarity of being a novel and a social commentary at the same time. As such, it did not succeed in satisfying either those who love theoretical works, who preferred the Democracy by far, or those who read novels. The author of the review in the Journal desdébats147 saw this correctly when he wrote:

There are two books in [the] book. That is its failing perhaps. The large public that wants to be amused is always afraid that it is being instructed. The rare public that seeks instruction fears being interested and moved. The readers of M. de Beaumont are indeed exposed to this double danger. He teaches the most frivolous. He captures, carries away, touches the most unsentimental and the coldest. The whole of American society is brought to life in this work that is so true that I dare not call it a novel; that is so clothed in the richest and most intense colors of the imagination that I cannot call it a treatise.”

Shortly after the publication of Marie, Beaumont abandoned the plan for a second part (announced in the notice).148 Two years later, when he was writing Irlande, he seemed to care so little about his novel that he wrote to Tocqueville: “My book is my great and only passion, even more than yours is for you; I am not doing a second book, it is the first; and I am afraid of missing the mark, although I am full of zeal.”149

England and the Second Democracy

Tocqueville had begun the writing of a book on America with the intention, no matter how unhelpful it might be, of making himself known for the purpose of a political career. His friend Blosseville had even used the opportunity of his review of the Democracy to assert, “Such books should open the way to the parliamentary tribune.”150

But in March 1835, Tocqueville was not thinking so much about the career of a politician as about profiting from the extraordinary reputation that the appearance of his book had just given him. If the Democracy had not yet opened the doors of the Chamber of Deputies, it had earned him the friendship of a few prominent individuals who were going to play an important role in the writing of the second part of his book. They were Jean-Jacques Ampère, Royer-Collard, with whom Tocqueville was going to begin a profound and determinant intellectual relationship, and Corcelle.

Beaumont, Kergorlay, and Édouard de Tocqueville would form the principal trio of critics of the manuscript of the second part of the Democracy. The text would as well, here and there, bear the imprint of Ampère and Corcelle.

At the beginning of the year 1835, Tocqueville worked on the writing of a report on pauperism151 and planned a new journey to England. When Tocqueville and Beaumont were at the point of making important personal and professional decisions, the two friends crossed the Channel.152

What changes had taken place during the last two years? Was the English aristocracy capable of resisting the advance of democracy? Such were the questions that Tocqueville and Beaumont asked themselves. Their first observations concerned a strong tendency toward centralization. The point was important, and Tocqueville recognized the necessity of speaking about it in the second part of Democracy.153 John Stuart Mill, Lord Minto, and Henry Reeve confirmed his impressions on this subject,154 but it was Nassau W. Senior above all who, on the occasion of two long conversations, gave him the most detailed arguments on centralization.

Senior tells me: The Bill for Reform of the Poor Laws is not only a bill of social economy, but is above all a political bill. Not only does it cure the plague of pauperism that torments England, but also it gives to the aristocracy the most fatal blow that it could receive. [...] The law has centralized the administration of the poor law; and armed with this principle, the government, to enforce the law, has appointed a certain number of commissioners or central agents who have full power in this matter in all the parishes of England. These commissioners traveled through the territory and, in order to kill the local influences that had to be centralized, united ten or fifteen or twenty parishes into a single administrative circumscription, that they called a union. [...] These unions have already been established in this way in two thirds of England, and before long they will be established everywhere. [...] The Bill transfers, as you see, the administration of the poor law from the aristocracy to the middle classes. And then, there you are, central administrations organized over the whole kingdom, central administrations composed of citizens, set into motion, not by the local aristocracy, but indeed by the central power—and this is serious not only for granting to the central power and to the municipal administration called a union the power to govern England, but above all for organizing in the country an administrative power whose center is the government and for which the justices of the peace, prin[cipal] and essential elements of the aristocracy, are not the agents. [...] I note that the result of this is, above all, that the aristocracy is stripped to the profit of the central power; for the guardians of the poor, as they are constituted, are agents chosen it is true by the middle class, but essentially subordinate even in this choice and in their action to the will of the commissioners of the government.155

But the centralizing movement and the rise to power of the middle classes did not, for all that, imply revolution and the destruction of the aristocracy. As Tocqueville had already observed during his journey of 1833, England was very far from a revolution. At the time of this new journey, Mill confirmed his judgment:


[In the margin: Why no chances of violent revolution.]

I doubt that a quick and violent revolution is happening among us. All classes are very steady and know too well how to defend themselves. They are also enlightened, used to fighting and to yielding when necessary. Moreover, there is an obstacle here to general innovations and to the impulses of reform. Reform never strikes a great number of matters at once. Since everything in this country is in bits and pieces, you can only change one thing at a time, and with each change, you only attack a small number of interests. For the same reason, you excite only a small number of passions. It is rare to proceed by the path of general reform because there are few things to which you can apply the same principle in England. ( J.S. Mill).156

From the time of his first journey to England, Tocqueville had shared this sentiment: in that country, the poor man aspires to occupy the place of the rich and can sometimes succeed. “The French spirit is to want no superior. The English spirit is to want inferiors.”157

In Social and Political State of France, Tocqueville would note that the difference between the French aristocracy and the English aristocracy consists in the fact that only the English one is truly an aristocracy, that is to say a tiny part of society, having “qualities” such as blood, intelligence, money, culture, etc. In France, on the other hand, the sole quality of the aristocracy is birth, which makes it impossible for anyone to attain it. In the second part of Democracy, this idea would force Tocqueville to give full attention to the process of administrative centralization, inasmuch as it is the first and most powerful effect of the democratic revolution, and is capable of making its effects felt even on the English aristocracy.158

For Beaumont there was a totally different discovery. He who so vigorously defended the cause of the Indians and Blacks was struck by the situation of the Irish. He noted regarding them:


I do not believe that the murder of nations is more legitimate than that of individuals.

I declare that in covering the history of peoples, when I see the victors and the vanquished, I can very much admire the conqueror whose value shines before my eyes; but all the sympathies of my heart are for the conquered country. As long as a subject people exists, as long as it has not entirely disappeared under conquest, I make wishes for it, I nourish hopes, I have faith in its instincts of nationality; and in my dreams I see it shaking off the chains of servitude and cleansing itself of tyranny in the blood of its tyrants. If one day I learn that this people has expired with glory, I remain faithful to it, and I weep on its tomb. For to pardon a crime because it is successful is an odious and despicable action. It is a despicable action, commonly done.

(30 January 1836).159

The two friends divided subjects. To Tocqueville, America; to Beaumont, England,160 and Beaumont intended to devote a book to the Irish cause. In 1837, he went to England for a second time and visited Ireland in order to complete his research on site. L’Irlande, sociale, politique et religieuse would be published in 1839.161

The manuscript of Beaumont’s book contains criticisms in Tocqueville’s hand. That of Tocqueville would be considered attentively by Beaumont before its publication. Their collaboration continued to include innumerable exchanges of ideas.162

The press gave L’Irlande a reserved reception, but the book received the approbation of English intellectuals. In October 1839, John Stuart Mill wrote to Beaumont:

I hardly know how to express to you the degree of my estimation of your book, in as measured terms as a sober man likes to use in expressing a deliberate judgment—but this I may say, in the confidence of being rather within than beside the mark—that the book not only displays a complete and easy mastery over all the social elements and agencies at work in Ireland, over the whole great period of Irish history and Irish civilization; but that it also manifests a degree of clear comprehension and accurate knowledge of the far more complicated and obscure phenomena of English society, never before even approached by any foreigner whom I know of, and by very, very few Englishmen.163

Like Marie,L’Irlande would be only a half-success. This second book was also the last. At one time pushed by Tocqueville to become interested in Austria, Beaumont would cease all important intellectual work following the death of one of his sons.

The Second Democracy

On 26 October 1835, Tocqueville married Mary Mottley, thus formalizing a relationship that was already several years old. Beaumont and Kergorlay were witnesses.

In 1828 or 1829, at Versailles, Tocqueville had met this English woman of bourgeois origin who lived with her aunt, Mrs. Belam.164 The correspondence of Tocqueville and his wife has almost totally disappeared. The documents that remain attest to a certain discomfort, in the family as well as among a few friends, about a marriage judged disappointing.

On 15 November the couple went to Baugy, near Compiègne, close to Édouard de Tocqueville. That is where Alexis began to work on the second part of Democracy. His first plan was to divide the third volume into two parts:

Two great divisions.

  • 1.Influence of democracy on ideas.
  • 2.Id. on sentiments.165

Then the outline became complicated:

Division to do perhaps.

Effects of democracy

  • 1.On thought.
  • 2.On the heart.
  • 3.On habits.166

Little by little, the work took on its definitive form:

Plan of the second volume.

Sociability, sympathy, mores becoming milder, susceptibility, p. [blank] and dignity. All of that comes easily after individualism in order to demonstrate the types of relationships that can exist in a democratic society despite egoism.

The citizen, patriotism, the master and the servant, master and farmer, master and worker. All of that again comes easily after the introduction because it is principally individualism that modifies the relationships of all those people with each other.

Father, son, wife, woman, good morals. The mind is prep[ared] by what precedes to enter into families. Moreover, individualism again greatly modifies the relationships of those people.

Tone, manners, conversation, monotony of life, gravity, vanity. The chapters relating to the family have prepared the mind to descend easily into the small details of the social existence of the Americans.

Honor, ambition, revolution, military spirit, conquests, armies, perhaps a chapter that summarizes. These chapters, which perhaps I have not placed in the relative order that they should have vis-à-vis each other, elevate the mind of the reader and end the book on a high level.

There are three chapters that remain, and I do not know where to place them: Respect that is attached to all conditions, lack of susceptibilities, sentiment of dignity.

I believe, however, that they come after sociability./

Where to place equality—slavery?167

Individualism, which opened the book, would finally be placed at the beginning of the second part of the third volume. The idea of speaking again about slavery remained only a plan, but the principal ideas of the whole work were already present. The work of writing, with several interruptions,168 would take four years (from November 1835 to November 1839).

In January 1836, following a division of family properties due to the death of his mother, Alexis received the château de Tocqueville and the title of count that came with it, although he would always refuse to use the title. He appeared hardly inclined in the beginning to spend much time in a cold and damp château. Various renovations that his wife would have done would be necessary before Tocqueville decided to live there for long periods. Many pages of the second Democracy would see the light of day there, sometimes under the critical eye of Corcelle, Beaumont, Kergorlay, or Ampère, regular guests at the château.

A large part of the first section of the book seemed finished when, in July, after the marriage of Gustave de Beaumont with Clémentine de Lafayette, Tocqueville and his wife left for Baden, in Switzerland. In November they returned to Baugy.169 There, Tocqueville worked daily from 6:00 to 10:00 o’clock in the morning. The writing went well. Only one thing was missing for the author: “a good instrument of conversation, I needed you [Beaumont] or Louis.”170

During the following months, Tocqueville took careful note of all the information, of every conversation that could be useful for his work. He interviewed Thiers on the problem of centralization, Kergorlay on the army, Charles Stoffels on literature. He also met an American named Robinson and a number of other people.171

From mid-July to mid-August the Corcelles stayed at Tocqueville. At the end of July, the Beaumonts joined the small set. In the intellectual circle thus constituted by Tocqueville only one member was missing, Louis de Kergorlay, whom he did not hesitate to call his master.172

In January 1838, at Baugy, Tocqueville reviewed the chapter on honor. March and April were devoted to the question of centralization, to the army and to the preparation of the fourth and last part of the book. On 15 May, Corcelle and Ampère were present for a reading of the chapter on revolutions. In July, August, and September, the last chapters took their definitive form. The last two chapters on centralization and the idea of equality grew in length and purpose. The only thing remaining was to revise the chapter on the philosophical method of the Americans and the one on general ideas.

On 19 October 1838, Tocqueville would write to Beaumont: “I have just written, my dear friend, the last word of the last chapter of my book.”173

The revision of the whole book would occupy all of the following year. Kergorlay, who spent most of the autumn at Tocqueville [the village], came to help the author who worked to revise the first part of his book. Unsatisfied, Tocqueville had burned it.

In January 1839, Tocqueville read part of his manuscript to Chateaubriand, but confessed to Beaumont that he did not think he would be able to advance much in the revision of the whole book before the month of March. The work stretched until mid-November, the date when Tocqueville returned to Paris with a copy of his manuscript in order to have it read and approved a final time by Beaumont and Kergorlay.

Tocqueville had spoken to his correspondents about a book on “American manners.” The title that tempted Tocqueville was: “The Influence of Equality on the Ideas and the Sentiments of Men.” The book appeared in April 1840, however, with the same title as that of 1835.

The reception of the second part was not as unanimously laudatory as what had accompanied the appearance of the first volume. More theoretical and less descriptive, the second Democracy found a public little prepared for the reading of a philosophical work of such length and ambition. The criticism that appeared in this regard in The Examiner reflected the tone.174

Hunt’s Merchant Magazine noted: “In our deliberate judgment, it is the most original, comprehensive, and profound treatise that has ever appeared regarding our republic.”175 The prestigious Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, acknowledging that the second part did not merit the unconditional approval given to the first, added: “It is a superstructure of theorizing without any base to support it.”176

If favorable reviews were many—and in particular the one of John Stuart Mill must be pointed out177 —the same judgment was found just about everywhere in the English press: “too great a disposition to theorize,”178 or again: “Perhaps this method of generalizing facts is occasionally pushed too far.”179 The verdict seemed definitive. Tocqueville’s contemporaries seemed little inclined to accept this philosophy of democracy that the author was offering to their understanding. The appearance of the first volume of the Democracy had elicited nearly seventy commentaries; that of the second brought forth scarcely half that number.

In the months immediately following the publication, Tocqueville wrote little and so to speak made no allusion to his book. Elected deputy on 2 March 1839, he intended to concern himself more with his new duties.

“Nothing has been and remains more contrary to my tastes than to accept the condition of author in this world,” he wrote to Royer-Collard in 1839, explaining:

That is entirely contrary to my way of seeing what is desirable in this life. So my firm wish, after finishing this book and whatever its fate, is to work for myself and to write no longer for the public, unless a very important and very natural occasion presented itself, which is not probable. I am pushed to this determination not only by the desire to set myself apart from authors strictly speaking, but also by a certain pride that persuades me that I will find no subject as grand as the one that I have just treated and that, consequently, I would be demeaning myself by taking up the pen again.180

The occasion would not present itself before 1852, when, forced to abandon all political activity following the coming to power of a person of whom he highly disapproved, Tocqueville decided to take up the pen again in order to remind the French of the events that had brought them liberty. That was the beginning of work on L’Ancien régime et la révolution.


To Understand the Revolution

“Since, like Perrin Dandin, I am driven by the desire to judge without the power to do so, I need to keep going.”182 Tocqueville’s identification with the main character of the Plaideurs can probably be shared by an entire generation of judges who, following the revolutions of 1789 and 1830, had to devote themselves to finding a new equilibrium for society. As Ortega remarked, the solution to the political question was above all an eminently personal problem for Tocqueville and his contemporaries.183 Ultras and liberals, 1789 and 1793, aristocracy and democracy, liberty and equality, monarchy and republic, these were so many opposites that required a choice to be made.

In this context, where to place the author of Democracy? The question continues to be asked.184 The intellectual conversation has refined his thought and made his adjectives more nuanced; that does not prevent the labels from remaining very close to those of 1835. Tocqueville is in turn called a conservative, a liberal, a conservative liberal, a liberal conservative, a Burkean conservative, a liberal despite himself, a liberal aristocrat, a strange liberal—in short, the confusion about his work continues.

For it to be otherwise would be difficult. The Democracy, which sets forth as well one of the most fascinating interpretations of the French Revolution ever made, attempts indeed, by using the American “mirror,”185 to create a political philosophy capable of explaining (and producing) revolution and counter-revolution.186

“Placed in the middle of a rapid river,” writes Tocqueville, “we obstinately fix our eyes on some debris that we still see on the bank, while the torrent carries us away and pushes us backward toward the abyss.”187 Amid this dangerous revolutionary turbulence, there is a pressing need to find a path and a bedrock somewhere; and this is what forces the author to seek an explanation for the Revolution from the very first pages of the Democracy.188 If we must await L’Ancien régime et la révolution for Tocqueville to give a fuller and more detailed interpretation of the great historical upheaval, it is no less true that the principal lines of his theory of revolution are already present in the two Democracies.

Tocqueville’s point of view can be somewhat roughly summarized by asserting that for him the French Revolution was neither a true revolution, nor a French revolution.

The Revolution was not a true revolution because authentic revolutions take place at the level of mentalities, ideas, beliefs, habits of the heart, of all the things that, using once again the meaning of the word mores,189 he designates by the term mœurs.190

Every historical change necessarily begins, according to Tocqueville, at the level of ideas. In turn, the latter transform and are transformed by the social and material conditions of a society. These, according to Tocqueville, constitute the social state of a society.191

Political societies are not made by their laws, but are prepared in advance by the sentiments, beliefs, ideas, the habits of the hearts and minds of the men who are part of them, and by what nature and education have made those men. If this truth does not emerge from all parts of my book, if it does not in this sense constantly bring readers back to themselves, if it does not point out to them at every moment, without ever blatantly displaying the pretension of teaching them, the sentiments, ideas, mores that alone can lead to prosperity and public liberty, the vices and errors that on the contrary inevitably push prosperity and public liberty away, I will not have attained the principal and, so to speak, the only goal that I had in view.192

The social state in turn shapes the political state.193 (Today we would speak about society and state.) This explains why, in France as in the United States,194 the people are sovereign, for if the French do not live in a condition of liberty strictly speaking, they have already learned to think of themselves as equals.195 The material and intellectual conditions of a society modify and are changed by ideas and sentiments; and once the social state has been changed, the legal and political institutions adapt little by little. “In the long run, political society cannot fail to become the expression and the image of civil society.” Sovereignty of the people is born as public opinion.196

That is why the true revolution took place largely before 1789, accelerated by a change that was above all European in nature,197 that began with the Reformation, continued with Bacon and Descartes, and then gave the Enlightenment universal ideas, applicable in all periods and to all parts of the world.

“[The Revolution] was just a violent and rapid process by the aid of which the political state was adapted to the social state, facts to ideas, and laws to mores,”198 Tocqueville will repeat in the Ancien Régime. It was nothing more than the abrupt adaptation of the real to the ideal, or more precisely to an abstract philosophy formed from theories that had not been refined, called into question, or confirmed by political practice.

The Old Regime wanted to ignore social changes and, by preventing the slow adaptation of the political to the social, had created the conditions for its own downfall. The revolutionaries, removed from the political practice that would have led them to test and adapt their theories to the material and social circumstances of France, tried for their part to make the legal and political world conform to abstract and universal principles that were far from the social state.

A difficulty unfailingly appears, however. If the Revolution indeed had as its point of departure an intellectual movement that predated it, the vast changes whose arrival it marked cannot be completed as long as differences exist between the social and political ideas of the French and their legal and social institutions.199 This raises the following question: can the Revolution end? Are France and Europe condemned to an eternal cycle of revolutions and counter-revolutions? How can you stop a revolution that is constantly unfolding?

Tocqueville observed again in 1850:

Our country is calm and more prosperous than we could believe after such violent crises. But confidence in the future is lacking and although sixty years of Revolution have made this feeling of instability less prejudicial to social progress and less painful to us than it would be to other peoples, it has nonetheless very unfortunate results. This great nation is entirely in the state of mind of a sailor at sea or a soldier in the field. It does as little of the work of each day as possible, without worrying about tomorrow. But such a state is precarious and dangerous. Moreover, it is not peculiar to us. In all of continental Europe, except Russia, you see society in labor and the old world finally falling into ruins. Trust that all the restorations of old powers that are being made around us are only temporary happenings that do not prevent the great drama from following its course. This drama is the complete destruction of the old society and in its place the creation of I do not know what human fabric whose form the mind cannot yet clearly see.200

Such are the circumstances surrounding Tocqueville’s project of creating a new political science that would succeed in explaining the past and the future, the old regime and the new, or, to reuse his terminology, aristocracy and democracy.201

“There is a country in the world,” we read in the introduction to the first volume, “where the great social revolution that I am speaking about seems more or less to have reached its natural limits; it came about there in a simple and easy way, or rather it can be said that this country sees the results of the democratic revolution that is taking place among us, without having had the revolution itself.”202

Tocqueville intends to determine whether American society offers the sole example in the world of an exceptional situation in which the ideal easily shapes the real, in which the social state coincides with the political state, in which the entire world is “a malleable material that man turns and shapes as he wills.”203 On this strange continent, it seems that the dream of the French and of the Europeans can be realized without the need for a revolution,204 and that their abstract, rational, and theoretical principles are real, concrete, and inductive there.

But, if the exceptional physical and intellectual conditions of America alone explain the success of democracy, there is no hope that Europe could ever know the democratic state without continual revolutions.

The first impressions of the United States, especially of the West, confirm the existence of an America that does not need revolution. The American frontier, the great wilderness that extends to the Pacific Ocean, offers a space in which ideas transform reality without encountering obstacles and in a transparent way, so to speak.205 Tocqueville will perfect and complicate his theory as his journey moves ahead, but the pioneer of Democracy especially announces the democratic man described at length in the second volume of the work.

“Everything that is good and evil in American society is found in such relief [in the West] that you would say it was one of those books published in large type to teach children to read,” already notes the traveler in a letter to his mother. “Everything there is jarring and exaggerated. Nothing has yet taken its definitive place. [...] In the west no one has been able to make himself known or has had the time to establish his credit. Consequently democracy, without this final barrier, appears with all of its distinctive characteristics, its fickleness, its envious passions, its instability and its restless character.”206

The pioneer is, necessarily, occupied entirely by the search for a minimum of commodities. Withdrawn from the rest of the world, isolated in his cabin, his only concern is the yield of his field on which his family’s subsistence depends. Each of his movements is dictated by the necessity of the survival and the protection of his small world. His generosity toward the stranger who appears at his door is nothing more than the fruit of calculation; it comes from reason and not from the heart; it is an investment.207 Obsession with material well-being, individualism, and interest well understood define, apparently accidentally and temporarily, life on the frontier, but they run the risk of becoming permanent conditions for the citizen of every democratic country.

So if North America does not need revolution, it is because the process of adaptation and struggle among philosophy, social state, and political condition is non-existent. Ideas and reality coincide; reason appears covered only by the clothing of the present. In order to be free and happy, it is enough for the American to want to be so.208 No need for struggle or confrontation, no need for the complex interpenetration, necessarily slow, of ideas with habits and laws; nowhere are there ruins, the past, and signs of the past. “The Union ... profits from the experience of the old peoples of Europe, without being obliged, like them, to make use of the past and to adapt the past to the present; it is not forced, as they are, to accept an immense heritage handed down by its fathers, a mixture of glory and misery, of national friendships and hatreds.”209

The United States has the privilege therefore of being able to enjoy the results of European thought without being encumbered by the heavy baggage of history. “In America,” notes Tocqueville, “society seems to live from day to day, like an army in the field.”210

Tocqueville comments on the uncommon position of the New World, which anchors it in an eternal present: “≠For the American, the past is in a way like the future: it does not exist. He sees nowhere the natural limit that nature has put on the efforts of man; according to him what is not, is what has not yet been tried.≠”211

The pioneer is, in a way, the last link in an historical chain that begins in Europe and ends in the American wilderness, where he inhabits a present without limit.212 In the American West the principal characteristics of society are also missing: “The new states of the West already have inhabitants; society still does not exist,”213 writes Tocqueville. In the West, the only common ideas and the sole bond between the most immediate past and the present are found in the weak intellectual network created by the mail and newspapers.214

Is the destiny of democratic man to inhabit a world without social exchanges, an eternal cycle of death and emptiness, such as the American forest or the ocean,215 a definitive present? You could think so. The pioneer clears an opening in the forest, cuts down the trees and in his field leaves the trunks that he does not take the trouble to uproot. He builds himself a cabin and marks with a subtle trace of history the woods that surround him. As soon as he disappears, nature takes back its domain. Then nothing more remains of the passage of man except “a few remnants falling into rot that in a bit of time will have ceased to exist.”216

Is this the price to pay in order to live in a world without revolution?

The question is posed in these terms. So the new political science that Tocqueville imagines and develops in Democracy in America is going to have as its first objective man’s return to society and to history.217

The Theoretician of History

It is undoubtedly difficult to find a period when the question of history attracted more attention than in the first half of the nineteenth century. Uncertainty about the future forces minds to look back: you had to try to place the Revolution in history, to assimilate it as the past, to understand it. In order to do this, liberals, like conservatives, court Clio. Politicians make history and write it; poets and novelists who claim to be historians capture imaginations and, at times, get involved in politics; all offer the world an uncommon example of political practice and political theory.

While Burke and the conservatives explain that the French Revolution was nothing more than an aberration that, far from history, broke its rhythm, the liberals concentrate their efforts on demonstrating the inevitable character of history. At first view, Tocqueville places himself on this side because he seems to follow the liberal theory of the inevitability of history and particularly the historical interpretation of Guizot.

There is no qualifying term that has been more often associated with Tocqueville, the historian-politician, than that of fatalist. Certain critics have spoken about determinism218 or providentialism; others have sought reasons of a pedagogic nature in his use of the idea of the inevitable movement toward equality of conditions.219 How can Tocqueville, who hates all forms of fatalism, who speaks of liberty as an almost holy thing, who asserts that the goal of his book is to reveal very clearly that “whatever the tendencies of the social state, men can always modify them and ward off the bad tendencies while appropriating the good,”220 how can this same Tocqueville talk at the same time about an “irresistible movement” of democracy and make it a “providential fact”?

At once simple and complex, his answer consists of saying that inevitability concerns only the arrival of social equality. With him, and with a certain number of others, this fact receives the name democracy. In the sense that, in the long run, social equality produces legal and political equality, Tocqueville’s theory can be called deterministic, and the arrival of democracy is inevitable. Once intellectual equality is proclaimed (each man has the same faculties for attaining truth as another), the transformation of social and political conditions is no more than a question of time; in terms of Tocqueville’s thought, it is inevitable and even desired by God.

Once you eliminate all secondary causes, Tocqueville continues, all the revolutions in the world have been and are made for the sole purpose of increasing or decreasing equality, which is the foundation or the generating fact of the revolutionary motor. Revolutions have always consisted and still consist of setting the rich against the poor and the poor against the rich.

But this determinism, which is as much logical as historical, is in no way incompatible with the passionate defense of liberty, because, for Tocqueville, the movement toward equality is independent of the development of liberty. The latter is the true human element of historical change. In other words, the inevitability of democracy, understood as the adaptation of the political state to the social state, does not determine the historical evolution of liberty: equality is as good an ally of despotism as of liberty.

So the presumption of attaining equality of social and political conditions makes the classical typology of political regimes meaningless. Whether it takes the form of public opinion or whether it presents itself as it is, sovereignty of the people makes possible only two types of regimes: the republican (or liberal) regime or the despotic regime, liberty or despotism. In the face of this alternative, it is man who chooses and not destiny that imposes.

This understanding of history, as Marx remarked, puts Tocqueville closer to Bossuet than to Guizot.221 Like the bishop of Meaux, Tocqueville believes that all the facts of history obey a divine plan, the meaning of which escapes us, but one that men can predict and whose general tendencies they can discover.222

The action of man, says Tocqueville, always takes place within a narrow circle. It has no meaning if it is situated outside this space. Even if man is incapable of imagining what is going to follow, of reading the plans of Providence, he can, within the domain reserved to him, recognize a law of the evolution of history and of intelligence.

The final stage, that of equality, closes the cycle of history. At the beginning of history, man, isolated and savage, is equal to his fellows in barbarism. He has no need of government.

There are few peoples who can do without government in this way. Such a state of things has never been able to subsist except at the two extremes of civilization. The savage man, who has only his physical needs to satisfy, counts only on himself. For the civilized man to be able to do the same, he must have reached the social state in which his enlightenment allows him to see clearly what is useful for him, and in which his passions do not prevent him from acting on it.”223

So the absence of government and equality are found only at the two ends of civilization: “Savages are equal among themselves because they are all equally weak and ignorant. Very civilized men can all become equal because they all have at their disposal analogous means to attain comfort and happiness.”224

For Tocqueville, as we see, history is neither the progressive, rational, and necessary development of the idea of liberty, nor the advance, impossible to contain, of the middle classes, as Guizot thought. The author of Democracy notes a form of liberty appropriate to each period and each country.225 Liberty understood in this way is therefore as ancient, as Madame de Staël calls it, as it is modern, as Benjamin Constant describes it. So post-revolutionary liberty is not and cannot be that of the Old Regime.226 In the same way, a form of despotism corresponds to each period.

The novelty of Tocqueville’s theory is to assert that in order to reach the final stage of history, the point at which true equality and liberty coincide, the aristocratic stage is absolutely necessary as an intermediate moment. If “it is in losing their liberty that men acquired the means to reconquer it,”227 true liberty always requires passing by way of servitude.

This constitutes a first way to put face to face the Old Regime and democracy, to make aristocracy an inevitable moment of history, and then to move beyond it. If, in the state of barbarism, men cannot become civilized as long as they are equal,228 it is aristocracy that, by creating a class free to dedicate itself to the works of the mind, can invent the general and universal ideas that will lead to its own destruction and to the appearance of democracy (understood as equality of conditions).

The first step toward equality was taken in the Middle Ages when peoples began to travel, to enter into contact with each other, to imitate each other. Each nation little by little lost confidence in its particular laws and in its own organization; the idea of rules common to everyone occurred to men. France placed itself at the head of these intellectual, moral, and political changes, even if the impulse that gave them birth was more European than specifically French.

If the course of history follows the change in mentalities which is, in turn, the effect and the cause of the social state,229 and if the latter little by little transforms the political state, that is to say, laws and institutions, then it is not surprising that Tocqueville devotes the first pages of Democracy to philosophy.

A Philosophy of Action

Perhaps the word philosophy is not totally accurate when applied to the theory of Tocqueville, who said that he had a horror of philosophy and who wrote: “Philosophy is in fact only the complete exercise of thought separate from the practice of action.”230

Tocqueville’s very principle is to draw everything out of himself. He does the work of a researcher and does not neglect brochures, reports, collections of laws. But the list of works consulted in the writing of Democracy in America does not include books of philosophy.231

Tocqueville does not like philosophy. He calls it the “essence of all gibberish,”232 and a “voluntary torment that man consented [cf. note 242 below] [...] to inflict on himself.”233

The matter is clear from the beginning of the work of writing the introduction to Democracy. “The author of this work,” we read in a draft, “wanted to write a book of politics and not of philosophy.”234

The imperatives of the history of France forbid Tocqueville, as politician and as the author of Souvenirs, to forget the practical side of political theory. Thought separated from action is philosophy. For Tocqueville, reflection joined to practice constitutes the nature of what he calls his “political science.”235 This does not prevent him, however, from falling into the trap of the celebrated aphorism of Pascal: “To mock philosophy is truly to philosophize.”236

The philosophic aspect of Tocqueville’s thought appears in the form of anti-positivism.237 “≠In all human events,” he writes, “there is an immense portion abandoned to chance or to secondary causes that escapes entirely from forecasts and calculations.≠”238

Tocqueville’s certitude about an impenetrable divine plan and his religious beliefs prevent him from falling into the sensual philosophy of the period and into positivism.239 He accepts the existence of absolute ideas as well as their unknowable character.240 A first conclusion results: every system, every man that claims to discover absolute truth is, for that reason alone, in error; you can advance only hypotheses.

There is no man in the world who has ever found, and it is nearly certain that none will ever be met who will find the central ending point for, I am not saying all the beams of general truth, which are united only in God alone, but even for all the beams of a particular truth. Men grasp fragments of truth, but never truth itself. This admitted, the result would be that every man who presents a complete and absolute system, by the sole fact that his system is complete and absolute, is almost certainly in a state of error or falsehood, and that every man who wants to impose such a system on his fellows by force must ipso facto and without preliminary examination of his ideas be considered as a tyrant and an enemy of the human species.241

If absolute truth existed, the constant, complex interconnections of the elements of the motor of history would cease. The consequence of this provisional nature of all intellectual study is doubt, which Tocqueville considers characteristic of man, and in particular of philosophy.242

On this point, he summarizes his thought in this way for Charles Stoffels:

When I began to think, I believed that the world was full of demonstrated truths; that it was only a matter of looking carefully in order to see them. But when I applied myself to considering things, I no longer saw anything except inextricable doubts. [...] I ended by convincing myself that the search for absolute, demonstrable truth, like the search for perfect happiness, was an effort toward the impossible. Not that there are no such truths that merit the entire conviction of man; but be assured that they are very few in number. For the immense majority of points that are important for us to know, we have only probabilities, only approximations. To despair about this is to despair about being a man; for that is one of the most inflexible laws of our nature.243

The creator of an idea, Tocqueville also believes, is always more uncertain of its truth than his disciples. He knows its defects; he knows the elements that can invalidate its existence. But very few men in democratic times can devote their life to the search for great intellectual truths; and if they do so, they are very much required nonetheless to use general ideas to guide their conduct.244 It follows that the best way to avoid absolute and excessively general ideas is to force each man to occupy himself with ideas, with thinking, with feeling his way, and: “when, tired of looking for what makes his fellows act, he [man] tries hard at least to untangle what pushes himself, he still does not know what to believe. He travels across the entire universe and he doubts. He finally comes back toward himself, and obscurity seems to redouble as he approaches and wants to understand himself.”245

As this conviction about the absence of absolute, demonstrable truths becomes deeper with Tocqueville, it seems to impose its own logic on the writing of Democracy: “You know that I do not take up the pen with the settled intention of following a system and marching at random toward a goal,” he observes; “I give myself over to the natural movement of my ideas, allowing myself to be led in good faith from one consequence to another. The result is that, as long as the work is not finished, I do not know exactly where I am going and if I will ever arrive.”246 The rhythm of the book becomes in fact more and more staccato; the brief chapters of the second Democracy turn into [ricordi, Italian for “souvenirs”; reference to Machiavelli’s Ricordi. ] thoughts, almost as if the presentation of a theory without solution required a brief and fragmentary form of writing.

So Tocqueville’s philosophic ideal is the man who is feeling his way, who judges himself to be incomplete and makes doubt his natural state, while the democratic ideal is the man who can change everything because he has a blind faith in reason and in the philosophic method.

Regarding himself, the author will note for example:

I do not need to travel across heaven and earth to find a marvelous subject full of contrast, of grandeur and infinite pettiness, of profound obscurities and singular clarity, capable at the same time of giving birth to piety, admiration, contempt, terror. I have only to consider myself. Man comes out of nothing, passes through time, and goes to disappear forever into the bosom of God. You see him only for a moment wandering at the edge of the two abysses where he gets lost.247

Tocqueville does not, however, share the anti-rationalism of conservative theories. What he fears in democracy is not reason, but anti-rationality. Later he will blame the philosophes for the same thing: “Truly speaking, some of these philosophes adored human reason less than their own reason. Never did anyone show less confidence in common wisdom than those men.”248

For Tocqueville, in contrast to Guizot, the rise of the middle classes is not the arrival of political reason, but of rational individualism, which in the end equates with the absence of reason. The philosophes understood nothing more than the voice of individual reason. As for democratic man, he runs the danger of believing that he is following his own reason when he is only blindly obeying the opinion of the majority.

The best way to avoid excesses in the matter of general ideas, the predominance of thought separated from action, is to force men to enter into practice. That is the advantage of true democracy. It forces each citizen to occupy himself in a practical way with government and moderates the tendency to create the general ideas in politics that equality produces; it provokes uncertainty in this way.

Tocqueville fears in fact that history will pass from the total predominance of action, which is characteristic of barbaric peoples who know only the practice of politics, to the triumph of theory separated from all forms of practice.249

But criticism of philosophy is not just a matter of methodology; it does not consist solely of blaming philosophy for a lack of connection with practice. In the drafts of Democracy there is a detailed reflection on the birth of general ideas.

For Tocqueville, the attempt of democracies to seek general ideas in the domain of politics arises out of an unwarranted application of the method of Descartes and Bacon to matters for which those methods are not made; the attempt arises out of an extension of the presumption of rationality, foreseeability, and recurrence to matters that do not have these qualities.

That is especially dangerous in the case of equality. The lack of debate about the principle of equality (which is the principle par excellence since it comes down to the principle of identity) ends up by imposing a structure in which reason and confrontation are lacking. Aggravated, the individual mind kills reason and its relation to practice, and with it liberty and political confrontation.

The exaltation of individual reason can break the bond between ideology, social condition, and political organization, and lead to the immobility of the social system and ultimately to the end of history. For this reason, far into the second volume and once the foundations of his criticism of democratic thought have been explained, Tocqueville can declare that what he most fears in democracies is not revolutions, but apathy.250

When the tendency to create philosophical systems that are separated from practice becomes general, there is also the danger that theory will not find reality adaptable; it will become always more removed from action and more utopian, and will end up by taking the place of political reality; and men, tired of facing the difficulties of action, will take refuge in theory.251

In this case, political theory can little by little come to resemble a religion, a doctrine applicable to all individuals and all nations, because it has considered man in an abstract way and has studied his general political rights and duties in all periods and all countries.252 The dream of reason lives outside of time, and when it coincides with the predominance of equality over liberty, it ends up by enclosing man within the solitude of his own heart:253 “So each person withdraws narrowly into himself and claims to judge the world from there.... Since they [the Americans] see that they manage without help to solve all the small difficulties that their practical life presents, they easily conclude that everything in the world is explicable, and that nothing goes beyond the limits of intelligence.”254

Democratic man is completely immersed in tasks of a practical type, because democracy takes him away from theory and confines his activities to the economic domain; he no longer believes in anything except his own reason. This tendency, combined with the search for material well-being, takes him away from political activity and predisposes him naturally to accept the opinion of the majority.

Tocqueville notes:

As citizens become more equal and more similar, the tendency of each blindly to believe a certain man or a certain class decreases. The disposition to believe the mass increases, and more and more it is opinion that leads the world.... In times of equality, men, because of their similarity, have no faith in each other, but this very similarity gives them an almost unlimited confidence in the judgment of the public; for it does not seem likely to them that, since all have similar enlightenment, truth is not found on the side of the greatest number. When the man who lives in democratic countries compares himself individually to all those who surround him, he feels with pride that he is equal to each of them; but, when he comes to envisage the ensemble of his fellows and to place himself alongside this great body, he is immediately overwhelmed by his own insignificance and weakness. This same equality that makes him independent of each one of his fellow citizens in particular, delivers him isolated and defenseless to the action of the greatest number.255

America, Tocqueville also says, has escaped these problems for the most part, thanks to exceptional circumstances, the intellectual influence of England, and the strength of religion.

The unusual physical conditions of the Americans, which place them in a universe that is malleable and can be transformed at will, often allow them to avoid the intellectual tensions of European societies. An American who is not satisfied with his position can always leave his home and go to the West where he can easily create a new life for himself. That is how an idea easily transforms reality, and why the forces that resist that transformation are weak.

The intellectual influence of England serves to assure the general development of thought. Tocqueville observes that, strictly speaking, the Americans do not have a literature and an intellectual class, but he does not see that condition as necessarily peculiar to democracy. How can a democracy be intellectual if the example of the United States proves the opposite? Because the Americans find their ideas and their books in Europe, just like their philosophy and their religion. They put all of that into practice in the New World. The American intellectual class is found therefore on the other side of the Atlantic. The Americans are only the part of the English population that works on the conquest of America:256 “I consider the people of the United States as the portion of the English people charged with exploiting the forests of the New World, while the rest of the nation, provided with more leisure and less preoccupied by the material cares of life, is able to devote itself to thought and to develop the human mind in all aspects.”257

Thus, the United States forms the non-intellectual part of a European people and constitutes a society composed solely of representatives of the middle class. Aristocracy remains on the European shore. In this way Tocqueville connects theory and practice, while avoiding having the Americans serve as an example of the pernicious effects of democracy that his book announces.258 The United States certainly does not innovate in philosophy, in literature, or in the aesthetic domain, but this situation is not due to the fact that the Americans belong to a democratic society, writes Tocqueville; the reason is that they devote themselves exclusively to business,259 or again, that they are showing only the interests and faults of the middle class.

Tocqueville believes, however, in the existence of man’s natural taste for things of the mind: “The mind of man left to itself leans from one side toward the limited, the material and the commercial, the useful, from the other it tends without effort toward the infinite, the non-material, the great and the beautiful.”260

Within the American framework, it is not impossible that an educated and free class will come about, a class that, having the necessary time and money, will be able to devote itself to intellectual work, to encourage and promote literature and the arts.261

Religion, the last element peculiar to the American democratic situation, prevents the Americans from falling into the error of trying to apply the principles of rationalist philosophy to matters that are not suited to such principles.262 For Tocqueville, philosophy is liberty, all that the individual discovers thanks to his own efforts; religion, which covers all that is accepted without discussion, is servitude.263 Excess of the first leads straight to intellectual individualism and to a state of permanent agitation that opens onto anarchy. Religion, which becomes more and more necessary as philosophy develops, can, by its excessive character, lead to intellectual dogmatism and immobility.

But even if that seems paradoxical at first glance, religion, precisely for this reason, is the necessary condition for man to be able to devote himself to practical works.264

“For me,” declares Tocqueville, “I doubt that man can ever bear complete religious independence and full political liberty at the same time; and I am led to think that, if he does not have faith, he must serve, and, if he is free, he must believe.”265 So if religious beliefs place man in relative servitude, they enclose him in the circle within which he is able to exercise his reason; and, by limiting the action of his mind to the practical circle within which it must function, they force him into action and free his intelligence by reducing his dependence on the general ideas of the majority:266

A religion is a power whose movements are regulated in advance and that moves within a known sphere, and many people believe that within this sphere its effects are beneficial, and that a dogmatic religion better manages to obtain the desirable effects of a religion than one that is rational. The majority is a [illegible word] power that moves in a way haphazardly and can spread successively to everything. Religion is law, the omnipotence of the majority is arbitrariness.267

In the context of these ideas, Tocqueville asks himself whether Catholicism is the religion that suits democratic times. He is convinced that Catholicism can be proved by the philosophical method of the eighteenth century.268 But he needs to assure the reader that the multiplication of religions is not going to lessen the importance of religious ideas and of their relation to liberty. Otherwise, it would be impossible for religion to fulfill the limiting role that Tocqueville gives it. That approach produces a difficulty however: religion is accepted rationally, as philosophy, and not as religion; it is not the result of an act of faith. Only the idea, rather unjustified, that solely “minds of the second rank” will apply to religion the principles of the philosophy of Descartes (and this will above all be the case of Protestantism269 ), seems to save Tocqueville from a clear misconception in his explanations.270

The intellectual anarchy that you could think is the necessary result of the daily use of the Cartesian method is, on the contrary, more characteristic of periods of revolution than of those in which democracy reigns.271 Reason, by definition majoritarian, in the end produces characters and opinions that coincide in a certain way.

Here Tocqueville seems to find in democracy a reason for optimism that does not well fit the aristocratic vision that is sometimes imputed to him. In order for the intellectual anarchy that he believes is revolutionary to disappear, the majority of citizens must exercise their reason. But the author himself recognizes that the power that directs the mass will always be aristocratic because, as he says repeatedly, it is impossible for all men to have the time and leisure necessary to occupy themselves with works of the mind.

This way of seeing allows Tocqueville to avoid the eclecticism of Cousin. Eclecticism is the government of the middle class introduced to philosophy. The ideas of Tocqueville do not combine well with this philosophy of the juste milieu. But if Tocqueville’s aristocratic nature pushes him to reject philosophic eclecticism, it does not prevent him from constructing a philosophy of the middle (milieu ) that is his own. He places this principle of “life in the middle” between the two excesses of reason that in his view are represented by Heliogabalus and Saint Jerome.272

Here it was a matter of restoring man to history and society; now it is going to be a matter of restoring him to reason.

The Reign of Total Reason

In democracies, equality reaches and penetrates every aspect of life.273 Equality of minds, equality of conditions and sovereignty of the people are its three constituent elements. But the reign of total reason, in which tyranny of public opinion, the pursuit of well-being, and political apathy combine and toward which the democratic regime seems to go, does not cease to frighten Tocqueville.

That is because what emerges there is a world without society, an individual without individuality, an omnipotent state that separates citizens from each other and that promotes the absence of shared ideas and sentiments;274 in other words, a new form of despotism that, if it still lacks a name, has all the characteristics of a new state of nature.275

In this new despotism, society disappears and loses its power as a creator of change and protective filter of state action. The individual finds himself isolated in the face of the action of the political power that, as the expression of the social state, is also his master and his guardian. This political power, by destroying every center of resistance, finishes by coinciding with society and occupying its place,276 until we are confronted only by either the isolated individual or individuals as an entire group: “In democracy you see only yourself and all.”277

This despotism is not a type of government with its own form, as Montesquieu thought. For Tocqueville, it is the negation of all political and social forms. In this, the author recognizes his debt to Rousseau278 and diverges from the main current of classical liberalism by putting historical linearity in doubt. The state of nature is found as much in a final phase of history as in a pre-historic moment; it is at once pre- and post-social.

But this new condition that we have compared to the state of nature is different from the latter in an important way. By recognizing only the capacities of individual reason alone, man falls into individualistic rationalism; but at the same time, he has total confidence in common opinion, because he is pushed by the need for dogmatism that is inherent in his existence:279 “Faith in common opinion is the faith of democratic nations. The majority is the prophet; you believe it without reasoning. You follow it confidently without discussion. It exerts an immense pressure on individual intelligence.”280

The common sense of the democrat operates in the narrow field in which he has some knowledge and where he is able to put that knowledge into practice. But, in the areas where men are not involved, they accept general ideas that they have not thought of themselves; and in this way, the world, except for the narrow field in which each man is enclosed, “ends up being an insoluble problem for the man who clings to the most tangible objects and who ends up lying down on his stomach against the earth out of fear that he, in turn, may come to miss the ground.”281

Democratic despotism is therefore the exaltation of the individual and of society. It is a double state of nature in which men enter into relation with each other almost exclusively through the mathematical power of interests and through the most faithful expression of that power, which is money; in this double state of nature, society imposes its opinions on its members with a completely unheard of force.

From another perspective, the logic of reason invades the heart of man, eliminating many of his passions and modifying certain of his sentiments, transforming for example his egoism into individualism,282 or his generosity into interest well understood. The State, for its part, by making use of the first rational principle, which is that of unity—the expression of the principle of identity that is contained in the idea of equality—and that of centralization, imposes its forms and opinions with a speed and effectiveness previously unknown.

Democratic despotism thus takes men away from political practice by leading them exclusively toward the pursuit of material well-being, which tends to separate them more and more from each other.283 In the end, “men are no longer tied together except by interests and not by ideas.”284

By separating man from his fellows, this new form of despotism brings about a clear break in the flow of the ideas and opinions that nourish society and history. For “the circulation of ideas is to civilization what the circulation of blood is to the human body”;285 and despotism, by interrupting this movement, creates a society that is no longer composed of anything except solitary social molecules.

“In a society of barbarians equal to each other,” recalls Tocqueville, “since the attention of each man is equally absorbed by the first needs and the most coarse interests of life, the idea of intellectual progress can come to the mind of any one of them only with difficulty.”286

The old despotism was realistic. Facts were its foundation, and it made use of them. It oppressed the body, but the soul escaped its tyrannical enterprise. The new despotism has the perfidious principle of leaving the body free and oppressing the soul.287 While the legal and political tyranny of the majority is the modern version of the old despotism, the new despotism is the mental and social tyranny of the majority, which affects the social state, habits, and mores. Thus the damage caused by the tyranny of opinion is much greater, because this new type of despotism touches on the sources of the movement of history and society, as well as on what is most proper to the individual.

In the end man could end up by no longer belonging to anything except a quasi-society of barbarians equal to each other, thus closing the cycle of history with a despotic regime that has become permanent.

Tyranny of the majority, the tyranny of the electoral voice described in the first Democracy, is already the triumph of individualism, that is to say the triumph of man without individuality and personality.288 The moment of election forces the abandonment of what is specific and particular to the individual and forces him for a moment to become a unit, or, if you want, an abstraction (one man = one voice). In this way, the new form of despotism is entirely compatible with election. Men emerge from servitude to elect their tyrants and return there immediately after.289

In 1840, Tocqueville combines with the practical and legal tyranny of the majority the spiritual and intellectual oppression of the opinion of all, which leads in the last resort to a situation of permanent immobility and unity. If, as he remarks, “sentiments and ideas are renewed, the heart grows larger and the human mind develops only by the reciprocal action of men on each other,”290 then common action and vitality will disappear in democracies:

Do you not see that opinions are dividing more quickly than patrimonies, that each man is enclosing himself narrowly within his own mind, like the farm laborer in his field? ... That sentiments become more individual each day, and that soon men will be more separated by their beliefs than they have ever been by inequality of conditions?291

The inhabitant of America is forced, like every inhabitant of a new country, to acquire rapidly the habit of governing himself,292 but this habit must be prevented from being pushed beyond its natural limits and thereby taking the form of servitude:

Will I dare to say it amid the ruins that surround me? What I dread most for the generations to come is not revolutions.

If citizens continue to enclose themselves more and more narrowly within the circle of small domestic interests and to be agitated there without respite, you can fear that they will end by becoming as if impervious to these great and powerful public emotions that disturb peoples, but which develop and renew them. When I see property become so mobile, and the love of property so anxious and so ardent, I cannot prevent myself from fearing that men will reach the point of regarding every new theory as a danger, every innovation as an unfortunate trouble, every social progress as a first step toward a revolution, and that they will refuse entirely to move for fear that they would be carried away. I tremble, I confess, that they will finally allow themselves to be possessed so well by a cowardly love of present enjoyments, that the interest in their own future and that of their descendants will disappear, and that they will prefer to follow feebly the course of their destiny, than to make, if needed, a sudden and energetic effort to redress it.

You believe that the new societies are going to change face every day, and as for me, I fear that they will end by being too invariably fixed in the same institutions, the same prejudices, the same mores; so that humanity comes to a stop and becomes limited; that the mind eternally turns back on itself without producing new ideas, that man becomes exhausted in small solitary and sterile movements, and that, even while constantly moving, humanity no longer advances.293

Revolutions disrupt the activities of society; they suddenly make movement and social changes easy and unpredictable; finally they destroy personal wealth. It seems then that only the poor, who have nothing to lose, can court a revolution. Democracies seek the opposite, since they need a tranquil and peaceful atmosphere in which their members can concentrate all their activity on the pursuit of their individual well-being and that of their family.294

In democracies, Tocqueville notes,

since men are no longer attached to each other by any bond of castes, classes, corporations, families, they are only too inclined to become preoccupied solely with their particular interests, and are always too ready to consider only themselves and to withdraw into a narrow individualism in which every public virtue is suffocated. Despotism, far from struggling against this tendency, makes it irresistible, because despotism removes from citizens every common passion, every natural need, every need to cooperate, every occasion to act together; it walls them, so to speak, within private life. They already tended to separate themselves; it isolates them; they grew cold toward one another; it turns them into ice.295

So democratic despotism finishes by producing the greatest stability in society, but this stability is not desirable because it announces the immobility of death.

Equality of conditions, giving individual reason a complete independence, must lead men toward intellectual anarchy and bring about continual revolutions in human opinions.

This is the first idea that presents itself, the common idea, the most likely idea at first view.

By examining things more closely, I discover that there are limits to this individual independence in democratic countries that I had not seen at first and which make me believe that beliefs must be more common and more stable than we judge at first glance.

That is already doing a great deal to lead the mind of the reader there.

But I want to aim still further and I am going even as far as imagining that the final result of democracy will be to make the human mind too immobile and human opinions too stable.

This ideas is so extraordinary and so removed from the mind of the reader that I must make him see it only in the background and as an hypothesis.296

Tocqueville clearly perceives the radical nature of such an idea and notes in a draft:

This idea that the democratic social state is anti-revolutionary so shocks accepted ideas that I must win over the mind of the reader little by little, and for that I must begin by saying that this social state is less revolutionary than is supposed. I begin there and by an imperceptible curve I arrive at saying that there is room to fear that it is not revolutionary enough. True idea, but which would seem paradoxical at first view.297

With this last turn, Tocqueville’s thought has for its part completed its own revolution.

Dialectic of Ideas

If democratic apathy can be worse than revolutionary disorders, then the political problem abruptly changes aspect. It becomes necessary to reintroduce into society change, the circulation of ideas, intellectual movement, which does not mean revolution. It is in fact no less necessary to try to avoid revolutions, even if, in Tocqueville’s eyes, temporary anarchy is preferable to permanent order.298

The author distinguishes between legislative instability, which concerns secondary laws, and the instability that affects the foundations of the constitution. The latter produces revolutions and causes breaks in society;299 the former, on the other hand, is the sign of intellectual vitality. So how is it possible to create this first type of instability while avoiding the second? How can we bring about the circulation of ideas and sentiments that are debated and shared at the same time?

To invite men to communicate, to see each other, to exchange ideas, such is the main task of political philosophy: “So the great object of law-makers in democracies must be to create common affairs that force men to enter into contact with each other.... For what is society for thinking beings, if not the communication and connection of minds and hearts?”300

The struggle between opposing principles produces heat and the movement of ideas. It sometimes produces disorder, but it assures the circulation of the ideas and sentiments that nourish society.

Tocqueville wrote to Kergorlay:

I compare man in this world to a traveler who is walking constantly toward an increasingly cold region and who is forced to move more as he advances. The great sickness of the soul is cold. And to combat this fearful evil, he must not only maintain the lively movement of his mind by work, but also maintain contact with his fellows and with the business of this world. Above all at this time, we are no longer allowed to live on what has already been acquired, but must try hard to continue to acquire and not rest upon ideas that would soon enshroud us as if we were asleep in the grave. But we must constantly put into contact and into conflict the ideas that we adopt and those we do not, the ideas that we had in our youth and those suggested by the state of society and the opinions of the period that has arrived.301

This movement and confrontation of ideas is at risk of drowning in apathy, individualism, and the obsession with well-being, first results of democracy.

The “democratic monster” that occupies so many pages of Democracy is the one that has made only half a revolution, that has forgotten the principle of liberty, and that has been entirely captivated by the rational character of the abstract principle of equality.302 This democratic monster produces a political philosophy based precisely upon the social, material, and political conditions that work to promote and to ensure the existence of such a philosophy, but it does not offer the possibility of denying such a philosophy, that is to say, by political practice.

So Tocqueville aspires, in a certain way, to completing the French Revolution, to finishing it, without forgetting that fraternity is the fruit of liberty and equality, as well as of a constant tension between the two, as had been the case in 1789.

Tocqueville remarks in the Ancien Régime:

It is 89, time of inexperience, undoubtedly, but of generosity, enthusiasm, virility and grandeur, time of immortal memory, toward which the view of men will turn with admiration and respect, when those who saw it and we ourselves will have long disappeared. Then the French were proud enough of their cause and of themselves to believe that they could be equal in liberty. So everywhere in the middle of democratic institutions, they placed free institutions.303

For the exceptional moment represented by 1789, a momentary and magnificent combination of liberty with equality, Tocqueville shows and seems to have shown all his life a quasi-religious respect, a sort of faith never denied. In this regard, Sainte-Beuve shares with Beaumont the following anecdote:

I have always had great difficulty speaking about Tocqueville, you will have noticed it yourself; not that I do not place him very much apart and very high, but because he did not, in my opinion, completely fulfill the whole idea that his friends are allowed to have and to give of him. And then, there was always between him and me, from the beginning and long before the most recent events, a certain kernel of separation; he was of a believing nature, that is to say that, even in the realm of ideas, he had a certain religion, a certain faith. One day, at a dinner at Madame Récamier’s, I saw him not being pleased with a joke about something concerning 89. I took good note of it. That form of mind impressed me, I admit, more than it attracted me, and despite friendly advances, I always remained with him on a footing more of respect than of friendship.304

History, according to Tocqueville, is defined as a struggle between the abstract and the concrete; thus the opposition between liberty and equality. The objective of political science is consequently to maintain these two existing principles in constant tension in such a way that no monopoly exists of equality over liberty, which would lead to despotism, and that equality does not run the risk of being carried away into anarchy by the excesses of liberty. In this sense, it is a matter of prolonging 1789.

For Tocqueville, liberty is a passion,305 changing and impossible to define.306 It belongs to the order of the heart. Equality, to use Pascal’s distinction, reigns in the order of the mind.

When he writes to John Stuart Mill, “I love liberty by taste, equality by instinct and by reason,”307 Tocqueville is only expressing in another way the principal elements of his thought. The taste for equality is always of a rational, mental nature. Liberty, in contrast, is a passion, a sentiment.308

Liberty is an individual, particular sentiment, impossible to communicate; it represents the human because it is indefinable, incomplete, always in process, always being defined, by wagering, risking, making mistakes, and beginning again. Liberty must be lived as you live your life, never ceasing to invent. Authentic democracy is the equal participation of citizens in the definition of liberty, a definition that is always complicated, disorderly, and risky. God marks out the road toward equality, but liberty is a path that man opens and that crosses always different countries.

Equality is abstract, rational, always identical to itself; it is deductive, while liberty is inductive, as within reach and clear as liberty is complicated and fleeting.

The despotic democratic regime produces an unbearable and unlimited predominance of the mind over the heart, of equality over liberty. Liberty then disappears in the face of what can be defined and what is definite, in the face of equality; the principle of equality is allowed to reign alone. That is what philosophy must avoid at all cost. That is also what constitutes the ultimate objective of Democracy, as Tocqueville notes in a draft: “Danger of allowing a single social principle to take without objection the absolute direction of society. General idea that I wanted to emerge from this work.”309

If, in the plan of history, the principle of liberty must be introduced as a counterbalance to that of equality, in the political world strictly speaking310 the struggle of ideas takes place between two great universal principles that, for Tocqueville, are called democracy and aristocracy;311 the one seeks to concentrate public power, the other to scatter it.312 Once the sentiment of liberty has disappeared or is in serious danger of doing so, Tocqueville is forced to imagine institutions that can produce the conditions necessary for liberty to exist; the hope is that they will give rise to the sentiment and passion that are otherwise in danger of disappearing. In the future, liberty, according to him, will be a product of political art. Thus, if the social state moves men away from each other, the political state must unite them;313 if society destroys the passions and tends no longer to promote anything except interest, the political state must work to maintain passions314 and to turn away from economic well-being.315

The opposition of the social power to the force of the state, the opposition of society to the political power must also exist. For Tocqueville, as we know, the ideal instrument for achieving this situation is associations,316 organizations of an aristocratic character that oppose the omnipotence of the majority that characterizes democracy.

Tocqueville’s ideal is not the mixed regime, however. A predominating principle will always exist because men will always try to order society and the state according to the same principle.317 Nonetheless, in order to avoid falling into despotism and omnipotence, that is to say, into the ultimate tyranny of equality (one = one), the opposite principle must always exist.

The classical mechanisms of liberalism, such as the separation of powers, the idea of rights, liberty of the press, and federalism, serve Tocqueville only to the degree that they can be used to that end.

The author of Democracy wants democracies to oppose a strong legislative power with a power elected for a longer period (or put in place in a permanent way, as in monarchy); this recalls the mechanism of balance and counterbalance inspired by Montesquieu. But Tocqueville demands that, within each power, concentration be balanced by an action of dispersal. If the first chamber is elected by universal suffrage, the second must be formed by indirect election. If the political power must be centralized, the administration must be decentralized to the same degree. The jury does wonders for the education of the people, but it must be guided by the judge’s hand. The excesses of the majority, a constant danger in democracies, are opposed by the creation of an aristocracy of associations. And in the same way, against the associations of owners, there are the associations of workers; against the state, the society, etc.

The examples of opposition multiply throughout the book and extend from the purely political field to all aspects of intellectual life. “The most favorable moment for the development of the sciences, of literature and of the arts,” Tocqueville specifies in this regard, “is when democracy begins to burst into the midst of an aristocratic society. Then you have movement amid order. Then humanity moves very rapidly, but like an army in battle, without breaking ranks and without discipline losing anything to ardor.”318

The author of Democracy found this idea in Montesquieu;319 the idea of the opposition of the three powers ends up by amounting to the opposition between the legislative power and the executive power, which in Tocqueville is the confrontation between democracy and aristocracy.320 Nonetheless, the problem for Montesquieu, like that for all of political philosophy before him, was purely political despotism, while Tocqueville points out for the first time a new form of tyranny that does not have a name, but that spreads from the political power to ideas, habits and thoughts, invading all of private and public life.321

There are no recipes or definitive solutions; no formula allows us to go beyond this system of opposition. The terms are in continual tension, changeable and alive. Tocqueville advances in this way between two abysses with the talent of a Malesherbes or of a Royer-Collard,322 by adopting what is best in each condition, by maintaining a precarious equilibrium, by going along in doubt and uncertainty.

* * * * *

The objective of political philosophy is to produce among the citizens those passions that can destroy or save society, to produce that dialectic of ideas, of the abstract and the concrete, of liberty and equality, of reason and of passion, that causes small, continual revolutions.323

According to Tocqueville, liberty certainly cannot be defined in a negative way by obedience to laws that are the result of the compromises and struggles of two permanent and equally strong parties. The author of Democracy lives in a world in which one of the two powers can disappear completely and in which the best laws are capable of coexisting with a social condition similar to that of the state of nature, in which legal liberty can go hand in hand with political and intellectual despotism.

For Tocqueville, man is above all a participant in history. He is part of a vast project that he himself must work on each day. The pilot of a boat, even if he does not determine either the winds or the waves, can hoist or lower the sails; he guides his ship. He is a man who looks at the past and the future, but who cannot learn very much from history. The past does not offer rules of conduct or solutions for the present; it gives sentiments, but not reasons; it creates passions and faith, but not laws; it develops tendencies, it calls for prudence, but does not offer judgments.

Nor does the history of peoples offer solutions for the present, just as Democracy in America does not claim to give to the French or to Europeans a theory of democracy. It is not a matter of imitating America, Tocqueville says in substance; it is a matter of understanding America. For the rest, the destiny of man is still, and is forever, in his own hands.

Eduardo Nolla
Universidad San Pablo-CEU Madrid

[22.] Letter to Édouard de Tocqueville, Washington, 20 January 1832. This letter belongs to the Yale University collection of manuscripts (Yale Tocqueville Collection—hereafter cited as YTC—classification BIa2). The reader will find in the Foreword a complete list of the abbreviations and symbols used in this edition.

[23.] In a letter of the correspondence with Kergorlay [1835] (OC, XIII, 1, p. 374), but probably addressed to someone else.

[24.] The village of Tocqueville and the château are about fifteen kilometers from Cherbourg. On the origins of the Tocqueville family see G.-A. Simon, Les Clarel à l’époque de la conquête d’Angleterre et leur descendance dans la famille Clérel de Tocqueville (Caen: Société d’Impression de Basse Normandie, 1936); and Histoire généalogique des Clérel, seigneurs de Rampan, Tocqueville, Clouay, Lignerolles, ... (Caen: Imprimerie Ozanne et Cie., 1954).

My intention here is to present the principal features of Tocqueville’s biography during the years that preceded the Democracy. For more details, refer to R.-Pierre Marcel, Essai politique sur Alexis de Tocqueville (Paris: Félix Alcan, 1910); Antoine Rédier, Comme disait Monsieur de Tocqueville (Paris: Perrin, 1925); J.-P. Mayer, Prophet of the Mass Age: A Study of Alexis de Tocqueville (London: J.M. Dent and Sons, 1939); André Jardin, Alexis de Tocqueville (Paris: Hachette, 1984); Hugh Brogan, Alexis de Tocqueville: A Life (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2007).

[25.] Monsieur de Rosanbo was guillotined on 20 April 1794; Malesherbes, Madame de Rosanbo, Jean-Baptiste de Chateaubriand and his wife, the older daughter of the Rosanbos, were guillotined the following day.

[26.] On the captivity and execution of Malesherbes, Édouard de Tocqueville published one part of the memoirs of his father with the title “Episodes of the Terror,” Le contemporain, revue d’économie chrétienne, January 1861, republished as a brochure in 1901.

[27.] When Tocqueville was looking for a position, his father wrote him a letter of recommendation in which he explained:

My last son Alexis de Tocqueville intends to pursue a career as a magistrate. He has just completed his law degree with some success, and I beg the support of your excellency in opening this career to him. In his family there are examples that will impose on him the obligation to follow it with zeal. Grandson by his mother of President de Rosanbo and of M. de Malesherbes, if he cannot equal them in talent, he will at least try to approach them in the qualities that distinguish a good magistrate. He would be very happy to begin under your auspices.

Letter of 15 January 1827 to an unspecified recipient, with the kind permission of the Bibliothèque de Versailles.

[28.] Tocqueville’s political career finished with a gesture worthy of President Malesherbes. Arrested with many of his colleagues at the time of the coup of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, Tocqueville in prison at Vincennes received an order to be set free. He immediately wrote to the prefect: “I have just received an order setting me free. I had not solicited it and I have authorized no one to solicit it; since it does not include all of my colleagues detained for the same reason and in the same way in the same prison, I have reason to believe that it has been addressed to me by mistake, and in any case, I cannot benefit from it, since my intention is to leave here only with my colleagues.” Vincennes, 3 December 1851, with the kind permission of the Bibliothèque historique de la ville de Paris.

[29.] According to André Jardin, Hervé could have been the secret agent of the Count d’Artois during the Empire (Alexis de Tocqueville, p. 16). This book also devotes a chapter to his career as prefect (pp. 18-39).

[30.] The father of Alexis seems to have fulfilled his duties with a zeal that was particular to him, but not without presenting a certain resistance to the orders of the Emperor. In 1814, for example, he organized the mass marriage of young men about to be conscripted into the army and posted decrees so high that it was impossible to read them. Antoine Rédier, Comme disait Monsieur de Tocqueville, p. 34.

[31.] Hippolyte, the eldest, was born on 1 October 1797, and began a military career on 1 July 1814. He participated in the Spanish expedition with the rank of captain and left the army on 15 October 1830. Married to Émilie Evrard de Belisle, he would spend most of his time developing his property of Nacqueville, in the Contentin.

Édouard, born in 1800, entered the army in 1816, but had to leave it in 1822 for health reasons. In 1829, he married Alexandrine Ollivier, who owned a large property at Baugy, in Oise. Tocqueville would feel particular affection for their sons, René and Hubert. André Jardin, Alexis de Tocqueville, pp. 46-50.

Alexis was born in 1805.

[32.] In a letter from Lesueur to Édouard, 13 September 1822, we read regarding secret societies:

It is more than time to deal with them. All of Europe is infected by this accursed race. It seems impossible to destroy the germ, but vigorous means must be invented to stop their contagion. There must be a pest house in the Siberian oceans in which the leaders of the plague would be enclosed; there they would be forcibly quarantined not for days, but for years. I am persuaded that not one would return from there. They would poison each other, kill each other, consume each other (YTC, AIV).

[33.] The catalogue of the library of the Tocqueville château, established in 1818, includes, among other prestigious names, those of Montaigne, La Bruyère, Locke, Bacon, Fontenelle, Pope, Morelly, Montesquieu, Thomas More, Buffon, Corneille, Racine, Molière, Voltaire, Plutarch, Grotius, Hume, and Bossuet. YTC, AIe.

[34.] At the time of a family celebration in 1822, the Abbé Lesueur addressed to the Countess de Tocqueville the following verse regarding her son:

As wise as a Demosthenesis the youngest of your sonsgoing to appear in the arena:to testify to his victory,the name of the great Alexiswill be inscribed in the history [of the college].Let us postpone our homage,it is the wisest course,and to regain our spirits,let us wait until next year.Next year, the Monarchy,its foundations reestablished,will see the liberals flee;and our King on his throne,finally master of his kingdom,will want to cure all our ills.Tune: When the oxen go two by two, the plowing goes better … (Letter from Lesueur to Édouard de Tocqueville, 25 August 1822, YTC, AIV).

[35.] During the weeks that followed the July Revolution, Tocqueville would momentarily regret not having followed his initial impulse, that of entering a military career: “I regret more than ever not having followed the initial ideas of my youth and not entering the army”—he confessed to his friend Charles Stoffels on 26 August 1830.

Those in the army are also humiliated, but they have a thousand occasions before them to rise up again, and we do not. The thought of striking a saber blow for France, if foreigners wanted to invade her territory for a third time, is the only one that rouses me amid the disgust that surrounds me. Love of independence of our country, of its external grandeur, is the only sentiment that still makes something in my soul vibrate (YTC, AVII).

[36.] Letter from the Abbé Lesueur to Édouard de Tocqueville, 14 September 1822, YTC, AIV. The same idea is found in a letter dated 16 September: “How sad it would be to smother under a helmet a talent that promises so many distinctions.”

[37.] This correspondence is published in the two tomes of volume XIII of the Œuvres complètes.

[38.] In 1829, Hervé de Tocqueville had published a brochure on the proposed municipal law, entitled De la charte provinciale. On this point, the ideas of the son would not be those of the father, but they would partially echo them. In 1847, Hervé de Tocqueville published Histoire philosophique du règne de Louis XV, in two volumes, and in 1850, Coup d’œil sur le règne de Louis XVI. These two works continue to have a certain interest.

[39.] Two of his school compositions are preserved: “De Laudibus Demosthenes” and “L’importance de l’éloquence chez l’homme.” A “Discours sur le progrès des Arts dans la Grèce” had a certain effect. In 1822, Hervé presented his son with an edition of Horace (Qvinti Horatii Flacci Opera. Londini Aeneis Tabulis incidit Iohannes Pine MDCCXXXIII [MDCCXXXVII], 2 vols.) with this dedication: “Given to my son, Alexis, on 5 September 1822, the day when he obtained the prize of honor in Rhetoric, the first prize in Latin translation, the second prize in French composition, and four certificates of merit. Metz, 5 September 1822. The Count de Tocqueville.” Bernard Quavitch, catalogue 1069, December 1986. I owe this information to the kindness of Marjorie G. Wynne, librarian of Yale University.

[40.] He would gain his diploma after the presentation of two theses: “De usurpationibus aut de usucapionibus” and “L’Action en rescision ou nullité.” André Jardin, Alexis de Tocqueville, p. 70.

[41.] George W. Pierson indicated the importance of the influence of Beaumont in Tocqueville and Beaumont in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1938), and even earlier in “Gustave de Beaumont: Liberal,” Franco-American Review 1 (1936-1937): 307-16. More recently, Seymour Drescher has insisted on the significance of Beaumont’s texts for understanding Tocqueville in an interesting appendix to Tocqueville and Beaumont on Social Reform (New York: Harper, 1968), pp. 201-17, “Tocqueville and Beaumont: A Rationale for Collective Study.” See also Christine Dunn Henderson, “Beaumont y Tocqueville,” in Eduardo Nolla, ed., Alexis de Tocqueville. Libertad, igualdad, despotismo (Madrid: Gota a Gota, 2007), pp. 73-99.

[42.] Rose Préau de la Baraudière had been called “La Providence” by the inhabitants of Beaumont-la-Charte. On her tomb is written: “She was, while alive, the mother of the poor.”

[43.] A position without salary and with vaguely defined duties.

[44.] To Kergorlay, 23 July 1827, OC, XIII, 1, p. 108.

[45.] In a note from Tocqueville to Beaumont criticizing his oratorical style (YTC, CIVa).

[46.] “It must be said in fairness about M. de Tocqueville, who reported, that he upheld his convictions with energy; he is a man of the mind, who has little fervor and who, beneath the frozen surface, follows the arguments of his logic; consequently his speeches have a certain frigid brilliance, like sculpted ice. But what M. de Tocqueville lacks in feeling, his friend, M. de Beaumont, possesses in superabundance; and these two inseparable companions, whom we see together everywhere, in their travels, in their publications, in the Chamber of Deputies, complement each other in the best possible way. The one, the severe thinker, and the other, the man with smooth feelings, go together like a bottle of vinegar and a bottle of oil.” Heinrich Heine, Allemands et Français (Paris: Calmann Lévy, 1881), pp. 313-14.

Another contemporary noted: “Gustave de Beaumont was as lively as he was amiable; he had solid qualities of the heart and a vivacity of spirit that gave rise to a great deal of grace and gaiety. Tocqueville, in contrast, was cold, reserved, master of himself to the point of calculating his actions as well as his relationships.” Louis Passy, Le marquis de Blosseville, souvenirs (Évreux: Charles Hérissey, 1898), p. 107.

In the following pages, but above all in the pages of the Democracy, we will gain a better idea of Beaumont’s decisive role in the work of his friend.

[47.] Letter of 5 October 1828, Correspondance avec Beaumont,OC, VIII, 1, p. 71. A year later, Tocqueville wrote to his friend: “We are now intimately bound, bound for life, I think” (ibid., p. 89); and a little later:

Some good works on history can still emerge from our common efforts. It goes without saying that we must develop the homme politique in us. And for that it is the history of men and, above all, the history of those who have most immediately preceded us in the world that we must study (Letter of 25 October 1829, ibid., p. 93).

[48.] We have the notes of Tocqueville for the lectures given between 11 April 1829 and 29 May 1830, which deal with Charlemagne and feudal society. Tocqueville also knew the contents of the other lectures.

[49.] Letter to Reeve, 22 March 1837, OC, VI, 1, pp. 37-38.

[50.] Beaumont expressed himself in nearly identical terms:

When I was born, a social order that was fifteen centuries old finally collapsed. [...] Never had such a great ruin appeared before the eyes of peoples. [...] Never had such a great reconstruction incited the genius of men. A new world arose on the debris of the old one; spirits were restless, passions ardent, minds in labor; all of Europe changed, [...] opinions, mores, laws, were swept along in a whirlpool so rapid that new institutions could scarcely be distinguished from those that no longer existed. [...] The origin of sovereignty had been displaced; the principles of government were changed; a new art of war had been invented, new sciences created; men were no less extraordinary than events; the greatest nations of the world took children as leaders, while old men were expelled from public affairs [...] soldiers without experience triumphed over the most battle hardened groups; generals who had just come out of school overthrew powerful empires [...] the rule of peoples was solemnly proclaimed; and never were such strong and such glorious individuals seen. Everyone rushed into an arena that fortune seemed to open to all (Marie, ou esclavage aux États-Unis (Paris: Charles Gosselin, 1835), I, pp. 39-40).

[51.] Beaumont’s unpublished memoirs on the July Revolution (YTC, AV). Beaumont summarized his thinking about the revolution as follows:

The middle class made the revolution that the people executed; but the republican party, a party recruited from all classes, led it and determined its results. I will explain:

The industrialists, tradesmen, heads of companies, small proprietors, etc., irritated by the Ministry and by the government of the king, knew that they did not want that government, but did not know what they wanted in its place. They cried Vive la Charte because the Charter was violated. They wanted what the government did not want.

They said to the workers: “You will not work, which is to say, you will not live if this illegal state of things continues.”

They said nothing more. That was indeed to say: overthrow it; and since force alone could destroy it, that was also to say: even use force. But it was not in the mores of peaceful tradesmen and tranquil industrialists to march at the head of the workers in order to lead their assaults.

Then came the men who for ten years had established a new government for when the government ended. The society, aide-toi, le ciel t’aidera, whose power burst forth in the newspapers, in the elections, in attacks against public officials, appeared stronger and bolder than ever. Composed in the majority of enlightened, enterprising men who were inflexible in their principles and ready to sacrifice their lives for the sanctity of their cause, they provided the leaders for the populace whose courage they regularized; and when these leaders had led the populace to victory, they were its masters; they were the masters of force from the beginning. This is how a monarchical republic emerged from the triumph of a multitude set into motion by a class whose impulse was toward the constitutional monarchy.

[52.] Louis Passy, Le marquis de Blosseville, p. 130.

[53.] This is Beaumont’s opinion in his unpublished memoirs. Tocqueville wrote the same to his brother, Édouard. André Jardin, Alexis de Tocqueville, pp. 83-84.

[54.] Tocqueville would describe his feelings in this way: “Tied to the Royalists by the sharing of a few principles and by a thousand family bonds, I see myself in some way bound to a party whose conduct seems to me often not very honorable and almost always extravagant. I cannot help suffering immensely from their faults, all the while condemning them with all my power.” Letter to Ernest de Chabrol, 18 October 1831, YTC, BIa2.

[55.] Hervé seemed to fear that the new government, suspecting his loyalty to the Bourbons, had his mail opened. During his journey in America, Tocqueville asked his sister-in-law, Alexandrine, to assure his father that his letters arrived punctually and sealed. Letter to Madame Édouard de Tocqueville, 18 October 1831, YTC, BIa2.

[56.] Letter to Charles Stoffels, 26 August 1830, YTC, AVII. Tocqueville swore the oath for the first time on 16 August 1830.

The conduct of Beaumont testifies to his desire to move beyond the quarrels of the moment. Thus, he opposed the policy of not applying the principle of amnesty to those who pillaged Paris on 27, 28, and 29 July, and he decided not to go forward with trials brought about by facts that seemed to him covered by the amnesty. He wrote a report on the question and defended it before the king on 14 September 1830. YTC, AV.

[57.] Draft of a letter to Henrion, 17 October 1830, YTC, AVII.

[58.] See OCB, V, pp. 15-16. Young Tocqueville had perhaps spoken to Chateaubriand about his American projects. In a letter to Charles Stoffels of 26 August 1830 (YTC, AVII), he commented on them in this way: “If I am forced to leave my career, and if nothing necessarily keeps me in France, I have decided to flee the idleness of private life and to take up the busy existence of the traveler again for a few years. For a long time I have had the greatest desire to visit North America. I will go there to see what a great republic is. The only thing I fear is that, during that time, one will be established in France.” The study of the penitentiary system is “a very honorable pretext that makes us seem particularly to merit the interest of the government, whatever it may be, and that assures us its good will upon our return.” Letter of 11 October 1831 to Charles Stoffels, YTC, AVII.

[59.] See Note sur le système pénitentiaire et sur la mission confiée par M. le Ministre de l’Intérieur à MM. Gustave de Beaumont et Alexis de Tocqueville (Paris: H. Fournier, 1831).

[60.] Letter to Charles Stoffels, 4 November 1830, YTC, AVII. But, in a letter probably dating from 1835 (OC, XIII, 1, p. 374), Tocqueville affirmed on the contrary: “I did not go there with the idea of doing a book, but the idea of a book came to me there.”

Tocqueville’s letters must be used with certain precautions. The author very clearly takes into account the person who is to receive his letters. Thus, he sometimes writes to his correspondents what they expect, hiding certain information from his most intimate friends, while sharing it with acquaintances, etc.

[61.] Beaumont, Marie, I, pp. 2-3.

[62.] Louis André, La mystérieuse Baronne de Feuchères (Paris: Perrin, 1925), pp. 261-62. On the Feuchères affair, we can also consult Marjorie Bowen, The Scandal of Sophie Dawes (New York: Appleton, 1935); and Emile Lesueur, Le dernier Condé (Paris: Alcan, 1937).

[63.] The Beinecke Library holds, under the classification CIf, some of Beaumont’s letters to his superiors on the matter of the Baroness de Feuchères.

[64.] A few pages of notes remain in YTC, BIf 2.9.

[65.] This is not the place to reconstitute the American itinerary in detail. Moreover, it is impossible in this matter to improve on what George W. Pierson said in Tocqueville and Beaumont in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1938). I use the mention of this work to express my deep acknowledgment to Mr. Pierson for the time that he devoted to my questions and for the encouragement that he constantly lavished on me during my work.

[66.] “It is true that the newspapers, which deal with everything, have announced our arrival and expressed the hope that we will find active assistance everywhere. The result is that all doors are open to us and that everywhere we receive the most flattering welcome.” Letter from Tocqueville to his mother, 29 April-19 May 1831, YTC, BIa2.

[67.] Letter of 30 October 1831, YTC, BIa2.

[68.] Letter to Ernest de Chabrol, 18 May 1831, YTC, BIa2. Tocqueville asked him to give the same questions to Élie de Beaumont. He also asked that the lectures of Guizot on Roman society and the Middle Ages be sent to him.

[69.] YTC, BIa2. The passage refers to Chateaubriand. In 1825, Tocqueville had written a few pages criticizing an article of Chateaubriand that had appeared in the Journal des débats of 24 October, and in which the latter recommended to the French the model of the American democracy. “The only task worthy of genius would have been to show us the difference that exists between American society and us,” wrote Tocqueville, “and not to abuse us with a false likeness.” Quoted by Antoine Rédier, Comme disait Monsieur de Tocqueville, p. 93.

[70.] Letter of 9 June 1831, YTC, BIa2. Tocqueville copied this passage into his alphabetic notebook A. This letter contains several key ideas of the book. Chabrol is also the recipient of a letter dated 26 November 1831 that contains very precise information about the American judicial system. YTC, BIa2.

[71.] Tocqueville added in the same letter: “This people seems to be a company of merchants, gathered for business; and the further you dig into the national character of the Americans, the more you see that they have sought the value of everything only in the answer to this single question: how much money will it make?” Letter of 9 June 1831 to Ernest de Chabrol, YTC, BIa2.

[72.] See the letter to Ernest de Chabrol of 26 July 1831, YTC, BIa2; James T. Schleifer, The Making of Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America” (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980), pp. 45, 52-53; and George W. Pierson, Tocqueville and Beaumont in America, p. 126.

[73.] See, for example, p. lxix.

[74.] “Here, there is no public power and, truly speaking, there is no need for it.” Letter of 9 June 1831 to Ernest de Chabrol, YTC, BIa2. In another letter to Chabrol on 16 June 1831, Tocqueville wrote: “As for the government, we are still looking for it. It doesn’t really exist” (YTC, BIa2).

[75.] Letter of 9 June 1831 to Ernest de Chabrol, YTC, BIa2.

[76.] Letter to Édouard, 20 June 1831, YTC, BIa2.

[77.] Letter to Ernest de Chabrol, 26 October 1831, YTC, BIa2. This letter contains a long reflection on religions in the United States.

[78.] Their knowledge of the south of the Union was consequently very limited. Tocqueville recognized this in a letter to Édouard: “I am leaving America after using my time there wisely and pleasantly. I have only a superficial idea about the South of the Union, but in order to know it as well as the north it would be necessary to have remained there six months. In general, two years are necessary to develop a complete and exact picture of the United States. I hope, however, that I have not wasted my time.” Letter of 20 January 1832, YTC, BIa2.

[79.] Letter to Kergorlay, 4 July 1837, OC, XIII, p. 460.

[80.] Six lists of questions exist: 1. List of forty-two questions on criminal justice. 2. List of seven questions on education. 3. Six questions on political questions. 4. Twelve questions on town rights. 5. Three questions on roads. 6. Other questions on town problems. YTC, BIIb.

[81.] We have the travel notes of Tocqueville, but nearly all of Beaumont’s notes are lost. The few rare notes that remain show observations that are more wide-ranging and more detailed, but less theoretical in nature than those of Tocqueville. They would have been of great interest for the reconstruction of the intellectual journey of the two friends.

[82.] The notes of the journey to America have been published in Voyages en Sicile et aux Etats-Unis,OC, V, 1.

[83.] For example, in a letter of 29 June 1831 to Louis de Kergorlay, OC, XIII, 1, pp. 225-36.

[84.] If I ever do something [blank] about America, it will be in France, and with the documents that I am bringing back, that I will try to undertake it. I will leave America able to understand the documents that I have not been able to study yet: that is the clearest result of the journey. Moreover, on this country, I have only notes without order or coherence: detached ideas that only I have the key to, isolated facts that remind me about a host of others. What I am bringing back of most interest are two small notebooks in which I have written word for word the conversations that I had with the most notable men of this country. This sum of paper has an inestimable value for me, but only for me who can sense the value of the questions and answers. The only, somewhat general ideas that I have expressed about America until now are found in some letters addressed to my family and to a few people in France. Even then, these were written hastily, on steamboats, or in some hole where I had to use my knees as a table. Will I ever publish anything about this country? In truth, I do not know. It seems to me that I have some good ideas; but I still do not know yet in what framework to put them, and public attention frightens me (letter of Tocqueville to his mother, 24 October 1831, YTC, BIa2).

Compare the passage quoted with this fragment from a letter to Édouard of 20 June of the same year:

In France no one doubts what America is, and we find ourselves in an excellent position to give an account of it. We come here after very serious study that has made our minds aware of or put them on the track of many ideas. We come here together so that there is a constant clash of minds. [...] No matter what happens, we lack neither ardor nor courage, and if some obstacle does not stop us, I hope that we will finish by bringing forth the work we have thought about for a year (YTC, BIa2).

[85.] In a letter published in the correspondence with Kergorlay, but perhaps addressed to Eugène Stoffels, as André Jardin has pointed out, Tocqueville confessed: “For nearly ten years, I have been thinking about part of what I explained to you just now. I was in America only to enlighten myself on this point. The penitentiary system was a pretext; I took it as a passport that would enable me to penetrate everywhere in the United States.” Correspondance avec Kergorlay,OC, XIII, 1, p. 374.

Also see the letter to Charles Stoffels, 21 April 1830, reproduced in Appendix V of the second volume, which already advances the theory of history that is present in Democracy.

[86.] Letter of 26 April-19 May 1831, YTC, BIa2. The remark is found again in the letters addressed to his friends. Thus, in the letter to Kergorlay of 29 June 1831 (“Keep this letter. It will be interesting for me later.”), OC, XIII, 1, p. 236; or in that of 16 July 1831, to Ernest de Chabrol (“Do not forget to keep my letters.”), YTC, BIa2.

[87.] Gustave de Beaumont, Lettres d’Amérique, pp. 28, 45, 48, 66, and 92.

[88.]Ibid., p. 159; “my work,” in a letter of 26 October; and “the great work that is going to immortalize me,” in a letter of 8 November.

[89.] In a letter of 1 August 1831, to his father and in another of 2 August, addressed to Ernest de Chabrol, Beaumont already announced his interest in the fate of the Indians. Ibid., pp. 105 and 110.

[90.] In a draft of a letter written in Philadelphia, November 1831 (YTC, BIa2). He also hid his plans from Ernest de Chabrol (letter of 24 January 1832, YTC, BIa2).

[91.] Letter of Le Peletier d’Aunay, 16 August 1831, YTC, BId.

[92.] Letter to Edward Everett, 6 February 1833, with the kind permission of the Massachusetts Historical Society (Tocqueville, Alexis de. Letter to Edward Everett, 6 February 1833. Edward Everett papers).

[93.] To Ernest de Chabrol, 24 January 1832, YTC, BIa2.

[94.] Letter of 4 April 1832 to Beaumont, OC, VIII, 1, pp. 111-12.

[95.] You know what Beaumont’s publications are; but there is a detail that perhaps you do not know. The first work that we published together, M. de Beaumont and I, on the American prisons, had as the sole writer, M. de Beaumont. I only provided my observations and a few notes. Although our two names were attached to that book which was, I can say more easily now, a true success, I have never hidden from my friends that M. de Beaumont was so to speak the sole author (letter of 26 June 1841, supporting Beaumont’s candidacy to the Académie des sciences morales et politiques, very probably addressed to Mignet, YTC, DIIa).

[96.] His plea appears in OC, XIII, 1, pp. 321-27.

[97.] The idea of an exile in the United States also crossed their minds. See note j of p. 1302 of the second volume.

[98.] In his letter to Édouard, on 20 June 1831, Tocqueville exhorted his brother to have the utmost patience (YTC, BIa2). Also see the letter to Kergorlay of 21 June 1831, OC, XIII, 1, pp. 235-36.

[99.] Letter to Hippolyte, 4 December 1831, YTC, BIa2. In contrast, in a rough copy of a letter of August 1831, probably addressed to Dalmassy, Tocqueville noted: “Something tells me that we will not escape from civil war.” YTC, BIa2.

[100.] See the correspondence exchanged on this subject by Tocqueville and Beaumont in OC, VIII, 1, pp. 119-30.

[101.] With the kind permission of the Library of Princeton University (General Manuscripts [MISC] Collection, Manuscripts Division. Department of Rare Books and Special Collections), reproduced in OC, III, 2, pp. 35-39. The same idea is found again in a letter to Mary Mottley:

As I had foreseen and you announced a few days ago, civil war has begun in the west. The royalists will perhaps have some temporary successes, but I predict to you again that they will be crushed. How much loyal and honorable blood is going to flow! I have already read in the newspaper the name of a brave young man that I knew. He has just been miserably killed. So explain to me why in all times honor and incompetence seem to go hand in hand. Who were more brave, more loyal, and at the same time, more clumsy and more unfortunate than your Jacobites? Our French royalists are following their track exactly (3 June 1832, YTC, CIb).

[102.] In a letter of 18 April 1832, YTC, CIf.

[103.] On 21 May 1832, YTC, CIc.

[104.] The notes of the journey to England in 1833 are published in Voyages en Angleterre, Irlande, Suisse et Algérie,OC, V, 2, pp. 11-43.

[105.] Letter to the Countess de Pisieux, 5 July 1833, YTC, CIf.

[106.]OC, V, 2, p. 36.

[107.]OC, V, 2, pp. 29-30.

[108.] Letter to Beaumont, 13 August 1833, OC, VIII, 1, p. 124.

[109.] James T. Schleifer has reconstructed in detail the writing of the most important chapters of Democracy in The Making of Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America.”

[110.] Letter of Tocqueville to his wife, with the only citation as “Sunday morning,” YTC, CIb.

[111.]“Sources manuscrites. Subjects that can be of some interest to treat.” YTC, CIIc. The list includes more or less the same questions as the first plan of the book.

[112.] YTC, CVh, 1, p. 23.

[113.] YTC, CVh, 1, pp. 23-25.

[115.] YTC, CVh, 1, pp. 26-27.

[116.] At the head of the bundle of drafts that bears the number 3 (copied in notebook CVh, 1) appears the following note:

Diverse and important notes. The (illegible word) must be found here. Two or three new chapters to put I do not know where.

  • 1.Of the great men of America and in particular of Washington.
  • 2.Of American patriotism.
  • 3.Of the non-physical bonds of society in America.
  • 4.Of public officials.
  • 5.Of the different ways to understand the republican regime.
  • 6.That the absolute goodness of laws {must not always be judged} by the respect that they are given by those who vote for them.
  • 7.(Illegible word) on the influence of manufacturing on democratic liberty (YTC, CVh, 1, p. 1).

[117.] Tocqueville to Duvergier de Hauranne, 1 September 1856, OCB, VI, pp. 332-33.

[118.] It is possible that he knew about several letters by Chevalier published in the Revue des deux mondes. See volume II, p. 898 of this edition and OC, VIII, 1, pp. 176, 202-3. Moreover, Tocqueville read Basil Hall’s book during the crossing. He does not seem to have consulted Society in America by Harriet Martineau.

[119.] Remember that the Democracy of 1835 was published in two volumes.

[120.] The collaboration of Tocqueville on Beaumont’s novel probably dated from the first moments of its development. In the manuscript of Marie, concerning the plan of the novel, this note is found in Tocqueville’s handwriting:


It involves portraying a man such as he often becomes after great revolutions, whose desires are always beyond his capacities (but there must not be any ridicule, that is to say, that the one you want to portray really has a great soul, a remarkable spirit, but he aims higher than the humanity of his time); a man who, never content with his lot, has an exaggerated picture of human happiness in this world, and who, reaching the point of seeing his errors and discerning what dose of happiness life can really present, has become incapable of obtaining it and has become unsuited to society. He then looks hard and calmly at himself; convinced that he would not be able to attain the first goal of his desires, no longer capable of feeling the pleasure of reaching another one, he withdraws into the wilderness without passions, without despair, with the serenity of a strong soul that judges the greatness of its misfortunes and submits.

Perhaps here you would need a rapid and oratorical recapitulation of the reality of the things of this world and of the impossibility that he, who sees things as they are, but who has found them better in his imagination, finds of submitting ...

You must not have him attempt love in Europe. He reconnects with love in America as to a plank of salvation, and still he misses it ... (YTC, CIX, and OC, VIII, 1, p. 131).

[121.] In the margins of the manuscript of Marie, there are comments by Tocqueville, written in pencil. The latter particularly pointed out unfortunate similarities to Atala: “You cannot close your eyes to the fact that this has a great deal of similarity with Atala” (vol. II, p. 136 of Marie ); “Here again you have to be careful about father Aubry. Perhaps I am wrong. Think about it” (vol. II, p. 151 of Marie ); “Again, be careful here of Atala” (vol. II, p. 156 of Marie ).

[122.] Thus this note from Beaumont meant for Tocqueville that is found in the manuscript of the novel:

Note for Tocqueville.

There are two passages that are reminiscent of Chateaubriand despite all the efforts that I have made to avoid it. They are at page 6 and 20. Here I am giving the passages of Chateaubriand so that you can see if it is possible to leave mine:

“The reverie of a traveler is a kind of fullness of heart and blankness of mind that allows you to enjoy your whole existence at peace. It is by thinking that we disturb the felicity that God gives us; the soul is peaceful, the mind is restless. (See Voyages, t. 6, p. 112.)

“I went from tree to tree, to the right and to the left indiscriminately, saying to myself: here no road to follow, no cities, no narrow houses, no presidents, republics, kings.” (See Essai historique sur les Révolutions, t. 2, p. 417, YTC, CIX and OC, VIII, 1, p. 145.)

[123.] See note a of p. 84.

[124.] Sedgwick met Tocqueville in the offices of the American delegation to Paris and pointed out several books that could be useful to him. His journal for the months of November and December 1833, of January and February 1834, refers several times in succession to Tocqueville (pp. 28, 29, 32, 79, 85, 98). See Sedgwick, Theodore III. Paris journal, volume 3, November 1833-July 1834, pp. 80-81, 85. Sedgwick family papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

On 20 January 1834, for example, Sedgwick indicated that Tocqueville found that “Russia and the United States [...] were the only powers which presented an avenir [a future]. Both are aggrandizing—the others are stationary or diminishing” (pp. 80-81).

You find on p. 85 (Friday, 24 January 1834): “Either this day or the day before went with Tocqueville over to the legation and show [sic ] him the books there which might assist him.” On p. 98 (8 February 1834): “Tocqueville called about 11 for more information about the États-Unis.” With the kind permission of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Tocqueville also counted on the collaboration of two other American residents in Paris: Edward Livingston, head of the American representation in Paris, and Nathaniel Niles, secretary of the delegation.

[125.] See OC, VIII, 1, p. 141, and Madame Ancelot, Un salon de Paris, de 1824 à 1864 (Paris: Dentu, 1866), p. 79. Did Guerry, a friend of Beaumont, read part of the manuscript? The jacket that contains the chapter on the point of departure and the one that contains the chapter on the social state bear this comment: “The copy has been sent to Guerry.”

[126.] Tocqueville gave a very similar title to Sparks. Letter of 30 August 1833, YTC, CId.

[127.]Correspondence and Conversations of Alexis de Tocqueville with Nassau William Senior (London: H.S. King and Co., 1872), I, p. 2. In his prologue to Marie (p. viii), Beaumont echoes the original title of the joint work and declares: “M. de Tocqueville described the institutions; I myself tried to sketch the mores.”

[128.] “G[osselin] asked me what the title of the work would be. I had only lightly considered it, so that I was quite embarrassed. I answered, however, that my idea was to title the book: The Dominion of Democracy in the United States. Since then I have thought about it, and I find the title good. It expresses well the general idea of the book and puts it in relief. What does my judge say about it?” OC, VIII, 1, p. 141.

[129.] Letter of 18 October 1834, copied in CVh, 2, pp. 55-56: “We do not have the title of your work, and I forgot yesterday to ask you about it. We cannot set the pages without the title.”

[130.] Léon Faucher, “Democracy in the United States, by M. Alexis de Tocqueville (unpublished),” Courier français, 358, 24 December 1834.

[131.] On the 23rd, 27th, or 31st of the month, depending on the sources.

[132.] This is the opinion of Jared Sparks in his letter of 6 June 1837 to Tocqueville (YTC, CId). Sparks had contracted with a publisher in Boston for the preface and notes of an American version of the Democracy. He would abandon the project when he learned of the imminent appearance of another edition.

[133.] Narcise-Achille de Salvandy, “Democracy in America,” Journal des débats, 23 March and 2 May 1835.

[134.] Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve, “Alexis de Tocqueville. De la démocratie en Amérique,” Le temps, 7 April 1835. The first one to be astonished by the good reception of the work, Tocqueville wrote to Sainte-Beuve the next day:

Allow me, Sir, to place even more importance on something other than on the judgment that you have made of the American democracy, that is seeing the relationship that has been established between us continue and become more frequent. I cannot keep from believing that there are many points in common between us and that a sort of intellectual and moral intimacy would not take long to prevail between you and me, if we had the occasion to know each other better (letter with the sole comment “Wednesday morning” [8 April 1835], with the kind permission of the Institut de France, Collection Spoelberch de Lovenjoul).

[135.] On the last day of March, Gosselin asserted to the author: “But it seems that you have created a masterpiece” (Letter to Beaumont, 1 April 1835, OC, VIII, 1, p. 151). The second edition was published in June, and the third at the end of the year. The fourth and fifth date from 1836. The sixth was published the following year, and the seventh in 1839.

[136.]Le temps, 7 April 1835.

[137.]Journal des débats, 23 March 1835.

[138.]Le semeur noted: “Either we are very wrong, or M. de Tocqueville greatly studied Montesquieu before studying America” (4, no. 9 [4 March 1835]: 65-68, p. 65).

The commentaries of the entire French press agreed on the point. Le national de 1834, on 7 June 1835, described the text as “a work whose high level will be felt by all those who meditate on the current state of society in Europe, and on the future that is in store for it.”

[139.]Gazette de France, 3 and 13 February 1835. The passage quoted is found in the issue of 3 February.

[140.] For example, the review in American Quarterly Review, 19, March 1839, pp. 124-66.

[141.] See Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, 37, no. 230 (1835): 758-66. The commentary of the Atheneum is particularly critical: “rational, at times, even to dullness [...] a dislike of its ambitious style—its reduction of everything to theory—and its over-arrogant aim at uniting the sentenciousness of Montesquieu to the florid description of the Comte de Ségur” (394, 16 May 1835, p. 375). In a letter of 6 June 1837 (YTC, CId), Jared Sparks informed Tocqueville that the English reviews that mention the passages against democracy in Tocqueville’s work had been reproduced in American publications, and that, in his opinion, this fact might diminish the desire for a quick translation of Democracy.

[142.] Among the English critiques, that of John Stuart Mill stands clearly apart. Tocqueville wrote to him, “You are [...] the only one who has understood me entirely” (Letter of 7 December 1835, OC, VI, 1, p. 302). Mill’s commentary had been published in the London Review 30, no. 2 (1835): 85-129.

[143.]Marie, ou l’esclavage aux États-Unis, tableau des mœurs américaines. Paris: Charles Gosselin, 1835. 2 vols.

[144.] Beaumont’s novel appeared in Brussels in 1835. It was translated into Spanish in 1840 and republished in 1849, and translated into Portuguese in 1847. An abridged edition was published in Germany in 1836. The second French edition dates from 1835, the third from the following year, the fourth from 1840, and the fifth and last from 1842.

[145.]Quarterly Review 53, no. 106 (1835): 289.

[146.] Francisque de Corcelle, “De l’esclavage aux États-Unis,” Revue des deux mondes, 4th series, 6, 1836, pp. 227-46.

[147.]Journal des débats, 6 December 1835.

[148.]Marie, I, p. iii.

[149.] Letter from Beaumont to Tocqueville (15 July 1837?), OC, VIII, 1, p. 209.

[150.]L’écho français, 11 February 1835.

[151.] “Mémoire sur le paupérisme,” Mémoires de la Société académique de Cherbourg, 1835, pp. 293-94. It is impossible to indicate the precise reason for the writing of this work, which was inspired by the work of Villeneuve-Bargemont, Économie politique chrétienne, and which will be mentioned again elsewhere. Tocqueville had promised a second part that he never wrote.

[152.] The notes and drafts of L’Irlande allow us to follow in a precise way the journey of Beaumont and Tocqueville to England and Ireland in 1835. Tocqueville and Beaumont left Paris on 21 April, reached Calais on the 22nd and were in London on the 24th, where they lodged at the Ship-Hotel. The next day they went to the opera to see Anna Bolena. They began their visits in the English capital, continuing until 24 June. From 7 July to 9 August, they visited Ireland. On the latter date, Beaumont left to visit Scotland and Tocqueville went to Southampton. On the 18th he crossed the Channel. On 23 August he was again in Cherbourg.

[153.]Voyages en Angleterre, Irlande, Suisse et Algérie,OC, V, 2, p. 49. There is also a long, unpublished conversation with Sharp (YTC, CXIb.1). Beaumont’s notes contain other unpublished conversations.

[154.]Ibid., pp. 49, 52-54.

[155.] YTC, CX.

Tocqueville explained the success of the democratic principle in England in this way:

General idea.

Tocqueville said yesterday [the note is in Beaumont’s hand]:

Two elements in English society.

The Saxon principle

and the Norman principle.

The Saxon principle—democratic.

Everything that is democratic in English society dates from this time. The organization of the parish and the county—the hundreds—the representation of communal interests ... The Normans came, which threw a layer of absolute power over this democratic base.

Combination of these two elements in English society.

For a long time, the Norman fact prevailed, without destroying the Saxon principle, which just hid and submitted.

Today the awakening of this principle which predominates over the Norman fact and which particularly showed itself to be superior to its adversary the day the Reform Bill passed in Parliament (YTC, CX).

[156.] YTC, CX. Cf. OC, V, 2, p. 47.

[157.]Voyage en Angleterre,OC, V, 2, p. 47.

Mill explained the same idea in this way:

Aristocracy in the mores./

Aristocratic spirit./

Spirit of equality, aristocratic spirit.

[In the margin: The Whig who attacks the Lord honors him as a rich man.]

Here you often find allied two sentiments that at first view seem contradictory; these are a very intense hostility toward the aristocracy and an infinite respect for the aristocrats. The privileges of the Lords are attacked, but you cannot believe what consideration there is for them as individuals, so that you see the most ardent democrat rant with an extreme exaggeration against the abusive power of an oligarchic minority and bow with humility before the Count or the Marquis of X, solely because he is a Count or Marquis. Here we work hard to abolish privileges, but we respect those who possess them; we find that they are clever, because they have reached the goal that everyone targets. No one has the idea of blaming them for taking a place that is due not to morality and justice, but to their privileged position. For in English society, everything is privilege ( Jh. Mill, 19 May. London). (Beaumont"s note. YTC, CX).

[158.] During their journey, which took them to several large cities of England, Tocqueville and Beaumont observed the terrible effects of industrialization, which they could already have done in part during the journey to the United States. On this subject, they knew about the book by J.B. Say and about the treatise by Villeneuve-Bargemont. The famous description of Manchester is found in Voyage en Angleterre,OC, V, 2, pp. 79-82.

[159.] YTC, CX.

[160.] Tocqueville explained this point in a letter of 5 May 1835 to his father. André Jardin, Alexis de Tocqueville, p. 229.

[161.] The second and third editions saw the light of day in 1839; the seventh and last, in 1863. The English translation appeared in 1839. The English translator took care to eliminate several passages critical of England; he summarized and altered a certain number of Beaumont’s arguments.

[162.] Beaumont noted this idea of Tocqueville:

Brittany. Ireland.

Remarkable parallel between the province of Brittany in France and Ireland.

—Same origin.—Celtic population.

—Similarity in mores and in social state.

—Small farms in the two countries. Small-scale farming.

—Absence of luxury and no idea of material well-being; no efforts to gain it. Miserable hut in which the family pig grunts as a table companion.

—Eminently religious population, faithful—but not enlightened.

—Brittany is only separated by a river from Normandy where the taste for material well-being is so developed. In France we have England and Ireland in Normandy and Brittany.

—There is the similarity.

But differences—The Irishman is merry and fickle—The Breton melancholic and stubborn.

(Shouted by Tocqueville)

22 December (YTC, CX).

[163.] Letter of J.= S. Mill to Beaumont, 18 October 1839, YTC, CIe.

[164.] Concerning Mary Mottley, few things are known. See Antoine Rédier, Comme disait Monsieur de Tocqueville, pp. 122-28, and André Jardin, Alexis de Tocqueville, pp. 50-56.

[165.] YTC, CVa, p. 6.

[166.] YTC, CVa, p. 6.

[167.] YTC, CVa, pp. 28-30.

[168.] During their journey to England, Mill had begged the French visitors to contribute to the London and Westminster Review by writing articles on France and the United States. In 1836, Tocqueville sent Mill a first and only article on the social and political state of France before and after the Revolution, which was meant to be an introduction to a series of publications on France. “Political and Social Condition of France,” London and Westminster Review, 25, 1836, pp. 137-69 (reproduced in OC, II, 1, pp. 33-66). The similarity between the first paragraphs of the article and the chapter on the philosophical method of the Americans is clear and enlightening.

[169.] The long stays of Tocqueville at Baugy make it difficult to measure the influence exercised by Édouard.

[170.] Letter of 22 November 1836 to Beaumont, OC, VIII, 1, p. 174. The same month, Tocqueville wrote to Kergorlay in very similar terms: “I feel the importance of this second work, which will find criticism wide-awake and will not be able to take the public by surprise. So I want to do my best. There is not a day so to speak that I do not feel your absence. [...] There are three men with whom I live a bit every day, Pascal, Montesquieu and Rousseau. I miss a fourth who is you.” Letter of 10 November 1836, OC, XIII, 1, p. 418.

[171.] He found the time to think about the continuation of his work on pauperism and asked Beaumont to bring him all available information about the savings banks and the English pawnshops. There is a list of questions from Tocqueville for Beaumont in YTC, CXIb.13. Cf. OC, VIII, 1, pp. 185, 191, 193, 196, and 200. He did not find the time to choose some unpublished excerpts from Democracy for the London and Westminster Review as Mill had requested (OC, VIII, 1, p. 187).

Tocqueville also dedicated his efforts to two bids, one to enter the Chamber of Deputies in November and a second to get himself elected to the Académie française. These two attempts failed. Entry to the Académie des sciences morales et politiques was seen by Tocqueville only as a consolation prize that would make his entry to the Académie française more difficult. He would enter there on 24 December 1841. He published, in addition, two letters on Algeria, on 23 June and 22 August 1837, in La presse de Seine-et-Oise.

[172.] “For, after all, and without giving a useless compliment, I believe you are my master.” Letter to Kergorlay, 4 September 1837, OC, XIII, 1, p. 472. Cf. Kergorlay’s answer, 30 September, ibid., p. 477. Alexis was then working on the chapters on good morals. In September, he laid down the foundations of the chapter on American manners.

[173.]OC, VIII, 1, p. 321.

[174.]The Examiner, 17 May 1840.

[175.]Hunt’s Merchant Magazine, 3 July 1840, p. 443.

[176.]Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine 48, no. 298 (1840): 463-78, p. 463.

[177.]Edinburgh Review 145 (1840): 1-25.

[178.]Dublin University Magazine 16, no. 95 (1840): 544-63, p. 563.

[179.]The New York Review 7, no. 13 (1840): p. 234.

[180.] Letter to Royer-Collard, 20 November 1838, OC, XI, p. 74. Cf. the letter to Corcelle, 25 June 1838, OC, XV, 1, pp. 100-101.

[181.] The interpretation I am offering here is necessarily limited.

[182.] Letter from Tocqueville to the Countess de Pisieux, 5 July 1833, YTC, CIf.

[183.] “Tocqueville y su tiempo,” in Meditación de Europa, Madrid. (Revista de Occidente, 1966), pp. 135-41.

[184.] There are dozens of books devoted to Tocqueville’s thought, but I limit myself to pointing out those of Jean-Louis Benoît, Tocqueville moraliste (Paris: Honoré Champion, 2004); Luis Díez del Corral, El pensamiento político de Tocqueville (Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1989); Jean-Claude Lamberti, Tocqueville et les deux démocraties (Paris: PUF, 1983); Pierre Manent, Tocqueville et la nature de la démocratie (Paris: Julliard, 1982); Nicola Matteucci, Alexis de Tocqueville (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1990); the brief introduction to the abridged edition of Democracy by Dalmacio Negro (Madrid: Aguilar, 1971); and Sheldon S. Wolin, Tocqueville Between Two Worlds (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).

[185.] “I did not want to do a portrait, but to present a mirror,” Tocqueville confessed to Ampère. Jean-Jacques Ampère, “Alexis de Tocqueville,” Correspondant 47 (1859): p. 322.

[186.] “The Revolution that reduced to dust the aristocratic society in which our fathers lived is the great event of the time. It has changed everything, modified everything, altered everything” II, p. 690, note c.

Not by chance did Tocqueville choose as a matter of fact to publish the chapter on revolutions separately, before the second volume. The chapter on revolutions undoubtedly constitutes the axis around which the whole book turns; cf. Alexis de Tocqueville, “Des revolutions dans les sociétés nouvelles,” Revue des deux mondes, XXII, 1840, pp. 322-34.

[187.] I, p. 514, note o. Cf. I, p. 12, note r.

[188.] The unpublished texts of this edition tend to erase a certain number of differences between Democracy and L’Ancien régime et la révolution. Tocqueville is an author who treats a very small number of subjects that he considers and studies many times in each of his writings, while keeping them all interrelated, like the chapters of the same book. So in a way we have something of a Democracy that extends from 1835 to 1859.

[189.] The whole body of the ideas and the mores of a people form its character, and on this point Tocqueville recalls Montesquieu:

≠There is indeed in the bent of the ideas and tastes of a people a hidden force that struggles with advantage against revolutions and time. This intellectual physiognomy of nations, which is called their character, is found throughout all the centuries of their history and amid the innumerable changes that take place in the social state, beliefs and laws. A strange thing! What is least perceptible and most difficult to define among a people is at the same time what you find most enduring among them. Everything changes among them except the character, which disappears only with nations themselves≠ (I, p. 344, note y).

[190.] “So by this word I understand the whole moral and intellectual state of a people” (I, p. 466).

Montesquieu in fact remarks: “The customs of a people in slavery are part of its servitude; those of a free people are part of its liberty.” De l’esprit des lois, book XIX, ch. XXVII, Œuvres complètes (Paris: Pléiade, 1951), II, p. 382. For Tocqueville, the mores of a people constitute nearly its entire liberty.

[191.] Tocqueville did not believe that he had resolved the question of knowing if ideas are the result or the cause of the social state. “Is the social state the result of ideas or are the ideas the result of the social state?” II, p. 748, note f. Ideas will act, alternately, as effect and as cause.

[192.] Letter to Corcelle, 17 September 1853, OC, XV, 2, p. 81. This is so true that a change in the law (the abolition of slavery, for example) is useless and even negative if it is not accompanied by a change in the intellectual world (the idea that the Black man is henceforth equal to the white man). In this sense Tocqueville can say that, if he had the power, he would not immediately decide on the abolition of slavery. He was convinced that, without a previous radical change in the mores, the situation of the free Black would probably be worse than the situation of the slave.

[193.] This term reappears from time to time (II, p. 1262, note b).

With this supposition, Tocqueville places himself at the origin of the modern social sciences. If his work attracts sociologists as well as historians, critics, and political scientists, it is because in his work the classic elements of political philosophy are beginning to separate and take form as sociology, history, or the political sciences. In the same way, if Democracy, and especially the second part, has not sufficiently gained the attention of researchers in the political sciences, it is undoubtedly because it requires the latter to go beyond the position of historians of ideas in order to be political philosophers for a time.

[194.] In the United States, the dogma of the sovereignty of the people is not an isolated doctrine that is attached neither to the habits nor to the ensemble of dominant ideas; you can on the contrary envisage it as the last link in a chain of opinions that envelops the entire Anglo-American world. Providence has given to each individual, whatever he is, the degree of reason necessary for him to be able to direct himself in the things that interest him exclusively. Such is the great maxim on which in the United States civil and political society rests: the father of the family applies it to his children, the master to his servants, the town to those it administers, the province to the town, the state to the provinces, the Union to the states. Extended to the whole of the nation, it becomes the dogma of the sovereignty of the people.

[≠So the republican principle of the sovereignty of the people is not only a political principle, but also a civil principle.≠] (I, p. 633)

[195.] II, p. 1033, note 1. Did Tocqueville participate in Beaumont’s plan to present an essay on the influence of laws on mores and of mores on laws for the Montyon competition in 1830? See YTC, CXIb6.

[196.] “What is the sovereign rule of public [v: national] opinion to which all the English of the last [century (Ed.)] constantly declared that you must submit, if not a still obscure notion of the democratic dogma of the sovereignty of the people?” II, p. 1033, note e.

[197.] “The French Revolution, in my eyes, is a European event, and everything that happened in the same period in Europe, principally in Germany, interests me nearly as much as what [took (Ed.)] place among us” Letter to Charles Monnard, 5 October 1856. With the kind permission of the Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire de Lausanne.

[198.]L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution,OC, II, 1, p. 66.

[199.] Tocqueville noted that Napoleon, not wanting to give democratic political laws to France, had agreed to a body of social laws much more democratic than American laws and thus, very unwillingly, had accelerated the arrival of democracy. For the same reason, the primacy of the social over the political, Tocqueville asserted: “I would believe the future of liberty more assured with a government that would have many political rights and few civil rights than with a government that would have few political rights and many civil rights.” (II, p. 1230, note p).

[200.] Letter to Edward Everett, 15 February 1850, Massachusetts Historical Society. The preface to the 1848 edition of Democracy (IV, p. 1373) repeats the same idea.

“There is only a single [revolution], a revolution always the same across various fortunes and passions, that our fathers saw begin and that, in all probability, we will not see end” Souvenirs,OC, XII, p. 30.

[201.] Tocqueville’s two books thus answer the desire to elucidate first the new regime and the Revolution (Democracy ), then L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution.

[202.] I, p. 27. The same idea appears, for example, at the beginning of the second volume: “The Americans have a democratic social state and a democratic constitution, but they have not had a democratic revolution. They arrived on the soil that they occupy more or less as we see them. That is very important.” II, p. 708.

[203.] To Ernest de Chabrol, letter of 9 June 1831, YTC, BIa2.

[204.] “The Americans seemed only to have carried out what our writers had imagined; they gave the substance of reality to what we were busy dreaming” L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution,OC, II, 1, p. 199.

[205.] The first thing that the pioneer does is to clear his property, to chop down the trees, to open up his view. The first symbol of civilization is the absence of trees.

[206.] Letter of 6 December 1831, YTC, BIa1, pp. 54-56, and OCB, VII, p. 90.

[207.] II, p. 1289.

[208.] I, p. 276.

[209.] I, p. 369.

“For him [the American] the possible has hardly any limit. To change is to improve; he has constantly before his eyes the image of indefinite perfection that throws deep within his heart an extraordinary restlessness and a great distaste for the present” (II, p. 935, note b).

[210.] I, p. 331.

[211.] I, p. 643, note n.

The American inhabits a land of wonders, around him everything is constantly stirring, and each movement seems to be an improvement. So the idea of the new is intimately linked in his mind to the idea of the better. Nowhere does he see the limit that nature might have put on the efforts of man; in his eyes what is not is what has not yet been attempted (I, p. 643).

Tocqueville specifies about the frontier:

In whatever direction you looked, your eye searched in vain for the spire of a Gothic church tower, the wooden cross that marks the road, or the moss-covered doorway of the presbytery. These venerable remnants of ancient Christian civilization have not been carried into the wilderness; nothing there yet awakens the idea of the past or of the future. You do not even find places of rest consecrated to those who are no more. Death has not had the time to reclaim its sphere or mark out its field (II, p. 1346).

[212.] The Indians find themselves in a quite similar situation. Beaumont writes about them: “Focused on the necessity of the present and fears of the future, the past and its memories have lost all their power over them” (Marie, II, p. 297). Citing Clark and Cass, Tocqueville repeats the same idea: “He [the Indian] easily forgets the past, and is not interested in the future.” I, p. 527, note 7. The same thing can be said about the Black race, which has left its history in another continent.

[213.] I, p. 86.

[214.] “The only historical monuments of the United States are newspapers. If an issue happens to be missing, the chain of time is as if broken: present and past are no longer joined.” I, p. 331.

[215.]A Fortnight in the Wilderness, II, p. 1339.

Also “rivers ... are roads that respect no trails.” II, p. 1353.

[216.]Journey to Lake Oneida, IV, p. 1301.

Sometimes man moves so quickly that the wilderness reappears behind him. The forest has only bent under his feet; the moment he passes, it rises up again. It is not unusual, while traveling through the new states of the West, to encounter abandoned dwellings in the middle of the woods; often you find the ruins of a cabin in the deepest solitude, and you are amazed while crossing rough-hewn clearings that attest simultaneously to human power and inconstancy. Among these abandoned fields, over these day-old ruins, the ancient forest does not delay growing new shoots; the animals retake possession of their realm; nature comes happily to cover the vestiges of man with green branches and flowers and hastens to make the ephemeral trace of man disappear. (I, p. 461).

[217.] Ampère said with a great deal of wisdom about Democracy: “In short, at the core of the whole book stirs the question of time” (Correspondance avec Ampère,OC, XI, p. xvi).

[218.] Jean-Claude Lamberti, La notion d’individualisme chez Tocqueville (Paris: PUF, 1970).

[219.] Marvin Zetterbaum, Tocqueville and the Problem of Democracy (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1967), p. 17. Cf. I, pp. 10-12, note q.

[220.] II, p. 694, note m.

[221.] The Anglophile attitude of Guizot bothered Tocqueville, who was incapable of accepting that the model of the English revolution was applicable to France. These differences of opinion did not pass unnoticed. After the publication of the Democracy of 1840, Guizot wrote to his former student: “Why don’t we think alike? I do not find any good reason.” Roland-Pierre Marcel, Essai politique sur Alexis de Tocqueville (Paris: Félix Alcan, 1910, p. 319). Also see Aurelian Craiutu, Liberalism Under Siege (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2003).

[222.] See Bossuet, Discours sur l’histoire universelle, part III, section II, entitled: “The revolutions of empires have particular causes that princes must study.”

[223.]Voyage, pp. 89-90.

[224.] “Mémoire sur paupérisme,” republished in Commentaire, 30, 1985, p. 633.

[225.] “I would regard it as a great misfortune for humankind if liberty, in all places, had to occur with the same features.” I, p. 513.

[226.] Guizot had, however, distinguished between two forms of liberty: 1. Liberty as independence of the individual, who has only his own will as law. This is the barbaric and anti-social liberty of the childhood of nations, natural liberty. 2. Liberty as independence from any will that is different and contrary to reason. Moral liberty or liberty by right. The survival of society demands the submission of all individuals to a common rule that cannot exist if natural liberty subsists to its full extent. Journal des cours publics de jurisprudence, histoire et belles-lettres (Paris: au bureau du journal, 1821-1822), I, pp. 248-52, lecture 23.

[227.] “I ≠{think that it is in losing their liberty that men acquired the means to reconquer it}≠ that it is under an aristocracy or under a prince that men still half-savage have gathered the various notions that later would allow them to live civilized, equal and free.” II, p. 879, note f.

[228.] “If nations had begun with democratic government, I doubt they would ever have become civilized.” I, p. 332.

Even industry follows this general law of evolution. The manufacturing aristocracy is the equivalent of the landed aristocracy. II, p. 980, note b.

[229.] Economic conditions are part of the social state, and Tocqueville judges them to be of secondary interest.

[230.] II, p. 739, note c.

“For no one is less philosophical than I, who preaches to you.” OCB, VI, p. 370.

[231.] See vol. IV, pp. 1377-95.

[232.] Draft of a letter to Le Peletier d’Aunay, 8 November 1831, YTC, BIa2.

[233.] To Charles Stoffels, 22 October 1831, YTC, BIa1, and OCB, VII, pp. 83-84. See OCB, VI, p. 370.

[234.] YTC, CVk, 1, p. 73.

[235.] Tocqueville thinks that Thomas More would not have written Utopia if he had been able to change the government of England. He also thinks that the Germans do philosophy because they cannot generalize their ideas in politics (II, p. 727, note b).

[236.] Pensée 513 (Ed. Lafuma). Cited by Luis Díez del Corral, El pensamiento politico de Tocqueville, p. 42.

[237.] The predilection of Tocqueville for Plato is symptomatic: “I consider him a poor politician, but the philosopher has always appeared to me superior to all others and his aim, which consists of introducing morality as much as possible into politics, admirable.” Correspondance avec Kergorlay,OC, XIII, 1, p. 41. Cf. Correspondance avec Beaumont,OC, VIII, 1, p. 292.

[238.] I, p. 574, note b.

[239.] “There is nothing so difficult to appreciate as a fact.” I, p. 343.

“The world is a book entirely closed to man.” I, p. 383, note m. Also see I, p. 574.

[240.] “Of all beings, man is assuredly the one best known; and yet his prosperity or miseries are the product of unknown laws of which only a few isolated and incomplete fragments come into our view. Absolute truth is hidden and perhaps will always remain hidden.” I, p. 263.

We again see the imprint of Pascal in this attitude of Tocqueville: “The final step of reason is to recognize that an infinite number of things surpass it. It is weak only if it does not go far enough to know that.” Ed. Lafuma, pensée 373.

[241.] “The great Newton himself resembles an imbecile more by the things that he does not know than he differs from one by the things that he knows.” II, p. 715, note f.

[242.] “I consider this doubt as one of the greatest miseries of our nature; I place it immediately after illnesses and death. But because I have that opinion of it, I do not understand why so many men impose it on themselves without cause and uselessly. That is why I have always considered metaphysics and all purely theoretical sciences, which serve for nothing in the reality of life, as a voluntary torment that man consented to inflict on himself.” Letter to Charles Stoffels, 22 October 1831, YTC, BIa1 and OCB, VII, pp. 83-84.

[243.]Ibid., pp. 82-83.

[244.] “So general ideas are only means by the aid of which men advance toward truth, but without ever finding it. You can even say that, to a certain extent, by following this path they are moving away from it.” II, p. 728, note c.

[245.] II, p. 840, note v.

“There is no being in the world that I know less than myself. For me, I am constantly an insoluble problem. I have a very cold head, and a reasoning, even calculating mind; and next to that are found ardent passions that sweep me along without persuading me, mastering my will, while leaving my reason free.” Letter to Eugène Stoffels, 18 October 1831, OCB, V, p. 422.

[246.] Letter to Mill, 19 November 1836, OC, VI, 1, p. 314.

[247.] II, p. 840.

[248.]L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution,OC, II, 1, p. 306. We could say that Tocqueville fears that the men of democracies are being transformed into little philosophes.

[249.] And more especially, from a simplistic philosophy characteristic of an intermediate period that wants to explain everything with a single principle and that is embodied as much in the fatalism of the theories of democratic historians as in administrative centralization.

Simplicity of means in politics is a product of human weakness. Tocqueville wants men to be able to combine a large number of means to reach an end. According to him, beauty is not in simplicity of means, but in complexity, which is nothing more than imitating God, who creates with a multiplicity of agents and places “the idea of grandeur and perfection not in executing a great number of things with the help of a single means, but in making a multitude of diverse means contribute to the perfect execution of a single thing.” II, p. 740, note d.

“Centralization is not at all the sign of high civilization. It is found neither at the beginning nor at the end of civilization, but in general in the middle.” II, p. 799, note e. The idea of unity is appropriate to a middle state. The echo of Pascal and of multiplicity in unity is clear.

[250.] II, p. 1150, note x.

[251.] This is an idea that has a very important place in the explanation of the importance of intellectuals during the Revolution, but that already appears in Democracy. See II, p. 727, note b.

[252.] The French Revolution created a body of independent ideas that were easy to transmit. Tocqueville observes that “it formed, above all particular nationalities, a common intellectual country in which the men of all nations could become citizens.” L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution,OC, II, 1, p. 87. He also asserts that the Revolution was a religious revolution because it developed a corpus of doctrines that, like a religion, can be applied indiscriminately to all men and to all peoples, because it considered man in the abstract, like all religions, and his general political rights and obligations. Ibid., pp. 88ff.

[253.] “Thus, not only does democracy make each man forget his ancestors, but it hides his descendants from him and separates him from his contemporaries; it constantly leads him back toward himself alone and threatens finally to enclose him entirely within the solitude of his own heart.” II, p. 884.

[254.] II, p. 701.

[255.] II, p. 718.

[256.] American society depends therefore on the intellectual situation of England. It follows that during its formative years, democracy in the United States does not have the following ingredient necessary for social change: the production of new ideas.

[257.] II, p. 768. And more particularly of the middle class: “≠America forms like one part of the middle classes of England≠” II, p. 767, note f. Also see II, p. 805, note j.

[258.] Thus, in the case of America, the tension between aristocracy and democracy at the level of general principles also occurs, a mechanism that we will return to. Tocqueville needed England to explain how the American model combines democratic and aristocratic principles.

[259.] II, pp. 786-87, note p.

[260.] II, p. 769, note g. We see that here, too, Pascal is not far away.

[261.] II, p. 772.

[262.] In the intellectual world, the rivalry between religion and philosophy (authority/ liberty) is a variant of the opposition aristocracy/democracy. See II, p. 711, note b.

[263.] II, p. 724, note s.

[264.] “Man needs to believe dogmatically a host of things, were it only to have the time to discuss a few others of them. This authority is principally called religion in aristocratic centuries. It will perhaps be named majority in democratic centuries, or rather common opinion.” III, p. 720, note p.

[265.] III, p. 745.

[266.] “During centuries of fervor, men sometimes happen to abandon their religion, but they escape its yoke only to submit to the yoke of another religion. Faith changes objects; it does not die.” I, p. 485. Tocqueville fears in this sense that the opinion of the majority will someday become a cult.

[267.] II, p. 721, note r.

Religion is an authority (illegible word) to humanity, but manifested by one man or one class of men to all the others, who submit to it. Common opinion is an authority that is not prior to humanity and that is exercised by the generality of men on the individual.

The source of these two authorities is different, but their effects come together. Common opinion, like religion, gives ready made beliefs and relieves man from the unbearable and impossible obligation to decide everything each day by himself. These beliefs were originally discussed, but they are no longer discussed and they penetrate minds by a kind of pressure of all on each (II, p. 720, note p).

[268.] All the American sects have a core of common ideas. I, p. 473.

[269.] “I have always believed, you know, that constitutional monarchies would arrive at the republic; and I am persuaded as well that Protestantism will necessarily end up at natural religion.” Letter to Ernest de Chabrol, 26 October 1831, YTC, BIa2.

[270.] Tocqueville speaks of a convention that checks the spirit of innovation at the doors of religion. This idea is the result of a personal reflection, but at the beginning of the second volume he notes: “if you look very closely, you will see that religion itself reigns there much less as revealed doctrine than as common opinion.” II, p. 720. Therefore the foundations of religion are not religious, but philosophic, in the sense that the author gives to that word.

“The moral dominion of the majority is perhaps called to replace religions to a certain point or to perpetuate certain ones of them, if it protects them. But then religion would live more like common opinion than like religion. Its strength would be more borrowed than its own.” Ibid., note p.

[271.] II, p. 708, note t.

[272.] See II, p. 960, note k, and p. 1281, note e.

[273.] When Tocqueville speaks about the existence of equality in America, he means the sentiment of not being inferior to anyone and not the equal division of wealth or power. In an interesting commentary on American equality, placed in travel notebook E and from which we can quote only an extract, he explains this difference: “Men, in America as with us, are ranked according to certain categories in the course of social life; common habits, education and, above all, wealth establishes these classifications; but these rules are neither absolute, nor inflexible, nor permanent. They establish temporary distinctions and do not form classes strictly speaking; they give no superiority, even of opinion, to one man over another.” YTC, BIIa, and Voyage (OC, V, 1), p. 280.

The explanation of the sentiment of equality that Beaumont gives in a note in Marie (I, pp. 383-90) seems equally clear on this point. But certain historians have seen in Tocqueville the model of an egalitarian society. See particularly Edward Pessen, Jacksonian America: Society, Personality, and Politics (Homewood, Ill.: Dorsey, 1969); “The Egalitarian Myth and the American Social Reality: Wealth, Mobility and Equality in the ‘Era of the Common Man,’” American Historical Review 76, no. 4 (1971): 898-1034; and “Tocqueville’s Misreading of America, America’s Misreading of Tocqueville,” Tocqueville Review 4, no. 1 (1982): 5-22; Irving M. Zeitlin, Liberty, Equality and Revolution in Alexis de Tocqueville (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1971), 57-62.

[274.] “Sentiments and ideas are renewed, the heart grows larger and the human mind develops only by the reciprocal action of men on each other.” II, p. 900.

[275.] Referring to Hobbes, Tocqueville wonders: “what is a gathering of rational and intelligent beings bound together only by force?” I, p. 389.

[276.] “Despotism would not only destroy liberty among these people, but in a way society.” II, p. 889, note f.

[277.] II, p. 718, note m. Here we see Rousseau’s man divided between himself and society.

[278.] Here [in despotism] is the final outcome of inequality, and the extreme point that closes the circle and touches our starting point. This is where all individuals again become equal, because they are nothing, and where, since the subjects have no other rule than the will of the master and the master has no other rule than his passions, the notions of good and the principles of justice disappear yet again. Everything here leads to the law of the strongest alone and consequently to a new state of nature different from the one where we began; the first was the state of nature in its purity, and the second is the fruit of an excess of corruption. Yet there is so little difference between these two states, and the contract of government is so dissolved by despotism, that the despot is the master only as long as he is the strongest; and as soon as the despot can be driven out, he has no grounds to protest against violence. The riot that ends by strangling or dethroning a sultan is an act as lawful as those by which the day before he disposed of the lives and goods of his subjects. Force alone maintained him; force alone overthrows him.

J.-J. Rousseau, Discours sur l’origine et les fondements de l’inégalité, in Oeuvres complètes (Paris: Pléiade, 1964), III, p. 191. See below, I, p. 231, note z.

[279.] If man was forced to prove to himself all the truths that he uses every day, he would never finish doing so; he would wear himself out with preliminary demonstrations without advancing; as he has neither the time, because of the short span of his life, nor the ability, because of the limitations of his mind, to act in this way, he is reduced to holding as certain a host of facts and opinions that he has had neither the leisure nor the power to examine and to verify for himself, but that those more clever have found or that the crowd adopts. On this foundation he builds himself the structure of his own thoughts. It is not his will that leads him to proceed in this manner; the inflexible law of his condition compels him to do so. II, p. 714.

[280.] II, p. 720, note p.

[281.] II, p. 1370.

[282.] “Egoism, vice of the heart. Individualism, of the mind.” II, p. 882, note d.

[283.] Tocqueville learned from Guizot that the barbarians of the IVth century acted in the same way: “It is not by exterminating the civilized men of the IVth century that the barbarians managed to destroy the civilization of that time. It was enough for them to come between them so to speak and by separating them to make them like strangers to one another.” II, p. 896, note c.

“There is a society only when men consider a great number of objects in the same way; when they have the same opinions on a great number of subjects; when, finally, the same facts give rise among them to the same impressions and the same thoughts.” I, p. 598. Also see note y on the same page.

[284.] II, pp. 708-9.

“Don’t you see, on all sides, beliefs giving way to reasoning, and sentiments, to calculation?” I, p. 391.

There is, however, a profound change from one Democracy to the other relating to one passion, that of well-being. If Tocqueville asserts in 1835 that “there, ambition for power is replaced by the love of well-being, a more vulgar, but less dangerous passion” (I, p. 943), he will reveal all of its malignity in the 1840 part.

[285.] II, p. 886, note c.

[286.] II, p. 878, note g.

[287.] The new despotism has the same relation to the old as the slavery of antiquity has to the enslavement of American Blacks. The Americans of the South “have, if I may express myself in this way, spiritualized despotism and violence.” I, p. 579. Ancient slavery bound the body and left the mind free; modern slavery prevents instruction and controls the mind. Thus the enormous importance of liberty of the press in democracies. See I, pp. 290-94, and II, p. 908.

[288.] By saying that tyranny of the majority is the equivalent of the state of nature, Tocqueville also repeats Madison. I, p. 425.

[289.] This explains why readers have been able to find in Tocqueville a critique of communist totalitarianism as well as mass society. The interest in Tocqueville’s work owes a great deal to the fact that democratic despotism is more social than political, and is, in large measure, independent of the political form. The distinction between the social and the political is, however, debatable and not very clear, even if we cannot blame Tocqueville for a lack of clarity concerning a dichotomy that we are not able to express more clearly at the present time.

[290.] II, p. 900.

[291.] II, p. 1272, note t.

[292.] I, p. 650, note l.

[293.] II, p. 1151.

[294.] “Great revolutions are not more common among democratic peoples than among other peoples; I am even led to believe that they are less so. But within these nations there reigns a small uncomfortable movement, a sort of incessant rotation of men that troubles and distracts the mind without enlivening or elevating it.” II, p. 780.

[295.]L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution,OC, II, 1, p. 74.

[296.] IV, p. 1144, note q.


[298.] See IV, p. 1191, note b.

[299.] II, pp. 424-26.

“The small shake-ups that public liberty imparts constantly to the most settled societies recall everyday the possibility of reversals and keep public prudence awake.” L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution,OC, II, 1, p. 197. In this way, small revolutions prevent great ones.

[300.] III, p. 891, note k.

[301.] Letter to Kergorlay, 3 February 1857, OC, XIII, 2, p. 325.

During the last years of his life, when he was working on Ancien Régime, Tocqueville wrote: “I am more and more attached to my lands and my great fields, to my ocean above all, and to its serious beaches, and I feel that only there do I live happily. But even there, to be happy, some great occupation must animate my mind, and only through ideas do I see, so to speak, the physical beauties that surround me.” Letter to Freslon [?], 8 October 1856, YTC, DIIIa.

[302.] See IV, p. 1209. See Correspondence and Conversations of Alexis de Tocqueville with Nassau William Senior from 1834 to 1859, edited by M.= C.= M. Simpson (London: H.= S. King, 1872), II, pp. 92-94.

[303.]L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution,OC, II, 1, p. 247.

“Democracy is liberty combined with equality.” Roland-Pierre Marcel, Essai politique sur Alexis de Tocqueville, p. 168.

[304.] Letter to Beaumont, 26 November 1865. With the kind permission of the Biblothèque de l"Institut, Spoelberch de Lovenjoul.

[305.] “Only liberty is able to suggest to us those powerful common emotions that carry and sustain souls above themselves; it alone can throw variety into the midst of the uniformity of our conditions and the monotony of our mores; it alone can distract our minds from small thoughts and elevate the goal of our desires.” Discours de réception at the Académie française.OCB, IX, p. 20.

[306.] “Do not ask me to analyze this sublime taste; it must be experienced.” L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution,OC, II, 1, p. 217.

[307.] Letter to John Stuart Mill, June 1835 (Correspondance anglaise,OC, VI, p. 293). Also see Voyages en Angleterre, Irlande, Suisse et Algérie,OC, V, 2, p. 91.

[308.] “For democratic institutions I have a taste from the head, but I am aristocratic by instinct.” Quoted by Antoine Rédier, Comme disait Monsieur de Tocqueville, p. 48.

[309.] III, p. 740, note d.

“Do not adopt one social principle alone however good it seems. Do not use one form of government alone. Stay away from unity.” IV, p. 1266, note j.

In the same way, Tocqueville claims that views expressed in the French parliamentary debates have become less elevated since the victory of the liberal party and the disappearance of the opposition. II, p. 284, note c.

[310.] If men create laws, women create mores. A good reader of Rousseau, Tocqueville claims therefore that in America the women are superior to the men (for mores create laws). See II, p. 482, note u. Woman represents the indefinite, liberty, passions, while man represents equality, the defined, the rational.

[311.] The democratic social state and the aristocratic social state appear with very defined features in the letter of 1830 to Charles Stoffels. The text will be found in appendix V.

[312.] II, p. 286.

I find that, with rare sagacity, you have indicated the conditions under which great parties, well disciplined, can exist in a free country. As you say, each of them must be the representative of one of the two great principles that eternally divide human societies, and that, to be brief, can be designated by the names aristocracy and democracy (II, p. 281, note a).

[313.] “The social state separates men, the political state must draw them closer./

The social state gives them the taste for well-being [v: inclines them toward the earth], the political state must raise them up by giving them great ideas and great emotions” IV, p. 1262, note b.

[314.] In a letter to Corcelle of 19 October 1839 (OC, XI, 1, p. 139), Tocqueville asks: “So will we never see the wind of true political passions rise again, my dear Corcelle, those violent, hard, sometimes cruel, but great, disinterested, fruitful passions; those passions that are the soul of the only parties that I understand and to which I would feel myself willingly disposed to give my time, my fortune and my life?” Also see the speech on the question of the right to work (OCB, IX, p. 542).

[315.] There are many examples of opposition. Political liberty, we have said, implies religious beliefs:

In the moral world, therefore, everything is classified, coordinated, foreseen, decided in advance. In the political world, everything is agitated, contested, uncertain; in the one, passive though voluntary obedience; in the other, independence, scorn for experience and jealousy of all authority. Far from harming each other, these two tendencies, apparently so opposed, move in harmony and seem to offer mutual support (I, p. 70. Also see note in the same place).

Tocqueville wants to develop the sciences in aristocratic societies and the moral sciences in democracies, in order, in both cases, to counter the tendencies of the social state (III, p. 962, note n) and he wishes to promote spiritualism to stop democratic materialism:

If I had been born in the Middle Ages, I would have been the enemy of superstitions, for then the social movement led there.

But today, I feel indulgent toward all the follies that spiritualism can suggest.

The great enemy is materialism, not only because it is in itself a detestable doctrine, but also because it is unfortunately in accord with the social tendency (III, p. 956, note d).

[316.] “Sentiments and ideas are renewed, the heart grows larger and the human mind develops only by the reciprocal action of men on each other. I have demonstrated that this action is almost nil in democratic countries. So it must be created there artificially. And this is what associations alone are able to do.” III, p. 900.

[317.] Four types of regimes (that can be despotic or free) exist: 1. Democratic social state (social equality) and democratic political state (political equality): democracy. 2. Democratic social state combined with an aristocratic political state. This regime tends toward and will arrive at democracy, for the political state finishes by being the reflection of the social state. 3. Social inequality and political equality (this is, according to Tocqueville, a chimera). 4. Social inequality and political inequality: aristocracy.

[318.] III, p. 810, note q.

The sixteenth century had formed many of those fine, proud and free minds whose race was entirely lost in the theatrical splendor of the following century. Also you must have noted the superiority of the writers of the first period of the reign of Louis XIV over those of the second. The first were formed in that very short time in which feudal independence was allied for a moment with modern art and taste; the one gave grandeur, and the others the finish of details and the harmony of the whole (YTC, CIb (thoughts collected by Mary Mottley). See IV, p. 1146, note l, in which the same idea is found again.)

[319.] As Luis Díez del Corral pointed out, Tocqueville could have had this idea from the very mouth of Guizot (El pensamiento político de Tocqueville, pp. 285-86, 315, 377-79). But differing from Guizot, Tocqueville does not believe that the result of the struggle between the forces of society and those of the individual is the bourgeois mentality.

[320.] Book XI, chapter VI of Esprit des lois. Also see book I, chapter 2.

[321.] This sets him apart from Rousseau. See I, p. 406, note g, pp. 407 and 413.

[322.] See Luis Díez del Corral, El pensamiento político de Tocqueville, pp. 158-59, and OCB, VI, p. 445.

[323.] “As I grow older, I have more regard, I will almost say respect, for the passions. I love them when they are good, and I am not even sure about detesting them when they are bad. They are power, and power, wherever it is found, appears at its best amid the universal weakness that surrounds us.” Letter to Ampère, 10 August 1841, OC, XI, p. 152. Also see OCB, VI, p. 407.

Last modified April 13, 2016