Tocqueville, Alexis De (1805–1859)

Alexis de Tocqueville, French politician and political thinker and writer, began his career as a lawyer. His political teaching reflects his priorities: good laws are to be sought, and respect for law is invaluable; but political societies are made not by law but by “the sentiments, the beliefs, the ideas, the habits of heart and spirit of the men who compose them” (Tocqueville 1998: 294).

Law has a secondary place in Tocqueville's political economy because it is a product of “the social state,” which owes its character chiefly to preexisting fact, although also to law. Yet, for Tocqueville, the greatest political choice—freedom or despotism—always remains. Therefore, whatever the social state, ongoing legislation and attitudes toward law matter. Tocqueville is full of advice—general as well as specific—on ...

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