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By Alexis de Tocqueville

A robust new translation of de Tocqueville?s influential examine the origins of recent France

during this penetrating examine, Alexis de Tocqueville considers the French Revolution within the context of France?s background. de Tocqueville nervous that even supposing the innovative spirit used to be nonetheless alive and good, liberty used to be not its basic aim. simply because the first Republic had fallen to Napoleon and the second one had succumbed to his nephew Napoleon III, he feared that each one destiny revolutions may well adventure an analogous destiny, without end imperiling the improvement of democracy in France.

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Sample text

Thus I managed to acquire considerable knowledge about this older social order not available to contemporaries, since I had before my eyes material not presented to theirs. The more I progressed in this study, the more surprised I was to see, at every turn, in the France of that period many characteristics which strike us still today. I encountered a host of feelings which I believed had been born with the Revolution, a host of ideas which, until then, I had thought had sprung from it alone and a thousand customs which we felt had been given to us only by the Revolution.

Tocqueville clung to the hope that the French were a virtuous nation, but in the last chapter of his book he sketched a devastating portrayal of its character which was hardly a vote of confidence: When I contemplate this nation in itself, I find it to be more extraordinary than any of the events in its history. Has there ever appeared on this earth a single nation so full of contrasts and so excessive in all its actions… unruly by temperament yet better suited to the arbitrary and even violent authority of a king than to the free and orderly government by leading citizens; today the declared enemy of all obedience, tomorrow devoting to servitude a kind of passion which nations best suited to slavery cannot manage; led by a thread as long as no resistance is offered; ungovernable as soon as an example of such resistance appears somewhere; thus always tricking its masters who fear it either too much or too little; never so free that one need despair of enslaving it nor so enslaved that it cannot still break its yoke; fitted for everything but excelling only in warfare… the most brilliant and the most dangerous of European nations… Only France, he concluded, could have made the Revolution.

The third and final truth is that nowhere is despotism bound to produce more damaging effects than in such societies since, more than any other system of government, it fosters the growth of all those defects to which these societies are especially prone and it drives them accordingly in the very direction they were already favouring as a result of a natural inclination. In such communities, where men are no longer tied to each other by race, class, craft guilds or family, they are all only too ready to think merely of their own interests, ever too predisposed to consider no one but themselves and to withdraw into a narrow individualism where all public good is snuffed out.

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