Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville (1805 July 29th)


The youngest son of a illustrious noble, Tocqueville was born in 1805. Despite a content and pampered childhood, the inheritance of the French revolution cast long shades over his life and work. Ten members of his immediate household were imprisoned during the reign of terror and six of them executed. (QUOTATIONS BELOW)


TOCQUEVILLE ON KRNN, 7/29:  A French political historian and intellectual aristocrat best known for his “Democracy in America”, Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville was born on this day in 1805.  We hope you enjoy our radio republic playlist for this birthday tribute to deTocqueville on Crosscurrents, 7/29 at 8 am.


Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville (July 29, 1805 – April 16, 1859) was a French political thinker and historian best known for his 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 effects of the rising equality of social conditions on the individual and the state in western societies

His parents narrowly escaped with their lives, but the torment turned his father’s hair white at the age of 21 and exhausted his mo          ther’s health. Tocqueville never forgot his legacy and was not able to get rid of a certain reminiscence for these by gone years.

Amazingly insightful and rationally truthful about political life, this teacher of modern democracy remained a noble to his final days, and cannot be comprehended unless this reality is acknowledged.

He was in 1831, he set out with his close colleague Gustave de Beaumont on the well-known nine-month trip through America. The endorsed purpose for the tour was to study the penal system in America and report back on its viability for France. The actual aim was that both men needed to maintain a low profile for a while following renewed political commotion in 1830.

Any road, the two young aristocrats had a wonderous time. In the middle off parties and dinners, they seem to have found time to visit Niagara Falls, sleep in log cabins in the middle of Indian country, posture as potential settlers in Detroit, tolerate shipwreck on the Ohio, witness the plunders of slavery in Baltimore and, of course, inspect prisons.

Distant and standoffish in public, Tocqueville was zealous and faithful in friendship and marriage.  Contrary to the prescriptions of his class and the desires of his family, he married an English woman, Mary Motley.  She destroyed nearly all their letters after his death, though the correspondence that remain are tender.

Raised a Catholic, he lost his faith abruptly at the age of 16, and didn’t reclaim it until he was about to die.  Notwithstanding a challenge to his belief, this was the man who wrote: “Faith alone is the permanent condition of humanity.” Often ill for most of his life, he died of tuberculosis at 53.


American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”

America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom.”

Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.”

Society is endangered not by the great profligacy of a few, but by the laxity of morals amongst all.”

Tyranny in democratic republics does not proceed in the same way, however. It ignores the body and goes straight for the soul.

When I refuse to obey an unjust law, I do not contest the right of the majority to command, but I simply appeal from the sovereignty of the people to the sovereignty of mankind.”

The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens.”

The surface of American society is covered with a layer of democratic paint, but from time to time one can see the old aristocratic colours breaking through.”

Rulers who destroy men’s freedom commonly begin by trying to retain its forms. … They cherish the illusion that they can combine the prerogatives of absolute power with the moral authority that comes from popular assent.”

One of the commonest weaknesses of human intelligence is the wish to reconcile opposing principles and to purchase harmony at the expense of logic.”

Absolute excellence is rarely to be found in any legislation.”

Despotism often presents itself as the repairer of all the ills suffered, the support of just rights, defender of the oppressed, and founder of order.

It is easier for the world to accept a simple lie than a complex truth.

When the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness.

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