Alexis de Tocqueville was remarkably modern: he observed poverty increasing in his day as a result of industrialization, was equally critical of liberalism and socialism, and pleaded for a "third way" that is in many ways the forerunner of the thinking of Anthony Giddens and the policies of Tony Blair.
His criticisms of socialism and liberalism still seem sound and forceful, especially when they are directed at anything that, on one side, hinders human freedom and, on the other, threatens equality. And his position seems even more up-to-date when, for instance, he argues in favour of setting social minimum levels but against forms of social assistance that require nothing in return, a foretaste of the current debate about "workfare" and the recent scheme proposed in France to help the unemployed to find jobs (PARE).
"Tocqueville does not want the state either to be a protector that prevents individuals from fulfilling themselves or to stand aside and leave everything to market forces", writes Éric Keslassy. He shows how Tocqueville argued for a minimum wage but against social welfare arrangements that would create "a class of idlers living at the expense of the industrious and hardworking".
Just as interesting and relevant today were his ideas about how to reconcile freedom and equality, and his plea for solidarity within local communities, since that is the level where democracy works best and a sense of concern for others can be developed.