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Tocqueville on Civilian Society

A Romantic Vision of the Dichotomic Structure of Social Reality

Zaleski, Pawel Zaleski

Archiv für Begriffsgeschichte, Bd. 50 (2008), Iss. 0: S. 261–267

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Zaleski, Pawel Zaleski


Small mistakes in the English translation appear signifi cant enough to force us to think that Tocqueville understood the term ›civil society‹ in a completelydifferent way than his contemporaries, that is Hegel and Marx. In their works civil society as bourgeois or market society was a sphere of economic activity, ›system of needs‹ fulfi lling the desires of consumers through the work of producers. The causes of a wrong understanding of Tocqueville lay in a long tradition of mistakes in the English translations and in a lack in the Anglo-Saxon world of a concept of ›civil law company‹, in French société de droit civil, in German Gesellschaft bürgerlichen Rechts – imposed upon the whole of continental Europe by Bonaparte with his Civil Code. To get out of the semantic confusion one should assume that Tocqueville, while writing about civil(ian) associations, thought rather of business entrepreneurships than of non-governmental organizations. Tocqueville was writing about America rather in a liberal than a republican spirit.


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Pawel Zaleski: Tocqueville on Civilian Society. A Romantic Vision of the Dichotomic Structure of Social Reality 260