Alexis de Tocqueville’s Influence
Alexis de Tocqueville’s observation of the American prison system brought out several interesting facts about America and how it governs itself. He talks of the danger of greed for money, the importance of forming associations, and the power of influence in town government. Although many of his observations have since changed, many of them bring about legitimate points about American government and society.
In de Tocqueville’s book Democracy in America, he is quoted as saying, “I know of no other country where love of money has such a grip on men’s hearts or where stronger scorn is expressed for the theory of permanent equality of property.” In my opinion, he is pointing out that man’s greed for money is what will possibly tear our society apart. This point has somewhat proven itself in the way that so many men, and now women, are willing to do almost anything to gain a dollar, even if it means using immoral and hurtful ways to do so.
In talking about the importance of forming associations in America, de Tocqueville says, “Americans of all ages, all stations of life, and all types of disposition are forever forming associations…In democratic countries knowledge of how to combine is the mother of all other forms of knowledge; on its progress depends that of all the others.” My belief is that he is saying that although forming associations in all aspects of life is a positive thing, the country will never be successful unless they learn to work together with one another in order to make everything work as one big system. I believe we have been successful as a country in doing this. We have learned that we must rely on one another in order to meet all of our needs to the best of our own abilities.
de Tocqueville also points out how powerful personal influence can be in town government. Consider his quote, “In towns it is impossible to prevent men from assembling, getting excited together and forming sudden passionate resolves. Towns are like great meeting houses with all the inhabitants as members. In them the people wield immense influence over their magistrates and often carry their desires into execution without intermediaries.” He is pointing out that local government will almost always find ways to get around larger government because of the immediate interest of residents. In reality, it is the people that run the government because they have the ability to remove elected representatives if they aren’t getting things done the way the people want. The problem is, many people fail to realize this fact and just don’t vote. The want to blame the problems of the country on the elected officials although they are the ones that did, or in some cases, did not, vote for the person who will make the voice of the people heard.
I think overall, de Tocqueville’s view of America was right on key with many of my personal views. I agree that greed for money is ruining America. I also agree on the importance of the combination of associations for maximum productivity as a nation. I believe his view on the power of local government is accurate. Obviously his observations about the differences in the roles of men and women have changed since his findings. Being that we as a country are still reviewing his findings, tells me that there is a lot of valuable information in his “outside” view of how we operate in America.
Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville