The Economist reviews Hugh Brogan's new biography of Alexis de Tocqueville.
Tocqueville's view of the importance of the citizen in government is topical, it chimes in with much well-meant rhetoric today.
He saw that "good citizens matter more to free societies than good institutions." He also saw that democracy can breed despotism as easily as other forms of government, an insight confirmed during his life by the election of the "populist demagogue" Louis Napoleon as French Emperor.
A scion of the ancien régime, Tocqueville's best-known work is his paean of praise, published in 1835, to Democracy in America.