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Tocqueville, Martineau

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Irving Zeitlin

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SOC203Y-History of Social Theory 10-Jan-2011
Ideology & the Development of Sociological Theory:
Tocqueville, Martineau, Taylor & Mill
Any sociology worth its salt must be historical. There is no way to understand anything in
the human condition without studying history. When we studied Machiavelli and others,
we said that “memory is to the individual as history is to society.”
For example: if we perish the thought that any of us may have a medical problem and we
want to solicit an additional medical opinion, the first question that a doctor will ask is
about medical history. The reason Dr. Zeitlin is emphasizing this is that we are going to
be discussing one of the really outstanding historical sociologists and Zeitlin wants to
explain what that is and how it differs to just history.
There are three (3) basic elements to what we would call historical sociology. The three
elements are concerned with social structure, i.e. the social context of the given historical
event or historical individuals - if we want to understand how Hitler came to power, we
want to understand the context. We have to know the history of what came before it –
this would apply to any example. The three elements include:
1. Social structure
2. History
3. Biography
Biography means a concern with who the historical individuals were. For example,
individuals like Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Lennon, Stalin, Mao – clearly,
they stand out as historical individuals. Therefore, we need to study not only the context,
i.e. social structure of a given society at that particular moment, but we also have to look
at the historical background, we also have to consider who these individuals are, and how
important are they. In other words, we are interested in the causal weight. Could there
have been a Balasivic revolution if the Germans hadn’t let Lennon back into Russia.
Another example: what if a brick had fallen on Napoleon’s head while he was still a
corporal, would French history have been different after the French Revolution. These are
what we call counter-factuals.
What is the difference between a historian on the one hand and a historical sociologist?
Zeitlin thinks that the most outstanding historians drew more than what he is about to
say; but, if we define history as a unique and unrepeatable series of events, i.e. there was
only one Julius Caesar, there was only one Napoleon, there was only one Mao, etc. When
we studied Machiavelli, he suggested that we have this déjà vu and even though history
doesn’t repeat itself literally, there is a sense metaphorically that we see things happening
that remind us of what happened in the past and it helps us to interpret a given event.
For example, we might say the historian studies Julius Caesar, but the historical sociologist
studies Caesarism – i.e. when Mussolini marched on Rome, the techniques he used and
the strategy he used remind us of Julius Caesar.
If history is a unique and unrepeatable series of events, then a historian would just tell you
the story – it becomes a narrative; they will tell you what happened. That is why in
elementary school they referred to history as a story. In contrast, the historical sociologist
is interested in explaining things. S/he is interested in causes and consequences. Hence,
today we are going to talk about the old regime and the French Revolution.
Somebody like Tocqueville does not merely tell us what happened, but he also wants to
explain the causes of the French Revolution; and, not only causes, he wants to explain the
consequences of the Revolution. It is true that most historians and indeed intelligent
people, like your parents, recognize that this as common sense and probably that this

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SOC203Y-History of Social Theory 10-Jan-2011
historical sociological approach that Zeitlin is describing, with an attention to context and
history and biography, is built into their intellectual consciousness.

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SOC203Y-History of Social Theory 10-Jan-2011
One more thing that a historical sociologist does, which helps to look at the question of
causes and consequences, is to apply a comparative dimension. Tocqueville comes from
France and he has lived through and, therefore, knows the history of France (1789).
What happened after the Revolution? Not only was it bloody and violent, i.e. the sons and
daughters of the nobility were sent to the guillotine just because they were the sons and
daughters of the nobility; but, then there was Napoleon, who turned out to be a despot,
declaring himself to be the Emperor. Hence, there was the Revolution and then there was
despotism. Beethoven originally dedicated the symphony Bonaparte to Napoleon, but he
became disappointed and renamed the symphony Eroica because the revolution seemed
to hold out certain promises, but he was disappointed.
Tocqueville lived through the revolution of 1830; he lived through the revolution of 1848;
and, indeed, he was a personal witness, as a member of the party of order, to the coup
d'état of Napoleon’s nephew, namely, Louis Bonaparte.
Coup d'état means seizer of power, unconstitutionally.
The kind of question that a sociologist would have is: what were manifest and underlying
causes of the revolution, i.e. of the American Revolution, of the French Revolution? And,
what are the similarities and differences because although he is living in France and he is
very concerned with the French conditions, he takes the opportunity to come to America
when it arrives. The key concept in Tocqueville is the rise of the demos, which in Greek
means the people.
Democracy literally means the rule of the people, which very rarely happens.
What Tocqueville witnessed in his time was what he calls a master trend from
Aristocracy to Democracy. The rise of the people; the people enter the historical stage
and now begin to play a very significant role in history - sometimes for better and
sometimes for worse; in France, however, it was not always for good. But, in the United
States, in the early history of America, Tocqueville wants to show that there were very
significant differences and that in American democracy you did not have the kind of
violence that you had in France.
Democracy in America
What was unique or characteristic of America at that time that was fundamentally
different from Europe, especially from France?
Well, in the first place there was no old regime in America at that time. What do we
mean by the old regime? We defined the old regime as the established Church, the
Monarch, and the nobility. In America, there was no established Church; there was no
Monarchy after the Revolution; and there was no established nobility, i.e. a class of
aristocrats or nobles - these are three pillars of the old regime (Monarchy, the nobility,
and the established Church). This was a fundamental difference between France and
America at the time.
Moreover, there were no large metropolitan cities with slums and ghettos, etc.
There were some poor people around, but nothing like the slums of London or
Manchester, etc.
There was no state bureaucracy in America. In France, everything was so highly
centralized that you couldn’t even repair a church steeple without permission from
Paris. This centralization took place under the Monarchy and it was even accentuated
after the Revolution.
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