Reading Tocqueville: From Oracle to Actor by Raf Geenens

By Raf Geenens

This quantity units up a discussion among the 'historical' and the 'contemporary' Tocqueville. How does a contextualization of Tocqueville, or a spotlight on his embeddedness in nineteenth-century political tradition, upload to our figuring out of his political inspiration? How has using his writings in political debate encouraged the reception of his work?

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161–2. 30 Reading Tocqueville 45 Tocqueville cited the British abolition of slavery as one great event of his day that suggested that the decadence of his age was not yet total. ‘We are often unjust towards our times. Our fathers saw such extraordinary things that, in comparison with their accomplishments, all those of our contemporaries seem commonplace. i, p. 79; Empire and Slavery, p. 199. 3 Creating Concitoyens: Tocqueville on the Legacy of Slavery Cheryl Welch Introduction From his entry into the Chamber of Deputies in 1839 to his principled withdrawal from political life a decade later, Tocqueville was guided by his deep-seated desire to negotiate a practical transition to democracy without sacrificing liberty.

Indeed, Tocqueville never succumbed to fatalism in the French case. When British emancipation seemed to open a window of opportunity for French abolitionists, he attempted to unsettle the politics of postponement with a bold state initiative. 47 Because Protestant ministers are elected, they come under the sway of tyranny of majority opinion. Hence Protestant congregations replicate the patterns of exclusion characteristic of the society in which they are embedded. Catholic priests, however, impose law, rather than conforming to it.

Like others in the philanthropic reform movement, Tocqueville’s conviction that slavery was unjust and unjustifiable is rooted in the moral claims of Christianity and humanité. Slavery represented a denial of the providential unfolding of Christian ideals of universality and equal fellowship. Indeed his faith in the compatibility between religion and democracy fuelled his hope that in a democratic future people would both recognize each other as equals (semblables) and exercise the free will implicit in the Christian notion of responsibility for one’s soul.

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