Alexis Detocqueville Essay Research Paper Alexis de

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Alexis Detocqueville Essay, Research Paper Alexis de Tocqueville Alexis de Tocqueville was born in Paris on July 29th, 1805. Growing up in Metz, France, the youngest child of Herv? Tocqueville and Mlle. De Rosanbo, he showed great intellectual promise from his earliest days. By the age of 16, his academic career was a brilliant one, his schoolwork earning him a special prize and two first prizes. He was an avid reader, reading books hardly accessible to a boy of his young age. It was during these years that he developed his critical thinking and reasoning skills that would serve him so well later in life. In 1831, Alexis and his friend and colleague Gustave de Beaumont embarked for New York. Sent to study the American penal system, Tocqueville was much more interested in

studying the only completely democratic state and society of his time. The journey occupied ten months, and “The American Penal System and Its Application in France” was published under both Tocqueville and Beaumont’s names. When the two returned to France in 1832, they were considered experts on the prison system, and Tocqueville established himself as a promising young writer and political mind. Different authors generate different hypotheses regarding Tocqueville’s inspirations and mentors. John Koritansky sums up his views by stating that “almost certainly it was Rousseau who taught Tocqueville to see the root of love of equality in human nature and to see its centrality for political life. My whole interpretation, then, might be summed up by saying that Tocqueville

attempts to rewrite Montesquieu’s political science by way of an extension of Rousseau’s reinterpretation of human nature.” Joshua Mitchell, on the other hand, believes that Tocqueville’s inspiration began many, many years earlier. While discussing the “spillover effect,” that is, the circular pattern of cause and effect, Mitchell writes: “The theoretical matter at issue here can be found already in the highly charged seventeenth-century debate between Locke and Filmer about the affinity between paternal and monarchal power, though it can be traced back to Aristotle’s teleological view of the relationship between the higher and lower forms of association.” J.P. Mayer writes in Tocqueville’s biography that he “read at this time with a tireless appetite the

works of Plato, Plutarch, Machiavelli, Rousseau, and Montesquieu, and it would seem that in these same years he made a close study of Aristotle, Polybius, and more particularly, the works of Edmund Burke.” Regardless of his influences, Tocqueville’s most serious concern is that democracy may give rise to certain forms of despotism. “Without local institutions…the despotic tendencies which have been driven into the interior of the social body will sooner or later break out on the surface.” In the introductory chapter to “Democracy in America,” Tocqueville expresses his famous opinion that the movement of the history of Christendom over the course of the previous 700 years has invariably been in the direction of democratic equality. This is the foundation of

Tocqueville’s “inevitability theory.” He implies that democracy in inevitable in the same way that the spread of civilization and enlightenment are inevitable. Best known for his popular critique, “Democracy in America,” first published in 1835, Tocquville will be remembered both for his inevitability theory and his extensive writings on the “problem of democracy”. Here he reflects on his ideas regarding this “new” democratic version of despotism: “The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavouring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is a stranger to the fate of all the rest – his children and his private friends