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Alexis de Tocqueville

For other uses, see Tocqueville (disambiguation)


Alexis de Tocqueville (July 29, 1805April 16, 1859) was a French political thinker and historian. His most famous works are Democracy in America (appearing in two volumes: 1835 and 1840) and The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856). He championed liberty and democracy. Alexis de Tocqueville once observed that it is easier for the world to accept a simple lie than a complex truth.

He was born in Paris and died in Cannes. His work based on his travels in the United States, Democracy in America, is frequently used in courses in 19th century United States history. His advocacy of private charity rather than government aid to assist the poor has often been cited admiringly by conservatives and classical liberals, particularly in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Tocqueville is a major observer and philosopher of democracy, which he saw as an equation that balanced liberty and equality, concern for the individual as well as the community. He thought that extreme social equality would lead to isolation, more intervention by the government and thus less liberty. Alexis de Tocqueville thought that association, the coming together of people for common purpose, would bind Americans to an idea of nation larger than selfish desires. This phenomenon is called civil society. He accurately predicted that democracy would increase and eventually extend its rights and privileges to women, Natives, and Africans. He is thus also a political progressive, concerned with improving the lives of all citizens.



  • Du système pénitentaire aux États-Unis et de son application en France (1833)—Translated into English as On the Penitentiary System in the United States and Its Application to France.
  • De la démocratie (1835 and 1840)—The title literally translates as On Democracy, but the common translation of the title in English is Democracy in America. It was published in two volumes, the first in 1835, the second in 1840. It is Tocqueville's most famous work.
  • L'Ancien Régime et la Révolution (1856)—The English title is The Old Regime and the Revolution. It is Tocqueville's second most famous work.
  • Recollections (1893)—This work was a private journal of the Revolution of 1848. He never intended to publish this; instead his son did in 1893 several decades after his death.


  • "Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word, equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude."
  • "There are at the present time two great nations in the world—I allude to the Russians and the Americans—All other nations seem to have nearly reached their national limits, and have only to maintain their power; these alone are proceeding—along a path to which no limit can be perceived."
  • "Muhammad brought down from heaven and put into the Koran not religious doctrines only, but political maxims, criminal and civil laws, and scientific theories. The Gospels, on the other hand, deal only with the general relations between man and God and between man and man. Beyond that, they teach nothing and do not oblige people to believe anything. That alone, among a thousand reasons, is enough to show that Islam will not be able to hold its power long in ages of enlightenment and democracy, while Christianity is destined to reign in such ages, as in all others."
  • "The American Republic will endure, until politicians realize they can bribe the people with their own money."
  • "They (the emperors) frequently abused their power arbitrarily to deprive their subjects of property or of life: their tyranny was extremely onerous to the few, but it did not reach the greater number; .. But it would seem that if despotism were to be established amongst the democratic nations of our days it might assume a different character; it would be more extensive and more mild, it would degrade men without tormenting them"
  • "The man who asks of freedom anything other than itself is born to be a slave."
  • "Americans are so enamoured of equality they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom."
  • "It's not an endlessly expanding list of rights—the 'right' to education, the 'right' to health care, the 'right' to food and housing. That's not freedom, that's dependency. Those aren't rights, those are the rations of slavery—hay and a barn for human cattle."

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Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13