In 2013 I retired from the sociology department of the University of Amsterdam. Reaching the age of 65 is considered here in the Netherlands sufficient reason for firing somebody on the spot. A crude case of ageism, if you ask me. On the day of the farewell party, my students offered me a present. Not the desktop computer, as is common, nor the ugly painting, but a vacation in the castle of Alexis de Tocqueville in Normandy, France. One week for my wife and me. So in October 2013, we spent 6 days in that beautiful chateau near the city of Cherbourg. Every morning I wrote my emails sitting behind Tocqueville's desk in his study room, and I must admit that I sometimes even rested my head an the pillow of the bed in which he was said to have slept. Of all the people that we discuss here, with the exception of course of Norbert Elias, Tocqueville is the author I like most. Sociological thinkers can be difficult to read. Think of Max Weber. They can be very cynical in their analysis. Montevue is a good example. Sometimes they are fierce polemicists, Karl Marx is the illustration here, but Tocqueville is a very, very different kind of writer. He approaches his readers always in a friendly way. He never bullies them. That's not to say that he's not sometimes very adamant about an argument, but he doesn't hammer it in. He never uses rhetorical tricks. He tries to prove his point as well as he can, then leaving it up to the reader to decide whether he or she agrees with him or not. Tocqueville wants to find out how social and political institutions really work, but he doesn't suggest that he already had all the answers. This is a man who has no axe to grind. There is no spite or anger in his writings. So, when I discuss the ideas of Tocqueville in my class, I begin to smile, and that must have been what my students noticed and prompted them to offer me those beautiful six days on the Tocqueville estate, that, by the way, is still in the possession of the Tocqueville family. Americans pronounce his name as Tocqueville, but I will use the French pronunciation Tocqueville, not so much out of snobism, but simply because that's the way I am used to talk about him. And like the French, I drop what they call the article. L'article. So I will not talk about de Tocqueville, but about Tocqueville. Now, Tocqueville has always been a household name amongst political scientists and historians. In political science classes, he's treated as one of their founding fathers, because of what he had so say about the phenomenon of democracy, about political institutions. And in the history department, he is admired because of a book that we will not treat here in this course, and that is his book about the conditions leading up to the French Revolution of 1789. Sociologists have, for a long time, been a little bit reluctant to grant him entrance into the hall of fame of the great theorists of the past. But everything changed when in 1967 the French sociologist Raymond Aron published a watershed book. It was called Les Etapes de la pensee sociologique. It was translated into the English language as Main Currents of Sociological Thought, and it is still a very important and reliable study. In that book, Raymond Aron presented Tocqueville as an important precursor of modern sociological thought, a man who could be rightfully placed next to Comte, Marx, Weber and Durkheim. His chapter on Tocqueville was so convincing, that from that moment on the French theorist belonged to the pantheon of sociology's greats. Tocqueville, like Adam Smith, or like Karl Marx, never thought of himself as a sociologist, or, for that matter, as a political scientist. He saw himself as a politician. He was a member of Parliament, and he even became France's Minister of Foreign Affairs. But he was a politician. He loved to write interesting essays in his spare time. And later in his life when he had completely retired from public life, it became his main occupation. But make no mistake, this modest amateur historian, amateur political scientist, amateur sociologist, was one of the most brilliant social thinkers of the 19th century.