Recollections on the French Revolution

Recollections on the French Revolution

by Alexis de Tocqueville

Tocqueville was not only an active participant in the French Revolution of 1848, he was also a deeply perceptive observer with a detached attitude of mind.

Thus the book has a relevance that extends beyond France, to our own country and others, a relevance that is explored in J.P. Mayer's new introduction.Out of print in English for several years, Recollections is presented here in a translation based on the definitive French edition of 1964.

It captures the wit and subtlety of mind that have made this book one of the most popular of all Tocqueville's works.

  • Language: English
  • Category: History
  • Rating: 4.07
  • Pages: 374
  • Publish Date: January 31st 1987 by Routledge
  • Isbn10: 088738658X
  • Isbn13: 9780887386589

Read the Book "Recollections on the French Revolution" Online

Tout son système est fondé sur la duplicité à l'égard des hommes et des institutions. Il chérit la liberté, mais les français en sont indignes; l'égalité est une chimère qui le rend malade; quant à la fraternité, il ne l'envisage qu'avec ses semblables. Leurs femmes, qui prennent part à la lutte à l'égal des hommes, n'y amènent que des "passions de ménagère", elles qui pour "mettre à l'aise leur mari et élever leurs enfants, aiment cette guerre comme une loterie". Cette sensibilité le rend étrangement partial et aveugle, lui qui est par ailleurs si pénétrant en affaire politiques. Lorsqu'il rencontre Georges Sand à un diner, entre les insurrections de février et juin 1848, après avoir ironisé méchamment sur ses amours, il remarque : "c'était la première fois que j'entrais en rapport direct et familier avec une personne qui pût et voulût me dire en partie ce qui se passait dans le camp de nos adversaires. La lecture de ce texte est saisissante à plus d'un titre: l'auteur semble s'y livrer avec une très grande franchise, et offre un témoignage de première main de ce que fut cette révolution.

(He actually wrote after the events at hand, but still within just a few years.) Such a memoir of a highly positioned person provides a glimpse of inner workings which would often seem too quotidian to remember at the end of a long career, but would provide the historian, the psychologist, and even the lay reader with a clearer view of that world.

I find it is to Tocqueville's credit, thinking as he does, that he is quite reconciled to the idea of having a republic he doesn't particularly like, because he can see no other viable option for the survival of the State, and does his utmost to protect the system, even though governed by people he doesn't particularly relate to and while knowing that the whole thing is doomed because of the intrinsic contradiction of a strong Parliament and a strong Presidency held by someone with barely concealed imperial ambitions.

We learn in this book that Tocqueville typically carried a sword-cane for self-defense, and this fact alone is sufficient to prove Tocqueville's coolness.

It certainly isn't necessary to know every detail about 1848 before reading it, but I do think it helps if you have an overall grasp of the events (the episodes covering 1848 on Mike Duncan's podcast mentioned above or the wikipedia entry covering the revolution in France in 1848 should be enough. At least it was for me!) As de Tocqueville is a part of the national assembly (and later a minister as mentioned) in Paris you get a personal take and a real inside view of everything that goes on in the political center of the action. When the uprising has been (spoiler alert!) crushed and the memoir shifts to de Tocqueville's time as foreign minister the book becomes way less interesting. It might be just me and my interest in the uprising of 1848, but the discussions covering alliances in the government and foreign policy in de Tocqueville's time as minister isn't as captivating as the first 3/4 of the book. And I guess that new thing would be, as Mike Duncan points out in his podcast, the separation of the political question (the importance of constitution, expanding of the voter base, abolition of hereditary class privilege's) and the social question (salaries, bread and water, housing, etc) in revolutions. If you want a personal memoir from the streets and the national assembly in Paris this year of revolutions in Europe, this certainly is the book for you.

Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville (July 29, 1805 April 16, 1859) was a French political thinker and historian best known for his Democracy in America (appearing in two volumes: 1835 and 1840) and The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856). Democracy in America (1835), his major work, published after his travels in the United States, is today considered an early work of sociology and political science. An eminent representative of the classical liberal political tradition, Tocqueville was an active participant in French politics, first under the July Monarchy (18301848) and then during the Second Republic (18491851) which succeeded to the February 1848 Revolution. The success of this work, an early model for the science that would become known as sociology, led him to be named chevalier de la Légion d'honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honour) in 1837, and to be elected the next year to the Académie des sciences morales et politiques. After the fall of the July Monarchy during the February 1848 Revolution, Tocqueville was elected a member of the Constituent Assembly of 1848, where he became a member of the Commission charged with the drafting of the new Constitution of the Second Republic (18481851).