Alexis de Tocqueville

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Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) was a French historian who visited the early United States in 1831, at the age of 25, and made observations, in his book, Democracy in America (1835), still considered deep and insightful about the formation of American government.[1] He also wrote L'Ancien Régime correcting misconceptions about the nature of French government before the French Revolution, basing his work on original documents.[2]

American exceptionalism

He originated the term American exceptionalism, calling the United States "...qualitatively different from all other countries," and based on the values of that creed as liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism, and laissez-faire economics.[3] Not all agree with his principles, especially egalitarianism. [4]

Social capital

While he does not seem to have used the specific term social capital, he observed "'it was the Americans' propensity for civic association that most impressed him as the key to their unprecedented ability to make democracy work. Americans of all ages, all stations in life, and all types of disposition," he observed, "are forever forming associations.'"[5]

References

  1. All About Alexis de Tocqueville, C-SPAN: The Alexis de Tocqueville Tour; Exploring Democracy in America; May 9, 1997 - February 20, 1998
  2. Headlam, G W (ed) L'Ancien Régime. Oxford. At the Clarendon Press. 1904. Introduction
  3. Alexis de Toqueville, Democracy In America, vol. 1 (of 2), Project Gutenberg
  4. William J. Murphy, Jr., "Alexis de Tocqueville in New York: The Formulation of the Egalitarian Thesis." New York Historical Society Quarterly 61 (January/April 1977): 69–79
  5. Robert D. Putnam (January 1995), "Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital", Journal of Democracy (reprinted by permission of Johns Hopkins Press by League of Women Voters)