Tocqueville's Self: Reconciling Individuality and Individualism

Friday, January 6, 2012: 2:50 PM
Michigan Room A (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Gerald N. Izenberg, Washington University in St. Louis
Tocqueville’s interpreters have generally followed his own self description as caught between two worlds, “democracy” and “aristocracy,” and two corresponding ideals, “equality” and “freedom.” I argue that at the base of both conflicts, and more fundamental than either, were competing ideals of the self, individualism, a concept he did not invent but made current, and individuality, a word he used only rarely, but which characterizes the ideal self he saw as the essence of the aristocratic personality. His political theory was an effort, made necessary, he thought, by the rise of modern and especially post-Revolutionary society, to reconcile the desirable features of both. Ultimately he failed because he believed that the revolutions of the nineteenth century proved the economic and social pre-conditions of individualism and individuality to be incompatible.