De Tocqueville’s “Democracy In America”Alexis De Tocquevilles Democracy in Americadelves deep into how the American States and the federal government would growpolitically and socially under the umbrella of democracy.
He sees the UnitedStates as a unique entity because of how and why it started as well as itsgeographical location. De Tocqueville explains that the foundations of thedemocratic process in America are completely different from anywhere else onthe globe. The land was virginal and the colonies had almost complete sovereigntyfrom England from the very beginning because they were separated by an oceanand financial troubles. The people who came to America were the oppressedand unhappy in England and all were trying to find a place where they couldstart anew and create a political structure that would facilitate an individualfreedom unlike anything that they had previously experienced in Europe. DeTocqueville believed that the nature of democracy in the New World rested withinthe 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 foran aristocracy.Order now
“Land is the basis of an aristocracyand in America whenthe ground was prepared, its produce was found to be insufficient to enricha proprietor and a farmer at the same time(41). ” He saw that even the soilof America was opposed to the structure of an aristocracy. Therewere also outside influences lending unvoiced support for the creation of thisnew democracy. Being an ocean apart from its mother country, who at this timedid not have the financial reserves to oversee its colonies, let the Americansgovern themselves. If they had not had this sovereignty at the beginning Americamight have become something completely different than it is today, but thatwas not the case, so these emigrants now had a fertile place to plant theirideas of a country founded upon the many ideas of the Enlightenment. Anotherlarge influence was the lack of neighbors.
America had no worries of guardingand protecting its borders because there was not anyone there who could posea threat. They could put all of their energies toward the creation of theirdemocracy. This democratic nation was to have no aristocracy and only onemajor division between its people: the North and the South. De Tocquevillesaw two very different attitudes in these regions. The North and the Southhad conflicting views as to how they were going to advance themselves in theeconomic and political arenas. But the introduction of slavery into laborwas the major conflict between the two.
“Slaverydishonors labor; it introducesidleness into a society, and with idleness, ignorance and pride, luxury anddistressThe influence of slavery, united to the English character, explainsthe manners and the social condition of the Southern States(42). ” With theadvent of slavery, the South was creating a class system amongst themselvesthat would not exist in the other regions of the States. The few Southernfounders were granted huge amounts of land with which to work, and insteadof diving into the land themselves like the northerners did with their smallerpieces of land. They instead bought slaves and would eventually divide thecountry in a nasty dispute over their handling of affairs.
He realized thatthe majority of the influences over public policy were the men in the North. They created the first public school system that was to be readily accessibleto the majority of the people. The enlightened idea that every man shouldhave access to knowledge was given exercise in this new nation, creating ahighly learned society, but one that is not very intellectual. Schools teachspecialized 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, thefew who do go on towards a higher education are actually being challenged andforced to expand their minds, higher education in America is available to many,but it is more specialized and very basic. This unlimited quantity, limitedquality relationship is seem by de Tocqueville as an inherent part of a democraticsociety. This is because, “there is no classin which the taste for intellectualpleasures is transmitted with hereditary fortune and leisureand whereinintellect is held in honor(53). “Democracy is a facilitator of a blendedsociety. The masses will be very similar in their thinking as well as theiractions. America is a social democracy because the citizens are united bytheir beliefs and movements aswell as their political organizationand its laws.
“In no country, in world does the law hold so absolute a languageas it does in America; and in no country is the right of applying it vestedin so many hands(63). ” Americans give up the idea of complete personal freedomso 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 commonamongst the nation, whereas a centralized administration deals with the interestsof a small area or community. “These two kinds of centralization mutuallyassist and attract each other; but they must not be supposed to be inseparable(63). “De Tocqueville sees America as having no real centralized administration buta supreme system of centralized government. This is states because Americaonly has one legislature in each State that reigns.
He sees this as a greatstrength as well as its weakest point. Where ever there is a government thatchanges power so quickly do to its “subordination to the power of the people(65)”will be susceptible to its “vigor. ” The States will be most likely torn apartby their vehemence and not apathy. In the 1830s, many of the citizenswere very interested in every turn that this budding country took in the politicalarena. They saw criminals as a personal affront and society shunned all whodared to break the peace.
Now, with millions of people who live from the Atlanticto 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,butthose still do not have 50% turn-out rates. Laziness hastaken over present day America and the society is really hurting because ofit. Crime is rampant and no one seems to care if justice or punishment isserved or not.
Many are very disillusioned with the government and think itis easier to do nothing than to become involved and try to change it. Thisis in direct relation to de Tocquevilles notion that democracies have a tendencyto lose liberty and personal interest as the country grows larger. Not onlywith more people are there bound to be more differing ideas, but more peoplewho share them, creating more voiced dissonance in the political sphere. Thisdissonance is glossed over when still in the minority.
“The tyranny of themajority” is one of de Tocquevilles main concerns with democratic nations. When a government is run and hindered by the thoughts of the majority, wheredo the ideas of the minority fit? When in elections only 45% of the populationvotes, and who elects representatives, how is the majority of the country reallyrepresented? The original thought behind the majority was that the consensusof many would be more informed and intelligent than of a few. But lookingupon 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 tohave come to light in the last few decades. He views the majority not asan entity unto itself, but as a conglomeration of single men who might haveaspirations other than the betterment of society. If a lone man has the abilityto misuse power, whatchanges if a majority has the ability tomisuse as well? “Thought is an invisible and subtle power, that mocks allefforts of tyranny(116). ” Since America is founded upon education that lacksthought, Americans are facilitating oppressive powers from the very place theyare trying to facilitate freedom and liberty.
Original American concepts ofdemocracy 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 thanit already has. If not careful, the majority will soon be speaking for a veryselect group, while the masses will be left out, creating a despotic governmentof the past to take over what is now one of the greatest democracies of theera. In response to Hofstadters theory on anti-intellectualism, De Tocquevillesvision of American education, or lack there of, again comes into play. Itis not in the nature of America to strive for excellence.
For to do so wouldbe to draw oneself out of the masses, creating a feeling of distrust and suspicionthat would envelop them wherever they went. In order to feel a common bondwith ones’ peers, intellectualism is not the route to take. So as to notalienate oneself, one must be content to merely be average. Mass media knowsthis; television was not created to promote education, it was and is used asan “opiate for the masses,” as Karl Marx once said about anything that wouldkeep peoples minds off what could potentially be revolutionary ideas. Liveskept mundane and boring are not a threat to the development and movement ofa nation. The contradictions in Americanvalues 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 thecountry together and away from the tendency to convert from democratic meansto other, more easily managed ways of govern. This element is adaptable fromperson to person. Many are content with the government as it is, as longas they can go about their lives without interference.
Others will whole-heartedlytake it as a personal mission to enter into politics and change the world forthe better. Whatever the case may be, people are easily led away from whatis really important to the lasting of a society, and take their lives on atangent route that may leave them satisfied with their mediocre accomplishments,but might eventually kill off any real progress towards excellence in anygenre of society, even if for the time being, it feels that as a nation, Americais content with itself. De Tocquevilles ideas of the effects of democracyon feelings and gender roles are very enlightening. He sees the lack of classdistinctions as to why Americans are immediately friendly with one another.
Since no one person is better than the next, there is no premise for suspicionof one another. Americans are unaccustomed to a rigid etiquette, so they areless easily upset by a slight from another person. Amiable to the end, theywill most likely let minor things blow over, and they will be hard to provokewith breaches in decorum. Americans are very good-natured for the most part,and this trait will always make them a little apart from therest of the Western societies.
De Tocqueville sees women in America as extremelydifferent from the women in Europe. “and she is remarkable rather for purityof manners than for chastity of mind(234). ” He sees American women as worldlyand unaffected by the European naivete and ignorance. He sees the influenceof democracy in every action of a female.
She has none of the rigid socialrestraints of the Europeans, and in so, needs to know how to combat her passionsherself and not rely on society to do it for her. American women are self-assuredand strong of opinion. They have an innate ability to be strong and independentwhile still respectful of their husbands and fathers. Religion helps in maintainingconstraints on the female population, but democratic societies hold the womanresponsible for herself. De Tocqueville has left no aspect of American societyout of his publication.
He rips the American body open and examines all thethings that are inside right down to the bare bones. It is a little scaryto read of ones own nation and its culture. To realize that ones own lifeis not how he made it, but of how his ancestors have created society. Whetherit 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 eyesof intelligent outsider who has no reason to make America sound anythingotherthan it is. He has done a very thorough job, and his vision of nineteenthcentury America will surely help lead America into the twenty-first centurywith a better definition of itself.Category: History