Alexis de Tocqueville

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Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville was a French diplomat, political scientist, and historian. He was best known for his works Democracy in America and The Old Regime and the Revolution. In both of these works, he explored the effects of the rising equality of social conditions on the individual and the state in western societies.

Democracy in America (1835) published after his travels in the United States, when the market revolution, Western expansion, and Jacksonian democracy were radically transforming the fabric of American life.

Born: July 29, 1805, Paris, France

Died: April 16, 1859, Cannes, France

Influenced by: Montesquieu, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Aristotle

Influenced: Max Weber, John Stuart Mill, Friedrich Hayek


Quotes

  • "The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money." Alexis de Tocqueville
  • “Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom.”

― Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

  • “When the taste for physical gratifications among them has grown more rapidly than their education . . . the time will come when men are carried away and lose all self-restraint . . . . It is not necessary to do violence to such a people in order to strip them of the rights they enjoy; they themselves willingly loosen their hold. . . . they neglect their chief business which is to remain their own masters.” ― Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America Volume 2
  • “America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

― Alexis de Tocqueville

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

― Alexis de Tocqueville

  • "The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens." Alexis de Tocqueville
  • “Democracy extends the sphere of individual freedom, socialism restricts it. Democracy attaches all possible value to each man; socialism makes each man a mere agent, a mere number. 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.” Alexis de Tocqueville


  • "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." Alexis de Tocqueville
“What good does it do me, after all, if an ever-watchful authority keeps an eye out to ensure that my pleasures will be tranquil and races ahead of me to ward off all danger, sparing me the need even to think about such things, if that authority, even as it removes the smallest thorns from my path, is also absolute master of my liberty and my life; if it monopolizes vitality and existence to such a degree that when it languishes, everything around it must also languish; when it sleeps, everything must also sleep; and when it dies, everything must also perish?
There are some nations in Europe whose inhabitants think of themselves in a sense as colonists, indifferent to the fate of the place they live in. The greatest changes occur in their country without their cooperation. They are not even aware of precisely what has taken place. They suspect it; they have heard of the event by chance. More than that, they are unconcerned with the fortunes of their village, the safety of their streets, the fate of their church and its vestry. They think that such things have nothing to do with them, that they belong to a powerful stranger called “the government.” They enjoy these goods as tenants, without a sense of ownership, and never give a thought to how they might be improved. They are so divorced from their own interests that even when their own security and that of their children is finally compromised, they do not seek to avert the danger themselves but cross their arms and wait for the nation as a whole to come to their aid. Yet as utterly as they sacrifice their own free will, they are no fonder of obedience than anyone else. They submit, it is true, to the whims of a clerk, but no sooner is force removed than they are glad to defy the law as a defeated enemy. Thus one finds them ever wavering between servitude and license.
When a nation has reached this point, it must either change its laws and mores or perish, for the well of public virtue has run dry: in such a place one no longer finds citizens but only subjects.” Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
  • “Society will develop a new kind of servitude which covers the surface of society with a network of complicated rules, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate. It does not tyrannise but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”

― Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America Volume 2


  • “everybody feels the evil, but no one has courage or energy enough to seek the cure”

― Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America


  • “Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom.”

― Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

  • "In the United States, there is no limit to the inventiveness of man to discover ways of increasing wealth and to satisfy the public's needs. The most enlightened inhabitants of each district constantly use their knowledge to make new discoveries to increase the general prosperity, which, when made, they pass eagerly to the mass of the people" Alexis de Tocqueville 1840, 594.
  • “I do not know if the people of the United States would vote for superior men if they ran for office, but there can be no doubt that such men do not run.”

― Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America


  • “There are many men of principle in both parties in America, but there is no party of principle.”― Alexis de Tocqueville
  • Princes made violence a physical thing, but today’s democratic republics have made it as intellectual as the human will it seeks to coerce. Under the absolute government of one man, despotism tried to reach the soul by striking crudely at the body; and the soul, eluding such blows, rose gloriously above it. Tyranny in democratic republics does not proceed in the same way, however. It ignores the body and goes straight for the soul. The master no longer says: You will think as I do or die. He says: You are free not to think as I do. You may keep your life, your property, and everything else. But from this day forth you shall be as a stranger among us. You will retain your civic privileges, but they will be of no use to you. For if you seek the votes of your fellow citizens, they will withhold them, and if you seek only their esteem, they will feign to refuse even that. You will remain among men, but you will forfeit your rights to humanity. When you approach your fellow creatures, they will shun you as one who is impure. And even those who believe in your innocence will abandon you, lest they, too, be shunned in turn. Go in peace, I will not take your life, but the life I leave you with is worse than death.”

― Alexis de Tocqueville


“Society will develop a new kind of servitude which covers the surface of society with a network of complicated rules, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate. It does not tyrannise but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.” Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America Volume 2


"In the United States, there is no limit to the inventiveness of man to discover ways of increasing wealth and to satisfy the public's needs. The most enlightened inhabitants of each district constantly use their knowledge to make new discoveries to increase the general prosperity, which, when made, they pass eagerly to the mass of the people" (Tocqueville 1840, 594).

Americans form voluntary associations for many different purposes.

"Americans group together to hold fêtes, found seminaries, build inns, construct churches, distribute books, dispatch missionaries to the antipodes. They establish hospitals, prisons, schools by the same method. Finally, if they wish to highlight a truth or develop an opinion by the encouragement of a great example, they form an association" Alexis de Tocqueville 1840, 596.


"In the United States, as soon as several inhabitants have taken an opinion or an idea they wish to promote in society, they seek each other out and unite together once they have made contact. From that moment, they are no longer isolated but have become a power seen from afar whose activities serve as an example and whose words are heeded" Alexis de Tocqueville 1840, 599.

"It often happens that, in democratic countries, a large number of men who want or need to form an association cannot do so because they fail to see or find each other. . .Then a newspaper appears to publish the opinion or idea which had occurred simultaneously but separately to each of them. . .The newspaper has brought them together and continues to be necessary to keep them together" Alexis de Tocqueville 1840, 601.



“Any measure which establishes legal charity in a permanent basis and gives it an administrative form, thereby creates an idle and lazy class, living at the expense of the industrial and working class.” Alexis de Tocqueville

“Individual charity is a powerful agency that must not be despised,” he writes but “it seems quite weak when faced with the progressive development of the industrial classes and all the evils which civilisation joins to the inestimable goods it produces.” Alexis de Tocqueville

" I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there…in her fertile fields and boundless forests, and it was not there…in her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there…in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution, and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good; and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great."

"An old and sincere friend of America, I am uneasy at seeing Slavery retard her progress, tarnishher glory, furnish arms to her detractors, compromise the future career of the Union which is the guaranty of her safety and greatness, and point out beforehand to her, to all her enemies,the spot where they are to strike. As a man, too, I am moved at the spectacle of man’s degradation by man, and I hope to see the day when the law will grant equal civil liberty to all the inhabitants of the same empire, as God accords the freedom of the will, without distinction, to the dwellers of earth."

"The love and respect of your neighbors must be gained by a long series of small services, hidden deeds of goodness, a persistent habit of kindness, and an established reputation of selflessness" (Tocqueville 1840, 593).

"...boldness of enterprise is the foremost cause of (America's) progress, its strength, and its greatness." "They (men living in democracies) are therefore all led to engage in commerce, not only for the sake of the profit it holds out to them, but for the love of the constant excitement occasioned by that pursuit," Alexis de Tocqueville

“There have never been free societies without morals, and…it is the woman that molds the morals,”

"I did not notice that American women considered conjugal authority as a happy usurpation of their rights, or that they believed that it was degrading to submit to it. I seemed to see, on the contrary, that they took a kind of glory in the voluntary surrender of their will, and that they located their grandeur in bending to the yoke themselves and not in escaping it."

"There are men in Europe who, confusing the different attributes of the sexes, claim to make the man and the woman beings, not only equal, but similar. They give to the one as to the other the same functions, impose the same duties on them, and grant them the same rights; they mix them in everything, work, pleasures, public affairs. It can easily be imagined that by trying hard in this way to make one sex equal to the other, both are degraded; and that from this crude mixture of the works of nature only weak men and dishonest women can ever emerge."

men in Europe may refer to Joseph-Benjamin Buchez, who believed the differences between men and women was the result of education and social construct, not nature, or Barthelemy Prosper Enfantin, who believed socialism would produce sexual equality. A French socialist movement Saint-Simonians sought equal representation of women in the public but became religion that embraced infidelity as virtue and viewed reproduction as a function of the state rather than of the private family.

"American men constantly exhibit a full confidence in the reason of their companion, and a profound respect for her liberty. They judge that her mind is as capable as that of man of discovering the naked truth, and her heart firm enough to follow the truth; and they have never sought to shelter the virtue of one more than that of the other from prejudices, ignorance or fear."

"American moralists do not claim that one must sacrifice oneself for one's fellows because it is a fine thing to do but they are bold enough to say that such sacrifices are as necessary to the man who makes them as to those gaining from them. . .They do not, therefore, deny that every man can pursue his own self-interest but they turn themselves inside out to prove that it is in each man's interest to be virtuous" (Tocqueville 1840, 610).

"Enlightened self-love continually leads them to help one another and inclines them to devote freely a part of their time and wealthy to the welfare of the state" (Tocqueville 1840, 611).

"I have seen Americans making great and sincere sacrifices for the key common good and a hundred times I have noticed that, when needs be, they almost always gave each other faithful support" (Tocqueville 1840, 594-595).


“It is indeed difficult to imagine how men who have entirely renounced the habit of managing their own affairs could be successful in choosing those who ought to lead them. It is impossible to believe that a liberal, energetic, and wise government can ever emerge from the ballots of a nation of servants.” ― Alexis de Tocqueville

“Society will develop a new kind of servitude which covers the surface of society with a network of complicated rules, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate. It does not tyrannise but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.” ― Alexis de Tocqueville

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



When the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness. Alexis de Tocqueville


In other words, a democratic government is the only one in which those who vote for a tax can escape the obligation to pay it. ― Alexis de Tocqueville


No Americans are devoid of a yearning desire to rise, but hardly any appear to entertain hopes of great magnitude or to pursue very lofty aims. All are constantly seeking to acquire property, power, and reputation. ― Alexis de Tocqueville


What chiefly diverts the men of democracies from lofty ambition is not the scantiness of their fortunes, but the vehemence of the exertions they daily make to improve them. ― Alexis de Tocqueville


"Among a democratic people, where there is no hereditary wealth, every man works to earn a living... Labor is held in honor; the prejudice is not against but in its favor." ― Alexis de Tocqueville



Morals

Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith. ― Alexis de Tocqueville

The best laws cannot make a constitution work in spite of morals; morals can turn the worst laws to advantage. That is a commonplace truth, but one to which my studies are always bringing me back. It is the central point in my conception. I see it at the end of all my reflections. De la supériorité des mœurs sur les lois (1831) Oeuvres complètes, vol. VIII, p. 286.


The public, therefore, among a democratic people, has a singular power, which aristocratic nations cannot conceive; for it does not persuade others to its beliefs, but it imposes them and makes them permeate the thinking of everyone by a sort of enormous pressure of the mind of all upon the individual intelligence. Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville (29 July 1805 – 16 April 1859) was a French political thinker and historian, most famous for his work Democracy in America.


I studied the Quran a great deal. I came away from that study with the conviction that by and large there have been few religions in the world as deadly to men as that of Muhammad. As far as I can see, it is the principal cause of the decadence so visible today in the Muslim world and, though less absurd than the polytheism of old, its social and political tendencies are in my opinion more to be feared, and I therefore regard it as a form of decadence rather than a form of progress in relation to paganism itself. Alexis de Tocqueville; Olivier Zunz, Alan S. Kahan (2002). "The Tocqueville Reader". Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 063121545X.