Press "Enter" to skip to content

De Tocqueville’s Democracy In America

Word Count: 2103Alexis De Tocquevilles Democracy in America
delves deep into how the American States and the federal government would grow
politically and socially under the umbrella of democracy. He sees the United
States as a unique entity because of how and why it started as well as its
geographical location.
De Tocqueville explains that the foundations of the
democratic process in America are completely different from anywhere else on
the globe. The land was virginal and the colonies had almost complete sovereignty
from England from the very beginning because they were separated by an ocean
and financial troubles. The people who came to America were the oppressed
and unhappy in England and all were trying to find a place where they could
start anew and create a political structure that would facilitate an individual
freedom unlike anything that they had previously experienced in Europe. De
Tocqueville believed that the nature of democracy in the New World rested within
the fact that all of the emigrants were basically from the same social strata,
resulting in the first new country where there was no preliminary basis for
an aristocracy. “Land is the basis of an aristocracyand in America when
the ground was prepared, its produce was found to be insufficient to enrich
a proprietor and a farmer at the same t
ime(41).” He saw that even the soil
of America was opposed to the structure of an aristocracy.
were also outside influences lending unvoiced support for the creation of this
new democracy. Being an ocean apart from its mother country, who at this time
did not have the financial reserves to oversee its colonies, let the Americans
govern themselves. If they had not had this sovereignty at the beginning America
might have become something completely different than it is today, but that
was not the case, so these emigrants now had a fertile place to plant their
ideas of a country founded upon the many ideas of the Enlightenment. Another
large influence was the lack of neighbors. America had no worries of guarding
and protecting its borders because there was not anyone there who could pose
a threat. They could put all of their energies toward the creation of their
This democratic nation was to have no aristocracy and only one
major division between its people: the North and the South. De Tocqueville
saw two very different attitudes in these regions. The North and the South
had conflicting views as to how they were going to advance themselves in the
economic and political arenas. But the introduction of slavery into labor
was the major conflict between the two. “Slaverydishonors labor; it introduces
idleness into a society, and with idleness, ignorance and pride, luxury and
distressThe influence of slavery, united to the English character, explains
the manners and the social condition of the Southern States(42).” With the
advent of slavery, the South was creating a class system amongst themselves
that would not exist in the other regions of the States. The few Southern
founders were granted huge amounts of land with which to work, and instead
of diving into the land themselves like the northerners did with their smaller
pieces of land. They instead bought slaves and would eventually divide the
country in a nasty dispute over their handling of affairs.

He realized that
the majority of the influences over public policy were the men in the North.

Pssst… we can write an original essay just for you.
Any subject. Any type of essay.
We’ll even meet a 3-hour deadline.

Get your price

They created the first public school system that was to be readily accessible
to the majority of the people. The enlightened idea that every man should
have access to knowledge was given exercise in this new nation, creating a
highly learned society, but one that is not very intellectual. Schools teach
specialized skills so that American can enter the work force as soon as possible,
but gloss over any areas that have no value in work. Whereas in England, the
few who do go on towards a higher education are actually being challenged and
forced to expand their minds, higher education in America is available to many,
but it is more specialized and very basic. This unlimited quantity, limited
quality relationship is seem by de Tocqueville as an inherent part of a democratic
society. This is because, “there is no classin which the taste for intellectual
pleasures is transmitted with hereditary fortune and leisure
and wherein
intellect is held in honor(53).”
Democracy is a facilitator of a blended
society. The masses will be very similar in their thinking as well as their
actions. America is a social democracy because the citizens are united by
their beliefs and movements as
well as their political organization
and its laws. “In no country, in world does the law hold so absolute a language
as it does in America; and in no country is the right of applying it vested
in so many hands(63).” Americans give up the idea of complete personal freedom
so that they can obtain and preserve a civil society in which they can live.

A centralized government is one that controls all interests that are common
amongst the nation, whereas a centralized administration deals with the interests
of a small area or community. “These two kinds of centralization mutually
assist and attract each other; but they must not be supposed to be inseparable(63).”
De Tocqueville sees America as having no real centralized administration but
a supreme system of centralized government. This is states because America
only has one legislature in each State that reigns. He sees this as a great
strength as well as its weakest point. Where ever there is a government that
changes power so quickly do to its “subord
ination to the power of the people(65)”
will be susceptible to its “vigor.” The States will be most likely torn apart
by their vehemence and not apathy.
In the 1830s, many of the citizens
were very interested in every turn that this budding country took in the political
arena. They saw criminals as a personal affront and society shunned all who
dared to break the peace. Now, with millions of people who live from the Atlantic
to the Pacific, many views of American politics have changed. Instead of enthusiasm,
apathy has taken over many people. Presidential elections have to most turn-outs,
those still do not have 50% turn-out rates. Laziness has
taken over present day America and the society is really hurting because of
it. Crime is rampant and no one seems to care if justice or punishment is
served or not. Many are very disillusioned with the government and think it
is easier to do nothing than to become involved and try to change it. This
is in direct relation to de Tocquevilles notion that democracies have a tendency
to lose liberty and personal interest as the country grows larger. Not only
with more people are there bound to be more differing ideas, but more people
who share them, creating more voiced dissonance in the political sphere.
dissonance is glossed over when still in the minority. “The tyranny of the
majority” is one of de Tocquevilles main concerns with democratic nations.

When a government is run and hindered by the thoughts of the majority, where
do the ideas of the minority fit? When in elections only 45% of the population
votes, and who elects representatives, how is the majority of the country really
represented? The original thought behind the majority was that the consensus
of many would be more informed and intelligent than of a few. But looking
upon the uninformed voting habits of the public today, is that still the case?
De Tocqueville sees the problem of an oppressive majority and it seems to
have come to light in the last few decades.He views the majority not as
an entity unto itself, but as a conglomeration of single men who might have
aspirations other than the betterment of society.If a lone man has the ability
to misuse power, what
changes if a majority has the ability to
misuse as well? “Thought is an invisible and subtle power, that mocks all
efforts of tyranny(116).” Since America is founded upon education that lacks
thought, Americans are facilitating oppressive powers from the very place they
are trying to facilitate freedom and liberty. Original American concepts of
democracy are falling to the wayside, hypocrisy and apathy are taking its place,
creating an even more fertile ground for the majority to gain more power than
it already has. If not careful, the majority will soon be speaking for a very
select group, while the masses will be left out, creating a despotic government
of the past to take over what is now one of the greatest democracies of the

In response to Hofstadters theory on anti-intellectualism, De Tocquevilles
vision of American education, or lack there of, again comes into play. It
is not in the nature of America to strive for excellence. For to do so would
be to draw oneself out of the masses, creating a feeling of distrust and suspicion
that would envelop them wherever they went. In order to feel a common bond
with ones’ peers, intellectualism is not the route to take. So as to not
alienate oneself, one must be content to merely be average. Mass media knows
this; television was not created to promote education, it was and is used as
an “opiate for the masses,” as Karl Marx once said about anything that would
keep peoples minds off what could potentially be revolutionary ideas. Lives
kept mundane and boring are not a threat to the development and movement of
a nation. The contradictions in American
values are amazing.

Liberty is canonized, yet Americans will give it up so easily if enticed,
which is not difficult. Yet, there is still some element that has kept the
country together and away from the tendency to convert from democratic means
to other, more easily managed ways of govern. This element is adaptable from
person to person. Many are content with the government as it is, as long
as they can go about their lives without interference. Others will whole-heartedly
take it as a personal mission to enter into politics and change the world for
the better. Whatever the case may be, people are easily led away from what
is really important to the lasting of a society, and take their lives on a
tangent route that may leave them satisfied with their mediocre accomplishments,
but might eventually kill off any real progress towards excellence in any
genre of society, even if for the time being, it feels that as a nation, America
is content with itself.

De Tocquevilles ideas of the effects of democracy
on feelings and gender roles are very enlightening. He sees the lack of class
distinctions as to why Americans are immediately friendly with one another.

Since no one person is better than the next, there is no premise for suspicion
of one another. Americans are unaccustomed to a rigid etiquette, so they are
less easily upset by a slight from another person. Amiable to the end, they
will most likely let minor things blow over, and they will be hard to provoke
with breaches in decorum. Americans are very good-natured for the most part,
and this trait will always make them a little apart from the
rest of the Western societies.
De Tocqueville sees women in America as extremely
different from the women in Europe. “and she is remarkable rather for purity
of manners than for chastity of mind(234).” He sees American women as worldly
and unaffected by the European naivete and ignorance. He sees the influence
of democracy in every action of a female. She has none of the rigid social
restraints of the Europeans, and in so, needs to know how to combat her passions
herself and not rely on society to do it for her. American women are self-assured
and strong of opinion. They have an innate ability to be strong and independent
while still respectful of their husbands and fathers. Religion helps in maintaining
constraints on the female population, but democratic societies hold the woman
responsible for herself.

De Tocqueville has left no aspect of American society
out of his publication. He rips the American body open and examines all the
things that are inside right down to the bare bones. It is a little scary
to read of ones own nation and its culture. To realize that ones own life
is not how he made it, but of how his ancestors have created society. Whether
it be as to how Americans view their politics, or their social afflictions,
de Tocqueville voices his opinions as to what is commendable, are conversely,
what is wrong with every aspect of America. He sees America through the eyes
of intelligent outsider who has no reason to make America sound anything
than it is. He has done a very thorough job, and his vision of nineteenth
century America will surely help lead America into the twenty-first century
with a better definition of itself.


I'm Lily

Would you like to get a custom essay? How about receiving a customized one?

Check it out