Alexis de Tocqueville, 1805 - 1859

“What do [nations] lack to be free? What? The very desire to be so. Do not ask me to analyze this sublime desire, it must be felt… One must give up on making this comprehensible to mediocre souls who have never felt it.”

— Alexis de Tocqueville

Biography

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805 – 1859) was a French philosopher and statesman. Belonging to a Norman aristocratic family that traced its origins to the Battle of Hastings (1066), Tocqueville’s parents barely escaped the guillotine in the terror of the French Revolution. After studies in Metz and Paris, Tocqueville became a magistrate, but quickly grew bored by narrow legal work. [Read More]

Introduction

According to Tocqueville, American religion teaches, as the puritan founder John Winthrop put it, that “freedom” means the freedom to do only what is just. This serves as a vital check on the individualistic impulse of the democratic man and offers a fixed moral orientation. It fights against materialism as well as the view that man is completely alone and must decide what is permitted or not permitted according to his own lights. [Read More]

Featured Video

In this August 2015 release from Conversations with Bill Kristol, Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield discusses Tocqueville’s life and thought.