Alexis De Tocqueville: The Old Regime And The French Revolution

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Alexis de Tocqueville’s 1856 book The Old Regime and the (French) Revolution is an attempt to understand what has been considered the inciting incident of the nineteenth century, the French Revolution, with a more critical eye, after decades of reflection and influence.
The criticism of the French Revolution that Tocqueville makes in The Old Regime and the Revolution are easily read as a product of his experiences in nineteenth century France. Though Tocqueville was born a decade after the end of the Revolution – in 1805 – the impact of the 1789 Revolution on his life was profound. Writing five years after the inception of the Second French Empire under Napoleon III in 1851, which he had opposed, Tocqueville criticises the late stages of the French Revolution for its “despotism”. He claims that the revolutionary government of the Terror was “far stronger and more
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To understand the course of the French Revolution, Tocqueville argues, the Old Regime that it overthrew must be examined; in the old monarchy, he believes, lies both “the secret of [the Revolution’s] earliest efforts” and the “promise of its ultimate results.” The French Revolution, according to Tocqueville, did not dispose of the Old Regime as much as it intended to, or as much as it is said to have. This thesis sets Tocqueville at odds with both defenders of the French Revolution, and with the Revolution itself, which sought to create a new society entirely divorced from the centuries of absolute monarchy that preceded it. It also places Tocqueville against common historical interpretation of the French Revolution, which upholds it as an explosive, unforeseen, and defining moment in the history of modern
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