Alexis de Tocqueville’s Humbling Lesson in Office

Alexis de Tocqueville (Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
The great French chronicler of democracy learned a painful lesson on what happens when principled men try to serve an unprincipled master.

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE E dmund Burke wrote that “the politician . . . is the philosopher in action.” A number of the great political philosophers, Burke among them, have had careers of their own in politics. Not all were as effective as Burke was. One who learned a painful lesson about principled men serving an unprincipled master was Alexis de Tocqueville.

The year was 1849. The revolutions that had convulsed Europe the previous year were entering their final, failed act. Tocqueville was 43, a decade into his career as a legislator, but making his first foray into practical political leadership when Louis-Napoléon named him the

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