Political Theory 50 (3):477-503 (2022)

Abstract
In his defenses of empire, Alexis de Tocqueville emphasized the need to achieve grandeur for France, and his writings on Algeria have shaped our understanding of his political career. In pursuing empire abroad as a remedy for weak politics at home, scholars maintain that Tocqueville abandoned the participatory politics of Democracy in America. This essay argues, however, that the focus on Tocqueville’s international turn has obscured his interest in the greatness of domestic party politics. It demonstrates that Tocqueville championed a version of grandeur tied to the latent energies of the lower classes and distinct from the Bonapartism and aristocratic nostalgia that characterized his thoughts on empire. This version of grandeur was a political reclamation of disagreement and debate that supported great party opposition to counter the malaise of bourgeois rule. The essay concludes by comparing Tocqueville’s attitude toward foreign others, whose freedoms had to be sacrificed to the cause of French nationalism, with his description of the lower classes within his own nation, whose inclusion in the franchise could foster great politics. This comparison enables us to draw modest lessons for interpreting political grandeur in the present day.
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DOI 10.1177/00905917211043790
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