Alexis de Tocqueville

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Alexis de Tocqueville

Alexis Clérel de Tocqueville (Paris 1805 - Cannes 1859) was a French historian and politician who published an insightful review of the United States entitled Democracy in America (1835),[1] based on a nine month tour of the young country.[2] It remains the most comprehensive treatise of early American society to this day.

Tocqueville on Christianity

Alexis de Tocqueville wrote:[3]

Upon my arrival in the United States the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention .... In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions. But in America I found they were intimately united. Freedom sees religion as the companion of its struggles and triumphs, the cradle of its infancy, and the divine source of its rights.

De Tocqueville further wrote:

The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other .... They brought with them into the New World a form of Christianity which I cannot better describe than by styling it a democratic and republican religion.

He published a second volume of Democracy in America in 1840, in which he described:

Christianity has therefore retained a strong hold on the public mind in America ... In the United States ... Christianity itself is a fact so irresistibly established, that no one undertakes either to attack or to defend it.

Tocqueville asserted that, at that time, America was a democracy — indeed, where the fundamental principle of government was “the sovereignty of the people.” He also asserted that most rich American men were thought to have been born poor (see upward mobility); the American society was a very fluid one, marked by the rapid rise and fall of personal wealth.

In another book, The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856), Tocqueville gave a great meditation on the origins and meanings of the French Revolution.

He was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1839 and was foreign minister for a few months in 1849. He died in Cannes on April 16, 1859.

Some paragraphs

It has often been remarked that in Europe a certain degree of contempt lurks even in the flattery which men lavish upon women: although a European frequently affects to be the slave of woman, it may be seen that he never sincerely thinks her his equal. In the United States men seldom compliment women, but they daily show how much they esteem them. They constantly display an entire confidence in the understanding of a wife, and a profound respect for her freedom; they have decided that her mind is just as fitted as that of a man to discover the plain truth, and her heart as firm to embrace it ... [4]

Americans do not think that man and woman have either the duty or the right to perform the same offices, but they show an equal regard for both their respective parts; and though their lot is different, they consider both of them as beings of equal value.

I have nowhere seen woman occupying a loftier position; and if I were asked, now that I am drawing to the close of this work, in which I have spoken of so many important things done by the Americans, to what the singular prosperity and growing strength of that people ought mainly to be attributed, I should reply - to the superiority of their women.


  • “Society will develop a new kind of servitude which covers the surface of society with a network of complicated rules, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate. It does not tyrannise but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”


  • Democracy in America (1835)
  • Souvenirs (1848)
  • The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856)

See also


  2. Initially de Tocqueville came to America to study her penal (criminal justice) system, but then expanded the scope of his study.