Alexis De Tocqueville

Easton Press Alexis De Tocqueville books

Democracy in America (2 volumes) - Books That Changed The World - 1991


Alexis De Tocqueville history

Alexis de Tocqueville, born on July 29, 1805, in Paris, France, was a prominent political thinker, historian, and sociologist best known for his insightful observations on democracy in America. Coming from a noble family with connections to the French aristocracy, Tocqueville grew up during a transformative period in French history, witnessing the tumultuous events of the French Revolution and its aftermath. Tocqueville's early education was shaped by the intellectual currents of his time, and he displayed a keen interest in political philosophy. In 1835, along with his friend Gustave de Beaumont, he embarked on a journey to the United States to study the American prison system. The insights gained during this trip formed the basis for his most famous work, Democracy in America (1835-1840).

During his trip to the United States, Alexis De Tocqueville observed that Americans took initiative and were active in pursuing their own interests. This spirit, he believed, contributed to the dynamism and innovation of American society. Tocqueville was struck by the prevailing sense of equality among Americans. He observed a lack of stark class distinctions, noting that the gap between the wealthy and the common citizens was less pronounced compared to European societies of his time. Tocqueville praised the robust civic engagement and participation in local governance. He observed a strong sense of community involvement and emphasized the importance of local institutions in the functioning of American democracy. He noted the decentralized nature of American government, with power dispersed across various levels of government and a strong emphasis on local self-governance. This, he believed, helped prevent the concentration of power and tyranny.

While appreciating the democratic principles at play, Tocqueville also expressed concerns about the potential for the "tyranny of the majority." He warned that in a democracy, there was a risk of the majority suppressing the rights and interests of minority groups. He observed a strong materialistic drive among Americans, with a focus on acquiring wealth and improving one's social standing. He connected this pursuit to the broader theme of equality, where individuals sought to elevate their own status. Tocqueville recognized the influence of religion on American society. He noted the prevalence of religious institutions and how religious values contributed to the moral foundation of American democracy.

Democracy in America is a comprehensive analysis of the American political and social system, exploring the strengths and potential pitfalls of democracy. Tocqueville marveled at the egalitarian spirit and the decentralized nature of American society, emphasizing the importance of local governance and civic participation. He also warned against the "tyranny of the majority" and the potential for despotism in democratic societies. Tocqueville's work was not limited to his observations on America. In "The Old Regime and the Revolution" (1856), he examined the causes and consequences of the French Revolution, delving into the complexities of French history and political culture. Tocqueville's historical analysis highlighted the gradual erosion of traditional institutions and the rise of modernity.

Throughout his life, Tocqueville remained engaged in French politics, serving as a member of the Chamber of Deputies and the Constituent Assembly. Despite his aristocratic background, he advocated for a moderate form of democracy, seeking to reconcile the principles of liberty with the need for political stability. Alexis de Tocqueville died on April 16, 1859, at the age of 53. His writings, characterized by a deep understanding of political philosophy and astute social observations, continue to be widely studied and respected. Tocqueville's work remains relevant as a source of insight into the challenges and opportunities presented by democratic governance, making him a key figure in the intellectual history of political thought.


Democracy in America

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. Alexis de Tocqueville, a young French aristocrat, came to the young nation to investigate the functioning of American democracy & the social, political & economic life of its citizens, publishing his observations in 1835 & 1840. Brilliantly written, vividly illustrated with vignettes & portraits, Democracy in America is far more than a trenchant analysis of one society at a particular point in time. What will most intrigue modern readers is how many of the observations still hold true: on the mixed advantages of a free press, the strained relations among the races & the threats posed to democracies by consumerism & corruption. So uncanny is Tocqueville’s insight & so accurate are his predictions, that it seems as tho he were not merely describing the American identity but actually helping to create it.

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. Also, 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. Tocqueville also outlines the possible excesses of passion for equality among men, foreshadowing the totalitarian states of the twentieth century as well as the severity of contemporary political correctness.

Out of Alex de Tocqueville's travels through the U.S. in the 1830's came an insightful study of a young democracy and its institutions.

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