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Tocqueville on Mores and the Preservation of Republics


  • An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2003 annual meeting of the Midwestern Political Science Association. The author is indebted to the anonymous reviewers of this journal for useful comments and criticism.

Donald J. Maletz is Associate Professor of Political Science, The University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK 73019 (


The chapter Tocqueville originally intended as a conclusion for the Democracy in America of 1835 is devoted to the causes that maintain a democratic republic. His main findings concern the political role of “mores.” Conducting an implicit dialogue with Montesquieu and working from evidence available to no previous student of democracy, Tocqueville finds commercialism less supportive of democracy and mores (especially those connected with religion) more useful to democracy than his great predecessor had believed. Moreover, he draws attention to a “practical” form of “enlightenment” seen in the broad public internalization of democratic practice and norms. These discoveries did not lead to confident predictions about the republic's future, largely because much of what is useful in mores seems beyond direct political control. They did inspire his argument that modern democrats are best advised to make use of, rather than repudiate, the inherited mores. These mores, if adapted to new conditions, may help to support effective democratic practice.