Tocqueville's Political Economy

Tocqueville's Political Economy

Richard Swedberg
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 352
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7shp7
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    Tocqueville's Political Economy
    Book Description:

    Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-59) has long been recognized as a major political and social thinker as well as historian, but his writings also contain a wealth of little-known insights into economic life and its connection to the rest of society. InTocqueville's Political Economy, Richard Swedberg shows that Tocqueville had a highly original and suggestive approach to economics--one that still has much to teach us today.

    Through careful readings of Tocqueville's two major books and many of his other writings, Swedberg lays bare Tocqueville's ingenious way of thinking about major economic phenomena. At the center ofDemocracy in America, Tocqueville produced a magnificent analysis of the emerging entrepreneurial economy that he found during his 1831-32 visit to the United States. More than two decades later, inThe Old Regime and the Revolution, Tocqueville made the complementary argument that it was France's blocked economy and society that led to the Revolution of 1789. In between the publication of these great works, Tocqueville also produced many lesser-known writings on such topics as property, consumption, and moral factors in economic life. When examined together, Swedberg argues, these books and other writings constitute an interesting alternative model of economic thinking, as well as a major contribution to political economy that deserves a place in contemporary discussions about the social effects of economics.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3008-4
    Subjects: Economics, Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-5)

    The first time Tocqueville met with the English economist Nassau Senior has been recorded by Senior’s daughter:

    One day in the year 1833 a knock was heard at the door of the Chambers in which Mr. Senior was sitting at work, and a young man entered who announced himself in these terms: “I am Alexis de Tocqueville, and I have come to make your acquaintance.” He had no other introduction.¹

    Tocqueville and Senior quickly became friends, and their friendship lasted till Tocqueville’s death some twenty-five years later. The two especially liked to talk about politics, but they also touched on...

  6. Chapter One THE ECONOMY OF THE NEW WORLD
    (pp. 6-37)

    When twenty-five-year-old Alexis de Tocqueville set out on his voyage across the Atlantic in April 1831 he had only a vague notion of what he would find in the United States, based on a few books that gave a romanticized and often superficial view of the country. What he experienced during his nine-month-long visit took him by surprise and excited him: he found a very different type of society with an extremely dynamic economy and a people who loved to do business. Everybody wanted to make money and be successful, and the result was a booming entrepreneurial economy.

    All of...

  7. Chapter Two THE OTHER DEMOCRATIC ECONOMY
    (pp. 38-72)

    The main emphasis in Tocqueville’s attempt to analyze the economy in the United States can, as I showed in the preceding chapter, be found in his analysis of what may be called the democratic economy. His basic strategy in trying to make sense of the United States, including its economy, was to analyze it with the help of his idea that society was evolving from aristocracy to democracy, with two possible outcomes for democratic society: wealth and individualism or prosperity and freedom. In both cases, it should also be noted, the structure of the economy was to Tocqueville’s mind closely...

  8. Chapter Three TOCQUEVILLE’S BACKGROUND IN ECONOMICS
    (pp. 73-99)

    Now that we have established thatDemocracy in Americacontains an important and original analysis of the U.S. economy, a number of questions emerge. One has to do with the origin of Tocqueville’s way of thinking on economic matters. How had Tocqueville come to think in this way about the economy? What had inspired his way of thought? Where did it come from? Another question has to do with the structure or the gestalt of Tocqueville’s economic thought: what are its basic features and how are they interrelated? Finally, where does his way of thinking lead? What kind of economics...

  9. Chapter Four TOCQUEVILLE’S APPROACH TO ECONOMIC ANALYSIS
    (pp. 100-125)

    Up till this point an effort has primarily been made to see how Tocqueville’s thinking about the economy was influenced by factors outside him; it is now time to turn the perspective around and look at what was happening inside Tocqueville, so to speak, and what impact this had. Another reason to switch the perspective from the outside in to the inside out is that Tocqueville’s thinking was unique, and the only way of getting at what is unique is to look at Tocqueville as an individual and his view of things.

    While I have been following Tocqueville’s relationship to...

  10. Chapter Five PAUPERISM AND THE HABITS OF PROPERTY
    (pp. 126-145)

    ResearchingDemocracy in Americademanded a massive effort by Tocqueville, and its writing took whatever energy he had left. During most of the 1830s his life was centered on a relentless routine of arranging together material and thinking it through, slowly producing chapter after chapter till the two volumes were finished. Late in 1839 Tocqueville sent off the final installment of the manuscript to his publisher—and the first period in his life as an author and a thinker was over.

    But Tocqueville also produced a few other writings during this period, two of which will be discussed in this...

  11. Chapter Six POLITICS IN A DEMOCRATIC ECONOMY
    (pp. 146-172)

    From early on Tocqueville dreamed of becoming a politician, and it is clear he hoped thatDemocracy in Americawould be his entry into political life. The French admired their authors in the 1800s and found it natural that they also should play a role in public life, so his calculations were not vain.¹ And when the first volume ofDemocracy in Americawas published in 1835, to great acclaim and proclamations that a new Montesquieu had been born, his hope of having a political career seemed about to become reality.

    In one of the chapters in his celebrated book...

  12. Chapter Seven FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND ECONOMIC AFFAIRS
    (pp. 173-198)

    Some of Tocqueville’s activities in the Chamber of Deputies have not been touched on thus far but must be discussed because they played an important role in his political activities during the years 1839–48. They pertain to his stance on the role of France in foreign affairs.

    Foreign policy was one of Tocqueville’s major interests during his years in politics. His maiden speech in the Chamber of Deputies, for example, addressed the issue of a major treaty between the European powers from which France had been excluded, something Tocqueville considered outrageous. What especially attracted Tocqueville to foreign policy issues,...

  13. Chapter Eight THREATS TO THE DEMOCRATIC ECONOMY
    (pp. 199-218)

    Tocqueville remained active in politics for a few years after 1848, his last year in the Chamber of Deputies. During this period a number of important events took place. First and foremost was the 1848 revolution, which ushered in a new regime. Tocqueville was elected to the new political assembly, which represented a personal triumph since a much larger number of people were allowed to vote. He also helped draw up the constitution for the Second Republic, and in 1849 he served as minister of foreign affairs. In 1851 he resigned from public life in protest against the coup d’état...

  14. Chapter Nine SORRENTO AND THE RETURN TO THINKING
    (pp. 219-237)

    The 1848 revolution shook Tocqueville up in his ideas about politics and society; it also made him rethink his life and what he wanted to accomplish.¹ After the revolution he began to sense that politics, instead of helping him realize his ideals, might be preventing him from doing so. Perhaps he was “trop engagé,” as Raymond Aron has put it.² In addition, his everyday life as a politician made it next to impossible for him to engage in effective thinking and writing. He had little time for these activities, which were extremely demanding as he knew from his years of...

  15. Chapter Ten THE ECONOMY OF THE OLD WORLD
    (pp. 238-271)

    Next toDemocracy in America, it is in Tocqueville’s work on the French Revolution that one can find his most sustained as well as most creative analysis of the economy. Tocqueville’s work on the French Revolution is typically identified with what he has to say on this topic inThe Old Regime and the Revolution(1856). In this chapter I will also discuss two additional writings by Tocqueville on the same theme: his essay “Political and Social Conditions of France” (1836) and the set of notes that are today known as the second volume ofThe Old Regime.

    There are...

  16. Epilogue THINKING WITH TOCQUEVILLE
    (pp. 272-284)

    Tocqueville never wrote the treatise on how to improve political economy and related sciences that he referred to in his letter to Kergorlay from 1834.¹ In hindsight it is obvious that he would never have undertaken such an enterprise. The form of a treatise did not suit him, whatever the topic. It was much too abstract for his taste, and it did not allow for the organic mixture of facts and ideas that he wanted. His method of always analyzing the economy as part of society instead of separating it out along the lines of Mill was another reason why...

  17. NOTES
    (pp. 285-336)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 337-342)