Colonization and Democracy: Tocqueville Reconsidered

EWA ATANASSOW

AMERICAN POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEW, Volume 111, Issue 1

Abstract: The prominence of colonization in Tocqueville’s life and works has been widely noted, yet scholars disagree about its importance. The perceived tension between Tocqueville’s analysis of democracy and his advocacy of colonization continues to be the subject of heated scholarly debate. Revisiting Tocqueville’s analytical and practical engagement with colonization, this essay reexamines its relationship to Tocqueville’s account of democracy. It argues that, while lending political support to the French empire, Tocqueville was a clairvoyant critic of colonial rule; and that his involvement with colonization could only be properly understood in light of the historical and civilizational vista that informs his oeuvre as a whole. Proposing that Tocqueville viewed European expansionism as an instrument of the global movement toward democratic equality, the essay concludes with an assessment of the significance of Tocqueville’s colonial writings for his “new political science,” and their relevance today.