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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.
Born: July 29th, 1805
Died: April 16th, 1859
Quotes: 131 sourced quotes total (includes 4 misattributed)
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The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money.
No protracted war can fail to endanger the freedom of a democratic country.
I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America.
The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.
All those who seek to destroy the liberties of a democratic nation ought to know that war is the surest and shortest means to accomplish it.
I cannot help fearing that men may reach a point where they look on every new theory as a danger, every innovation as a toilsome trouble, every social advance as a first step toward revolution, and that they may absolutely refuse to move at all.
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.
In a democracy, the people get the government they deserve.
In America the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion; within these barriers an author may write what he pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them.
The Indian knew how to live without wants, to suffer without complaint, and to die singing.
There are two things which a democratic people will always find very difficult—to begin a war and to end it.
The genius of democracies is seen not only in the great number of new words introduced but even more in the new ideas they express.
There is hardly a pioneer's hut which does not contain a few odd volumes of Shakespeare. I remember reading the feudal drama of Henry V for the first time in a log cabin.
As one digs deeper into the national character of the Americans, one sees that they have sought the value of everything in this world only in the answer to this single question: how much money will it bring in?
An American cannot converse, but he can discuss, and his talk falls into a dissertation. He speaks to you as if he was addressing a meeting; and if he should chance to become warm in the discussion, he will say "Gentlemen" to the person with whom he is conversing.
Socialism is a new form of slavery.
The power of the periodical press is second only to that of the people.
The principle of equality does not destroy the imagination, but lowers its flight to the level of the earth.
Consider any individual at any period of his life, and you will always find him preoccupied with fresh plans to increase his comfort.
The surface of American society is covered with a layer of democratic paint, but from time to time one can see the old aristocratic colours breaking through.
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.
The debates of that great assembly are frequently vague and perplexed, seeming to be dragged rather than to march, to the intended goal. Something of this sort must, I think, always happen in public democratic assemblies.
Nothing seems at first sight less important than the outward form of human actions, yet there is nothing upon which men set more store: they grow used to everything except to living in a society which has not their own manners.
However energetically society in general may strive to make all the citizens equal and alike, the personal pride of each individual will always make him try to escape from the common level, and he will form some inequality somewhere to his own profit.
The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other; and with them this conviction does not spring from that barren traditionary faith which seems to vegetate in the soul rather than to live.
They all attributed the peaceful dominion of religion in their country mainly to the separation of church and state. I do not hesitate to affirm that during my stay in America I did not meet a single individual, of the clergy or the laity, who was not of the same opinion on this point.
Every central government worships uniformity: uniformity relieves it from inquiry into an infinity of details.
In a revolution, as in a novel, the most difficult part to invent is the end.
History, it is easily perceived, is a picture-gallery containing a host of copies and very few originals.
In countries where associations are free, secret societies are unknown. In America there are factions, but no conspiracies.
The whole life of an American is passed like a game of chance, a revolutionary crisis, or a battle.
A democratic government is the only one in which those who vote for a tax can escape the obligation to pay it.
It is the dissimilarities and inequalities among men which give rise to the notion of honor; as such differences become less, it grows feeble; and when they disappear, it will vanish too.
The regime which is destroyed by a revolution is almost always an improvement on its immediate predecessor, and experience teaches that the most critical moment for bad governments is the one which witnesses their first steps toward reform.
In no other country in the world is the love of property keener or more alert than in the United States, and nowhere else does the majority display less inclination toward doctrines which in any way threaten the way property is owned.
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.
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.
Not only does democracy make every man forget his ancestors, but also clouds their view of their descendants and isolates them from their contemporaries. Each man is for ever thrown back on himself alone, and there is danger that he may be shut up in the solitude of his own heart.
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?
I think that democratic communities have a natural taste for freedom: left to themselves, they will seek it, cherish it, and view any privation of it with regret. But for equality, their passion is ardent, insatiable, incessant, invincible: they call for equality in freedom; and if they cannot obtain that, they still call for equality in slavery.
I am obliged to confess that I do not regard the abolition of slavery as a means of warding off the struggle of the two races in the Southern states. The Negroes may long remain slaves without complaining; but if they are once raised to the level of freemen, they will soon revolt at being deprived of almost all their civil rights; and as they cannot become the equals of the whites, they will speedily show themselves as enemies.
We are sleeping on a volcano... A wind of revolution blows, the storm is on the horizon.
General ideas are no proof of the strength, but rather of the insufficiency of the human intellect.
As the past has ceased to throw its light upon the future, the mind of man wanders in obscurity.
Furthermore, when citizens are all almost equal, it becomes difficult for them to defend their independence against the aggressions of power.
I should have loved freedom, I believe, at all times, but in the time in which we live I am ready to worship it.
"The will of the nation" is one of those expressions which have been most profusely abused by the wily and the despotic of every age.
The main business of religions is to purify, control, and restrain that excessive and exclusive taste for well-being which men acquire in times of equality.
What most astonishes me in the United States, is not so much the marvelous grandeur of some undertakings, as the innumerable multitude of small ones.
Laws are always unstable unless they are founded on the manners of a nation; and manners are the only durable and resisting power in a people.
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.
The French want no-one to be their superior. The English want inferiors. The Frenchman constantly raises his eyes above him with anxiety. The Englishman lowers his beneath him with satisfaction.
Two things in America are astonishing: the changeableness of most human behavior and the strange stability of certain principles. Men are constantly on the move, but the spirit of humanity seems almost unmoved.
The people reign over the American political world as God rules over the universe. It is the cause and the end of all things; everything rises out of it and is absorbed back into it.
I know of no country, indeed, where the love of money has taken stronger hold on the affections of men, and where the profounder contempt is expressed for the theory of the permanent equality of property.
Égalité is an expression of envy. It means, in the real heart of every Republican, " No one shall be better off than I am;" and while this is preferred to good government, good government is impossible.
Among these widely differing families of men, the first that attracts attention, the superior in intelligence, in power, and in enjoyment, is the white, or European, the MAN pre-eminently so called, below him appear the Negro and the Indian.
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.
The pursuit of wealth generally diverts men of great talents and strong passions from the pursuit of power; and it frequently happens that a man does not undertake to direct the fortunes of the state until he has shown himself incompetent to conduct his own.
It is easy to see that, even in the freedom of early youth, an American girl never quite loses control of herself; she enjoys all permitted pleasures without losing her head about any of them, and her reason never lets the reins go, though it may often seem to let them flap.
The most formidable of all the ills that threaten the future of the Union arises from the presence of a black population upon its territory; and in contemplating the cause of the present embarrassments, or the future dangers of the United States, the observer is invariably led to this as a primary fact.
In America a woman loses her independence for ever in the bonds of matrimony. While there is less constraint on girls there than anywhere else, a wife submits to stricter obligations. For the former, her father's house is a home of freedom and pleasure; for the latter, her husband's is almost a cloister.
In democratic ages men rarely sacrifice themselves for another, but they show a general compassion for all the human race. One never sees them inflict pointless suffering, and they are glad to relieve the sorrows of others when they can do so without much trouble to themselves. They are not disinterested, but they are gentle.
The foremost, or indeed the sole condition which is required in order to succeed in centralizing the supreme power in a democratic community, is to love equality, or to get men to believe you love it. Thus the science of despotism, which was once so complex, is simplified, and reduced as it were to a single principle.
The territorial aristocracy of former ages was either bound by law, or thought itself bound by usage, to come to the relief of its serving-men and to relieve their distresses. But the manufacturing aristocracy of our age first impoverishes and debases the men who serve it and then abandons them to be supported by the charity of the public.
Nothing is quite so wretchedly corrupt as an aristocracy which has lost its power but kept its wealth and which still has endless leisure to devote to nothing but banal enjoyments. All its great thoughts and passionate energy are things of the past, and nothing but a host of petty, gnawing vices now cling to it like worms to a corpse.
There is hardly a member of Congress who can make up his mind to go home without having despatched at least one speech to his constituents; nor who will endure any interruption until he has introduced into his harangue whatever useful suggestions may be made touching the four-and-twenty States of which the Union is composed, and especially the district which he represents.
It is almost never when a state of things is the most detestable that it is smashed, but when, beginning to improve, it permits men to breathe, to reflect, to communicate their thoughts with each other, and to gauge by what they already have the extent of their rights and their grievances. The weight, although less heavy, seems then all the more unbearable.
The Americans never use the word peasant, because they have no idea of the class which that term denotes; the ignorance of more remote ages, the simplicity of rural life, and the rusticity of the villager have not been preserved among them; and they are alike unacquainted with the virtues, the vices, the coarse habits, and the simple graces of an early stage of civilization.
You may set the Negro free, but you cannot make him otherwise than an alien to the European. Nor is this all we scarcely acknowledge the common features of humanity in this stranger whom slavery has brought among us. His physiognomy is to our eyes hideous, his understanding weak, his tastes low; and we are almost inclined to look upon him as a being intermediate between man and the brutes.
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.
The First thing that strikes a traveler in the United States is the innumerable multitude of those who seek to emerge from their original condition; and the second is the rarity of lofty ambition to be observed in the midst of the universally ambitious stir of society. 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.
Commerce is naturally adverse to all the violent passions; it loves to temporize, takes delight in compromise, and studiously avoids irritation. It is patient, insinuating, flexible, and never has recourse to extreme measures until obliged by the most absolute necessity. Commerce renders men independent of each other, gives them a lofty notion of their personal importance, leads them to seek to conduct their own affairs, and teaches how to conduct them well; it therefore prepares men for freedom, but preserves them from revolutions.
I studied the Koran a great deal. I came away from that study with the conviction there have been few religions in the world as deadly to men as that of Muhammad. So 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 to be feared, and I therefore regard it as a form of decadence rather than a form of progress in relation to paganism itself.
Il était aussi grand qu'un homme puisse l'être sans la vertu.
Alternative translation: In politics... shared hatreds are almost always the basis of friendships.
He who seeks freedom for anything but freedom's self is made to be a slave.
Variant: What is not yet done is only what we have not yet attempted to do.
They certainly are not great writers, but they speak their country's language and they make themselves heard.
Nothing tends to materialize man and to deprive his work of the faintest trace of mind more than the extreme division of labor.
In order to enjoy the inestimable benefits that the liberty of the press ensures, it is necessary to submit to the inevitable evils it creates
So many of my thoughts and feelings are shared by the English that England has turned into a second native land of the mind for me.
No natural boundary seems to be set to the efforts of man; and what is not yet done is only what he has not yet attempted to do.
With much care and skill power has been broken into fragments in the American township, so that the maximum possible number of people have some concern with public affairs.
The French are … the most brilliant and the most dangerous nation of Europe, and the one that is surest to inspire admiration, hatred, terror, or pity, but never indifference.
Useful undertakings which require sustained attention and vigorous precision in order to succeed often end up by being abandoned, for, in America, as elsewhere, the people move forward by sudden impulses and short-lived efforts.
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.
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.
The last thing abandoned by a party is its phraseology, because among political parties, as elsewhere, the vulgar make the language, and the vulgar abandon more easily the ideas that have been instilled into it than the words that it has learnt.
In America, conscription is unknown; men are enlisted for payment. Compulsory recruitment is so alien to the ideas and so foreign to the customs of the people of the United States that I doubt whether they would ever dare to introduce it into their law.
There are at the present time two great nations in the world—allude to the Russians and the Americans— All other nations seem to have nearly reached their national limits, and have only to maintain their power; these alone are proceeding—along a path to which no limit can be perceived.
For the first time in sixty years, the priests, the old aristocracy and the people met in a common sentiment—a feeling of revenge, it is true, and not of affection ; but even that is a great thing in politics, where a community of hatred is almost always the foundation of friendships.
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.
In cities men cannot be prevented from concerting together, and from awakening a mutual excitement which prompts sudden and passionate resolutions. Cities may be looked upon as large assemblies, of which all the inhabitants are members; their populace exercises a prodigious influence upon the magistrates, and frequently executes its own wishes without their intervention.
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.
If a [democratic] society displays less brilliance than an aristocracy, there will also be less wretchedness; pleasures will be less outrageous and wellbeing will be shared by all; the sciences will be on a smaller scale but ignorance will be less common; opinions will be less vigorous and habits gentler; you will notice more vices and fewer crimes.
If it be of the highest importance to man, as an individual, that his religion should be true, the case of society is not the same. Society has no future life to hope for or to fear; and provided the citizens profess a religion, the peculiar tenets of that religion are of very little importance to its interests.
God does not need to speak for himself in order for us to discover definitive signs of his will; it is enough to examine the normal course of nature and the consistent tendency of events. I know without needing to hear the voice of the Creator that the stars trace out in space the orbits which his hand has drawn.
Translation (from Hayek, The Road to Serfdom): 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.
I have no hesitation in saying that although the American woman never leaves her domestic sphere and is in some respects very dependent within it, nowhere does she enjoy a higher station. And if anyone asks me what I think the chief cause of the extraordinary prosperity and growing power of this nation, I should answer that it is due to the superiority of their women.
La démocratie étend la sphère de l'indépendance individuelle, le socialisme la resserre. La démocratie donne toute sa valeur possible à chaque homme, le socialisme fait de chaque homme un agent, un instrument, un chiffre. La démocratie et le socialisme ne se tiennent que par un mot, l'égalité ; mais remarquez la différence : la démocratie veut l'égalité dans la liberté, et le socialisme veut l'égalité dans la gêne et dans la servitude.
They (the emperors) frequently abused their power arbitrarily to deprive their subjects of property or of life: their tyranny was extremely onerous to the few, but it did not reach the greater number; .. But it would seem that if despotism were to be established amongst the democratic nations of our days it might assume a different character; it would be more extensive and more mild, it would degrade men without tormenting them.
Even despots accept the excellence of liberty. The simple truth is that they wish to keep it for themselves and promote the idea that no one else is at all worthy of it. Thus, our opinion of liberty does not reveal our differences but the relative value which we place on our fellow man. We can state with conviction, therefore, that a man's support for absolute government is in direct proportion to the contempt he feels for his country.
When an opinion has taken root in a democracy and established itself in the minds of the majority, it afterward persists by itself, needing no effort to maintain it since no one attacks it. Those who at first rejected it as false come in the end to adopt it as accepted, and even those who still at the bottom of their hearts oppose it keep their views to themselves, taking great care to avoid a dangerous and futile contest.
Né sous un autre ciel, placé au milieu d'un tableau toujours mouvant, poussé lui-même par le torrent irrésistible qui entraîne tout ce qui l'environne, l'Américain n'a le temps de s'attacher à rien ; il ne s'accoutume qu'au changement, et finit par le regarder comme l'état naturel à l'homme ; il en sent le besoin ; bien plus, il l'aime : car l'instabilité, au lieu de se produire à lui par des désastres, semble n'enfanter autour de lui que des prodiges...
Men in general are neither very good nor very bad, but mediocre... Man with his vices, his weaknesses, his virtues, this confused medley of good and ill, high and low, goodness and depravity, is yet, take him all in all, the object on earth most worthy of study, of interest, of pity, of attachment and of admiration. And since we haven't got angels, we can attach ourselves to nothing greater and more worthy of our devotion than our own kind.
I have come across men of letters who have written history without taking part in public affairs, and politicians who have concerned themselves with producing events without thinking about them. I have observed that the first are always inclined to find general causes whereas the second, living in the midst of disconnected daily facts, are prone to imagine that everything is attributable to particular incidents, and that the wires they pull are the same as those that move the world. It is to be presumed that both are equally deceived.
Muhammad brought down from heaven and put into the Koran not religious doctrines only, but political maxims, criminal and civil laws, and scientific theories. The Gospels, on the other hand, deal only with the general relations between man and God and between man and man. Beyond that, they teach nothing and do not oblige people to believe anything. That alone, among a thousand reasons, is enough to show that Islam will not be able to hold its power long in ages of enlightenment and democracy, while Christianity is destined to reign in such ages, as in all others.
Step back in time; look closely at the child in the very arms of his mother; see the external world reflected for the first time in the yet unclear mirror of his understanding; study the first examples which strike his eyes; listen to the first words which arouse within him the slumbering power of thought; watch the first struggles which he has to undergo; only then will you comprehend the source of his prejudices, the habits, and the passions which are to rule his life. The entire man, so to speak, comes fully formed in the wrappings of his cradle.
Boesche, Roger (2006), Tocqueville's Road Map, publisher: Lexington Books, ISBN: 0739116657, OCLN: 70175004, ref: RoadMap
Tocqueville, Alexis de (1835), Democracy in America, Volume I, others: translated by Henry Reeve, OCLN: 48653284
Tocqueville, Alexis de (1840), Democracy in America, Volume II, others: translated by Henry Reeve, OCLN: 48653286
Tocqueville, Alexis de (1862), Memoir, Letters, and Remains, Vol I., publisher: Ticknor and Fields, OCLN: 6434312, ref: Memoir1
Olivier Zunz, Alan S. Kahan (2002), The Tocqueville Reader, publisher: Blackwell Publishing, ISBN: 063121545X, OCLN: 49225552, ref: Reader
Tocqueville, Alexis de (1856), The Old Regime and the Revolution, others: translated by John Bonner, publisher: Harper & brothers, OCLN: 2299220, ref: OldRegime
Tocqueville, Alexis de (1896), The Recollections of Alexis de Tocqueville, others: translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos, publisher: Macmillan, OCLN: 2414931, ref: Recollections
Tocqueville, Alexis de (1866), Oeuvres complètes d'Alexis de Tocqueville, vol. IX: Étude économiques, politiques et littéraires, publisher: M. Lévy Frères, OCLN: 23416886, ref: Oeuvres9
Mary Charlotte Mair Simpson, , ed. (1872), Correspondence & Conversations of Alexis de Tocqueville with Nassau William Senior from 1834 to 1859, publisher: H.S. King & co., ref: Nassau
Roger Boesche, , ed. (1985), Selected letters on politics and society others: translated by James Toupin and Roger Boesche, page: 296, publisher: University of California Press, ISBN: 0520050479, OCLN: 10696017, ref: Selected
Tocqueville, Alexis de (1865), Oeuvres complètes d'Alexis de Tocqueville, vol. VIII: Mélanges, fragments historiques et notes sur l'ancien régime, la Révolution et l'Empire: Voyages--pensées entièrement inédits, publisher: M. Lévy Frères, OCLN: 2953812, ref: Oeuvres8
Les meilleures lois ne peuvent faire marcher une constitution en dépit des mœurs ; les mœurs tirent parti des pires lois. C'est là une vérité commune, mais à laquelle mes études me ramènent sans cesse. Elle est placée dans mon esprit comme un point central. Je l'aperçois au bout de toutes mes idées.
By and large the literature of a democracy will never exhibit the order, regularity, skill, and art characteristic of aristocratic literature; formal qualities will be neglected or actually despised. The style will often be strange, incorrect, overburdened, and loose, and almost always strong and bold. Writers will be more anxious to work quickly than to perfect details. Short works will be commoner than long books, wit than erudition, imagination than depth. There will be a rude and untutored vigor of thought with great variety and singular fecundity. Authors will strive to astonish more than to please, and to stir passions rather than to charm taste.
C'est une chose étrange de voir avec quelle sorte d'ardeur fébrile les Américains poursuivent le bien-être, et comme ils se montrent tourmentés sans cesse par une crainte vague de n'avoir pas choisi la route la plus courte qui peut y conduire, L'habitant des États-Unis s'attache aux biens de ce monde, comme s'il était assuré de ne point mourir, et il met tant de précipitation à saisir ceux qui passent a sa portée, qu'on dirait qu'il craint à chaque instant de cesser de vivre avant d'en avoir joui. [...]La mort survient enfin et elle l'arrête avant qu'il se soit lassé de cette poursuite inutile d'une félicité complète qui fuit toujours.
The New Englander is attached to his township because it is strong and independent; he has an interest in it because he shares in its management; he loves it because he has no reason to complain of his lot; he invests his ambition and his future in it; in the restricted sphere within his scope, he learns to rule society; he gets to know those formalities without which freedom can advance only through revolutions, and becoming imbued with their spirit, develops a taste for order, understands the harmony of powers, and in the end accumulates clear, practical ideas about the nature of his duties and the extent of his rights.
In the end, the state of the Union comes down to the character of the people. I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there. In the fertile fields and boundless prairies, and it was not there. In her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits, aflame with righteousness, did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.
By the side of these religious men I discern others whose looks are turned to the earth more than to Heaven; they are the partisans of liberty, not only as the source of the noblest virtues, but more especially as the root of all solid advantages; and they sincerely desire to extend its sway, and to impart its blessings to mankind. It is natural that they should hasten to invoke the assistance of religion, for they must know that liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith; but they have seen religion in the ranks of their adversaries, and they inquire no further; some of them attack it openly, and the remainder are afraid to defend it.
Americans combine to give fêtes, found seminaries, build churches, distribute books, and send missionaries to the antipodes. Hospitals, prisons, and schools take shape in that way. Finally, if they want to proclaim a truth or propagate some feeling by the encouragement of a great example, they form an association. In every case, at the head of any new undertaking, where in France you would find the government or in England some territorial magnate, in the United States you are sure to find an association. I have come across several types of association in America of which, I confess, I had not previously the slightest conception, and I have often admired the extreme skill they show in proposing a common object for the exertions of very many and in inducing them voluntarily to pursue it.
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.
In the United States a man builds a house to spend his latter years in it and he sells it before the roof is on. He plants a garden and lets it just as the trees are coming into bearing. He brings a field into tillage and leaves other men to gather the crops. He embraces a profession and gives it up. He settles in a place which he soon afterward leaves to carry his changeable longings elsewhere. If his private affairs leave him any leisure he instantly plunges into the vortex of politics and if at the end of a year of unremitting labour he finds he has a few days' vacation, his eager curiosity whirls him over the vast extent of the United States, and he will travel fifteen hundred miles in a few days to shake off his happiness.
Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications, and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent, if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks on the contrary to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness: it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances—what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living? Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range, and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things: it has predisposed men to endure them, and oftentimes to look on them as benefits.
Americans cleave to the things of this world as if assured that they will never die,… They clutch everything but hold nothing fast, and so lose grip as they hurry after some new delight. An American will build a house in which to pass his old age and sell it before the roof is on; he will plant a garden and rent it just as the trees are coming into bearing; he will clear a field and leave others to reap the harvest; he will take up a profession and leave it, settle in one place and soon go off elsewhere with his changing desires. If his private business allows him a moment’s relaxation, he will plunge at once into the whirlpool of politics. Then, if at the end of a year crammed with work he has a little spare leisure, his restless curiosity goes with him traveling up and down the vast territories of the United States. Thus he will travel five hundred miles in a few days as a distraction from his happiness. Death steps in in the end and stops him before he has grown tired of this futile pursuit of that complete felicity which always escapes him. At first sight there is something astonishing in this spectacle of so many lucky men restless in the midst of abundance. But it is a spectacle as old as the world; all that is new is to see a whole people performing in it.