Democracy in America (Everyman's Library)

Democracy in America (Everyman's Library)

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by Alexis de Tocqueville
     
 

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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 United States. Alexis de Tocqueville, a young French aristocrat, came to the young nation to investigate the functioning of American democracy and the social,

Overview

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 United States. Alexis de Tocqueville, a young French aristocrat, came to the young nation to investigate the functioning of American democracy and the social, political, and economic life of its citizens, publishing his observations in 1835 and 1840. Brilliantly written and vividly illustrated with vignettes and 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 Tocqueville’s observations still hold true: on the mixed advantages of a free press, the strained relations among the races, and the threats posed to democracies by consumerism and corruption.

So uncanny is Tocqueville’s insight and so accurate are his predictions, that it seems as though he were not merely describing the American identity but actually helping to create it.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“No better study of a nation’s institutions and culture than Tocqueville’s Democracy in America has ever been written by a foreign observer.” –The New York Times

“The Bradley edition of Tocqueville’s classic is the best now available in English.” –Charles A. Beard

“Professor Bradley’s edition should remain the standard one for our time.” –F. O. Matthiessen

With an Introduction by Alan Ryan

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780679431343
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
05/28/1994
Series:
Everyman's Library
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
912
Sales rank:
328,308
Product dimensions:
5.35(w) x 8.75(h) x 1.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

Democracy in America


By Alexis de Tocqueville

Everyman's Library

Copyright © 1994 Alexis de Tocqueville
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0679431349

Chapter One

Physical Configuration
of North America


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...

Continues...


Excerpted from Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville Copyright © 1994 by Alexis de Tocqueville. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Alexis de Tocqueville was born in 1805 to a noble French family that had survived the French Revolution. His father gained some political power under the reign of the Bourbons, and after the July Revolution of 1830, the family was exiled along with the king. Tocqueville, then twenty-five years old, stayed in France, swearing allegiance to the new government. Shortly thereafter he and a friend, Gustave de Beaumont, sought and received a government assignment to study the prison system of the United States. They arrived in America in 1831. After extensive travels across the young nation, Tocqueville wrote Democracy in America (published in two volumes in 1835 and 1840). The publication of the first volume made Tocqueville a well-known figure, but he led a quiet life, accepting modest governmental posts, traveling around Europe, and marrying an Englishwoman. In 1848, Tocqueville once again rose to political prominence after a prescient speech that foretold of revolution. After serving through the massive upheavals and overthrows of government, Tocqueville retired from political life in 1849. Always weak in health, his lung disease grew progressively worse from that period on. Moving south several times on doctor’s recommendations, Tocqueville succumbed to death in 1859, in Cannes.

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Democracy in America 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
De Tocqueville was simply of one of the great social scientists writing about America and Democracy. From reading the book I deduced that De Tocqueville was a social scientist before Marx! He compares European culture and government with the fledgling culture and democracy he observes in America. He is very much impressed with what he sees taking place in America in the 1830's and hopes it will spread to Europe. He at first believed that America's prosperity was simply due to geography and their distance from powerful neighbors, he abandons this idea after his visit to America. He comes to realize that the West is not being peopled 'by new European immigrants to America, but by Americans who he believes have no adversity to taking risks'. De Tocqueville comes to see that Americans are the most broadly educated and politically advanced people in the world and one of the reasons for the success of our form of government. He also foretells America's industrial preeminence and strength through the unfettered spread of ideas and human industry. De Tocqueville also saw the insidious damage that the institution of slavery was causing the country and predicted some 30 years before the Civil War that slavery would probable cause the states to fragment from the union. He also the emergence of stronger states rights over the power of the federal government. He held fast to his belief that the greatest danger to democracy was the trend toward the concentration of power by the federal government. He predicted wrongly that the union would probably break up into 2 or 3 countries because of regional interests and differences. This idea is the only one about America that he gets wrong. Despite some of his misgivings, De Tocqueville, saw that democracy is an 'inescapable development' of the modern world. The arguments in the 'Federalist Papers' were greater than most people realized. He saw a social revolution coming that continues throughout the world today. De Tocqueville realizes at the very beginning of the 'industrial revolution' how industry, centralization and democracy strengthened each other and moved forward together. I am convinced that De Tocqueville is still the preeminent observer of America but is also the father of social science. A must read for anyone interested in American history, political philosophy or the social sciences.
Russell_Kirk More than 1 year ago
Interesting and well written of a perspective on the U.S. in the 19th century; de Tocqueville examines our form of democracy, political associations and the races at that time.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This abridged version of the classic was so good that I got the full version which is over twice as long. However, this version does present the ideas well. The translation uses a bit outdated English but the positive side of that is that it reminds you when it was written, i.e. about 1840. It not only predicts current day problems but seems to point to the coming Civil War, the Mexican War and the trouble between labor and big business. Actually so many of the warnings have come to pass that I found myself wondering if we still have a republic.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Toqueville's work unquestionably will last for as long as human nature remains the same. Certainly, it is diverting to read accounts about the topography and anachronistically idiosyncratic habits of the inhabitants of America over a century ago; the fundamental value of his work, however, lies in his understanding of human nature that does not change throughout time. More than most (if not all) writers on the American polity, he perceives how certain tendencies of human nature are revealed in the particular society founded upon practical wisdom, personal responsibility, self-reliance, and faith. Many of his disquisitions on these tendencies that could be accentuated in American democracy are now more thought-provoking than ever. One prominent example is his intuitive grasp of a challenge to Americans. He shows famously how they are practical and intent upon getting things done by combining in 'societies.' A problem could occur if ever the citizens in general become selfish and much less self-reliant: 'individualism' could arise. He articulates a bleak portrait of a society in which none care to take personal responsibility, but are willing to sacrifice freedom for temporary security. This is disquieting for modern society, and it would be well were more people to read his work and learn from it.
Hawkeye51 More than 1 year ago
De Toqueville's observations detailing just who the Americans are, remains valid to this day. His writings do not confirm the pretentious belief in American Exceptionalism rather, they expose the subtle differences in how we view individualism and the State and the belief system in continental Europe.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Alexis De Tocqueville paints an amazingly detailed and accurate picture of the early stages of America's political,social, and economic status. HOWEVER, as this is an ABRIDGED version, I'm sure that this version could've been much much much much more Ad Hoc. As a junior in high school reading this for the summer, I can tell you that this book is a horrifyingly boring read, not just because of its length and difficulty, but because its seemingly irrelevant detail which is given. If you're a history buff, you will MAYBE love this book. In my honest opinion, this book is best read in excerpts.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a Junior in High School I can't begin to tell you how boring and difficult to read is this book. Could'nt Mr.Heffner have found a more to the point approach for those of us who HAVE to read this book?