Tocqueville: Democracy in America

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Overview

Alexis de Tocqueville, a young aristocratic French lawyer, came to the United States in 1831 to study its penitentiary systems. His nine-month visit and subsequent reading and reflection resulted in Democracy in America (1835—40), a landmark masterpiece of political observation and analysis. Tocqueville vividly describes the unprecedented social equality he found in America and explores its implications for European society in the emerging modern era. His book provides enduring insight into the political consequences of widespread property ownership, the potential dangers to liberty inherent in majority rule, the importance of civil institutions in an individualistic culture dominated by the pursuit of material self-interest, and the vital role of religion in American life, while prophetically probing the deep differences between the free and slave states. The clear, fluid, and vigorous translation by Arthur Goldhammer is the first to fully capture Tocqueville's achievements both as an accomplished literary stylist and as a profound political thinker.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
It's hard to think of a work that has so influenced our understanding of the United States as this-still the most authoritative, reflective set of observations about American institutions and the American character ever written. That its author was a Frenchman, and an aristocrat at that, and that he was balanced and penetrating has often occasioned rueful surprise. However, de Tocqueville's distance from his subject is precisely what lends his observations such continuing currency. A few decades ago, for instance, we read Tocqueville for his prediction that Russia and the United States would one day contest for pre-eminence. Now, we ought to read him (Iraqis and Afghans should, too) for his classic analyses of the link between political parties and free associations and for his reflections on such matters as religion and public life, and "self-interest properly understood." But many solid translations exist. Why another? Because the Library of America would be incomplete without this canonical work of history and sociology. And this translation by Goldhammer, the dean of American translators from the French, accomplishes what it's hard to believe possible: it lends to this unalterably grave work some zest. Never slipping into slang, it gives a colloquial cast, fitting for our time, to a work normally rendered only with high solemnity. The Library of America claims that its editions will stay in print forever. This one's likely to stand that test. (Mar.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This is one of the very few Library of America titles not written by an American and only one of a handful that cover a single title. Tocqueville, an astute French lawyer, visited the United States in 1831 to study its penitentiaries. His nine-month sojourn resulted in this dissection of our nation's political system. This new translation by Goldhammer gets to the heart of Tocqueville's words. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781931082549
  • Publisher: Library of America
  • Publication date: 2/9/2004
  • Series: Library of America Series
  • Pages: 928
  • Sales rank: 254,808
  • Product dimensions: 5.32 (w) x 8.12 (h) x 1.19 (d)

Meet the Author


Arthur Goldhammer is the award-winning translator of more than eighty French works in history, literature, art history, classical studies, philosophy, psychology, and social science. Olivier Zunz is Commonwealth Professor of History at the University of Virginia, and the author of numerous books including Why the American Century? He has also co-edited The Tocqueville Reader (Blackwell) and is president of the Tocqueville Society.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 3
Ch. 1 The Outward Configuration of North America 21
Ch. 2 On the Point of Departure and Its Importance for the Future of the Anglo-Americans 31
Ch. 3 Social State of the Anglo-Americans 52
Ch. 4 On the Principle of Popular Sovereignty in America 62
Ch. 5 Necessity of Studying What Happens in Particular States Before Speaking of the Government of the Union 66
Ch. 6 On Judicial Power in the United States and Its Effect on Political Society 111
Ch. 7 On Political Judgment in the United States 120
Ch. 8 On the Federal Constitution 126
Ch. 1 Why It Is Strictly Accurate to Say That in the United States It Is the People Who Govern 197
Ch. 2 Parties in the United States 198
Ch. 3 On Freedom of the Press in the United States 205
Ch. 4 On Political Association in the United States 215
Ch. 5 On the Government of Democracy in America 224
Ch. 6 What Are the Real Advantages to American Society of Democratic Government? 264
Ch. 7 On the Omnipotence of the Majority in the United States and Its Effects 283
Ch. 8 On That Which Tempers the Tyranny of the Majority in the United States 301
Ch. 9 On the Principal Causes That Tend to Maintain the Democratic Republic in the United States 319
Ch. 10 Some Considerations Concerning the Present State and Probable Future of the Three Races That Inhabit the Territory of the United States 365
Preface 479
Pt. I Influence of Democracy on the Evolution of the American Intellect
Ch. 1 On the Philosophical Method of the Americans 483
Ch. 2 On the Principal Source of Beliefs Among Democratic Peoples 489
Ch. 3 Why the Americans Show More Aptitude and Taste for General Ideas Than Their English Forefathers 494
Ch. 4 Why the Americans Have Never Been as Passionate as the French About General Ideas in Politics 499
Ch. 5 How Religion Uses Democratic Instincts in the United States 501
Ch. 6 On the Progress of Catholicism in the United States 510
Ch. 7 What Makes the Mind of Democratic Peoples Receptive to Pantheism 512
Ch. 8 How Democracy Suggests to the Americans the Idea of Man's Infinite Perfectibility 514
Ch. 9 How the Example of the Americans Does Not Prove That a Democratic People Can Have No Aptitude for Science, Literature, or the Arts 516
Ch. 10 Why Americans Devote Themselves More to the Practical Applications of Science Than to the Theory 522
Ch. 11 In What Spirit Americans Cultivate the Arts 530
Ch. 12 Why Americans Build Such Insignificant and Such Great Monuments at the Same Time 536
Ch. 13 The Literary Aspect of Democratic Centuries 538
Ch. 14 On the Literary Industry 544
Ch. 15 Why the Study of Greek and Latin Is Particularly Useful in Democratic Societies 545
Ch. 16 How American Democracy Has Changed the English Language 547
Ch. 17 On Some Sources of Poetry in Democratic Nations 554
Ch. 18 Why American Writers and Orators Are Often Bombastic 561
Ch. 19 Some Observations on the Theater of Democratic Peoples 563
Ch. 20 On Certain Tendencies Peculiar to Historians in Democratic Centuries 569
Ch. 21 On Parliamentary Eloquence in the United States 574
Pt. II Influence of Democracy on the Sentiments of the Americans
Ch. 1 Why Democratic Peoples Show a More Ardent and Enduring Love of Equality Than of Liberty 581
Ch. 2 On Individualism in Democratic Countries 585
Ch. 3 How Individualism Is More Pronounced at the End of a Democratic Revolution Than at Any Other Time 588
Ch. 4 How Americans Combat Individualism with Free Institutions 590
Ch. 5 On the Use That Americans Make of Association in Civil Life 595
Ch. 6 On the Relation Between Associations and Newspapers 600
Ch. 7 Relations Between Civil Associations and Political Associations 604
Ch. 8 How Americans Combat Individualism with the Doctrine of Self-Interest Properly Understood 610
Ch. 9 How Americans Apply the Doctrine of Self-Interest Properly Understood in the Matter of Religion 614
Ch. 10 On the Taste for Material Well-Being in America 617
Ch. 11 On the Particular Effects of the Love of Material Gratifications in Democratic Centuries 620
Ch. 12 Why Certain Americans Exhibit Such Impassioned Spiritualism 623
Ch. 13 Why Americans Seem So Restless in the Midst of Their Well-Being 625
Ch. 14 How the Taste for Material Gratifications Is Combined in America with Love of Liberty and Concern About Public Affairs 629
Ch. 15 How Religious Beliefs Sometimes Divert the American Soul Toward Immaterial Gratifications 633
Ch. 16 How Excessive Love of Well-Being Can Impair It 638
Ch. 17 How, in Times of Equality and Doubt, It Is Important to Set Distant Goals for Human Actions 639
Ch. 18 Why All Respectable Occupations Are Reputed Honorable Among Americans 642
Ch. 19 Why Nearly All Americans Are Inclined to Enter Industrial Occupations 644
Ch. 20 How Industry Could Give Rise to an Aristocracy 649
Pt. III Influence of Democracy on Mores Properly So-Called
Ch. 1 How Mores Become Milder as Conditions Become More Equal 655
Ch. 2 How Democracy Simplifies and Eases Habitual Relations Among Americans 660
Ch. 3 Why Americans Are So Slow to Take Offense in Their Country and So Quick to Take Offense in Ours 663
Ch. 4 Consequences of the Three Previous Chapters 667
Ch. 5 How Democracy Modifies Relations Between Servant and Master 669
Ch. 6 How Democratic Institutions and Mores Tend to Raise Prices and Shorten the Terms of Leases 679
Ch. 7 Influence of Democracy on Wages 682
Ch. 8 Influence of Democracy on the Family 685
Ch. 9 Raising Girls in the United States 692
Ch. 10 How the Traits of the Girl Can Be Divined in the Wife 695
Ch. 11 How Equality of Conditions Helps to Maintain Good Morals in America 698
Ch. 12 How the Americans Understand the Equality of Man and Woman 705
Ch. 13 How Equality Naturally Divides the Americans into a Multitude of Small Private Societies 709
Ch. 14 Some Reflections on American Manners 711
Ch. 15 On the Gravity of Americans and Why It Does Not Prevent Them from Acting Rashly 715
Ch. 16 Why the National Vanity of the Americans Is More Restless and Argumentative Than That of the English 719
Ch. 17 How Society in the United States Seems Both Agitated and Monotonous 722
Ch. 18 On Honor in the United States and in Democratic Societies 725
Ch. 19 Why There Are So Many Ambitious Men and So Few Great Ambitions in the United States 738
Ch. 20 On Place-Hunting in Certain Democratic Nations 745
Ch. 21 Why Great Revolutions Will Become Rare 747
Ch. 22 Why Democratic Peoples Naturally Desire Peace and Democratic Armies Naturally Desire War 761
Ch. 23 Which Class in Democratic Armies Is the Most Warlike and Revolutionary 768
Ch. 24 What Makes Democratic Armies Weaker Than Other Armies at the Start of a Campaign but More Formidable in Protracted Warfare 772
Ch. 25 On Discipline in Democratic Armies 777
Ch. 26 Some Remarks on War in Democratic Societies 779
Pt. IV On the Influence that Democratic Ideas and Sentiments Exert on Political Society
Ch. 1 Equality Naturally Gives Men a Taste for Free Institutions 787
Ch. 2 Why the Ideas of Democratic Peoples About Government Naturally Favor the Concentration of Power 789
Ch. 3 How the Sentiments of Democratic Peoples Accord with Their Ideas to Bring About a Concentration of Power 793
Ch. 4 Concerning Certain Particular and Accidental Causes That Either Lead a Democratic People to Centralize Power or Divert Them From It 797
Ch. 5 How Sovereign Power in Today's European Nations Is Increasing, Although Sovereigns Are Less Stable 803
Ch. 6 What Kind of Despotism Democratic Nations Have to Fear 816
Ch. 7 Continuation of the Preceding Chapters 822
Ch. 8 General View of the Subject 831
Tocqueville's Notes 835
Translator's Note 873
Chronology 878
Note on the Texts 907
Notes 909
Index 925
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  • Posted June 14, 2013

    I don't mind admitting that Alexis de Toqueville's DEMOCRACY IN

    I don't mind admitting that Alexis de Toqueville's DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA is quite possible the most demanding piece of exposition I've read since Hegel's PHENOMENOLOGY OF MIND. I suspect it's one of those books -- analogous, if you will, to Cervantes' DON QUIXOTE, Melville's MOBY DICK, Proust's IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME or Musil's MAN WITHOUT QUALITIES -- that avid readers want to have read, but never have.

    I finally did.

    If you can find the time (and the quiet) to read fifty pages of this book a day, you can accomplish it in under three weeks. If you can devote yourself to more than fifty pages a day -- and have the concentration necessary to make sense of what you're reading -- you're a better (wo)man than I am.

    I couldn't. In spite of my best efforts and virtually ideal conditions (most often in some secluded spot in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden), I found myself having to read many sentences two and three times over.

    DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA is no doubt more worthy of a dissertation than of a review. And I suspect that thousands of dissertations have been written on this oeuvre. The book is dense -- with a capital "D" -- and any sort of commentary on it could rival exegesis of the Torah.

    Dense it is. But also prescient--with a capital "P." If you can't find the time or the circumstances to devote yourself to a reading of the entire work, read just Chapter 10 of Part II, Volume One ("Some Considerations Concerning the Present State and Probable Future of the Three Races that Inhabit the Territory of the United States"). And keep in mind that Volume One was published in 1835; the "Trail of Tears" (the expulsion of the Cherokee Nation from Georgia to a circumscribed territory in Oklahoma) happened only three years later; and the Civil War was still relatively far off!

    But what of de Tocqueville's observation at the conclusion of Volume One concerning Americans and Russians -- ions before the start of the Cold War? Allow me to quote at length from pp. 475-476, as I don't want to shortchange the man:

    "There are today two great peoples on earth, who, though they started from different points, seem to be advancing toward the same goal: the Russians and the Anglo-Americans.

    Both grew in obscurity, and while humanity's gaze was focused elsewhere, they abruptly vaulted to the first rank among nations: the world learned almost simultaneously of their birth and of their grandeur.

    All other peoples seem close to achieving the limits traced for them by nature and henceforth need only to preserve what they already have; but these two are still growing. All the others have stopped, or move forward only with the greatest of effort. Only these two march with an easy and rapid stride down a road whose end no eye can yet perceive.

    The American does battle with the obstacles that nature has placed before him; the Russian grapples with men. One combats wilderness and barbarity; the other, civilization with all its arms. The American makes his conquests with the farmer's ploughshare, the Russian with the soldier's sword.

    To achieve his goal, the American relies on personal interest and allows individuals to exercise their strength and reason without guidance.

    The Russian in a sense concentrates all of society in the power of one man.

    The American's principal means of action is liberty; the Russian's, servitude.

    Their points of departure are different, their ways diverse. Yet each seems called by a secret design of Providence some day to sway the destinies of half the globe."

    Just as prescient are de Tocqueville's observations in Volume Two, Part II, Chapter 20 (pp. 649 - 652 in the Arthur Goldhammer/Literary Classics of the United States, © 2004 edition I've just read). In these four pages (titled "How Industry Could Give Rise to an Aristocracy"), de Tocqueville not only foresees the dangers of the industrial process known as "Taylorism" introduced decades later by the Ford Motor Company, but also adumbrates the condition of alienation between worker and owner/manager, haves and have-nots, into which we in the U. S. are now inexorably slipping. (Should you have any interest in understanding more about this latter development, I would respectfully refer you to Naomi Klein's book, THE SHOCK DOCTRINE, which I reviewed here at Amazon at the end of last month.)

    And what of this concluding observation 150 years before the deluge of widgets and gadgets in which most of the current generation of digital addicts would appear to be drowning? "Habitual inattention must be regarded as the greatest defect of the democratic mind (last sentence on p. 718)." There are no doubt other good reasons for the seemingly constant state of distraction of so many young minds -- and de Tocqueville carefully lays out his argument in the pages leading up to his conclusion. And yet, one has to wonder whether the "democratic mind" as it has come to be in these United States and elsewhere in the Western World at the beginning of the twenty-first century was the incubator or the egg in our so-called "high-tech (r)evolution."

    Please allow me to return to p. 198 to conclude with one last citation, even if I could go on and on with others worth their aphoristic weight in gold. "Time no more stops for nations than it does for individuals. Both advance daily toward a future of which they know nothing."

    "...(A) future of which they know nothing." Scary stuff -- but worthwhile (to say the least!) reading.

    RRB
    6/14/13
    Brooklyn, NY

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