In the United States, the debate on civil associations has coincided with the revival of interest in the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville, particularly Democracy in America (1835; 1840) in which he praised the Americans' propensity to form civil and political associations. Tocqueville regarded these associations as laboratories of democracy that teach citizens the art of being free and give them the opportunity to pursue their own interests in concert with others. Tocqueville's views on political and civil associations cannot be properly understood unless we also take into account the larger intellectual and political background of his native France. The main sections of this essay examine Tocqueville's analysis of civil and political associations in America. Special attention is paid to the strong relationship between democracy and civil and political associations and the effects that they have on promoting democratic citizenship, civility, and self-government.
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