Colonial violence and the rhetoric of evasion: Tocqueville on algeria

Political Theory 31 (2):235-264 (2003)
Abstract
Tocqueville's contradictory writings on imperialism have produced interpretations that range from unrepentant realism to lapsed universalism. This essay considers the moral psychology that underlies his position. It argues that Tocqueville's writings on colonialism exemplify his resort to apologia when his deepest apprehensions are aroused and offers a typology of Tocquevillean rhetorical evasions: the mechanisms by which he attempts to quell perceptions of moral dissonance. It also argues that Tocqueville's evasion of the challenge of Algeria illustrates a particular kind of liberal failure and a peculiar liberal temptation. By avoiding rather than confronting the conflicting intuitions underlying his moral judgments, Tocqueville betrays the promise of his liberalism by failing to explore the tensions implicit in the practice of liberal democracy. These strategies to deaden awareness of complicity in colonial violence appear disturbingly familiar in a world in which national interests and universally acknowledged "human maxims" increasingly collide in the liberal conscience
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