Democracy in America, Volumes One and Two by Alexis de Tocqueville, trans. Henry Reeve is a publication of the Pennsylvania State University. This Portable . Alexis de Tocqueville: “Democracy in America”. As “Democracy in America” revealed, Tocqueville believed that equality was the great political and social idea of. Alexis de Tocqueville (). Democracy in America. Volume 1. Alexis De Tocqueville. Written: ; Translated: by Henry Reeve, revised and corrected, ;.

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Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville

Want to Read saving…. Want to Read Currently Reading Read. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Preview — Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville. Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville. Democracy in America has had the singular honor of being even to this day the work that political commentators of every stripe refer to when they seek to draw large conclusions about the society of the USA.

What will most intrigue modern readers is how many of the observations still hold true: Paperbackpages. Published April 24th by Penguin Classics first published To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Democracy in Americaplease sign up. What is he saying exactly. What is the message in this book.

Elan Spitzberg This really broke it down well for me. See all 5 questions about Democracy in America…. Lists with This Book. Jul 15, Roy Lotz rated it it was amazing Shelves: A few months ago, bored at work and with no other obligations to tie me to New York, I decided that I would look into employment in Europe; and now, several months and an irksome visa process later, I am on the verge of setting off to Madrid. This turned out to be an excellent choice, for this book is without a doubt the best book ever written on the United States.

Democracy in America, by Alexis de Tocqueville

As it is, I can hardly believe that Tocqueville could understand so much in the short span of his life; and when I recall that he wrote this book after only 9 months in America, while he was still in his thirties, I am doubly astounded. This seems scarcely human.

Part of the reason for his seemingly miraculous ability is that, with Tocqueville, you find two things conjoined which are normally encountered separately: With most travel writers, you encounter only the former; and with most political philosophers, only the latter. The product of this combination is a nearly perfect marriage of facts and reasoning, of survey and criticism, the ideas always hovering just above the reality, transforming the apparently senseless fabric of society into a sensible and intelligible whole.

Almost everything he sees, he understands; and not only does he understand what he sees, but so often hits upon the why. Although this book covers an enormous amount of ground—religion, slavery, culture, government, the role of women, just to name a few topics—there is one central question that runs through every subject: What does the appearance of democracy mean for the future of humanity?

Tocqueville sees this question as the most pressing and significant one of his time; for, as he perceived, what was happening then in America was destined to inspire Europe and perhaps the whole world to adopt this new form of government, which would forever change the face of society.

In short, Tocqueville is seeking to understand America so that he could understand the future; and the plan of the book follows these two goals successively.

Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville ()

The first volume, published inis a thorough analysis of the United States; and the second volume, published inis a comparison of democracy and aristocracy, an attempt to democray how a switch to a democratic government causes far-reaching changes in the whole culture. Tocqueville is famously ambivalent about American democracy.

He often sounds greatly impressed at what he finds, noting how hardworking and self-reliant are most Americans; and yet so often, particularly amerkca the second volume, Tocqueville sounds gloomy and pessimistic about what the future holds.

Much wmerica his analysis is centered on the idea of social equality. He often reminds the reader—and by the way, Tocqueville wrote this for a French audience—that Americans, rich or poor, famous or obscure, will treat everyone as an equal.

Most obviously, it gives free reign to American ambition, for anyone can potentially climb from the bottom to the top; thus results the ceaseless activity and endless financial scheming of Americans. And even those who are quite well-off are not spared from this fever of ambition, for the lack of inherited wealth and stable fortunes means that the rich must continually exert effort to maintain their fortunes.

Whether this is true anymore is another story. Thus we find a kind of money-obsession, where everyone must constantly keep their minds in their wallets.

In America, money is not only real currency, but cultural currency as well, a marker of success; and in this context, the creature comforts ni life, which dd all only money can buy, are elevated to great importance.


Rich food, warm beds, spacious houses—these are praised above tofque simpler pleasures in life, such as agreeable conversation or pleasant walks on sunny days, americaa the former require money while the latter are free and available to anyone. The central irony of a classless society is tocquue it forces everyone to focus constantly on their status, as it is always in jeopardy.

You can imagine how shocking this must have been for Tocqueville, the son of an aristocratic family. All thought was consumed in activity. This results in a society of the ordinary individual. Americans are self-reliant, but not daring; they are often decent, but never saintly. They will sometimes risk their lives in pursuit of a fortune, but never their fortunes for alxeis sake their lives. An American might temporarily accept hardship if there is a financial reward on the other end; but how many Americans would forsake their fortunes, their comforts, their houses and property, for the sake of an idea, a principle, a dream?

Thus a kind of narrow ambition pervades the society, where everyone is hoping to better their lot, but almost nobody is hoping to do something beyond acquiring money and things. One can easily imagine the young Tocqueville, his mind filled with Machiavelli and Montesquieu, meeting American after American with no time or inclination for something as intangible as knowledge. In the midst of his large-scale cultural analysis, Tocqueville sometimes pauses for a time, putting off the role of philosopher to take up the role of prophet.

Tocqueville does get many of his predictions wrong. For example, he did not at all foresee the Civil War—and in fact he thought Americans would never willingly risk their property fighting each other—and instead he thought that there would be a gigantic race war between blacks and whites in the south. But Tocqueville was otherwise quite right about race relations in the slave-owning states.

He predicts that slavery could not possibly last, and that it would soon be abolished; and he notes that abolishing slavery will probably be the easiest task in improving the relationship between blacks and whites. For although slavery can be destroyed through legal action, the effects of slavery, the deep-rooted racial prejudice and hatred, cannot so easily be wiped clean. In support of this view, Tocqueville notes how badly treated are free blacks in the northern states, where slavery is banned.

Without a place in society, they are shunned and fall into poverty. But perhaps the most arresting prediction Tocqueville makes is about the future rivalry of the United States with Russia. Here are his words: Americans struggle against obstacles placed there by nature; Russians are in conflict with men. The former fight the wilderness and barbarity; the latter, civilization with all its weaponry: To achieve their aim, the former rely upon self-interest and allow free scope to the unguided strength and common sense of individuals.

The latter focus the whole power of society upon a single man. The former deploy freedom as their main mode of action; the latter, slavish obedience.

The point of departure is different, their paths are diverse but each of them seems destined by some secret providential design to hold in their hands the fate of half the world at some date in the future. While discussing such an obviously brilliant man as was Tocqueville, whose ideas have become foundational in the study of American society, it seems almost petty to praise his prose style. But I would be doing an injustice to any readers of this review if I failed to mention that Tocqueville is an extraordinary writer.

I was consistently captivated by his ability to sum up his thoughts into crisp aphorisms and to compress his analyses into perfectly composed paragraphs. I can only imagine how much better it is in the original French. Here is only a brief example: Commerce is a natural opponent of all violent passions. It likes moderation, delights in compromise, carefully avoids angry outbursts. It is patient, flexible, subtle, and has recourse to extreme measures only when absolute necessity obliges it to do so.

Commerce makes men independent of each other, gives them quite another idea of their personal value, persuades them to manage their own affairs, and teaches them to be successful. Hence it inclines them to liberty but draws them away from revolutions. In the brief space of a book review—even a long one—I cannot hope to do justice to such a wide-ranging, carefully argued, and incisive book as this.

So I hope that I have managed to persuade you to at least add this work to your to-read list, long as it may be already. And although, lowly American that I am, I cannot hope to achieve even a fraction of what Tocqueville has, perhaps his voice echoing in my ears will be enough to encourage me to look, to listen, and to understand. View all 20 comments. Jun 15, Jan-Maat added it Shelves: Americ had thought to come back to this after reading a general history of the ij history of the US republic, but instead a sudden batch of newspaper articles wondering about the end democracj Democracy brought me back aoexis it.

Reading it is clear the unfinished The Ancien Regime and the French Revolution was Tocqueville’s masterpiece and in so far as Democracy in America has renown, I feel it is because there are a lot of Americans, and naturally it is nice when a foreigner takes your country and its inst I had thought to come back to this after reading a general history of the early history of the US republic, but instead a sudden batch of newspaper articles wondering about the end of Democracy brought me back to it.


Reading it is clear the unfinished The Ancien Regime and the French Revolution was Tocqueville’s masterpiece and in so far as Democracy in America has renown, I feel it is because there are a lot of Americans, and naturally it is nice when a foreigner takes your country and its institutions seriously and discusses them soberly as something of world historical significance although in places he is plainly exasperated by his hosts.

I feel it is important to say that it gocque not a travelogue, nor is it a systematic study of American institutions circa On the one hand alexks is wonderfully alexls coming close to describing alienation and deskilling as a consequence of industrial labour organisation – what will become of the man’s mind, he asks, if all he does is make pin heads all day for years on end, on the other hand he plainly suffers from the absence of conceptual language which will be invented later and suffers from a fondness of logic and deduction, for example in his opinion at the time of writing there was no American literature but, because he perceives the nature of the culture of the USA, he gives alxeis a chapter about what American and indeed all democratic countries’ literature will be like, ditto poetry, theatre, history writing and remocracy the USA will conduct wars book 2 Chapter XIII onwards.

He suffers from Observational bias too dsmocracy because Andrew Jackson was President during his visit he assumes that the trend from then on will be for the Federal structures to become weaker and state ones stronger view spoiler [ which reminds me of a history of modern Greece that I read, the author closed with the election of a New Democracy government in the mid to late s which he heralded as a decisive changing point in the history at least of Greece, when with a few years more perspective we see that it demoxracy and rumbled along determined to resolutely no kind of changing point at all hide spoiler ].

Here his biases may also be due to democgacy sources both books and the people he demlcracy in the USA who by implication seem to have been well to do persons opposed to the Democratic party.

Alexis de Tocqueville: Democracy in America (LOA #147)

Having read the thing twice, I feel as though I am a person on their death bed regretting that they didn’t do more unpaid overtime while they had the chance: He suffers strongly from being innovative, later generations would devise concepts like ‘conventional wisdom’ or collect statistics, or indeed establish more ostensibly democratic states and providing more data to chew over.

It is a book more admirable in its ambition than likeable in it’s delivery. In studying democracy in America we notice two obvious separate subjects America and Democracy, and the USA we can further say in the s was a colonial society, a frontier society, a capitalist society which had a degree of industrialisation,had regions with a slave dfmocracy, as well as regions absorbing immigrants from overseas and regions absorbing internal migrants and these factors worked together in a dynamic way.

Tocqueville doesn’t pull all these elements apart nor can he know what was typical of democratic societies in general or only of America because ddemocracy wasn’t much to compare the USA with he doesn’t much like Switzerland as it wasn’t federal enough for his liking in the s in his lifetime. Tocqueville was very interested in the role of religion, he observes that Christianity is essential democratic – even Catholicism democracu he holds that everyone is equal beneath the priest, for his contemporaries demkcracy indeed Europeans for a further hundred years or so this would have been a provocative position to take – the hostility in some countries to democratic tendencies from churches was marked and turf wars over education, tocqhe and social policy generally were and have been an ongoing process, I recall in the context of Italian unification that a Pope forbade Italians from participating in elections which I guess gave people something extra to talk about in the confessional box.

Religion, amdrica Aristocracy meaning potentially any elite group in society functions in a dualistic manner, both are anti-democratic and underpin democracy simultaneously they tend towards tyranny majoritarian culture in the case of religion, generally being anti-democratic in the case of elites while at the same time promoting a unifying culture and protecting zmerica and rights for all.

That dw has a simple effect in the social dynamic, but is at least two-faced was a useful insight.