Individualism in America: Alexis de Tocqueville Discovers a New World of Liberal Politics

Michael Zakim*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article examines the radical, if not subversive, nature of individualism, as originally expounded by Alexis de Tocqueville in the second volume of Democracy in America in 1840, arguably the most important study of liberal political theory written to this day. Tocqueville drew on the neologism individualism to explain the implausible emergence of democracy as a viable form of government. “Individualism in America” addresses the restless result while exploring additional developments central to the making of a new world of liberal politics, including the rise of a cult of the new (or what contemporaries began to call progress), the plasticity of a social order resting on personal ambition, the transfer of power from formal ruling institutions to what Tocqueville referred to as cultural mores, and the search for sources of common sense in a civilization organized around the first person singular.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-107
Number of pages35
JournalCritical Historical Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2023


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