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On 19th Century America "Democracy in America"
By Alexis de Tocqueville (1835)
Bantam Classic

Insight is a rare commodity in today's America. Maybe it was always so for in earlier times the likes of Woodrow Wilson and Stuart Mill lauded Tocqueville's "Democracy in America" as classic in its insight. Maybe it was always so for in earlier times the likes of Woodrow Wilson and Stuart Mill lauded Tocqueville's "Democracy in America" as classic in its insight.

For modern Americans, his prophetic observations that the president with, his almost royal prerogatives, will have a great need of virtue. We see just this playing out in Iraq, in the disenfranchising of voters, and in his "Patriot Act" which in effect repeals the Fourth Amendment. We are still looking for virtue in this adminstration.

Tocqueville was rightfully worried about the unlimited power of the majority and its consequences. But what would he have to say in our times about unlimited power exercised by a minority president? Nevertheless, many of his observations are as timeless and applicable as they were in his day. How this plays out will affect all of us critically, not just terrorism. So far there is little room for optimism that this administration will ever have the wisdom it takes to lead an effective world response to terrorism.

We now provide a number of insighful guotes from Toqueville:


"Democratic republics [are] liable to perish from the misuse of their power, ...not by impotence."


"In aristocracies rulers sometimes endeavor to corrupt the people. In democracies rulers frequently show themselves to be corrupt. In the former their vices are directly prejudicial to the morality of the people. In the latter their indirect influence is still more pernicious."


"...I know of no other country where love of money has such a grip on men's hearts or where stronger scorn is expressed for the theory of permanent equality of property."


"If there ever are great revolutions there, they will be caused by the presence of the blacks upon American soil. That is to say, it will not be the equality of social conditions but rather their inequality which may give rise thereto."


"The electors see their representative not only as a legislator for the state but also as the natural protector of local interests in the legislature; indeed, they almost seem to think that he has a power of attorney to represent each constituent, and they trust him to be as eager in their private interests as in those of the country."


"Americans of all ages, all stations of life, and all types of disposition are forever forming associations...In democratic countries knowledge of how to combine is the mother of all other forms of knowledge; on its progress depends that of all the others."


"I am far from denying that newspapers in democratic countries lead citizens to do very ill-considered things in common; but without newspapers there would be hardly any common action at all. So they mend many more ills than they cause."


"There is hardly a congressman prepared to go home until he has at least one speech printed and sent to his constituents, and he won't let anybody interrupt his harangue until he has made all his useful suggestions about the 24 states of the Union, and especially the district he represents."


"They certainly are not great writers, but they speak their country's language and they make themselves heard."


"In America, more than anywhere else in the world, care has been taken constantly to trace clearly distinct spheres of action for the two sexes, and both are required to keep in step, but along paths that are never the same."


"In towns it is impossible to prevent men from assembling, getting excited together and forming sudden passionate resolves. Towns are like great meeting houses with all the inhabitants as members. In them the people wield immense influence over their magistrates and often carry their desires into execution without intermediaries."


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