Faculty of Arts Masaryk University BRNO

Course :
HIA109c History of Culture and Civilization (1789-1918). General History of the Nineteenth Century West

Alexis de Tocqueville, De la Démocratie en Amérique

Damien PERRY Erasmus Student

Democracy in America
1 ) Author : Alexis Tocqueville was born on July 29, 1805, at 987 rue de la Ville-l'Évêque in Paris. He was the third son of Hervé Louis François Bonaventure Clérel de Tocqueville and Louise-Madeleine Le Peletier Rosanbo. His family had its origins in the nobility from Normandy. Chateaubriand and Alsherbes were of his family. His educational experience included studying law and working as a judges listener at the court of Versailles where he met Gustave de Beaumont. The two men would collaborate on several of Tocqueville’s works. De Tocqueville started hits political career by becoming a deputy of the Manche in 1839. He would hold this position until 1851. He went on to defend his political positions at Parliament concerning his abolitionist tendencies and free-trade perspective. He also commented on colonization, particularly in Algeria, where he criticized French politics (cf. . He was also elected to the position of advisor general of the Manche in 1842 and became the president of the Council General from 1849 to 1851.) After the putsch against Louis Napoléon Bonaparte on December 2, 1851, Tocqueville ceased his politician career.
He was a monumental French political theorist and historian. His most famous

works include Democracy in America (appearing in two volumes: 1835 and 1840) and The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856). In both of these works, he explored the effects of the rising equality of social conditions on both the individual and the state organisation. De Tocqueville is regarded as one of the historical defenders of freedom and democracy. His stance of anti-collectivist has instilled his writings as a reference point for modern liberals. His ability to balance legitimating the French colonial expansion in North Africa (1841-1846) while opposing the barbarity of the French armies in Africa was one example of his complex nature. He further opposed the application of the military mode in Algeria (1848), and defended the first abolition of slavery in the colonies amongst his contemporaries. In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont went to the USA to investigate American prisons. During nine months, they visited the wide areas of the country and discovered different aspects about American economic and political society. They also made a trip to Québec and Ontario, Canada. They return to France in 1832 and wrote one essay about their voyage in 1833. But De Tocqueville, impassioned by American politics wrote one analysis about the U.S.A. Democracy in America was published as a result of his analysis.


2 ) Democracy in America This book is composed in 2 volumes. The first was published in 1835 while the second followed in 1840. It spoke about advantages and problems of the American system. At first, Democracy in America is one analysis of the republican representative democracy. He attempts to explain why democracy succeeded in America and not necessarily in other countries. As stated previously, the work is composed in two volumes. The first tome main subject concerned the democratic movement during the centuries, who was responsible for the transformation of society and what the political transformation impacted the political system. For De Tocqueville, all of these elements lead to democracy in America. His analyses of democracy in America were concerned with its operation, political and juridical oraganization. Alexis de Tocqueville defines democracy as one political structure with which all can share. His writing was very descriptive, expounding on several points for many pages. This first volume contains the most precise political analysis. It is divided into twenty eight chapters. The subjects are manifold including political life in towns, judicial institutions and power, the U.S. Constitution, the creation of federal states, political parties and American government. This tome also addresses topics such as the power of the majority verses the right of the minority, political parties, general freedoms, and possible future problems for the young democracy. The second volume has only nine chapters but some are display the incredible development of those found in volume one. De Tocqueville introduction to the second volume attempts to explain how important the rule of law in American society is for keeping ultimate power in the hands of the people. The people have the ability to create or destroy the political system in which the Constitution has created. Other subjects addressed concerned the influence of the democracy on the civil society. Topics covered include the political regime and social transformation as a result of the political system. The discussion on ideas, morals, role of intellectuals and how each of these elements listed contributed to the socialization were perhaps the most philosophical portion of this work. 3) Importance of the theory : This work quickly became a “best-seller” of the 19th century with different editions, in Europe and in USA having been printed. After the turn of the century, it had become a classic work for the political, sociological and history cannons concerned with American politics. Alexis de Tocqueville forecast the abolition of slavery and the strong economic development of the USA. But the French author also spoke of violence between different political parties due to the inherent nature of the political system. Unfortunately, he did not consider poverty in big cities could be generated by the economic system. Nor did he perceive as accutely as he should have the impact the “tyranny of the majority” could have on society. However, one could


argue that poverty was as large a problem when he composed his work as compared to later in the century. Finally, Alexis de Tocqueville offers one work about democracy in America which presented this political phenomenon as immutable when he wrote his piece. He viewed the young democracy as a political system that needed time to grow up, so to speak. He held the belief that democracy (in America, from America) should extend across the American continent in time. He did concretely limit the expansion of American democracy only to the continent. He left the debate open as to whether American’s form of democracy should spread across the planet. Democracy in America is also one major book of political sociology. It is the first work to be interested in the social currents of equalization of the condtions in our societies. For de Tocqueville, Europe had an old aristocratic society and the prospect of a democratic society of tomorrow. The U.S.A. was the best example of this possible democracy being born.