Latest Issue

Alexis de Tocqueville

The French aristocrat wrote the first great account of American democracy. But Tocqueville is misread if turned into a prophet or philosopher. We should see him as a travel writer and historian

By Hugh Brogan   January 2007

Alfred E Smith, the much-loved governor of New York state for most of the 1920s, was famous for his unpretentious way with words; it authenticated him as a man of the people. So it is easy to see why he blue-pencilled a certain press release that was to be issued in his name: “People might think I could quote Thomas Jefferson, but De Tocqueville, never!”

This anecdote does more than illustrate Al Smith’s character: it also pinpoints the position of Alexis de Tocqueville in American culture. He is remembered as a wise man who wrote a glowing book about democracy…

Register today to continue reading

You’ve hit your limit of three articles in the last 30 days. To get seven more, simply enter your email address below.

You’ll also receive our free e-book Prospect’s Top Thinkers 2020 and our newsletter with the best new writing on politics, economics, literature and the arts.

Prospect may process your personal information for our legitimate business purposes, to provide you with newsletters, subscription offers and other relevant information.

Click here to learn more about these purposes and how we use your data. You will be able to opt-out of further contact on the next page and in all our communications.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to

More From Prospect