Revisiting Tocqueville's America: Society, Politics, and Association in the Nineteenth Century

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The concept of social capital has revitalized the study of civil society. Alexis de Tocqueville's examination of 19th-century America is a major source of inspiration for much of this work. Tocqueville's analysis has been used to help support the idea that a strong civil society is crucial to democratic success. A reconsideration of Tocqueville's analysis, and, more important, of his American case, however, suggests that an active civil society is not an unalloyed good for democratic politics. A strong society can be not only a support but also a threat to democracy and liberal democratic ideals. One's evaluation of the health of democratic polities must depend on a study of the effects of political institutions and constitutional structures, as well as of civil society.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21-32
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Behavioral Scientist
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 1998

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Social Sciences


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