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Germany and Switzerland

Travels in Switzerland

When Tocqueville left for Switzerland on July 7, 1836, accompanied by his wife, he seemed to be doing so as a tourist, even though he chose to stop on July 24th at Berne, where the Federal Diet assembled. Marie fell gravely ill at the end of July, however, and Tocqueville was obliged to follow her to Baden - a fashionable spa town at the time - where the couple stayed until their return to France on September 15th, after a brief stop in Geneva.   play sound extractlire l'extrait sonore   Although he was a bit disappointed by the turn things had taken, and little enjoyed his spa holiday, he nevertheless seized the opportunity offered by this excursion into Swiss territory to turn his political analysis on Switzerland: Was it a democracy? A confederation?

« I am traveling here much more as a lover of beautiful nature than as a philosopher. . Nevertheless, when I find myself by chance obliged to read a newspaper or engage in a reasonable conversation, I try to understand what I am being told. »
(Letter to Francisque de Corcelle, July 27, 1836)

As was his habit, he compared its political regime to those in England and America and concluded that the democratic revolution was not finished in Switzerland, and that the cantonal institutions functioned more like bourgeois aristocracies than like republics. It was only in 1848, after the crisis of the previous four years had brought about a change in the federal pact, that Tocqueville acknowledged Switzerland as a fully democratic nation.

The Close of Day, Auguste Baud-Bovy

The Close of Day, Auguste Baud-Bovy © RMN/Hervé Lewandowski

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