Thinking about Revolutions : Alexis de Tocqueville and the Experience of 1848
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In the twenty-first century, Tocqueville is everywhere. Historians and social scientists use Democracy in America to explain and criticize contemporary populism, individualism, or the welfare state… Yet are Tocqueville’s theories universal enough to be used and re-used in our century? Tocqueville himself changed his mind about some of his predictions. His experience of 1848 contradicted his views on revolutions in the democratic age. As he used to explain them in a monocausal way, discovering the multiple variables that caused the 1848 revolution forced him to nuance his approach. He ultimately studied revolutions by themselves, with their unique dynamic and their unique set of causes. In 1848, he encountered a new world – the industrial society and its egalitarian intellectuals – and changed a key prediction of Democracy because of his lived experience. One should therefore be cautious, before applicating Tocqueville’s theories almost two centuries after his life, to not denature the views of the writer.