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Alexis De Tocqueville, Democrat in America, Colonizer in Africa/ Simone Fattal

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  • Anjalika
    Alexis De Tocqueville, Democrat in America, Colonizer in Africa Simone Fattal Great text on Algeria by Simone Fattal.. Alexis De Tocqueville was born an
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 5, 2012

      Alexis De Tocqueville, Democrat in America, Colonizer in Africa

      Simone Fattal

      Great text on Algeria by Simone Fattal..

      Alexis De Tocqueville was born an aristocrat , in the very conservative region of Normandy, in France in 1805. He was at the same time an admirer of the French Revolution, although due to his upbringing and family , he was unable  to subscribe to all the principles inherent to that revolution. He remains admirable on that score as he lived under the counter-revolution and participated in the government of the new monarchy.  His contradictions made him an observing outsider. He studied law and went into politics. He accompanied his friend, Gustave de Beaumont, who was  sent by his government to the New Republic of America, to study its Prison system for its eventual application in France.  They did cosign the report.


                           Upon his return to France, as a lawyer he  published his own book, the famous Democracy in America.  He was soon  elected  member of Parliament , and as such was sent on a facts finding mission to Algeria. Later he will become Minister of Foreign Affairs and was sent again to Algeria.The reports that he will publish on his different missions are the object of our symposium.



                             Alexis de Tocqueville is in Algeria, sent initially by the government to study the situation on the ground. His first report will be to advise for the best way to wage the War. The great reason behind the desire of the French to have and keep colonies at whatever cost, and for De Tocqueville in particular, is to emulate the English and have colonies themselves , the way the English had them in India. He stated at different times that he feared that if the French did not go into Africa, it will  be another Christian nation that would. I guess that after the final  defeat of Napoleon at the hands of the British, the only way for the country to grow in importance and wealth was to expand out of Europe. The country would get again a place in the concert of nations. In all of de Tocqueville  writings on Algeria we see the English model being discussed and proposed.  Guizot had initiated him to the study of England as early as 1820 ; and urged him to always compare the two nations.


                        The French invade Algeria in 1830. A French general who had deserted Napoleon at Waterloo, and had become Minister for War , the Count of Bourmont finds in this adventure a way to redeem  his image. The French invade Algeria, and pilfer the town of Algiers and its neighbouring valleys but the country is far from being conquered . It will take many different generals and many battles and a ferocious repression to end the first phase of the Algerian War, and that will only be in 1857.


                  When De Tocqueville is sent to Algeria in 1841,on a fact finding mission , he will give reports on the best way to wage the war against the Arabs and Abdel Kader in particular.     

                  "What is the sort of war we should be doing to the Arabs? I have heard certain officers who advocate the most  cruel way to conduct a war, to take no prisoners and who encouraged their soldiers to spare no one! [i]…I think this is unintelligent and civilization is for the moment on their side. On the other hand I hear that people in France people whom I respect but with whom I do not agree, do not approve that we burn their harvests and empty their grain storages, and that we take their men unarmed and their  women and children.[ii] I say that these are regrettable necessities, for whoever wants to make War to the Arabs has to go through this. In Europe we do not burn the harvests for we do not make war against a people , only to governments. In Algeria the war is against a people[iii]…The most efficient way to reduce the tribes is to forbid commerce .  We have to forbid commerce, this is how the populations will suffer most : They suffer a lot to be parked between our bayonets and the desert. I saw them say showing their cattle: "what are they for now that there are no towns around us where we could sell them , so that we could buy what we need and cannot make?" [iv].He advocates having mobile forces that will organize razzias ,i .e. military incursions every time there are harvests to destroy the new produce… "it is of the utmost importance to let no city survive or be created in Abdel Kader territories…We have to destroy their cities and forbid the creation of new ones.[v]"


      On his second mission in 1847, his report is about advocating the best way to keep the dominions and dominate the country in an enduring and lasting way.

      The best way to settle and keep Algeria in a significant and enduring way is colonization .Colonization meaning, the dispossession of the Algerians, the displacement of the populations further away each time they advance their bases,and the import of foreign populations .


                  The Algerians were 3 million inhabitants in 1830, they will become 2.300000 in 1856, and 2.125.000 in 1872. i.e. a diminution of 875.000 persons. War, typhus and cholera have had this result. We can cite some instigations like those given by some young officers like Montagnac who stated: "These are the means we should use : to kill all men under the age of 15, take all women and children to the Marquise islands, in one word, kill anything that is not crawling under our feet!".6[vi]


      These harsh means to achieve their conquest seemed sometimes to hurt the sensibilities of  the nation back in mainland France, means like walling or smoking people who had already surrendered. De Tocqueville is the one chosen to make the French policy palatable to members of Parliament in the mainland, for them also to vote new appropriations of funds and soldiers .


      Not that the idea of democracy for all had not been spelled out already and the treating of all people equally,like the free people of France had not been known. In 1791,a revolution takes place in Saint-Domingue, the present Haïti, the slaves obtain political freedom under the leadership of Toussaint Louverture. Soon after a civilian Sothonax proclaims the abolition of slavery. Danton, a Member of Parliament, faithful to the ideals of the French revolution demands   in a speech in 1794, at the Club des Cordeliers the confirmation of this abolition and asks to treat the blacks "like ourselves in the colonies".  "Representatives of the French people, until now we have proclaimed  freedom only for ourselves like egoists! But today let us proclaim it to the face of the universe and we will be blessed by the future generations, let us proclaim universal freedom!" 7[vii] Danton was later jailed and guillotined.  Napoleon will sadly reinstate slavery which will have to wait for 1848 to be abolished in the French colonies!


      It is impossible for an observer like de Tocqueville to have not known anything pertaining Danton, one of the most famous actor of the French Revolution, as we know for a fact that he was studying the French Revolution, since 1841, for a book he  will be writing  l'Ancien régime et la Révolution which will be published later in 1851. Also we read in Democracy in America:" May be there is no place in the European colonies of the New World  where the physical condition  of the slaves is less painful than in the United States of America. The slaves endure, nevertheless  painful miseries  and very cruel punishments .It is easy to realize that the fate of these poor creatures inspires little or no pity in the heart of their masters… the same man who is  full of human feelings for his fellow equals has no feeling for the suffering of people when equality stops…"[viii] Here  is where we understand that equality really stops where people are outside the immediate circle of fellow citizens.  We will come back to the definition of democracy later in this paper. Let us go back to the policy de Tocqueville advocates and wants implemented in Algeria.



                  De Tocqueville after his good advice concerning  the best way to destroy the civil and commercial entities of Algeria,ravage the country as he stated it ,will give new and valuable advice on the best way to keep these dominions for a long and lasting time . He advocates small and mobile units and garrisons stationed at small distance from each other and stationed in between tribal lands, so that no tribe can be very far from them and can be easily and quickly struck when necessary.  


      The Algerian territory has to be part of France and therefore the population must be French!  in his desire to find lasting ways for the colonization he has to bring colonizers who will have as  incentives  land in full ownership "To be able to colonize with some importance we have necessarily to implement laws that are not only violent but necessarily unfair."


      To make Algeria part of France, he will recommend for that end a number of measures. For him, the local population is and must stay foreign because they are "different in customs and religion" ,therefore they have to be segregated . A whole new and foreign population has to be imported to replace it . They will replace the populations that have been expropriated and pushed further and further away from their ancestral lands. First these colonies will be military, incentives are given to soldiers to settle and work the land. He will describe at length the way these villages are to be constructed ,and made better.They were first built as military casemates , in a strict order that was artificial and unattractive. These soldiers are given full ownership for these lands. Houses spring up in new "villages" that change the landscape and the geography for ever. He realizes that the Arabs needed little time to till the land, which gave them long hours to spend in the pleasure of conversation which made them superior in finesse to their French equivalent.!


       Will be sent to Algeria also  Saint-Simoniens, or adepts of Enfantin ,idealists who had a social ideal .One can only speculate that it was a very good way to get rid of them on the mainland after the 1848 revolution .The French also do not hesitate to import Germans by force who are deceived and taken there without their knowing. In his report of 1846, De Tocqueville states that 900 Germans of all ages had been transported to Oran. They were destitute and had arrived in Dunkirk , wishing to emigrate to Brazil , and instead they were taken to Algeria without their consent! First the colonies will be settled by soldiers then by civilians.


                  Report of 1847.


      This report  will be published in the Moniteur,the newspaper of the time. Africa is now  "pacified". Nowhere are the French for the moment militarily disputed in their dominion. The report is about how to keep them. In the mean time Bugeaud had created Arab Bureaux .The civil servants working in them knew the Arabs by now pretty well: "One can only study the barbarians  arms in hand "says De Tocqueville.

      The army which was made of 18.000men in 1830 had grown in 1847/48 to 101.000.


      "The cities have been invaded, the deeds destroyed: Moslem Society in Africa was not uncivilized; .. .there was in its midst a great number of pious foundations whose object was to fund charities or public instruction. Everywhere we have put our hands on these funds, giving them another destination that they had traditionally . We have reduced the charitable institutions, destroyed the schools dispersed the seminaries .  Around us the enlightenment has ceased, men of law and religion are not recruited any more, in one word we have made the Moslem society much more miserable and ignorant than it was before they knew us."[ix]


                       And we know that this policy went on being  implemented and continued until the end of the French rule in Algeria. I want for proof the extraordinary quality of the writings of Abdel Kader, and his use of the Arabic language ,which if compared  to the way the Algerians know or rather don't know any Arabic today is the proof that the destruction has totally succeeded along the desires of the rulers . We can say that it has been a long and conscious cultural genocide. To dispossess Algerians from their land and livelihood but also and systematically from their innermost being and culture. We can say that colonization is as explained at length by de Tocqueville devastation of the soil, and the soul .These theories will be implemented later wherever the French went with their armies, searching for new colonies and lands. For in the meantime schools are built for the French recruits who want to work in the colonies. Again they are built after the English model .In the English schools the would be civil servant was to study for 2 to 3 years many different languages used in India, become fluent in these dialects. Learned about their customs and religion before they were allowed to go to India. So schools are created for Frenchmen to study Arabic or Berber, Islam and Algerian customs, while the Algerians were stripped from the means to reach their own religion and customs. Even painters like Delacroix are taken to Morocco and Algeria to give a visual account of the place. His writings ,full of admiration for the Arabs were in no way taken into consideration ,for a change in policy, I would argue, on the contrary, the more sensitive to the code of honor these populations were , the more they had to be crushed.


      The man advocating and boasting with no shame about these measures and results is the one who knew and had only praise for all democratic principles, and what they produce in people .


      In  his book Democracy in America  there is no good effect that  Democracy does not have  on the good nature of people. Of the civilizing effects of democracy on the habits and customs of the people :"It is to the notion of equality that one is to attribute the sweetness of customs and habits in a nation. And what I say about individuals applies also to the people:"

      "When each nation has its opinions, its beliefs, laws, and customs,  it considers itself as constituting  the whole of humanity, and feels only its own miseries. If war comes to start between two such nations , it could only but be conducted like barbarians…. On the contrary when people start to be like each other , their conditions are regarded with more pity and their rights more recognized…Democracy does not make people more attached to each other but their dealings with each other become easier and sweeter." There is no good effect that democracy does not have on people according to our author , whether it is in the education of  young girls, on their condition when women, on the family, the salaries, the dealings people have with each other . He ends up with  this very dubious statement: "Practically everywhere in America the death penalty has been abolished!"


             The book is full of generalizations . Still the core of the subject is the profound goodness of the democratic sentiment in a nation. How does a good who should be a universal good by definition ceases to be a good and a universal good in his mind, as soon as he is in front of a "barbarian society"? That universal good is equality, equality of chances, of rights, and everything that goes with it.


      Ever since Aristotle has codified categories and definitions, and had divided the world between the "civilized" and the "Barbarians" and decided that democracy was to be the privilege of only the Greeks, the European nations followed and decided as well that democracy was to be practiced only among their own people. Thus, the non-French, non-English, non Western people were considered to be outside the realm of morality, and were totally abused with no feeling of guilt in the part of those who abused them. Thus the West demonized its victims and found no contradiction in applying the notion of equality to its own nations while oppressing the others.  This attitude is still prevalent in the dominating powers of the world. De Tocqueville's text illustrates perfectly this argument, and he is may be the first  European theoretician of this attitude.

      When de Tocqueville states on June 25, 1853, in the New York Daily that he has for the democratic institutions an intellectual taste only, for" I am an aristocrat by instinct , i.e. I despise and fear the masses. I love freedom, respect the rights of people but dislike democracy."This fear of the masses and the passion for order is really at the bottom of the liberal ideology, for whom the term democracy is but the name of the mask the mercantile despotism has put on .This is the thesis that  many different contemporary thinkers  give to the term democracy, in a book La Démocratie , dans quel état? Which unites the French philosopher Alain Badiou, Wendy Brown, K .Ross, S.Zizek, and others, and which reading I would highly recommend . but whose contents exceed our paper.[x]

      De Tocqueville has always  associated democracy with the state: his definition is always about the democratic state . This way of looking at it dissociates democracy from revolution, the state from the power of the individual.



                                                      Simone Fattal









      Lançons La Liberté dans les colonies

      Discours de Danton                                            Editions Points  2009.


      Tocqueville Sur L'Algérie.                                 GF Flammarion 2003


      Démocratie, Dans quell état??                        La Fabrique Editions 2009.


      Democracy in America . Alexis de Tocqueville.

                  Translated by Gerald Bevan,

                  Introduction by Isaac Kramnic             Penguin Classics    2003.

















      I read in the Herald Tribune of November 6, 2009 that Frederick Brown, the biographer of De Tocqueville has collected and translated his Letters written from the New World, to be published later this year. May be it is the year when DE Tocqueville needs to be revisited. In the Penguin edition of Democracy in America , nowhere are his writings and his mission to Algeria, even mentioned.




      [iv] [iv] Travail sur l'Algérie,1841  in Tocqueville sur l'Algérie .p.111 Editions Flammarion

      2 idem page 113.

      3 idem page 112.

      4 idem page 112

      5 idem

      [vi] Tocqueville,Sur L'Algérie , dans Présentation by Seloua Luste Boulbina,page 17

      [vii]  Discours de Danton     :Lançons La Liberté dans les colonies     p17/18                                   Editions Points  2009.



      [viii]  Cannot find the citation in the huge book!

      [ix] Rapports sur L'Algerie 1847 Tocqueville sur l'Algérie page 198, Flammarion.

      [x] Démocratie, Dans quell état??    La Fabrique Editions 2009.

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