Tocqueville's brief encounter with Machiavelli: Notes on the florentine histories (1836)

History of Political Thought 26 (3):426-442 (2005)

After publishing the first part of Democracy in America, Tocqueville travelled through England and Ireland. With his impressions of the early industrial revolution still fresh, he read and annotated Machiavelli's Florentine Histories. Tocqueville's interest was present-minded: could Florence be used 'as an argument for or against democracy in our time?' Rejecting charges that modern democracies share the defects that bought down the Florentine Republic, Tocqueville contrasted late medieval and modern republicanisms; direct and representative democracies; the politics of city states to those of larger modern nations with substantial urban and rural populations. Comparing renaissance Florence to industrial revolution Manchester and Birmingham led Tocqueville to consider redefining equality in economic rather than purely social terms. These notes suggest that in 1836, he held a view of the relationships between manufacturers and workers different from that of his later chapter 'How Industry could Give Rise to Aristocracy' in the 1840 Democracy
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