Tocqueville – The French revolution comparable to religious revolutions

Alexis de Tocqueville, who can be said to have been one of the precursors of sociology, but also a great theorist in general, wrote a book on the French Revolution.

Entitled L’ancien régime et la Révolution the Works dates from 1856.

Alexis de Tocqueville, in Book One, Chapter Three, describes the characteristics of a revolution, and those of the French Revolution in particular, to see what differentiates them.

All civil and political revolutions have had a homeland and have been confined to it. The French Revolution did not have its own territory; moreover, its effect was to erase from the map, as it were, all the old borders. We have seen it bring together or divide men in spite of laws, traditions, characters, language, sometimes making enemies of compatriots, and brothers of strangers; or rather it has formed, above all particular nationalities, a common intellectual homeland of which men of all nations could become citizens.

If you look through all the history of history, you will not find a single political revolution that has had this same character: you will find it only in certain religious revolutions. So it is to religious revolutions that we must compare the French Revolution, if we want to make ourselves understood by means of analogy.

It is necessary to prolong one’s reading of the chapter to understand better what Alexis de Tocqueville means by religious revolutions.

The French Revolution is thus a political revolution which operated in the manner and which took in some way the aspect of a religious revolution. See by what particular and characteristic traits it ends up resembling the latter: not only does it spread far and wide like them, but, like them, it penetrates them by preaching and propaganda. A political revolution that inspires proselytism.

Religious revolutions are special in that they question the relationship of men to God. They are addressed to everyone because they refer to the nature of man. The citizen becomes a person treated” outside of all particular societies”.

This characteristic explains its great potential: it speaks to everyone.

→ Tocqueville – Analysis of the link between democracy and the study of science

→ Tocqueville – Manchester