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Tocqueville’s Guizot Moment

Nicholas Toloudis

Although it is not much mentioned in the scholarly literature, the school shows up as an important motif in both volumes of Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America. Tocqueville distinguished between civic education, which he saw as crucially important to the survival of democracy, and scholastic education, which could threaten it. There is a tension between these educations, which becomes clearer upon noticing Tocqueville's support for the political doctrine of freedom of education, which was so important in French politics during the July Monarchy (1830-1848). The source of this tension lies in Tocqueville's understanding of the American social condition and decentralized administration as being amenable to civic education, while centralized France precluded it. This tension is mediated, the article suggests, by Tocqueville's perception of the essential religiosity of French society.