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Tocqueville, Alexis de (1805-1859)
"I questioned the faithful of all communions; I particularly sought the society of clergymen, who are the depositories of the various creeds and have a personal interest in their survival ... all thought the main reason for the quiet sway of religion over their country was the complete separation of church and state. I have no hesitation in stating that throughout my stay in America I met nobody, lay or cleric, who did not agree about that."

-- Alexis Charles Henri Clérel de Tocqueville

Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville 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). In both of these works, he explored the myriad and profound effects of the rising equality of social conditions on both the individual and the state in western societies.

He was born in Verneuil-sur-Seine (Île-de-France) and died in Cannes, although his family had its origins in the landed nobility of Normandy, where several places are named after his family. His work is based on his travels in the United States, Democracy in America, is frequently used in courses in 19th century United States history. An eminent representative of the liberalism political tradition, 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 also made an observational tour of England, producing Memoir on Pauperism. In 1841 and 1846, he traveled to Algeria. His first travel inspired his Travail sur l'Algérie, in which he criticized the French model of colonization, based on an assimilationist view, to which he preferred the British model of indirect rule, which didn't mix different populations together. He went as far as openly advocating racial segregation between the European colonists and the "Arabs" through the implementation of two different legislative systems (half a century before its effective implementation with the 1881 Indigenous code).

Democracy in America
In Democracy in America (1835), Alexis de Tocqueville praised the New World and the democracy it would bring, while at the same time warning against the dangers of tyranny of the majority and what he called 'mild' despotism. He saw democracy as an equation that balanced liberty and equality, concern for the individual as well as the community.

Tocqueville thought that extreme social equality would lead to isolation, more intervention by the government and thus less liberty. A critic of individualism, 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, thus making a civil society which wasn't exclusively dependent of the state.

As a supporter of colonialism, he also endorsed the common racialist views of his epoch. Tocqueville notes that among the races that exist in America:

"the first who attracts the eye, the first in enlightenment, in power and in happiness, is the white man, the European, man par exellence; below him appear the Negro and the Indian. These two unfortunate races have neither birth, nor face, lor language, nor mores in common; only their misfortunes look alike. Both occupy an equally inferior position in the country that they inhabit; both experience the effects of tyranny; and if their miseries are different, they can accuse the same author for them."

Tocqueville concluded that removal of the Negro population from America was the best solution to problems of race relations for both Americans of African and European descent. French historian of colonialism Olivier LeCour Grandmaison has underlined how Tocqueville openly talked of "extermination" about the colonization of Western United States and the Indian Removal period.

Segregation however would be the second best solution to race relations if blacks were not removed or wiped out by a race war. According to him assimilation of blacks would be almost impossible and this was already being demonstrated in the Northern states. As Tocqueville predicted formal freedom and equality and segregation would become this population's reality after the Civil War and during Reconstruction. Australian historian Marilyn Lake recently links the "whites only" policy in Australia to the lessons its leaders learned from the Reconstruction period in America. American political scientist Rogers Smith views Tocqueville as one source of white supremacist thought in America.

Assimilation however was the best solution for Native Americans. But since they were too proud to assimilate,they would inevitably become extinct because of displacement. Both populations were "undemocratic", or without the qualities, intellectual and otherwise, needed to live in a democracy. Tocqueville shared many views on assimilation and segregation of his and the coming epochs, but he opposed Gobineau's scientific racism theories which the latter had exposed in his essay on The Inequality of Human Races (1853-55).

The French conquest of Algeria
While most French intellectuals prefer to make of Tocqueville the representative of the liberal tradition, historian Olivier LeCour Grandmaison demonstrated that in less noble works, Tocqueville made the apology of the brutal techniques employed during the 1830s conquest of Algeria:

"In France I have often heard people I respect, but do not approve, deplore [the army] burning harvests, emptying granaries and seizing unarmed men, women and children. As I see it, these are unfortunate necessities that any people wishing to make war on the Arabs must accept... I believe the laws of war entitle us to ravage the country and that we must do this, either by destroying crops at harvest time, or all the time by making rapid incursions, known as raids, the aim of which is to carry off men and flocks"

"Whatever the case", continued Tocqueville, "we may say in a general manner that all political freedoms must be suspended in Algeria" According to LeCour Grandmaison, "de Tocqueville thought the conquest of Algeria was important for two reasons: first, his understanding of the international situation and France’s position in the world, and, second, changes in French society."

Tocqueville, who despised the July monarchy (1830-1848), believed that war and colonization would "restore national pride, threatened, he believed, by "the gradual softening of social mores" in the middle classes. Their taste for "material pleasures" was spreading to the whole of society, giving it "an example of weakness and egotism"." Applauding the methods of General Bugeaud, Tocqueville went as far as saying that "war in Africa" had became a "science": "war in Africa is a science.

Everyone is familiar with its rules and everyone can apply those rules with almost complete certainty of success. One of the greatest services that Field Marshal Bugeaud has rendered his country is to have spread, perfected and made everyone aware of this new science". Years before the Crémieux decrees and the 1881 Indigenous Code that would separate European Jews colons, given French citizenship, and Muslims, Tocqueville advocated racial segregation in Algeria: "There should therefore be two quite distinct legislations in Africa, for there are two very separate communities. There is absolutely nothing to prevent us treating Europeans as if they were on their own, as the rules established for them will only ever apply to them"

However, LeCour Grandmaison's work has been contested by Jean-Louis Benoît, who claimed that these quotes (also used by Tzvetan Todorov) had been instrumentalized to discredit Tocqueville. However, Jean-Louis Benoît did admit that Tocqueville was a strong support of colonialism and of segregation between Europeans and Arabs. In a reference to an August 22, 1837 proposal, Benoît shows that Tocqueville distinguished the Berbers from the Arabs, and considered that these last ones should have a self-government (a bit on the model of British indirect rule, thus going against the French assimiliationist stance). Benoît thus admits that Tocqueville proned racial segregation. Benoît also quotes Tocqueville's 1847 Rapport sur l'Algérie: "Let's not repeat, in the middle of the 19th century, the history of the conquest of America. Let's not imitate those bloody examples that the human kind's opinion has seared".


"...experience suggests that the most dangerous moment for an evil government is usually when it begins to reform itself. Only great ingenuity can save a prince who undertakes to give relief to his subjects after long oppression. The sufferings that are endured patiently, as being inevitable, become intolerable the moment it appears that there might be an escape. Reform then only serves to reveal more clearly what still remains oppressive and now all the more unbearable. "

"We are sleeping on a volcano... A wind of revolution blows, the storm is on the horizon." (Speaking in the Chamber of Deputies, 1848, just prior to the outbreak of revolution in Europe)

"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."

"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."

"The French constitute the most brilliant and the most dangerous nation in Europe and the best qualified in turn to become an object of admiration, hatred, pity or terror but never indifference."

"A weak government is threatened most when it begins to reform."

"The principal cause of disparities in the fortunes of men is intelligence."

"Town meetings are to liberty what primary schools are to science."

"I studied the Quran a great deal. I came away from that study with the conviction that by and large there have been few religions in the world as deadly to men as that of Muhammad. As far as I can see, it is the principal cause of the decadence so visible today in the Muslim world and, though less absurd than the polytheism of old, its social and political tendencies are in my opinion more to be feared, and I therefore regard it as a form of decadence rather than a form of progress in relation to paganism itself."

"Mahommed professed to derive from Heaven, and he has inserted in the Koran, not only a body of religious doctrines, but political maxims, civil and criminal laws, and theories of science. The gospel, on the contrary, only speaks of the general relations of men to God and to each other - beyond which it inculcates and imposes no point of faith. This alone, besides a thousand other reasons, would suffice to prove that the former of these religions will never long predominate in a cultivated and democratic age, whilst the latter is destined to retain its sway at these as at all other periods."

The information on which this page is based has been drawn from research on the Internet. For example, much use has been made of, to whom we are greatly indebted. Since the information recording process at Wikipedia is prone to changes in the data, please check at Wikipedia for current information. If you find something on this page to be in error, please contact us.
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