From Locke versus Rousseau to the Present
New Thinking in Political Economy series
Chapter 6: The Evolution of the Liberty Narrative in Nineteenth Century Continental Thought: Tocqueville, Kant, and Hegel
With some serious qualification it can be maintained that the Lockean Liberty Narrative has remained most vibrant in the Anglo-American world and that the Rousseau Equality Narrative has remained most vibrant on the Continent of Europe. The element of truth in this observation deserves a separate book of its own. There is also a sometimes neglected tradition in which Continental thinkers enamored of the British Lockean narrative have attempted to import it to the Continent – we are thinking of Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Constant. What we want to focus upon here are two things: first, in the hands of several Continental thinkers, namely, Tocqueville, Kant, and Hegel writing under the influence of Smith and in response to the issues raised by Rousseau and the French Revolution, we have for the first time a self-conscious recognition of the clash of the two narratives. Second, we note how the Liberty Narrative underwent a serious evolution that culminates in J.S. Mill. Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–59) insists upon distinguishing between the American Revolution and the French Revolution. Tocqueville proclaims two theses: first, even though the French Revolutionaries attempted to completely abolish all the institutions of the Old Regime, they reverted to many of its foundations. Most importantly, they attempted to dismantle the powerful state that was the monarchy, but ended up creating an even stronger, more centralized state themselves.
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