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.
1 Ortega y Gasset José, The Revolt of the Masses (New York: Norton, 1964), 76.
2 Kumar Krishan, 1989: Revolutionary Ideas and Ideals (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), 142.
3 Michnik Adam, Letters from Prison and Other Essays (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 28.
4 The Charter 77 movement was a prominent informal civic initiative in Czechoslovakia, named after Charter 77, a human rights declaration published in January 1977. Among the movement's founding members and architects were Václav Havel, Jan Patočka, and Pavel Kohout.
5 “The Parallel Polis” was the title of a famous essay published by Vaclav Benda, a prominent member of the Charter 77 movement and a colleague of Havel.
6 See Havel Vaclav, The Power of the Powerless: Citizens Against the State in Central-Eastern Europe (New York: M. E. Sharpe, 1990).
7 For more information, see Tismaneanu Vladimir, Reinventing Politics: Eastern Europe from Stalin to Havel (New York: The Free Press, 1992), 113–74; Kumar, 1989: Revolutionary Ideas and Ideals, 142–70.
8 The high relevance of the concept of “social capital” is illustrated by its numerous practical applications, especially for the economics of development. For more information, see the Social Capital Gateway, http://www.socialcapitalgateway.org/index.htm (accessed November 3, 2007).
9 Bourdieu Pierre, “Forms of Capital,” in Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, ed. Richards J. C. (New York: Greenwood Press, 1983), 249.
10 Putnam Robert, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000), 22.
11 See ibid., 22–24, 178–79, 357–63.
12 The relationship between social trust and effective civil and political institutions is a complex one that goes beyond the narrow scope of this essay. It can be argued that a large degree of trust is needed first in order to form civil networks and associations; at the same time, it is equally possible to claim that a vibrant associational life promotes and enhances civic trust.
13 On this issue, see Fukuyama Francis, Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity (New York: Free Press, 1995), 269–323; Bellah Robert N. et al. , Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (New York: Harper and Row, 1985), 250–96; and Schambra William A., “The Progressive Assault of Civic Community,” in The Essential Civil Society Reader: The Classic Essays, ed. Eberly Don. E. (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000), 317–51.
14 Putnam Robert, “Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital,” Journal of Democracy, 6, no. 1 (1995): 68.
15 Elshtain Jean Bethke, “Democracy on Trial: The Role of Civil Society in Sustaining Democratic Values,” in Eberly , ed., The Essential Civil Society Reader, 105.
16 Eberly Don E., “The Meaning, Origins, and Applications of Civil Society,” in Eberly , ed., The Essential Civil Society Reader, 27.
17 Rousseau wrote: “There is often a great difference between the will of all [what all individuals want] and the general will; the general will studies only the common interest while the will of all studies private interest, and is indeed no more than the sum of individual desires.” Rousseau Jean-Jacques, The Social Contract, trans. Cranston Maurice (London: Penguin, 1968), 72.
18 Ibid., 73.
19 Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès (1748–1836) was one of the leading theorists of the French Revolution, and the author of a famous pamphlet, What Is the Third Estate? Published on the eve of the events of 1789, this pamphlet became the manifesto of the Revolution.
20 As quoted in Rosanvallon Pierre, Le modèle politique français: La société civile contre le jacobinisme de 1789 à nos jours (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 2004), 28.
21 The quote is from James Madison (Federalist No. 51) in Hamilton Alexander, Madison James, and Jay John, The Federalist Papers, ed. Rossiter Clinton (New York: The New American Library, 1961), 322. In Federalist No. 10, Madison made a persuasive plea for diversity and pluralism that ran against the vision proposed by Rousseau's Social Contract: “The smaller the society, the fewer probably will be the distinct parties and interests composing it … [and] the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression. Extend the sphere and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength and to act in unison with each other” (The Federalist Papers, 83).
22 See, among others, Gouirand Pierre, Tocqueville: Une certaine vision de la démocratie (Paris: L'Harmattan, 2005), 215–40.
23 Montesquieu , The Spirit of the Laws, trans. Cohler Anne, Miller Basia, and Stone Harold (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989); Montesquieu , Considerations on the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and Their Decline, trans. Lowenthal David (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1999).
24 Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, 18.
25 Ibid., 57.
26 The emphasis on commonality and harmony of interests was a constant theme in Rousseau's Social Contract. See, for example, the following passage from book II, chapter 1: “The first and most important consequence of the principles so far established is that the general will alone can direct the forces of the state in accordance with that end which the state has been established to achieve—the common good; for if conflict between private interests has made the setting up of civil societies necessary, harmony between those same interests has made it possible…. The private will inclines by its very nature towards partiality, and the general will towards equality” (69). I should also point out that the authors of The Federalist Papers were steeped in the writings of Montesquieu, and that the intense debates between the Federalists and the Antifederalists over whether the proposed U.S. Constitution should be ratified or not touched upon many of the points that had previously been raised by Montesquieu in The Spirit of the Laws. One such issue was whether or not a republic could be established over a large geographical area. Montesquieu and the Antifederalists answered in the negative, while Madison and Hamilton believed in the possibility of a large republic.
27 The group of so-called French monarchiens included Jean-Joseph Mounier (1758–1806), Gérard de Lally Tollendal (1751–1830), Stanislas Marie Adelaide Clermont-Tonnerre (1757–1792), and Pierre Victor Malouet (1740–1814).
28 Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, Comte de Mirabeau (1749–1791) was a prominent French orator and statesman who played a key role during the first two years of the French Revolution, when he was elected president of the National Assembly.
29 Readings in Western Civilization, vol. 7: The Old Regime and the French Revolution, ed. Baker Keith M. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 248.
30 See Jaume Lucien, Le Discours jacobin et la démocratie (Paris: Fayard, 1989); Jaume , Échec au libéralisme: Les Jacobins et l'État (Paris: Kimé, 1991); and Rosanvallon Pierre, “Fondements et problèmes de l'illibéralisme français,” in La France du nouveau siècle, ed. de Montbrial Thierry (Paris: PUF, 2002). Rosanvallon gives a comprehensive account of French exceptionalism in his book Le modèle politique français.
31 Joseph Fievée, quoted in Rosanvallon, Le modèle politique français, 180.
32 Benjamin Constant, Principles of Politics, reprinted in Constant Benjamin, Political Writings, ed. Fontana Biancamaria (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 254.
33 Although the French Doctrinaires did not form a political party in the proper sense of the word, they held important positions in Parliament, administration, and government during the Bourbon Restoration (1814–1830) and the July Monarchy (1830–1848). The group included François Guizot, Pierre-Paul Royer-Collard, Prosper de Barante, Hercule de Serre, Camille Jordan, and Charles de Rémusat. The word “Doctrinaires” was a misnomer, not only because it generated serious misinterpretations which (unfairly) portrayed Guizot and his colleagues as greedy opportunists or shameless hypocrites, but also because there were many differences among them that are not adequately conveyed by the word “Doctrinaires.” For more information, see Craiutu Aurelian, Liberalism Under Siege: The Political Thought of the French Doctrinaires (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2003), chap. 2.
34 La Vie politique de M. Royer-Collard: Ses discours et ses écrits, vol. 2, ed. de Barante Prosper (Paris: Didier, 1861), 130–31.
35 Charles de Rémusat, quoted in Rosanvallon, Le modèle politique français, 182–83.
36 de Barante Prosper, Des communes et de l'aristocratie (Paris: Ladvocat, 1821), 7.
37 The term “la société en poussière” was used by Royer-Collard in one of his parliamentary speeches in 1820. See Barante, ed., La Vie politique de M. Royer-Collard, 131.
38 Barante, Des communes et de l'aristocratie, 16–17.
39 On Jacquemont, see Craiutu Aurelian, “A Precursor of Tocqueville: Victor Jacquemont's Reflections on America,” in America Through European Eyes, ed. Craiutu Aurelian and Isaac Jeffrey C. (University Park: Penn State University Press, 2008). For a comprehensive analysis of Jacquemont's generation, see Spitzer Alan B., The French Generation of 1820 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987).
40 Correspondance inédite de Victor Jacquemont avec sa famille et ses amis, 1824–1832, ed. Mérimée Prosper, 1 vol. (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1885), 166.
41 Ibid., 167.
42 All references are to de Tocqueville Alexis, Democracy in America, trans. Goldhammer Arthur (New York: The Library of America, 2004). References to this work will be given parenthetically in the text, with the title abbreviated as DA.
43 Specifically, volume 1, part II, chap. 4, and vol. 2, part II, chaps. 4–6. Richard Boyd devotes an entire chapter to examining Tocqueville's views of associations and pluralism in Boyd , Uncivil Society: The Perils of Pluralism and the Making of Modern Liberalism (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2006), 209–38. On this topic, see also Villa Dana, “Tocqueville and Civil Society,” in The Cambridge Companion to Tocqueville, ed. Welch Cheryl B. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 216–44; and Gannett Robert T., “Bowling Ninepins in Tocqueville's Township,” American Political Science Review 97, no. 1 (February 2003): 1–16.
44 de Tocqueville Alexis, Journey to America, ed. Meyer J. P., Lawrence trans. George (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1962), 252.
45 See also Tocqueville, Journey to America, 212–13.
46 Ibid., 51.
47 Tocqueville's point that democracies may risk lapsing into a new form of despotism might remind the reader of Montesquieu's claim: “Rivers run together into the sea; monarchies are lost in despotism” (Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, 125).
48 On this topic, see Rosanvallon, Le modèle politique français, 158–64; and Craiutu Aurelian, “Tocqueville and the Political Thought of the French Doctrinaires,” History of Political Thought 20, no. 3 (Fall 1999): 456–93.
49 Villèle, quoted in Rosanvallon, Le modèle politique français, 160.
50 See Swart Koenraad, “Individualism in the Mid-Nineteenth Century (1826–1860),” Journal of the History of Ideas 23, no. 1 (January–March 1962): 78.
51 de Tocqueville Alexis, The Old Regime and the Revolution, vol. 1, trans. Kahan Alan S. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 163. According to Swart (“Individualism in the Mid-Nineteenth Century,” 79), the term “individualism” made its first appearance in a French dictionary in 1836.
52 On this topic, see also Boyd, Uncivil Society, 214–18.
53 Manent Pierre, Tocqueville and the Nature of Democracy (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1996), chaps. 2–3.
54 de Tocqueville Alexis, Selected Letters on Politics and Society, ed. Boesche Roger, Boesche trans. Roger and Toupin James (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 99–100.
55 Ibid., 156.
56 Ibid., 257.
57 Tocqueville, The Old Regime and the Revolution, 1: 217.
58 Tocqueville was elected a member of the Chamber of Deputies in 1839; he was reelected during the Second Republic (1841–1851). Tocqueville's political career came to an end after the coup d'état of December 2, 1851, by Louis Napoleon.
59 Louis-Adolphe Thiers (1797–1877) was a prominent French politician and historian who served as prime minister during the July Monarchy (from 1832 to 1836). François Guizot (1787–1874) was the most famous of the French Doctrinaires (see note 33 above). During the July Monarchy, he served as minister of education, minister of foreign affairs, and prime minister.
60 Tocqueville, Selected Letters on Politics and Society, 154.
61 Ibid., 155–56.
62 de Tocqueville Alexis, The Old Regime and the Revolution, vol. 2, trans. Kahan Alan S. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 237.
63 Tocqueville, The Old Regime and the Revolution, 1: 208, 244.
64 Tocqueville, Selected Letters on Politics and Society, 143.
65 de Tocqueville Alexis, Recollections, ed. Mayer J. P. and Kerr A. P. (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1997), 5–6.
66 On this topic, see Glendon Mary Ann, Rights Talk (New York: The Free Press, 1991).
67 In his travel notes, Tocqueville wrote: “The effect of temperance societies is one of the most notable things in this country” (Tocqueville, Journey to America, 212).
68 Jardin André, Tocqueville: A Biography (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1988), 373.
69 For more detail, see The Tocqueville Reader, ed. Zunz Oliver and Kahan Alan S. (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002), 221–26.
70 Quoted in Boesche Roger, “Le Commerce: A Newspaper Expressing Tocqueville's Unusual Liberalism,” in Boesche Roger, Tocqueville's Road Map: Methodology, Liberalism, Revolution, and Despotism (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2006), 190.
71 Tocqueville, Recollections, 5.
72 On Tocqueville's “strange liberalism,” see Boesche, Tocqueville's Road Map, 17–58; and Craiutu Aurelian, “Tocqueville's Paradoxical Moderation,” The Review of Politics 67, no. 4 (2005): 599–629.
73 Tocqueville, Selected Letters on Politics and Society, 294.
74 Alexander Jeffrey C., “Tocqueville's Two Forms of Association,” The Tocqueville Review/La Revue Tocqueville 27, no. 2 (2006): 181.
75 Boyd, Uncivil Society, 41. On this issue, see also Rosenblum Nancy, Membership and Morals (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), 3–69, 239–84; and Warren Mark, Democracy and Association (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), 134–204.
76 Cohen Jean, “Does Voluntary Association Make Democracy Work?” in Smelser Neil and Alexander Jeffrey C., eds., Diversity and Its Discontents: Cultural Conflict and Common Ground in Contemporary American Society (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999), 269–70.
77 For an extensive treatment of civility, see Boyd, Uncivil Society, 25–30, 248–52.
I would like to thank Ellen Frankel Paul and Harry Dolan for their comments on a previous draft of this essay.
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