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Introduction: Educating Democracy to the Promise and Dangers of Equality

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Type: Working Paper
Author: Allen, Barbara
Date: 1997
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/3922
Sector: Social Organization
Subject(s): democracy--history
governance and politics--history
Tocqueville, Alexis de
Abstract: "'Nothing in history [is] more worthy of sorrow and pity,' Tocqueville wrote, '[than a nation experiencing a democratic revolution] without that concomitant change in the laws, ideas, customs, and morals which [is] necessary to render such a revolution beneficial.]' A childhood shadowed by the family tragedies of the French Revolution and an early career directly effected by the July Revolution of 1830 gave Tocqyeyille 'a passion for liberty,' making the study of democracy more than a scholastic interest. From Democracy' in America through his unfinished masterwork, The Old Regime and the French Revolution, Tocqueville examined how democratic aspirations advance or destroy liberty. "In America, Tocqueville sought 'the very image of democracy.' By depicting American practices accurately, he would portray democracy's character, "throwing into relief its thoughts, prejudices, and passions. 'America,' he wrote to John Stuart Mill of his early work, 'was only my frame, democratic the subject." With this portrait Tocqueville hoped to show succeeding generations what they may hope and fear as they give shape to their democratic ideas in politics. By 'democracy' Tocqueville meant more than a form of government. 'Democracy' manifested in politics and philosophy 'the most ancient and permanent trend in history,' increasing social equality. The principle of equality figures so prominently in Democracy that Tocqueville intended to use egalite rather than democratic in the title of the final part of his work. If America provided his frame, seven centuries of increasing social equality supplied the setting for Tocqueville's study."

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