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Tocqueville discusses the advantages and dangers of the majority rule -- which he thought could be as tyrannical as the rule of the aristocracy. He analyzes the ...
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Tocqueville discusses the advantages and dangers of the majority rule -- which he thought could be as tyrannical as the rule of the aristocracy. He analyzes the influence of political parties and the press on the government and the effect of democracy on the social, political, and economic life of the American people. He also offers some startling predictions about world politics, which history has borne out. So brilliant and penetrating are his comments and criticisms, they have vital meaning today for all who are interested in democracy.
Out of Alexis de Toqueville's travels through the U.S. in the 1830's came an insightful study of a young democracy and its institutions.
North America divided into two vast regions, one sloping toward the pole, the other toward the equator. Mississippi valley and its geology. The Atlantic coast and the foundation of the English colonies. Contrast between North and South America at the time of discovery. North American forests and prairies. Nomadic native tribes and their appearance, mores, and languages. Traces of an unknown people.
North America has striking geographical features which can be appreciated at first glance.
Land and water, mountains and valleys, seem to have been separated with systematic method, and the simple majesty of this design stands out amid the confusion and immense variety of the scene.
The continent is divided into two vast and almost equal regions.
One region is bounded by the North Pole and the great oceans to east and west, while to the south it stretches down in an irregular triangle to the Great Lakes of Canada.
The second starts where the other ends and covers the rest of the continent.
One region slopes gently toward the pole, the other toward the equator.
The lands to the north of the first region slope so imperceptibly that they may almost be described as plains, and there are no high mountains or deep valleys in the whole of this vast level expanse.
Chance seems to trace the serpentine courses of the streams; great rivers mingle, separate, and meet again; they get lost in a thousand marshes, meandering continually through the watery labyrinth they have formed, and only after innumerable detours do they finally reach the Arctic sea.The Great Lakes, which bring this region to an end, are not framed, as are most lakes in the Old World, by hills or rocks; their banks are level, hardly rising more than a few feet above the water. So each is like a huge cup filled to the brim. The slightest change of global structure would tilt their waters to the pole or to the tropics.
The second region is broken up more and is better suited as a permanent home for man. Two mountain chains run right across it; the Alleghenies parallel to the Atlantic, and the Rockies to the Pacific.
The area between these two mountain chains is 1,341,649 square miles, or about six times that of France.
But the whole of this vast territory is a single valley sloping down from the smooth summits of the Alleghenies and stretching up to the peaks of the Rocky Mountains, with no obstacles in the way.
An immense river flows along the bottom of this valley, and all the waters falling on the mountains on every side drain into it.
Formerly the French called it the St. Louis River, in memory of their distant fatherland, and the Indians in their grandiloquent tongue named it the Father of Waters, the Mississippi.
The Mississippi rises in the borderland between our two regions, not far from the highest point in the plain which links them.
Another river which rises nearby flows down into the polar seas. The Mississippi itself sometimes seems in doubt which way to go; it twists backward several times, and only after slowing down in lakes and marshes seems finally to make up its mind and meander on toward the south.
Sometimes gently flowing along the clay bed which nature has carved out for it, and sometimes swollen by storms; the Mississippi waters some twenty-five hundred square miles.
Thirteen hundred and sixty-four miles above its mouth, the river already has a mean depth of fifteen feet, and ships of three hundred tons can go over four hundred and fifty miles up it.
Fifty-seven large navigable rivers flow into it. Among the tributaries of the Mississippi are one river thirteen hundred leagues long, another of nine hundred leagues," another of six hundred, another of five hundred; there are four other rivers of two hundred leagues, not to mention the innumerable small stream on every side which augment its flood.
The valley watered by the Mississippi seems created for it alone; it dispenses good and evil at will like a local god. Near the river nature displays an inexhaustible fertility; the further you go from its banks, the sparser the vegetation and the poorer becomes the soil, and everything wilts or dies. Nowhere have the great convulsions of the world left more evident traces than in the valley of the Mississippi. The aspect of the whole countryside bears witness to the waters' work. Its sterility as well as its abundance is their work. Deep layers of fertile soil accumulated under the primeval ocean and had time to level out. On the right bank of the river there are huge plains as level as a rolled lawn. But nearer the mountains the land becomes more and more uneven and sterile; the soil is punctured in a thousand places by primitive rocks sticking out here and there like the bones of a skeleton when sinews and flesh have perished. The surface of the earth is covered with granitic sand and irregularly shaped stones, through which a few plants just manage to force their way; it looks like a fertile field covered by the ruins of some vast structure. Analysis of this sand and these rocks easily demonstrates that they are exactly like those on the bare and jagged peaks of the Rocky Mountains. No doubt the rains which washed all the soil down to the bottom of the valley, in the end brought portions of the rocks too; they were rolled down the neighboring slopes, and after they had been dashed one against another, were scattered at the base of the mountains from which they had fallen. (See Appendix I, A.)
All things considered, the valley of the Mississippi is the most magnificent habitation ever prepared by God for man, and yet one may say that it is still only a vast wilderness.
On the eastern slopes of the Alleghenies, between the mountains and the Atlantic, there is a long strip of rock and sand which seems to have been left behind by the retreating ocean. This strip is only forty-eight leagues broad on the average, but three hundred and ninety leagues long. The soil in this part of the American continent can be cultivated only with difficulty. The vegetation is scanty and uniform.
It was on that inhospital shore that the first efforts of human...
|The Point of Departure and Its Importance for the Future of the Anglo-Americans||26|
|The Social State of the Anglo-Americans||45|
|The Principle of the Sovereignty of the People in America||54|
|The Necessity of Studying What Happens within the Particular States before Discussing the Government of the Union||57|
|The Judicial Power in the United States and Its Influence on Political Society||99|
|The Federal Constitution||113|
|How It Can Be Strictly Said That in the United States It Is the People That Govern||177|
|Parties in the United States||178|
|Liberty of the Press in the United States||185|
|The Government of Democracy in America||202|
|What Are the Real Advantages That American Society Derives from Democratic Government||241|
|The Omnipotence of the Majority in the United States and Its Effects||257|
|What Tempers the Tyranny of the Majority in the United States||273|
|Principal Causes That Tend to Maintain the Democratic Republic in the United States||289|
|Some Considerations on the Present State and Probable Future of the Three Races That Inhabit the Territory of the United States||331|
|The Philosophic Method of the Americans||11|
|The Principal Source of Beliefs among Democratic Peoples||16|
|How, in the United States, Religion Is Able to Make Use of Democratic Instincts||27|
|The Progress of Catholicism in the United States||35|
|How Equality Suggests to Americans the Idea of the Indefinite Perfectibility of Man||39|
|Why the Americans Are More Devoted to the Practice of the Sciences Than to Their Theory||46|
|The Industry of Literature||66|
|Why the Study of Greek and Latin Literature Is Especially Useful in Democratic Societies||67|
|Some Particular Tendencies of Historians in Democratic Times||89|
|Why Democratic Peoples Show a More Ardent and More Lasting Love for Equality Than for Liberty||101|
|Individualism in Democratic Countries||105|
|How the Americans Combat Individualism by Free Institutions||109|
|The Use That the Americans Make of the Association in Civil Life||113|
|The Relationship between Associations and Newspapers||118|
|Relationships between Civil and Political Associations||122|
|How the Americans Combat Individualism by the Doctrine of Interest Rightly Understood||127|
|How the Americans Apply the Doctrine of Interest Rightly Understood in Matters of Religion||131|
|The Taste for Material Well-Being in America||134|
|The Particular Effects That the Love of Material Pleasures Produces in Democratic Times||137|
|Why Certain Americans Display Such an Intense Spiritualism||140|
|Why the Americans Prove to Be So Uneasy in the Midst of Their Well-Being||142|
|How Religious Beliefs Sometimes Turn the Soul of Americans toward Spiritual Pleasures||149|
|How, in Times of Equality and of Skepticism, It Is Important to Place the Goal of Human Actions at a Greater Distance||155|
|Why, among the Americans, All Honest Occupations Are Considered Honorable||158|
|What Makes Almost All Americans Lean toward Industrial Occupations||160|
|How Aristocracy May Emerge from Industry||164|
|How Moral Habits Become Milder as Conditions Become More Equal||171|
|Influence of Democracy on the Family||200|
|The Education of Young Women in the United States||206|
|How the Young Woman Reappears in the Features of the Wife||209|
|How Equality of Conditions Contributes to the Maintenance of Good Morals in America||212|
|How the Americans Understand the Equality of Man and Woman||219|
|How the Aspect of Society, in the United States, Is at Once Agitated and Monotonous||236|
|On Honor in the United States and in Democratic Societies||238|
|Why There Are So Many Ambitious Men and So Few Great Ambitions in the United States||250|
|Why Great Revolutions Will Become Rare||258|
|Equality Naturally Gives to Men the Taste for Free Institutions||295|
|That the Ideas of Democratic Peoples Regarding Government Are Naturally Favorable to the Concentration of Powers||297|
|That the Sentiments of Democratic Peoples Accord with Their Ideas in Leading Them to Concentrate Power||300|
|What Kind of Despotism Democratic Nations Have to Fear||322|
|Continuation of the Preceding Chapters||328|
|General View of the Subject||336|