Democracy in America

Democracy in America

And Two Essays on America

Book - 2003
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In 1831 Tocqueville set out from post-revolutionary France on a journey across America that would take him 9 months and cover 7,000 miles. The result was DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA- a subtle and prescient analysis of the life and institutions of 19th-century America. Tocqueville's study of the strengths and weaknesses of an evolving democratic society has been quoted by every American president since Eisenhower. It remains a key point of reference for any discussion of the American nation or the democratic system.
Publisher: London : Penguin, 2003
ISBN: 9780140447606
Branch Call Number: History 320.973 Toc


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Jun 05, 2017

A minor aristocrat pursuing a career in the civil service, in 1831 Alexis de Tocqueville visited America in search of the future. He had become convinced that the inexorable tide of history was pushing towards the elimination of all distinctions between persons - something he did not regard as an unalloyed good. In the United States during the presidency of frontiersman Andrew Jackson he found the ideal of the classless society which somehow managed to avoid anarchy. His examination of the peculiarities of the American Constitution, culture, and character that made this possible demonstrates remarkable insight and holds far-reaching implications.

It is difficult to refrain from reading Tocqueville with a jaundiced eye, noting the failing of those qualities he admired in the American experiment and the widening of the faults. It is no longer possible to say that the American people feel responsible for making their laws and therefore respect them, that universal religiosity detoxifies individualism by inspiring a commitment to the common good, or that debates in the US Senate "would bring glory to the greatest parliamentary debates of Europe." Instead, it seems that we have travelled further into an age "where nothing is consistent, where virtue is without genius, genius without honor, where the love of order is joined to an inclination for tyranny and the holy worship of liberty to a disdain for the law, where conscience casts a dim light upon human actions and where nothing any longer seems to be prohibited or permitted, honest or shameful, true or false". Indeed, nothing seems to threaten the continuing ascendancy of those "who strive, in the name of progress, to turn men into materialistic beings and who want to discover the expedient while paying scant attention to fairness, knowledge far removed from beliefs, and prosperity which has nothing to do with virtue." Nothing, unless the same strengths Tocqueville identified nearly two hundred years ago can somehow be given new life.

Dec 21, 2015

A very dense book that requires the involvement of the reader, but the perceptions of de Tocqueville are mostly relevant today - especially the danger of power being concentrated too much in the hands of the few, or the bureaucracy.


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