A Muffled Polemic
In the counterrevolutionary school, it remained an article of faith from the time of the Directory to the end of the nineteenth century that individualism is destructive of the social bond, that it is impossible to create a society from individual atoms. This chapter argues that Tocqueville did not believe that one could simply say that individualism destroys the social bond. Although he conceded the point to a certain extent, he was also impressed by the way in which individualistic Americans joined together to form associations, linking their particular interests to the general interest and ultimately creating a society with sovereignty of the people. In contrast to Bonald (who argued that democratic republics are not “constituted”) and de Maistre (who held that a democratic republic is a society without sovereignty and therefore without solidity), Tocqueville thus recognized that society could be constituted in new ways: associations linking public and private, forms of life created by decentralization, avowed or implicit religions, and so forth. But he aimed his criticism primarily at an idea that de Maistre had made famous: “the generative principle (principe générateur) of political constitutions.”
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