Tocqueville, Comparative History, and Immigration in Two Democracies

in French Politics, Culture & Society
Author:
Nancy L. Green

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Although mass migration to the United States and to France did not occur until after Tocqueville's visit to America, by rereading Tocqueville's classic De la démocratie en Amérique through the lens of immigration history, we can question some of the common assumptions about Franco-American differences. First, Tocqueville's comparativist gaze needs to be re-examined, especially with regard to the way in which it has been repeatedly invoked during the Tocquevillian renaissance of the last thirty years to differentiate the French and American experiences. Second, if Tocqueville did not discuss immigrants per se, his analysis of voluntary associations points to an important component of civil society which has been present both in France and the United States ever since immigrants began arriving en masse. Theories about the rise and decline of civil society as well as generalizations about Franco-American differences need to be challenged by including immigration associations in a new Tocquevillian analysis of democracy in both countries.

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