A Tocquevillean analysis of the democratic peace research program and modern liberal foreign policy
Alexis de Tocqueville is widely hailed as one of the most insightful students of democracy and as one of the most perceptive observers of America. While this high praise is fully deserved, Tocqueville was more than simply the author of Democracy in America. Indeed, he completed the journey that inspired his seminal work before he was out of his twenties. The remainder of his life was devoted to the practice of politics. Both as an involved citizen and as a member of the Chamber of Deputies, Tocqueville researched and wrote extensively on French foreign policy. His most notable works are several reports endorsing French colonial projects in Algeria and articles advocating for the emancipation of slavery in the French Caribbean colonies. In this essay I argue that one cannot truly understand Tocqueville the student without analyzing Tocqueville the politician. Approaching his career as a consistent whole, rather than two distinct and incongruous parts, opens new avenues of investigation into his works. First, his incisive examination and critique of the distinct mildness engendered by equality of conditions in America helps fill several theoretical gaps in the democratic peace research program. Second, his arguments in support of both French imperial enterprises as well as the emancipation of slaves reveals that his diplomatic career was animated above all by the desire to forestall the further proliferation of this democratic mildness, which he viewed as one of democracy’s most dangerous vices. Examining his foreign policy positions in light of the lessons he learned in writing Democracy in America is the only way to discover the consistent goal of his life—namely, to educate and guide the future generations of democracy—and thus to understand Tocqueville as he understood himself.