Democracy In America - Volume 2 , Alexis de Toqueville
Democracy In America - Volume 2
Alexis de Toqueville
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De La Démocratie en Amérique, published in two volumes, (the first in 1835 and the second in 1840 is a classic French text by Alexis de Tocqueville. The primary focus of Democracy in America is an analysis of why republican representative democracy has succeeded in the United States while failing in so many other places. Tocqueville seeks to apply the functional aspects of democracy in the United States to what he sees as the failings of democracy in his native France. Tocqueville speculates on the future of democracy in the United States, discussing possible threats to democracy and possible dangers of democracy. These include his belief that democracy has a tendency to degenerate into "soft despotism" as well as the risk of developing a tyranny of the majority. He observes that the strong role religion played in the United States was due to its separation from the government, a separation all parties found agreeable. He contrasts this to France, where there was what he perceived to be an unhealthy antagonism between democrats and the religious, which he relates to the connection between church and state.

Democracy in America

by
Alexis De Tocqueville

Translated by Henry Reeve

Volume II


De Tocqueville’s Preface to the Second Part

The Americans live in a democratic state of society, which has naturallysuggested to them certain laws and a certain political character. Thissame state of society has, moreover, engendered amongst them a multitudeof feelings and opinions which were unknown amongst the elder aristocraticcommunities of Europe: it has destroyed or modified all the relationswhich before existed, and established others of a novel kind. The — aspectof civil society has been no less affected by these changes than that ofthe political world. The former subject has been treated of in the work onthe Democracy of America, which I published five years ago; to examine thelatter is the object of the present book; but these two parts completeeach other, and form one and the same work.

I must at once warn the reader against an error which would be extremelyprejudicial to me. When he finds that I attribute so many differentconsequences to the principle of equality, he may thence infer that Iconsider that principle to be the sole cause of all that takes place inthe present age: but this would be to impute to me a very narrow view. Amultitude of opinions, feelings, and propensities are now in existence,which owe their origin to circumstances unconnected with or even contraryto the principle of equality. Thus if I were to select the United Statesas an example, I could easily prove that the nature of the country, theorigin of its inhabitants, the religion of its founders, their acquiredknowledge, and their former habits, have exercised, and still exercise,independently of democracy, a vast influence upon the thoughts andfeelings of that people. Different causes, but no less distinct from thecircumstance of the equality of conditions, might be traced in Europe, andwould explain a great portion of the occurrences taking place amongst us.

I acknowledge the existence of all these different causes, and theirpower, but my subject does not lead me to treat of them. I have notundertaken to unfold the reason of all our inclinations and all ournotions: my only object is to show in what respects the principle ofequality has modified both the former and the latter.

Some readers may perhaps be astonished that — firmly persuaded as I amthat the democratic revolution which we are witnessing is an irresistiblefact against which it would be neither desirable nor wise to struggle — Ishould often have had occasion in this book to address language of suchseverity to those democratic communities which this revolution has broughtinto being. My answer is simply, that it is because I am not an adversaryof democracy, that I have sought to speak of democracy in all sincerity.

Men will not accept truth at the hands of their enemies, and truth isseldom offered to them by their friends: for this reason I have spoken it.I was persuaded that many would take upon themselves to announce the newblessings which the principle of equality promises to mankind, but thatfew would dare to point out from afar the dangers with which it threatensthem. To those perils therefore I have turned my chief attention, andbelieving that I had discovered them clearly, I have not had the cowardiceto leave them untold.

I trust that my readers will find in this Second Part that impartialitywhich seems to have been remarked in the former work. Placed as I am inthe midst of the conflicting opinions between which we are divided, I haveendeavored to suppress within me for a time the favorable sympathies orthe adverse emotions with which each of them inspires me. If those whoread this book can find a single sentence intended to flatter any of thegreat parties which have agitated my country, or any of those pettyfactions which now harass and weaken it, let such readers raise theirvoices to accuse me.

The subject I have sought to embrace is immense, for it includes thegreater part of the feelings and opinions to which the new state ofsociety has given birth. Such a subject is doubtless above my strength,and in treating it I have not succeeded in satisfying myself. But, if Ihave not been able to reach the goal which I had in view, my readers willat least do me the justice to acknowledge that I have conceived andfollowed up my undertaking in a spirit not unworthy of success.

A. De T.

March, 1840


Book One: Influence of Democracy on the Action of Intellect in the United States

Chapter I
Philosophical Method among the Americans

I think that in no country in the civilized world is less attention paidto philosophy than in the United States. The Americans have nophilosophical school of their own; and they care but little for all theschools into which Europe is divided, the very names of which are scarcelyknown to them. Nevertheless it is easy to perceive that almost all theinhabitants of the United States conduct their understanding in the samemanner, and govern it by the same rules; that is to say, that without everhaving taken the trouble to define the rules of a philosophical method,they are in possession of one, common to the whole people. To evade thebondage of system and habit, of family maxims, class opinions, and, insome degree, of national prejudices; to accept tradition only as a meansof information, and existing facts only as a lesson used in doingotherwise, and doing better; to seek the reason of things for one’s self,and in one’s self alone; to tend to results without being bound to means,and to aim at the substance through the form; — such are the principalcharacteristics of what I shall call the philosophical method of theAmericans. But if I go further, and if I seek amongst thesecharacteristics that which predominates over and includes almost all therest, I discover that in most of the operations of the mind, each Americanappeals to the individual exercise of his own understanding alone. Americais therefore one of the countries in the world where philosophy is leaststudied, and where the precepts of Descartes are best applied. Nor is thissurprising. The Americans do not read the works of Descartes, becausetheir social condition deters them from speculative studies; but theyfollow his maxims because this very social condition naturally disposestheir understanding to adopt them. In the midst of the continual movementwhich agitates a democratic community, the tie which unites one generationto another is relaxed or broken; every man readily loses the trace of theideas of his forefathers or takes no care about them. Nor can men livingin this state of society derive their belief from the opinions of theclass to which they belong, for, so to speak, there are no longer anyclasses, or those which still exist are composed of such mobile elements,that their body can never exercise a real control over its members. As tothe influence which the intelligence of one man has on that of another, itmust necessarily be very limited in a country where the citizens, placedon the footing of a general similitude, are all closely seen by eachother; and where, as no signs of incontestable greatness or superiorityare perceived in any one of them, they are constantly brought back totheir own reason as the most obvious and proximate source of truth. It isnot only confidence in this or that man which is then destroyed, but thetaste for trusting the ipse dixit of any man whatsoever. Everyone shutshimself up in his own breast, and affects from that point to judge theworld.

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