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Alexis de Tocqueville Political and Social Observations on America and American Democracy in the 19th Century

Updated on October 17, 2015
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Alexis de Tocqueville was a young apprentice magistrate in France who was sent in 1831 by his government to the United States to study the prison system His interest went beyond that. He returned to France and publisher a classic analysis of the influence of Democracy on government, economy and society in the United States. I have always found is comments on America to be insightful.

I have collected a number of his quotations that appeal to me.

"The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in ability to repair her faults."

Probably since Viet Nam I have heard complaints about all the faults America has, as if no other country has nay faults. Yes, the country, like any country, has its share of mistakes, bad judgment, and scandals, but we eventually get back on an even keel. In my personal opinion the last election is about changing some mistakes.

"When the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness."

With political correctness and the tendency to write history to suit a political goal we are in danger of losing the past. We must learn from history.

Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word, equality. But notice the difference. While democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.

I think in my lifetime we have seen enough results of socialist governments to know the truth of this.

"The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens."

Simply put, we should have less government and more private and non-profit organizations.

"In the United states the majority undertakes to supply a multitude of ready made opinions for the use of individuals, who are thus relieved from the necessity of forming opinions of their own."

I am not sure if it is the majority in this day and age. Opinion forming has become an industry. People such as George Soros can spend millions on trying to mold our opinions. Likewise, I am not sure exactly what drives political correctness but it seems nothing short of mind control to me. It seems that those who should be leaders in informing us are bend on just giving us the point of view they want us to have.

Those that despise people will never get the best out of others and themselves.

I think we see a lot of this now. For example, people in our government who act like they are superior to ordinary people and are not afraid to say so. Are the reason car companies and others went broke because they failed to supply products the people were willing to buy? In the old days the phrase was, “The customer is always right.” Is the customer treated that way now? Customer service is given lip service now but ignored in practice.

Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot. How is it possible that society should escape destruction if the moral tie is not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed? And what can be done with a people who are their own masters if they are not submissive to the Deity?”

Depending on your own view of religion you may discount his opinion or agree with me that true liberty comes through believe in something higher. As our society gets more secular, it seems to me it gets more oppressive with groups and government infringing on us. For example political correctness, which is polite censorship. Attempts to regulate everything to the point of micro-management.

“The American Republic will endure, until politicians realize they can bribe the people with their own money.”

I think that in my lifetime this has been a trend. Earmarks, social programs that people vote for to get something for nothing, over and above the needs of a “safety net” which should probably be at the local level anyhow.

“Scarcely any political question arises in the United States that is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question.”

A good example is: The lawsuit against the State of Arizona for wanting to enforce laws the federal government, for political reasons does not want to enforce.

“Though it is very important for man as an individual that his religion should be true, that is not the case for society. Society has nothing to fear or hope from another life; what is most important for it is not that all citizens profess the true religion but that they should profess religion.”

Alexis de Tocqueville quote

This is why the recognition of all churches, rather than a state church is feasible. If the populace has no religion it probably has no basis for moral and ethical decisions, thus leadin

© 2010 Don A. Hoglund

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    • dahoglund profile image
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      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thank you for the enthusiastic comment.

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      wba108@yahoo.com 6 years ago from upstate, NY

      This is a brilliant Hub! What insights this man had for the issues that face us today. He concurred with a lot of what the Founding Fathers said. You are correct in every point you made. The more secular our society becomes the more despotic the government is. You described the arrogant liberal elite very accurately, they definitely think they know what's best for us and disdain ordinary Americans. The federal government has ignored the Constitution and is sorely in need of being reined in before its too late!

    • dahoglund profile image
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      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I think we get enough of the other side.

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      Anonymous 6 years ago

      It would be nice reading these historic observations without your one sided bullshit narration. Thanks for the quotes though.

    • dahoglund profile image
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      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      We studied him in college and it left an impressin. Thankds for you comment.

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      Old Empresario 6 years ago

      I love Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America. Our democratic traditions are one of the greatest aspects of American culture.

    • dahoglund profile image
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      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I agree with you.Thanks for the comment.

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      womacxxx1 6 years ago

      interesting, I just read a few chapters of this book last month. the unique perspective I got was that of a Frenchman, analyzing English culture. We forget that America and its unique character is derived from its British colonial history. We have forgotten our Western European heritage, our Marxist multiculturalism has destroyed all sense of nation. In 100 years, we will cease to be European and in fact become Third World Mexico.

    • dahoglund profile image
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      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I appreciate your reading and commenting.

    • chinafood profile image

      chinafood 6 years ago from china

      United States, is a very great country, although I can not go to the U.S., but I am longing for.

    • dahoglund profile image
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      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Peggy W

      I am still a believer in a good Liberal education (as opposed to a general education). Actually I did consider a Journalism major but being a working student too many classes clashed with my work schedule and the curriculum was so based on prerequisites that you had to almost start from the first course and work your way through.

      College is much more flexible now and I wish some of today's programs were available. I am not sure about today's quality though.

      I appreciate your comments.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I know what you mean about things being taught in school that do not have an immediate effect on how to earn a living...but many of the subjects stretch our minds and teach us to THINK which after all is said and done is one prime function of schooling.

      Look at how you are using some of those things you learned (or at least became exposed to) are now grist for your hubs. Provokes some interesting discussions and makes people think. At least some think... Haha!

    • dahoglund profile image
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      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Kinghorn,

      Thanks for reading and expressing your view. I am not sure I follow the logic of your argument but I will try to answer it.

      You state that population is the problem. Since I understnd that we are reproducing at too low a rate to replace ourselves then the population must be from immigration. Thus, the first step would be to control immigration.

      I don't understand your idea of needing a bigger government to protect us from corporations. First of all who will protect us from the government? The kind of government you seem to envision would probably be a dictatorship. Remember Eisenhower's remark about the dangers of an industrial/military complex. This would become the industrial/government complex. Observe current government behavior. I consider big unions to be corporation since. Yet the unions wield much influence which might be good for the unions but not good for the people.

      I don't know why you would think that personal interactions would be wrecked but it seems the breakdown of family, unwed births, tension between groups is mostly due to government trying to "help."

      How would a bigger clumsier government protect us from corporations. Take the BP spill. There were regulations in place that probably would have avoided it, but for some reason the administration did not enforce them. Also the government did too little too late and actually turned down help that was offered by other countries.

      With Katrina I suppose you could argue that if the Feds had absolute power Bush could have sent people in without waiting for the governor to make up her mind what to do.In the end it was corporations(WalMart) and non profits like Salvation Army that were more efficient.

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      Kinghorn 6 years ago

      The world population now, in a 25-year period, increases by more than the world population was at the time Tocqueville. Liberty, independence and any large-scale mutual human affection must be expected to be wrecked. Government may need to be big enough to protect communities from each other and from corporations.

    • dahoglund profile image
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      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Peggy W

      Thank you for the comment and rating.My college curriculum was spent on such things as this but nothing on how to make a living.However, I am glad I was introduced to thinkers like this.

    • dahoglund profile image
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      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Wealthmasdemehealthy

      Thank you for your complimentary comment. My father was not a religious man, but he respected the values taught by the churches.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      These quotes were good when originally written down in the past and remain so today. Very useful hub and rating it so as well as up!

    • Wealthmadehealthy profile image

      Wealthmadehealthy 6 years ago from Somewhere in the Lone Star State

      I also agree with satomko. And Tocquevilles understanding of our government and social processes is standing today as it is totally correct. And we would all be in a much better place, government wise and personally if we all DID recognize the God who created us. Great hub dahoglund!!!

    • dahoglund profile image
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      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Robwrite

      It's hard to know how a person from that time would comprehend the modern world but the principles should remain the same.

      I think I have also heard the term representative democracy. I agree with what you say about fixing problems, which would be a reason to return power to the local level. I never did understand the concept of block grants. i think it means the states send some of there money to Washington and they might get some of it back.

      Thanks for contributing.

    • dahoglund profile image
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      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I appreciate you interest and comment.

    • dahoglund profile image
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      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      suziecat7

      Thanks for your comment.I've been very interested in the observations of the outsiders, especially during our formative years.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      Interesting reading. I'd like to see what Monsieur de Tocqueville would have to say about our society since the emergence of the mega-corporations and how they have affected America.

      Also, American is really a Republic, not a true democracy, which means it was designed to have everything done by proxy, rather than by individual action, which makes fixing our problems much harder, since the people we're asking to repair the system don't care about the people on the bottom.

    • daydreamer13 profile image

      daydreamer13 6 years ago

      Very interesting. A great read.

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 6 years ago from Asheville, NC

      I agree with Satomko. de Tocqueville was able to observe American democracy as a whole and with an outsider's perspective. Great Hub.

    • dahoglund profile image
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      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I believe you are right.Thanks for commenting.

    • satomko profile image

      Seth Tomko 6 years ago from Macon, GA

      One of the reasons why I believe Alexis de Tocqueville's observations remain worth reading after all this time is because he comments directly to what he believe is the "American character" rather than limiting his insights to the immediate circumstances.

    • dahoglund profile image
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      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I always thought this observer had much to say about today as well ass in his own time.Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • rachellrobinson profile image

      rachellrobinson 6 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Very interesting, I would love to read more on this topic.