Tocqueville’s Democracy in America – As a Framework for The Future

It’s the most important work on American democracy and the US in the 1830s. Democracy in America is a very long book 1000 pages though. The truth is that every American and every Political Scientist should read it.

Two ways to look at it:

  1. It’s a historical artifact: it’s historical.
  2. Work of political science and sociology.

The French Revolution ruined the de Tocqueville family wealth. The author studied, Voltaire, Rouseau, Pascal. In the 1830 July Revolution , Tocqueville takes the oath for the new Burbons. Tocqueville wanted to try looking into the US for prison reform. However, he wanted to identify lessons from US democracy, it’s inclination; what should we fear or hope for in this new democratic movement emerging in the US? The Trail of Tears occurred in the 1830s….Also the Nullification Crisis. There was also slavery; bu Tocqueville observed a ‘classless’ society.  

Funny Associations:

  • The Voluntary Association / Local Sovereignty
  • American Bible Society; Temperance Society;
  • The Lady’s Association for the Benefit of Gentle Women of Good Family Reduced In Fortune Below the State of Comfort To Which They Have Been Accustomed.
  • Voluntary Associations: don’t rely on the government to solve their problems.
  • Democracy at the local level then is far more robust. Tocqueville and his co-author won a cash prize for their research.
  • The federal government was very small; voluntary association was central and patriotism is evident.

  • The Hierarchies of Power could be crushed as long as we are all being treated free and equal….and meeting up to talk about it.
  • Freedom and Equality are mutually re-inforcing. But then we asked;
  • Freedom and Equality seem to pull in different direction….
  • Locke wanted to separate powers; but it’s an institutional device.
  • How to combine popular rule with political wisdom?
  • “1835 Democracy in America”
  • America is a blank slate. Tocqueville thought that France would become like America: democracy is likely to revert back to monarchy.
  • Equality of conditions: this is the equality of conditions (equality of opportunity). It’s a gradual spread of the concept.

Features of American Democracy:

I) Local government: localism: local democracies are the cradle of civil society in townships. The institutions of putting the democracy in the reach of all the people were not that expensive to build. The people are legislating and organizing. Alexis de Tocqueville told his readers to read Rousseau every day;

The township format itself is Aristotelian. The township exists by nature. There is the old Polis character described by Aristotle which Tocqueville believes is very important for a democratic society.

II) Civil Association: these voluntary groups are immensely powerful and energizing. There is the mother science concept; uniting in associations. Trying to fix common goals; civic association.

Robert Putnam: happy for social capital. The decline in association is the Bowling Alone phenomenon. These are not natural times; It’s a learned activity; the Civic Society goes into decline as our isolation cripples our Civic Associations.

Are we in a couch potato crisis? Yes, in 2018!!

III) Spirit of Religion: America is primarily a puritan democracy; early Puritanisms. Religion will not disappear because of the decline of faith; it’s rather a shift in faith. We can’t separate faith: dignity of the individual. Tocqueville looked at religion purely for social effects.

Increase the number of factions in order to prevent anyone from being the dominant one.

The idea of democracy does claim that this idea that political correctness is a danger.

Moral of the State:

  • Compassion, restiveness,
  • Democracy has made us gentler: broadcast tv has made us indifferent to others in our group.
  • Bill Clinton “I feel your pain.”

Political Educator: – There is a divine

  • Restful. We want to ask what kind of people we create.
  • What is the democratic statecraft? A new political science; it’s based on a novel history of human agency; as any reader knows there is a power in history.
  • It’s like we are part of an immense process. 
  • Certainly the pendulum has swung away from civil society in many ways. But generally online interactions are positive.