Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
No Cover Image

Liberty, Equality, Democracy

Edited by Eduardo Nolla
Copyright Date: 1992
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 240
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Liberty, Equality, Democracy
    Book Description:

    This volumes explores the whole range of Alexis Tocqueville's ideas, from his political, literary and sociological theories to his concept of history, his religious beliefs, and his philosophical doctrines. Among the topics considered are: Tocqueville's beliefs about foreign policy as applied to American democracy; Tocqueville and Machiavelli on the art of being free; Tocqueville and the historical sociology of state; virtue and politics in Tocqueville; Tocqueville's debt to Rousseau and Pascal; Tocqueville's analysis of the role of religion in preserving American democracy; Tocqueville and American literary critics; and Tocqueville and the postmodern refusal of history. The different approaches to Tocqueville's classical work represented in this book, combined with the frequent use of unpublished sources, present a fresh and renewed vision of his classic Democracy in America, reinforcing after a century and a half its reputation as the most modern, provocative, and profound attempt to explain the nature of democracy.Contributing to the volume are: Pierre Birnbaum (University of Sorbonne), Herbert Dittgen (University of Goettingen), Joseph Alulis (Lake Forest College), Dalmacio Negro (Universidad Complutense, Madrid), Peter A. Lawler (Berry College), Catherine Zuckert (Carleton College), Francesco de Sanctis (Naples University), Hugh Brogan (University of Essex), Cushing Strout (Cornell University), Gisela Schlueter (Universitaet Hannover), Roger Boesche (Occidental College), Edward T. Gargan (University of Wisconsin), and James T. Schleifer (College of New Rochelle).

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-5875-5
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xv-xxiv)
    Eduardo Nolla

    Tocqueville would have said that there is no better way to deal with his thought than through a collective work containing different and frequently opposed points of view. But surprisingly Tocqueville scholars have rarely met in international conferences or in the pages of books.¹ In fact, a quick glance at the most important works of Tocquevillian scholarship suggests a kind of oscillation between the United States and Europe, as if only through a great effort could interest in Tocqueville exist simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic.

    And even when a certain amount of intellectual contact has taken place,² it...


    • 1 The Human Condition: Tocqueville’s Debt to Rousseau and Pascal
      (pp. 1-20)
      Peter Augustine Lawler

      Alexis de Tocqueville is widely admired for his distinctive moderation, political astuteness, and genuine devotion to human liberty. He is studied seriously today primarily for his political analysis, and less so for his provocative and perceptive observations concerning the psychological effects of democratic conditions. There has been remarkably little serious discussion of Tocqueville’s comprehensive reflections on the human condition, although they inform all of his work.

      Despite his many admirable qualities, Tocqueville is usually regarded as a derivative thinker. He is generally viewed as a student of the political philosophers Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Charles de Secondat Montesquieu, and not quite...

    • 2 The Role of Religion in Preserving American Liberty—Tocqueville’s Analysis 150 Years Later
      (pp. 21-36)
      Catherine H. Zuckert

      More than 150 years ago, Alexis de Tocqueville came to America to study the future of the world. The conditions in which human beings lived were everywhere becoming more and more equal, he observed; but egalitarian conditions did not always or necessarily give rise to political liberty. On the contrary, as people became more equal, individuals became less able to act on their own behalf and were, therefore, more vulnerable to oppression by others. Perceiving the danger, Tocqueville travelled to the United States to discover how a nation could preserve the liberty of its inhabitants under egalitarian conditions. Americans had...


    • 3 The People and the Great: Tocqueville and Machiavelli on the Art of Being Free
      (pp. 37-54)
      Joseph Alulis

      One does not ordinarily associate Tocqueville with Machiavelli and this for good reason. While Tocqueville praises the founders of New England for their obedience to the law of God, Machiavelli praises those men of Florence who thought more of their city’s liberty than their souls’ salvation.¹ But this apparent difference should not obscure what the two clearly have in common. In each case the polity praised is a free one and both praise this polity for the same reason: a free polity is best because none is more powerful. For Tocqueville as much as for Machiavelli, it is because power...

    • 4 Virtue and Politics in Tocqueville
      (pp. 55-74)
      Dalmacio Negro

      In 1934, in aReport on the Prizes of Virtueat the French Academy, Paul Valery was heard to exclaim:

      Virtue, my dear sirs, the word virtue is dead, or, at the very least, dying.... It is not present to today’s intellects as an expression with an imaginable reality. We have arrived at a point where the words virtue and virtuous can only be found in catechism, in farce, in the Academy and in light opera.

      Recently Alasdair Maclntyre showed the extent to which we have lost—that is, if it has not been completely lost—the theoretical as well...


    • 5 Tocqueville Reconsidered: Foreign Policy and the American Democracy
      (pp. 75-90)
      Herbert Dittgen

      Up to the present day foreign observers are puzzled by the strange character of American foreign policy. The peculiar make-up of American foreign policy is caused by frequent changes in approach, the constrained authority of the president provided for by the constitutional separation of powers, the plurality of actors and the changing mood of the American people as to the proper role the United States should play in world affairs. Europeans searching for a theme usually find only a cacophony of voices.

      Tocqueville’s curiosity about American democracy includes also its foreign policy. He devotes an entire chapter of hisDemocracy...

    • 6 Tocqueville and the Historical Sociology of State
      (pp. 91-102)
      Pierre Birnbaum

      The work of Alexis de Tocqueville is in many ways at the origin of contemporary political sociology. Tocqueville is, in fact, one of the very first to point to the possible emergence of an atomized mass society, and to reflect on the formation of a depoliticizing consensus. This consensus is compatible, in many respects, with a flourishing pluralism which is capable of limiting the arbitrary: a principle which, from Dahl to Lipset, will be at the heart of American political sociology. Tocqueville’s reflection on the import of individualism thus remains classical, insofar as it emphasizes one of the dangers of...


    • 7 Tocqueville: A Phenomenology of the Social
      (pp. 103-112)
      Claude Lefort

      Few authors have Tocqueville’s ability to convince one of the soundness of their project. The clarity of exposition, the methodical usage of comparison, the concern with formulating the nature of his project at the beginning of his exposition and reformulating it at different stages of the argument, the ability to summarize here and there an entire development in a conclusion; often the conspicuous processes of demonstration leads the reader to conclude that Tocqueville has perfect mastery over his subject. Although he warns us that he plans to show the effects of the equality of conditions without turning the latter into...

    • 8 The Question of Fraternity in Democracy in America
      (pp. 113-128)
      Francesco M. De Sanctis

      By people at the time, the French Revolution was seen as a radical solution to the continuity of European tradition. Through the beheading of Louis Capet, the Revolution appears as a symbol of an era which heralded for some an epoch of revolutions and fratricidal battles. “When it cut off the head of Louis XVI”—wrote Balzac—“the Revolution cut off the head of all fathers.” As for the value systems brought into question through the metaphor of patricide, it is perhaps possible to consider fraternity as yet another metaphor representing the problem of new social relationships and new types...

    • 9 Pauperism and Democracy. Alexis de Tocqueville and Nassau Senior
      (pp. 129-142)
      Hugh Brogan

      On 11 January 1837 Alexis de Tocqueville wrote from Paris to his friend Nassau Senior in London to thank him for a present:

      You could not have sent me anything that I should have liked better than your outline of political economy. I have often realized that I lack adequate understanding of this important branch of human science, and I have many times reflected that you were the man most capable of supplying my wants. Everything you publish is very valuable to me, but what you write on political economy is so most of all.¹

      This avowal so impressed Minnie...


    • 10 Tocqueville and American Literary Critics
      (pp. 143-152)
      Cushing Strout

      Tocqueville’sDemocracy in Americawavers between alarming prophecies about democracy in general and more sanguine comments about America in particular. What he sought in his book, as he confessed to his friend Kergorlay, was “less the complete picture of that foreign society than its contrasts and resemblances to our own.”¹ There is on the one hand the possible coming, especially in Europe, of a “democratic despotism” marked by bureaucratic paternalism and the alienation of the citizen from political participation and potency. Modern American conditions have made that vision seem pertinent to many sociologists. There is on the other hand the...

    • 11 Democratic Literature: Tocqueville’s Poetological Reflections and Dreams
      (pp. 153-164)
      Gisela Schlüter

      In 1840, Tocqueville forecast with regard to American letters that modern literature would be democratic literature. His concept of “democratic literature” is familiar to Tocqueville scholars, but has to a large extent been ignored in literary studies, or to put it more precisely, in the theory of literature and its history. What Tocqueville says about “democratic literature” may seem original, brilliant, even ingenious, to the Tocqueville scholar, but to literary scholars with a historical interest, Tocqueville's expositions seem abstract in the negative sense of the word, much too speculative, or even trivial.

      So let us attempt to do historical justice...

  11. THE END OF 1789

    • 12 Why Did Tocqueville Think a Successful Revolution Was Impossible?
      (pp. 165-186)
      Roger Boesche

      Tocqueville had a lifelong ambivalence toward, and fascination with, the French Revolution. Although he called it the Great Revolution and the single most important event of the previous three centuries, he claimed that it brought about little substantial change; although one great-grandfather and two grandparents were killed in the Terror, and his own parents were imprisoned and barely escaped death, Tocqueville seldom repudiated even the violence of the Revolution in the harsh language one would expect; although he likened the Revolution to an ever-recurring illness that continued to infect France, he occasionally hoped for a new revolution to overcome the...

    • 13 Tocqueville and the Postmodern Refusal of History
      (pp. 187-192)
      Edward T. Gargan

      In March of 1839 Tocqueville was elected to the Chamber of Deputies from Valognes. It was possible for him to take this step because the final volume of hisDemocracywas at last finished and would be published in 1840. In 1990 the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of theDemocracyinvited and continues to encourage reflections on the significance of theDemocracy’splace in serious efforts to understand the transition of our time from that of modernity to that of the postmodern. Anniversaries are indeed times to honor, to acknowledge obligations. This is especially so when time has not...


    • 14 How Many Democracies?
      (pp. 193-206)
      James T. Schleifer

      At least since the appearance in 1964 of Seymour Drescher’s brilliant article, “Tocqueville’s TwoDemocraties” scholars have debated how manyDemocraciesTocqueville wrote during the 1830s.¹ Are the 1835 and 1840 halves of theDemocracyessentially two parts of a single work or two quite distinct books which happen to share the same title? Note that this is not the same issue which has been so well raised by Robert Nisbet and others about the many changing perceptions or interpretations of theDemocracysince its appearance over one hundred and fifty years ago.² Of interpretations, there are many, especially when...

  13. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 207-210)
  14. Index
    (pp. 211-216)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 217-217)