The Alexis de Tocqueville

Center for Political and Legal Thought

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Although Tocqueville was fascinated by America, France or more generally Europe remained his main interest. And in spite of the fact that he enjoyed the status of an expert in America, he knew Europe even better. This knowledge was certainly not limited only to France; it is enough to mention his various western European voyages or his appointment to the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1849, during the tumultuous second year of the Spring of Nations. What is more, Tocqueville was well aware that Europe was a much more complex cognitive problem than America. For him, there was an inexorability to the democratization and convergence of European countries, but he also knew that Europe had a different point of departure from America – above all, Europe had a much greater degree of diversity. As he states in the preface to the second volume of “Democracy in America”: “Different causes, also distinct from the fact of equality, would be encountered in Europe and would explain a great part of what is taking place there.”

Tocqueville’s reflections remain highly relevant, especially for the Europeans. The above-mentioned prediction concerning the democratic future of Europe, which he repeated many times in his later writings, had additional consequences. Tocqueville envisaged that democratic society would become increasingly similar. This convergence embraces interests, wants, manners and morality.  Additionally, similar needs and tastes would facilitate global production and exchange.  We could argue that this convergence opens new possibilities for international integration. And indeed the last decades have seen many examples of such efforts, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement. However, none of these integration projects goes as far as the European Union. The phenomenon of an integrated Europe in an age of mass democracy encourages us to pose the question whether the prophet of modern European democracy is still relevant and whether he can offer Europeans useful tools of analysis as well as adequate remedies?

Although Tocqueville treated absolutism as a system of government predominant in Europe he placed on his map countries that did not choose to adopt this regime. There are two significant examples in his writings: the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Hungary. Poland was a particularly interesting case since while in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries most European regimes turned toward absolutism; in stark contrast, Poland reinforced and introduced free and republican institutions, even adopting extreme principles, such as the rule of unanimous voting. Thus, it is not a surprise that when Tocqueville wanted to describe American republican institutions, like the presidential elections, he made a comparison with the Polish election of the monarch.





Alexis de Tocqueville’s Political and Legal Thought prepared by dr Marek Tracz-Tryniecki is the only monograph on the subject in Polish.

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