Democracy in America

I thought I would post a few quotes from Alexis de Tocqueville ‘s Democracy in America.  I will also include a little commentary. I found it very insightful, and worth a read if you have the time.  Not to mention it is free via Gutenberg.

One of the things that I had never thought of that de Tocqueville ties together early on, is the first 2 settlements in America formed something of it’s flavor.  Jamestown was populated by treasure seekers, explorers, and rogues. Plymouth on the other hand was populated by Puritans “Puritanism was not merely a religious doctrine, but it corresponded in many points with the most absolute democratic and republican theories. It was this tendency which had aroused its most dangerous adversaries. Persecuted by the Government of the mother-country, and disgusted by the habits of a society opposed to the rigor of their own principles, the Puritans went forth to seek some rude and unfrequented part of the world, where they could live according to their own opinions, and worship God in freedom.

He saw Americans as being a religious democratic rogue exploring nation. Likewise the Democratic ideals were reinforced by the nature of becoming a colony.

In 1628 a charter of this kind was granted by Charles I to the emigrants who went to form the colony of Massachusetts. But, in general, charters were not given to the colonies of New England till they had acquired a certain existence. Plymouth, Providence, New Haven, the State of Connecticut, and that of Rhode Island were founded without the co-operation and almost without the knowledge of the mother-country. The new settlers did not derive their incorporation from the seat of the empire, although they did not deny its supremacy; they constituted a society of their own accord, and it was not till thirty or forty years afterwards, under Charles II. that their existence was legally recognized by a royal charter.

In other words the colonists had to become a functioning City or State before being recognized as such. They were independent and Democratic self governing, before they submitted to the king.

On to the quotes.

“As for me, I am deeply a democrat; this is why I am in no way a socialist. Democracy and socialism cannot go together. You can’t have it both ways.”1

“There is in fact a manly and legitimate passion for equality that spurs all men to wish to be strong and esteemed. This passion tends to elevate the lesser to the rank of the greater. But one also finds in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to want to bring the strong down to their level, and which reduces men to preferring equality in servitude to inequality in freedom”2

“In the United States, except for slaves, servants and the destitute fed by townships, everyone has the vote and this is an indirect contributor to law-making. Anyone wishing to attack the law is thus reduced to adopting one of two obvious courses: they must either change the nation’s opinion or trample its wishes under foot.” 3

“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?” 4

“After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the government then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small, complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence: it does not tyrannize, 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”5

I was on a tangent, I found a quote that is often attributed to de Tocqueville, that is actually P.J. O’Rourke, so please forgive the sidetrack

“It’s not an endlessly expanding list of rights — the ‘right’ to education, the ‘right’ to health care, the ‘right’ to food and housing. That’s not freedom, that’s dependency. Those aren’t rights, those are the rations of slavery — hay and a barn for human cattle. “

While on O’Rourke,

“I wonder how many of the people who profess to believe in the leveling ideas of collectivism and egalitarianism really just believe that they themselves are good for nothing. I mean, how many leftists are animated by a quite reasonable self-loathing? In their hearts they know that they are not going to become scholars or inventors or industrialists or even ordinary good kind people. So they need a way to achieve that smugness for which the left is so justifiably famous. They need a way to achieve self-esteem without merit. Well, there is politics. In an egalitarian world everything will be controlled by politics, and politics requires no merit.”

1 Notes for a Speech on Socialism (1848) Alexis de Tocqueville
2. Democracy in America Chapter III, Part I 1835
3. Democracy in America Chapter XIV 1835
4. Democracy in America Chapter XVII 1835
5. Democracy in America Book Vol 2, Chapter VI 1840

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7 Comments on “Democracy in America”

  1. wiserbud Says:

    They need a way to achieve self-esteem without merit.

    This explains why most leftist’s arguments boil down to “I’m smarter than you are.” They have convinced themselves that they are the smartest person ever born, despite little or no actual evidence or effort.

    Anyone who challenges that presumption by exhibiting actual intelligence and mature reasoning skills causes them to stamp their feet and whine like children.

  2. Car in Says:

    I like this one:

    it does not tyrannize, 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”

    The government is extending it’s arm over “the whole community.” Shit, Obama and his ilk are big proponents of “community organizing” … which is really just a fancy way of saying that you supposedly “represent” the people, but in actuality you’re trying to get a piece for YOU in the name of the community. Obama didn’t do shit for that community, but it sure gave him something.

  3. Bob Says:

    I am so NOT surprised that many conservatives [ed. Much better. Is that so hard?] would confuse PJ O’Rourke, former titties and beer humor writer for the National Lampoon, with de Tocqueville.

    What’s the shorter version here, Carin? Is there an actual point in this struggling to get out? I’m more than happy to engage in the occasional intellectual debate here but I can’t use a steak knife on a bowl of pudding.

  4. Car in Says:

    Pick a quote, Bob, and go with it.

    This post is by Vmax and it’s bit more of a free-form.

    I suppose, though, that you would need to know who de Tocqueville is to really engage.

  5. Hotspur Says:

    “and politics requires no merit.”

    Thank you, 52%ers for proving his point.


  6. My favorite de Toqueville story is about his journey to Saginaw.

  7. Vmaximus Says:

    I too found it odd Bob that O’Rourke and de Tocqueville were confused. While O’Rourke might have the essence of de Tocqueville distilled, the language is wrong.

    My intention is to do a occasional post on some of our founding fathers. Not that I confusing de Tocqueville with them. I just reread Democracy in America, and it was kind of fresh so I went with that.


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