Tocqueville's Liberalism: Politics is not Economics

32 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 6 Sep 2009

Date Written: 2009


What is thought provoking about Alexis de Tocqueville’s account of democracy is that while he defends economic activity as the highest activity to which we can aspire he himself does not take the economic model of human life for granted. This allows him, and us, to understand democracy in a new (or perhaps old) way. According to Tocqueville the logic of equality that drives democratic thinking leads to individualism and materialism of market society that when applied to social networks undermines the foundation of economics in the beliefs and mores of the people. He thus acts as a corrective by demonstrating that the success of an economic community is not independent of the social, cultural, and religious health of that community. Even if economics is the highest good of politics, politics cannot be measured solely in terms of economic outcomes. If democracy requires a return to self-interest properly understood then this return can only be fostered by addressing the excesses of equality and infusing democracy with non-economic contemplation that comes with aristocratic hierarchy.

Suggested Citation

Murphy, Christopher, Tocqueville's Liberalism: Politics is not Economics (2009). APSA 2009 Toronto Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN:

Christopher Murphy (Contact Author)

Grant MacEwan University ( email )

P.O. Box 1796
Rm 5-256F
Edmonton, Alberta T5J 2P2 T5J4S2

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