Alexis de Tocqueville

Alexis de Tocqueville

Alexis-Charles-Henri Cléral de Tocqueville.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet

Publication date: July 2008

Historical context

Tocqueville in America

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859), historian, thinker and French publicist of the Malesherbes family, belongs to a noble family which narrowly escaped the Jacobin Terror. In Democracy in America (1835), Tocqueville writes that “the people rule over the American political world like God over the universe. He is the cause and the end of all things; everything comes out and everything is absorbed in it. ". This social mobility, observed firsthand in America, thus reinforces among citizens the feeling of equality procured by the strict equality of rights.

Image Analysis

Portrait of a notable

In 1850, date of the portrait painted by Théodore Chassériau, Tocqueville had already published for 10 years the second volume of his Democracy in America, where the evocation of the latter is less important, leaving room for a broader political reflection. Chassériau is a relatively well-known student of Ingres, appreciated by Delacroix for example. He painted Tocqueville as a notable whom he became, both deputy for Valognes and elected to the General Council of the Department of Manche. Despite the bourgeois banality of the decor, an off-white door and the satin green back of an armchair, the man looks younger than his 45 years old. He is shown standing, three-quarter length, in what appears to be his office. The unadorned black suit contrasts with the romantic pallor of the face on which a thin smile emerges, half-sorry, half-ironic.

Interpretation

Lessons from the American political model

This is undoubtedly a reflection of the ambiguity of the time, between disappointment with the results of the Revolution of 1848 and concern about the future reserved for the nation by President Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1835, Tocqueville had written in a premonitory manner: "What I reproach most with the democratic government, as it has been organized in the United States, is not, as many people in Europe claim, its weakness, but on the contrary its irresistible strength ”. In 1850, France became more liberal and democratic, as Tocqueville, a member of the Order party, wished. But it had to immediately face the onslaught of the most revolutionary republicans and elect in 1849 a president by universal suffrage who provides no guarantee against a monarchical drift of the regime. In fact, two years later, a coup d'etat made Napoleon's nephew the second French emperor.

  • democracy
  • writers
  • portrait
  • Tocqueville (Alexis de)

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "Alexis de Tocqueville"


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