Tocqueville, Alexis de
James M. Murphy
Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–1859) was a French statesman, political thinker, and founder of comparative-historical sociology. Tocqueville was born in Paris to an aristocratic family that had suffered the depredations of the French Revolution. He traveled to the United States in 1831–1832—on the pretext of researching the novel penitentiary system of Pennsylvania and New York—and based his masterpiece Democracy in America on his observations and inquiries of American society. Shortly after returning to France, Tocqueville got involved in politics and served in the Chamber of Deputies from 1839 to 1851, participated in drafting a new constitution in 1848, and served briefly as Louis Bonaparte's Minister of Foreign Affairs. Tocqueville left public office in 1851 after protesting Bonaparte's coup d'état and immediately set to work researching and writing The Old Regime and the French Revolution . Tocqueville's most significant contributions to social theory include his arguments on democratization as a world-historical process ...