In This Review

Tocqueville's Revenge: State, Society, and Economy in Contemporary France
Tocqueville's Revenge: State, Society, and Economy in Contemporary France
By Jonah D. Levy
Harvard University Press, 1999, 384 pp.

The best analysis of state-society relations in France since Michel Crozier's classic works. In his study of the decline of dirigisme since the mid-1980s, Levy demonstrates the continuing relevance of Tocqueville's thesis: traditional French statism has molded a society that lacks adequate voluntary associations and instead relies excessively on the state. Looking at two different parts of France, Besanillon and St. Etienne, Levy finds that economic decentralization did not go far enough to support provincial economic initiatives. In many areas, civil society could not fill the vacuum left by the state's retreat after the mid-1980s -- and the French government has obligingly stepped back in. In response, Levy argues, the state must help build up an autonomous civil society. This task is as important as the need (stressed by Tocqueville and Crozier) to reduce the state's economic power and centralized control. Shrinking the state's role in economic policymaking alone will not empower other institutions. Civil society's need for resources and a state-provided legal framework shows that the distinction between the public and private spheres is collapsing -- a trend already evident in many advanced countries as voluntary associations increasingly fulfill public functions while interest groups take over state policies. Levy concludes his masterly book with thought-provoking comments about postwar Germany, Japan, and postcommunist central and eastern Europe -- precisely because Tocqueville's revenge is not a uniquely French dilemma.