The Old Regime and the Revolution

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Harper & brothers, 1856 - France - 344 pages
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The Old Regime and the Revolution

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This is a new translation of Tocqueville's last masterpiece, written in 1851. Best known as the author of Democracy in America, Tocqueville focuses here on the meaning and origin of the French ... Read full review

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Really enjoyed this book. There were a few slow sections but overall, it was a great combination of history and political theory. I'm not sure how Tocqueville reads in French, but this translation was excellent. I went into this book expecting to learn a lot about the French revolution, but I learned a lot about Feudalism broadly speaking across Europe. The political theory is more anecdotal than systematic, but I found it very insightful in places. And finally, there were so many times when I couldn't help but see the parallels to our own government in our own time. In short, you get a well-written history lesson, with some trenchant observations about political theory, that remains relevant to today. Recommended for anyone who enjoys history or political theory. 




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Page 35 - ... if diffident of yourselves, and not clearly discerning the almost obliterated constitution of your ancestors, you had looked to your neighbors in this land, who had kept alive the ancient principles and models of the old common law of Europe meliorated and adapted to its present state — by following wise examples you would have given new examples of wisdom to the world.
Page 25 - ... order and government, that it became intelligible to all, and susceptible of simultaneous imitation in a hundred different places. By seeming to tend rather to the regeneration of the human race than to the reform of France alone, it roused passions such as the most violent political revolutions had been incapable of awakening. It inspired proselytism, and gave birth to propagandism; and hence assumed that quasi religious character which so terrified those who saw it, or, rather, became a sort...
Page 244 - No nation but such a one as this could give birth to a revolution so sudden, so radical, so impetuous in its course, and yet so full of missteps, contradictory facts, and conflicting examples. The French could not have done it but for the reasons I have alleged ; but it must be admitted even these reasons would not suffice to explain such a revolution in any country but France.
Page 15 - Deprived of the old government, deprived in a manner of all government, France fallen as a monarchy, to common speculators might have appeared more likely to be an object of pity or insult, according to the disposition of the circumjacent powers, than to be the scourge and...
Page 189 - ... being as fully exhibited in Morelly's Code de la Nature, as in any of the writings of Proudhon, or Louis Blanc. compelling those who were weak of body, or of mind, to expend their labor upon them, and giving in return such portion of the product as may seem required for preserving the slave...
Page 161 - French eighteenth-century enlightenment was related directly to the institutional anachronisms which fettered the major classes in France. Tocqueville remarked that all [the philosophic writers] concurred in one central point, from which their particular notions diverged. They all started with the principle that it was necessary to substitute simple and elementary rules, based on reason and natural law, for the complicated and traditional customs which regulated society in their time.3 Then, for...
Page 315 - It has been said that the character of the philosophy of the eighteenth century was a sort of adoration of human intellect, an unlimited confidence in its power to transform at will laws, institutions, customs. To be accurate, it must be said that the human intellect which some of these philosophers adored was simply their own. They showed, in fact, an uncommon want of faith in the wisdom of the masses. I could mention several who despised the public almost as heartily as they despised the Deity.
Page 15 - ... tremendous, unformed spectre, in a far more terrific guise than any which ever yet have overpowered the imagination, and subdued the fortitude of man. Going straight forward to its end, unappalled by peril, unchecked by remorse, despising all common maxims and all common means, that hideous phantom overpowered those who could not believe it was possible she could at all exist...
Page 315 - Toward the latter they evinced the pride of rivals— the former they treated with the pride of parvenus. They were as far from real and respectful submission to the will of the majority as from submission to the will of God. Nearly all subsequent revolutionaries have borne the same character. Very different from this is the respect shown by Englishmen and Americans for the sentiments of the majority of their fellow citizens. Their intellect is proud and self-reliant, but never insolent; and it has...
Page 195 - What do they need in order to remain free ? A taste for freedom. Do not ask me to analyze that sublime taste; it can only be felt. It has a place in every great heart which God has prepared to receive it: it fills and inflames it. To try to explain it to those inferior minds who have never felt it is to waste time.

About the author (1856)

French writer and politician Alexis de Tocqueville was born in Verneuil to an aristocratic Norman family. He entered the bar in 1825 and became an assistant magistrate at Versailles. In 1831, he was sent to the United States to report on the prison system. This journey produced a book called On the Penitentiary System in the United States (1833), as well as a much more significant work called Democracy in America (1835--40), a treatise on American society and its political system. Active in French politics, Tocqueville also wrote Old Regime and the Revolution (1856), in which he argued that the Revolution of 1848 did not constitute a break with the past but merely accelerated a trend toward greater centralization of government. Tocqueville was an observant Catholic, and this has been cited as a reason why many of his insights, rather than being confined to a particular time and place, reach beyond to see a universality in all people everywhere.

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