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Alexis deTocqueville

Alexis de Tocqueville was born in Paris on July 29th, 1805. Growing up in Metz, France, the youngest child of Herv Tocqueville and Mlle. De Rosanbo, he showed great intellectual promise from his earliest days. By the age of 16, his academic career was a brilliant one, his schoolwork earning him a special prize and two first prizes. He was an avid reader, reading books hardly accessible to a boy of his young age. It was during these years that he developed his critical thinking and reasoning skills that would serve him so well later in life. In 1831, Alexis and his friend and colleague Gustave de Beaumont embarked for New York. Sent to study the American penal system, Tocqueville was much more interested in studying the only completely democratic state and society of his time. The journey occupied ten months, and The American Penal System and Its Application in France was published under both Tocqueville and Beaumonts names. When the two returned to France in 1832, they were considered experts on the prison system, and Tocqueville established himself as a promising young writer and political mind. Different authors generate different hypotheses regarding Tocquevilles inspirations and mentors. John Koritansky sums up his views by stating that almost certainly it was Rousseau who taught Tocqueville to see the root of love of equality in human nature and to see its centrality for political life. My whole interpretation, then, might be summed up by saying that Tocqueville attempts to rewrite Montesquieus political science by way of an extension of Rousseaus reinterpretation of human nature. Joshua Mitchell, on the other hand, believes that Tocquevilles inspiration began many, many years earlier. While discussing the spillover effect, that is, the circular pattern of cause and effect, Mitchell writes: The theoretical matter at issue here can be found already in the highly charged seventeenth-century debate between Locke ...

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