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This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it. This work was reproduced from the original artifact, and remains as true to the original work as possible. Therefore, you will see the original copyright references, library stamps (as most of these works have been housed in our most impor This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it. This work was reproduced from the original artifact, and remains as true to the original work as possible. Therefore, you will see the original copyright references, library stamps (as most of these works have been housed in our most important libraries around the world), and other notations in the work. This work is in the public domain in the United States of America, and possibly other nations. Within the United States, you may freely copy and distribute this work, as no entity (individual or corporate) has a copyright on the body of the work.As a reproduction of a historical artifact, this work may contain missing or blurred pages, poor pictures, errant marks, etc. Scholars believe, and we concur, that this work is important enough to be preserved, reproduced, and made generally available to the public. We appreciate your support of the preservation process, and thank you for being an important part of keeping this knowledge alive and relevant.


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This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it. This work was reproduced from the original artifact, and remains as true to the original work as possible. Therefore, you will see the original copyright references, library stamps (as most of these works have been housed in our most impor This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it. This work was reproduced from the original artifact, and remains as true to the original work as possible. Therefore, you will see the original copyright references, library stamps (as most of these works have been housed in our most important libraries around the world), and other notations in the work. This work is in the public domain in the United States of America, and possibly other nations. Within the United States, you may freely copy and distribute this work, as no entity (individual or corporate) has a copyright on the body of the work.As a reproduction of a historical artifact, this work may contain missing or blurred pages, poor pictures, errant marks, etc. Scholars believe, and we concur, that this work is important enough to be preserved, reproduced, and made generally available to the public. We appreciate your support of the preservation process, and thank you for being an important part of keeping this knowledge alive and relevant.

30 review for Democracy in America, Volume 1

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lisa (Harmonybites)

    The book's basis was a nine month visit to America by De Tocqueville in 1831, ostensibly to study America's prison system. It was an interesting time to visit America, half-way between the establishment of the constitution and the Civil War. In the course of the visit he met former president John Quincy Adams, then incumbent Andrew Jackson, Senator Daniel Webster and Sam Houston among others. He traveled the length and breath of a country much smaller than what we see on the map now. Before the The book's basis was a nine month visit to America by De Tocqueville in 1831, ostensibly to study America's prison system. It was an interesting time to visit America, half-way between the establishment of the constitution and the Civil War. In the course of the visit he met former president John Quincy Adams, then incumbent Andrew Jackson, Senator Daniel Webster and Sam Houston among others. He traveled the length and breath of a country much smaller than what we see on the map now. Before the Mexican-American War and Western expansion and he visited both North and South: New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Nashville, Memphis, New Orleans. The book is labelled as both American History and Political Science. De Tocqueville said the first volume was more about America, the second about democracy. The introduction by Mansfield and Winthrop, the translators and editors of the edition I read, called it both the best book on America and the best on democracy. That despite it being written by a French aristocrat--at least by birth although the introduction describes him as a democrat and liberal by conviction. De Tocqueville says in his own introduction he did not mean to write a "panegyric" to America. He's critical, at times presciently so, of America and democracy both, and doesn't pull his punches about how slavery and racism might pull apart the country. He doesn't hesitate to call slavery "evil" and his depiction of the plight of Native Americans is both insightful and heartbreaking. Surprisingly so, not what I expected from a Westerner writing in the 19th Century. Yet despite some sharp criticisms--and it being written by an outsider, a foreigner, the book has been embraced and quoted by Americans both from the Left and Right. It's said to be commonly assigned in political science courses and I wish some excerpts had been assigned in mine, instead of the execrable People's History by Zinn. De Tocqueville in the end strikes me as much more credible, still relevant and much more thought-provoking about democracy and its faultlines--especially the "tyranny of the majority." That's not to say this first volume is easy--and this is the more "popular" half of the two volume work. At times I considered giving up on it, slapping a two star rating as too tedious to read. Parts are a slog. I suggest anyone tackling this buy a paperback copy they don't feel hesitant to mark up and highlight and that they take it in short doses. This isn't one of those light, entertaining books. This isn't dessert or junk food. It's a meaty dish; one you chew on and parts can be hard to digest. But the man is brilliant. And it's surprising to me how 200 years later so much resonates in this book and is relevant to contemporary America and its politics. Well worth the effort to anyone interested in democracy or America.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    Tocqueville states at the beginning that "nothing will be easier than to criticize this book should anyone care to do so." He's right. This is basically a long opinion piece based on various and disparate observations, which is why he's so often quoted on both sides of an issue. Sometimes his opinions seem well founded, sometimes not. Sometimes they contradict each other because he tries to see both sides -- these sides are usually framed in terms of American democracy vs. European aristocracy - Tocqueville states at the beginning that "nothing will be easier than to criticize this book should anyone care to do so." He's right. This is basically a long opinion piece based on various and disparate observations, which is why he's so often quoted on both sides of an issue. Sometimes his opinions seem well founded, sometimes not. Sometimes they contradict each other because he tries to see both sides -- these sides are usually framed in terms of American democracy vs. European aristocracy -- and the overall picture he paints seems learned and objective. And then in the next chapter he'll say something that seems based on a single observation made from the deck of a steam boat on the Ohio river. His lack of rigor is frustrating for a reader who wants to take him seriously, and his generalizations makes him easy bait for the critic. That said, the first volume (on the American political system) is still thought provoking and relevant, if only from an historical perspective.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jesse Schexnayder

    The destiny of the American people, as the sovereign power of the United States, consequently revolves about both their written laws and, equally as important, their moral values. Both of these have gone through cycles, highs and lows; the eddies and storms of American history. It is easy for us now to be caught up in the concerns of our present day, but there is infinite value in looking back in time to where we were, and what the root causes are for our present situation. Where do our ideals of The destiny of the American people, as the sovereign power of the United States, consequently revolves about both their written laws and, equally as important, their moral values. Both of these have gone through cycles, highs and lows; the eddies and storms of American history. It is easy for us now to be caught up in the concerns of our present day, but there is infinite value in looking back in time to where we were, and what the root causes are for our present situation. Where do our ideals of liberty and freedom coupled inextricably with responsibility and common decency spring from? And what kind of people will we become, and what type of government will we tolerate, if, through sudden revolution or insipid "progress", we the people one day reject the fundamental principles which nourish liberty? As De Tocqueville states: "That Providence has given to every human being the degree of reason necessary to direct himself in the affairs that interest him exclusively is the grand maxim upon which civil and political society rests in the United States. The father of a family applies it to his children, the master to his servants, the township to its officers, the county to its townships, the state to the counties, the Union to the states; and when extended to the nation, it becomes the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people." When we, as a nation, totally turn our backs on this concept of individual and provincial responsibility and God-given inalienable rights, then we have secured the tyrant's path to despotic power, and we will for an indeterminate amount of time deny the blessings of true freedom to our children. But, so far in our history, we have not made this grave error, and that constant cycle of ideas, of laws, of morality, and, yes, of religion, is turning the tide again. Democracy in America, read in conjunction with the Federalist Papers, provides the seminal discourse on the Founders' intent, and gives the added bonus of the impartiality of an unbiased observer who is honestly seeking to know the inner workings and the ultimate fate of America. It may be dry at times, but it is refreshingly free of the activist interpretation and encroachment on individual liberties that have so often been employed by an ever more ambitious federal government, and those within and around it who fear the check of constitutional limitations on their grand designs for humanity. My children will be reading this book one day, whether or not it is touched upon in their schools. I consider it to be my responsibility to them, to their important roles as future citizens. In 1830, De Tocqueville observed that every American, of every class, knew the Constitution, the constraints of State and Federal power, and the extent of their individual liberties intimately. That state of understanding in the general populace was not a miraculous coincidence, but merely the inevitable result of a people who placed great value in educating themselves and their children, and it can be easily repeated if we look to those who have forged the path of human freedom as our inspiration.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    With the eyes of a disinterested foreign lawyer and the cool mind of a philosopher, the author clearly dissects and analyzes all the relationships between the states, the union, and the individual citizens. He details all parts of the governments, how and why they so formed, and the philosophy behind the design. To aid understanding, he compares the US governments with those of Europe. The introduction is a valuable first-hand sketch of the author himself, a pious religious aristocrat who had a v With the eyes of a disinterested foreign lawyer and the cool mind of a philosopher, the author clearly dissects and analyzes all the relationships between the states, the union, and the individual citizens. He details all parts of the governments, how and why they so formed, and the philosophy behind the design. To aid understanding, he compares the US governments with those of Europe. The introduction is a valuable first-hand sketch of the author himself, a pious religious aristocrat who had a very low opinion on democracy in France at the time. In this part, he lists many dangers of unlearned democracy and expounds the importance and urgency of studying it. The first chapter gives beautiful imagery of natural scenes of the New World, almost poetically, summarizing its geography, and of the noble spirits and manner of Native Americans. In the subsequent chapters he describes and analyzes the American Constitution and three branches of the government, after the general structures of individual states and local governments. He explains historical, cultural, religious, and economical reasons for the development of these governments. Finally the author uses quite a large portion of the book discussing the system of federal union and states of America. It is especially interesting to see how he builds up the conclusion of USA taking the best advantages of small republics, which favor liberty and welfare of the citizens, and large republics, which favor intellectual advancement and security, and why this best combination is more suitable to the fortunate Americans than to most other nations such as those in Europe. This book shows the author as a deep thinker and a convincing writer. His style is detailed and careful, anticipating questions and critiques from the readers, showing his background of training as an aristocrat and analytical skills as a professional lawyer and politician. He theorizes much; and while generously praising all the brilliant innovations of the founding fathers, he does not shy from criticizing a few mistakes, and warning about the potential dangers, left in the design of the governments.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    Thanks to a superb course on Tocqueville's two volumes from the Teaching Company, I decided to read the full two volumes in a non-excerpted text, and I'm glad I decided to do this. Tocqueville visited the United States in 1831-32, when he was only 25. His first volume reflecting on his trip was published in 1835, and it is a remarkable testament to his intelligence and writing skills. He saw, learned and remembered so much! While a reader might be stunned by some of his predictions -- for one, tha Thanks to a superb course on Tocqueville's two volumes from the Teaching Company, I decided to read the full two volumes in a non-excerpted text, and I'm glad I decided to do this. Tocqueville visited the United States in 1831-32, when he was only 25. His first volume reflecting on his trip was published in 1835, and it is a remarkable testament to his intelligence and writing skills. He saw, learned and remembered so much! While a reader might be stunned by some of his predictions -- for one, that the US would likely have 110 to 150 million citizens one hundred years later, and another, that in the 20th century competition at some point would be keen between Russia and the United States -- it is he keenness of his reporting on conditions and trends in America that is truly remarkable. And perhaps his most important observation/conclusion that has resonance for our time is this: the essence of a democratic society is "equality of conditions." By this he meant not a leveling "equality" but, rather, that all citizens would have the same opportunities for the things in life that truly mattered: education, jobs, housing, and social acceptance. He HATED slavery, denouncing it not only for the horror that anyone could think they had the right to "own" a human being but also because it degraded white owners, too. He also said that while he believed that it would someday fade away -- for economic and social reasons, primarily -- he foresaw continued tensions between Black and white people for along time to come because of the underlying prejudices held by white and the remembered mistreatment of Blacks by whites. In commenting on the structure of Congress -- how the House of Representatives was to be determined by population while that of the Senate by equality among and between states -- he observed that the "framers adopted a middle path that peremptorily reconciled two theoretically irreconcilable systems." He wondered how well this would continue to function into the future. In analyzing the powers of the Supreme Court, he observes "Should imprudent or corrupt men ever fill the Supreme Court, however, the [Union] would have to fear anarchy or civil war," words that ring eerily prescient in our time. While he properly warned against the "complete subjugation of the legislative power to the will of the electorate" -- that is, allowing the passions of the many and the heat of the moment to sway legislators away from their responsibility to exercise prudent judgement -- he also saw great danger if "all the other powers of government" might in the future become "concentrated" in the legislature. The relative weakness of the executive branch in 1831 misled him here; but, then, there is no way he could have foreseen the extreme concentration of power in the presidency that was the result of both WW II and the efforts of presidents since Lyndon Johnson to seize and retain ever more power at the expense of the legislative branch. At bottom, Tocqueville realized that unless American citizens themselves managed to avoid extremism and to hold onto pursuing the greater good of all citizens, things might unravel badly. "...the federal system rests on a complicated theory, the application of which requires citizens to rely daily on the light of reason. "Generally speaking, only simple conceptions can grip the mind of a nation. An idea that is clear and precise even though false will always have greater power in the world than an idea that is true but complex...." The scary part is that complex and rational thinking are, nonetheless, demanded of American citizens because the Constitution assumes that the people have a "range of diverse knowledge and discernment...." We must remember, he cautions, that "The government of the Union rests almost entirely on legal fictions. The Union is an ideal nation that exists only in the mind, as it were, and whose extent and limits can be discovered only through an effort of intelligence." How do you think we are doing today in our "effort of intelligence"? Recognizing that the Constitution did not anticipate political parties, he also recognizes their dangers. "In our own time," he writes, "freedom of association has become a necessary guarantee against the tyranny of the majority. Once a political party becomes dominant in the United States, all public power passes into its hands. Its partisan friends fill all offices and control all organized forces." Therefore, he says, "nowhere are [civic and political] associations more necessary to prevent either the despotism of the parties or the arbitrariness of the prince than in countries whose social state is democratic. In aristocratic nations, secondary bodies constitute natural associations that halt abuses of power. In countries where such associations do not exist, unless private individuals can artificially and temporarily create something that resembles them, I see no impediment to any form of tyranny, and a great people can be oppressed with impunity by a handful of factious individuals or a single man." Democracies can be fragile because "the people" are not as well educated political and economically as needed to properly discern capable and good men from those who are not. "The people never have enough time or resources to devote to the effort. They must always judge hastily and seize on whatever is most visible. That is why charlatans of every stripe are so clever at pleasing them, while more often than not their true friends fail. "What democracy lacks, moreover, is not always the capacity to choose men of merit but the desire and tase to do so." The Founders knew that it was ultimately up to the citizens to keep the democratic alive and vibrant. The essential ingredient for them was "civic virtue," the commitment and habit of keeping the welfare of the many as paramount over their wish to achieve self-welfare. Tocqueville called this one of the essential "mores" of a successful democracy -- true "habits of the heart." The lasts chapter in the first volume -- over one hundred pages in length -- contains Tocqueville's observations about the "three races" that exist in North America: Native-Americans, Blacks, and European whites. These are so rich -- and unsettling -- that I wish every American could read and ponder them. It not only reinforces what he has earlier said throughout the rest of the book about slavery and its many evils, but it reminds us that America really has two cardinal and original sins: the chattel enslavement of Blacks from Africa (and children born to them in this country) and the near genocidal treatment of Native Americans. This chapter makes for some hard reading, but it is important stuff. Given how there are many soul-stirring discussions about just "who we are" now, in our most troubled time in a ruptured Republic, I suspect many would gain insight and inspiration from reading Tocqueville's remarkable work.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ken Ryu

    This classic book is an impressive and thorough review of the American experiment. Written in 1830, French aristocrat Tocqueville presents his view of the framework of the American government, compares the United States to Great Britain and France, and offers many prescient predictions of the future of the United States and democracy. The book begins with Tocqueville describing the geography of the United States, which at the time of writing did not include Texas, California and most of the weste This classic book is an impressive and thorough review of the American experiment. Written in 1830, French aristocrat Tocqueville presents his view of the framework of the American government, compares the United States to Great Britain and France, and offers many prescient predictions of the future of the United States and democracy. The book begins with Tocqueville describing the geography of the United States, which at the time of writing did not include Texas, California and most of the western states. The United States was making its inexorable push towards the Pacific, but manifest destiny was still a work in progress. The sparse population of the United States is an important factor in the uniqueness of the land rich nation and its economic opportunities. He follows the physical description of the nation with a through breakdown in the three branches of government: the legislature with its bicameral division between the Senate and the House, the executive branch, and the judicial branch. At this point in the nation, President Jackson was strengthening the power of the president's office, but the executive branch was still weak in comparison to our modern version. The federal government and the executive branch will increase greatly in power due to the crisis and outcome of the Civil War. The House was comprised of simple and rough folks, while the Senate attracted more sophisticated and educated members. The judicial branch in the United States was unique. It was far more common in Europe to have a multitude of high courts. For example, France had 13 regional high courts. The Supreme Court served an important purpose as it served to mediated disputes among the states. This one supreme court helped to avoid conflicting regional judicial rulings and gave the judicial branch far more power than in other nations. The federal government and the states had a more equal relation than our current government. Many states believed that the federal government was more of a tentative and malleable union, and that their state was an independent and mostly autonomous entity in the spirit of the current European Union. This notion would lead to the Civil War and General Lee's famous argument that his loyalty was first to Virginia and then the United States. This rundown of the government, its constituents and operation is textbook material and is dry but accurate. It is impressive that a young Frenchman could so quickly grasp and articulate the complex inter working of the United States government. The next section deals with the freedoms afforded in the Bill of Rights. Tocqueville discusses freedom of religion, freedom of press, and freedom of assembly in detail. He is surprised at the faith of the average American, which is more more devoutly Christian than their European counterparts. He attributes the success, civility and order of the United States to the morality and religious duty felt by Americans. Granted their many freedoms, Americans do not devolve into debauchery and anarchy as their Christian mores constrain their antisocial notions. He moves forward to the concept of equality and representation. Though a nation run by the people is naturally less agile and expedient than one where the power is more central and unassailable, the inclusive nature of the democratic system drives the average American to volunteer, participate and work to improve the country to the betterment of all. Harnessing the power of the multitudes, America prospered under this all-for-one concept. Tocqueville summed up the success of United States experiment to three major factors, the geographic advantages of America, the morality and law-abiding nature of its citizens, and a well-formed and defined governmental system. His next section discusses some dangers to the union. The primary one being the power of the states and the potential for states to opt out of the federation. He incorrectly assumed that if a state were to exit the union, that there was no legal method for the United States to block this succession. Honest Abe would show that the federal government would not tolerate such a breakup and would take military actions to block these defections. The final section of the first of the two volumes discusses the three primary peoples of America. The Anglo-Americans, the Black Americans, and the Native Americans. He foreshadows the extermination and breakup of the great Indian tribes. He ponders the problem of slavery and the difficulty in race relations between blacks and whites no matter if slavery were to be banned or not. Almost two hundred years later, his concern about the relations between whites and blacks are all too accurate. Along the way, Tocqueville offers excellent assessments and theories on why America has been so successful. He comes very close to predicting the population growth 100 years out. He correctly guesses at the expansion of the United States to the Pacific Ocean and the corresponding downfall and extermination of indigenous tribes. He expects Texans to continue to encroach on Mexican territory and that the United States and Mexico would be involved in a military conflict over this territory. Tocqueville explored the United States, interviewed numerous people, studied our system of government, and used a scientific and methodical approach to detail his findings. The result is one of the most in depth, fair and well-written overviews of the United States. The fact that Tocqueville was born a Frenchman, but admired the United States, is perhaps why his writing can be trusted and does not falter from patriotic zeal and myopia. By seeing the nation at an arm's length, Tocqueville sees and present the picture with accuracy. Not an exciting read, but an impressive feat and one that will help the reader understand the history, makeup, and uniqueness of this great and complex nation.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Natnael M

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Tocqueville tried to tell the story of Democracy in America which includes from geography to the people, from races to individual American's mindset. He started by tracing the history of American (Anglo-American) in colonial times and somehow he predicted that Anglo-Americans and Russians will dominate the world? He talked in detail about freedom of press(American are smart enough not to dare to compromise it), political parties, candidates, public participation in election (Yet he didn't challe Tocqueville tried to tell the story of Democracy in America which includes from geography to the people, from races to individual American's mindset. He started by tracing the history of American (Anglo-American) in colonial times and somehow he predicted that Anglo-Americans and Russians will dominate the world? He talked in detail about freedom of press(American are smart enough not to dare to compromise it), political parties, candidates, public participation in election (Yet he didn't challenge the exclusion of women from suffrage - right to vote). Speaking of women, he discuss about women in America, their strong link with religion, and unlike French (better say most parts of the world), women in America exercised high degree of choice before they're married? Because of the nature of American revolution, which was fought to gain independence from Great Britain, American chose tyranny of majority over Aristocracy (which how most of the world's political system worked back there), where political power is concentrated in small class of nobility. According to this book, that's why in America, political equality provides the strong foundation for democracy, a system of government in which sovereignty resides with the people and decisions are made by majority rule. Also other ideas discussed including the role of religion in democracy, self-interest vs selfishness, individualism vs group cooperation, separation of church and religion (secularism), 'the three races in America..' whites, native-Americans, and blacks.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Scott Cunningham

    Incredible Book. I'm not sure if this is the most misquoted book, but I can say that while reading it and discussing it with others, many seem to have opinions about it that turned out not to be supported by the writing. I was told that this is a book about the American prison system, race relations in America, slavery in America, and many more single sentence summaries. That was not what I found. For this reason, I will not attempt to summarize what I have learned. I do not think a few words woul Incredible Book. I'm not sure if this is the most misquoted book, but I can say that while reading it and discussing it with others, many seem to have opinions about it that turned out not to be supported by the writing. I was told that this is a book about the American prison system, race relations in America, slavery in America, and many more single sentence summaries. That was not what I found. For this reason, I will not attempt to summarize what I have learned. I do not think a few words would do justice to the depth and breadth of this work. First, this is a very long book, and the writing style is best described as opulent. The meanings of many sections are nuanced and layered and may require more than one listen or a re-read to understand Tocqueville's perspective. Further, this is a period specific writing that reflects a snapshot in American history. As with any history, one must be cautious when drawing conclusions without consideration for the progress since this writing. This being said, I found that the information and insights emparted changed my view on many topics about our country, its people, and our shared origin. I could not recommend that everyone should read it as it is quite daunting, but I can say with some certainty that the journey is worth the effort.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    de Tocqueville is widely cited and serves as a cornerstone for much of our American political science framework....the two volume translated work from 1835 and 1840 is 700+ pages. There is definitely a historical interest, and parts of it remain eye opening, but it is a reference book of 19th Century insights made up of many, many short chapters; rather than the clever monologue of a 20 something French person's 10 month travel trip to the strange land. That is what I had naively envisioned. For de Tocqueville is widely cited and serves as a cornerstone for much of our American political science framework....the two volume translated work from 1835 and 1840 is 700+ pages. There is definitely a historical interest, and parts of it remain eye opening, but it is a reference book of 19th Century insights made up of many, many short chapters; rather than the clever monologue of a 20 something French person's 10 month travel trip to the strange land. That is what I had naively envisioned. For most people....I think it will be a skimmer.

  10. 4 out of 5

    John Yelverton

    In this masterpiece, Alexis de Tocqueville reports on the government in America while pointing out his concerns and his beliefs of possible outcomes with the precision of an Old Testament prophet. I cannot recommend this book enough, especially for the student of history.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Shane Allen

    I give this classic 5 stars not because it’s consistently interesting or entertaining but because it really is a work of genius. Toucqueville was a prophet in so many ways. It would do America so much good for everyone to read it. It’s just too bad that the ones whom need it most never will.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    Back when we were an innocent nation with freedom for all...

  13. 5 out of 5

    John

    Took too long. If you want to finish this book in a hurry, forget it. This is definitely not a quick read. Way too long.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Chris Rhodovi

    A Must read... some time in the new year I'll pull out Vol. 2

  15. 4 out of 5

    WINDMILLWARRIOR69

    Needs more sex and explosions. Should’ve consulted Michael Bay before writing. Also - racist.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Wagner

    Some good insights on the birth of US democracy. Runs into issues when dealing with poverty and race, but overall interesting.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Stewart Lindstrom

    On the eve of democracy's collapse, I took it upon myself to read de Tocqueville. Needless to say, it is a chilling read. I will be picking up Volume 2 some time in October. #feelthebern2020

  18. 5 out of 5

    Norman Cook

    De Tocqueville makes some insightful observations about the U.S. that still hold up today, but many of his conclusions are, shall we say, misinformed and certainly not pertinent now. Still probably true: "...it is easy to perceive that the wealthy members of the community entertain a hearty distaste to the democratic institutions of their country. The populace is at once the object of their scorn and of their fears." Or this: "On my arrival in the United States I was surprised to find so much distin De Tocqueville makes some insightful observations about the U.S. that still hold up today, but many of his conclusions are, shall we say, misinformed and certainly not pertinent now. Still probably true: "...it is easy to perceive that the wealthy members of the community entertain a hearty distaste to the democratic institutions of their country. The populace is at once the object of their scorn and of their fears." Or this: "On my arrival in the United States I was surprised to find so much distinguished talent among the subjects, and so little among the heads of the Government. It is a well-authenticated fact, that at the present day the most able men in the United States are very rarely placed at the head of affairs; and it must be acknowledged that such has been the result in proportion as democracy has outstepped all its former limits. The race of American statesmen has evidently dwindled most remarkably in the course of the last fifty years." "The pursuit of wealth generally diverts men of great talents and of great passions from the pursuit of power, and it very frequently happens that a man does not undertake to direct the fortune of the State until he has discovered his incompetence to conduct his own affairs. The vast number of very ordinary men who occupy public stations is quite as attributable to these causes as to the bad choice of the democracy. In the United States, I am not sure that the people would return the men of superior abilities who might solicit its support, but it is certain that men of this description do not come forward." De Tocqueville clearly believed many stereotypes about slaves: "The negro has no family; woman is merely the temporary companion of his pleasures, and his children are upon an equality with himself from the moment of their birth. Am I to call it a proof of God's mercy or a visitation of his wrath, that man in certain states appears to be insensible to his extreme wretchedness, and almost affects, with a depraved taste, the cause of his misfortunes? The negro, who is plunged in this abyss of evils, scarcely feels his own calamitous situation. Violence made him a slave, and the habit of servitude gives him the thoughts and desires of a slave; he admires his tyrants more than he hates them, and finds his joy and his pride in the servile imitation of those who oppress him: his understanding is degraded to the level of his soul." He makes some compelling arguments about the costs of slavery: "The influence of slavery extends still further; it affects the character of the master, and imparts a peculiar tendency to his ideas and his tastes. Upon both banks of the Ohio, the character of the inhabitants is enterprising and energetic; but this vigor is very differently exercised in the two States. The white inhabitant of Ohio, who is obliged to subsist by his own exertions, regards temporal prosperity as the principal aim of his existence; and as the country which he occupies presents inexhaustible resources to his industry and ever-varying lures to his activity, his acquisitive ardor surpasses the ordinary limits of human cupidity: he is tormented by the desire of wealth, and he boldly enters upon every path which fortune opens to him; he becomes a sailor, a pioneer, an artisan, or a laborer with the same indifference, and he supports, with equal constancy, the fatigues and the dangers incidental to these various professions; the resources of his intelligence are astonishing, and his avidity in the pursuit of gain amounts to a species of heroism. "But the Kentuckian scorns not only labor, but all the undertakings which labor promotes; as he lives in an idle independence, his tastes are those of an idle man; money loses a portion of its value in his eyes; he covets wealth much less than pleasure and excitement; and the energy which his neighbor devotes to gain, turns with him to a passionate love of field sports and military exercises; he delights in violent bodily exertion, he is familiar with the use of arms, and is accustomed from a very early age to expose his life in single combat. Thus slavery not only prevents the whites from becoming opulent, but even from desiring to become so." And some pretty accurate predictions: "If I were called upon to predict what will probably occur at some future time, I should say, that the abolition of slavery in the South will, in the common course of things, increase the repugnance of the white population for the men of color." "The negroes may long remain slaves without complaining; but if they are once raised to the level of free men, they will soon revolt at being deprived of all their civil rights; and as they cannot become the equals of the whites, they will speedily declare themselves as enemies."

  19. 4 out of 5

    Seth Hettena

    In Issac Asimov's book Foundation, there is a mathematician who is able to predict accurately large scale future events. Now Foundation is a work of science fiction, but de Tocqueville was doing this stuff (without the math) in the 1830s in this extraordinary book. Like Asimov's Hari Seldon, de Tocqueville writes how he can "prove" (his words) how one form of government or one branch of that government was superior to others and see the problems ahead. His view of race in America in 1830 is breat In Issac Asimov's book Foundation, there is a mathematician who is able to predict accurately large scale future events. Now Foundation is a work of science fiction, but de Tocqueville was doing this stuff (without the math) in the 1830s in this extraordinary book. Like Asimov's Hari Seldon, de Tocqueville writes how he can "prove" (his words) how one form of government or one branch of that government was superior to others and see the problems ahead. His view of race in America in 1830 is breathtakingly ahead of its time. He saw the looming confrontation over slavery and saw that an increase in prejudice would follow emancipation. De Tocqueville saw Russia and American as future superpowers. He saw the aristocratic vs democratic tensions at the root of our political experience, which in my view, still holds true. Sure he got some things wrong, but there is so much wisdom and insight in this book -- far too much to summarize in this review -- that it's hard to believe it was observed and written by a man in his late 20s. That speaks volumes about the kind of education the French aristocracy (of which de Tocqueville was a member) received, but that's another subject. For me, one the most powerful insights in this book is that democracy takes place at the community level. These associations ( (city councils, neighborhood associations, PTAs, etc). are the real "arsenal of democracy" because they dilute the power of the king or ruling classes, encourage self-reliance, and build patriotism. In essence, these tiny organizations have a collective power that thwarts tyranny. This has been an eye-opener for me and led me to take a role in the local organizations in my life. Equally useful, in my view, is de Tocqueville's view of the three different kinds of governments: monarchy (the individual rules), aristocracy (elites rule), and democracy (direct rule). Each have their own strengths and weaknesses. While capable of great things, democracies like America are subject to the vicissitudes of popular will and consequently lack staying power (see Iraq). Aristocracies don't have this problem. Rome and Great Britain were able to establish great empires because they were both ruled by aristocracies, de Tocqueville says. Of course, it sucks to be an ordinary citizen in an aristocracy or a monarchy. Reading this has been for me a humbling experience: I flip the page only to learn that I didn't really know what the words democracy, republic, and federal truly meant. And I'm sorry to say that I was newspaper reporter who used these words many times without a second thought (A belated apology to my readers!) It's clear why this book is a standard text in political science classes: It is political science distilled down to its essence. What else needs to be said?

  20. 5 out of 5

    Saul

    de Tocqueville definitely has a lot of insightful things to say about America and democracy, but it's hard to see where his biases end and the facts begin. He has a very odd (to a modern reader) pro-aristocracy pro-religion France-slanted point of view. This means that much of the time, he tries to cherry-pick examples from America to make points relevant to his domestic politics. If you've read his other works, you know he's an ardent monarchist, and this often colors his perception of the pres de Tocqueville definitely has a lot of insightful things to say about America and democracy, but it's hard to see where his biases end and the facts begin. He has a very odd (to a modern reader) pro-aristocracy pro-religion France-slanted point of view. This means that much of the time, he tries to cherry-pick examples from America to make points relevant to his domestic politics. If you've read his other works, you know he's an ardent monarchist, and this often colors his perception of the presidency. It can be hard to tell whether the portrait he paints is accurate or just what he wants to see. Consider this quote (pulled from another review): "Providence has given to every human being the degree of reason necessary to direct himself in the affairs that interest him exclusively... The father of a family applies it to his children, the master to his servants" That reviewer seems to think this says something about individual liberty, but it really just describes localized tyranny! The mothers and the servants are denied agency, and de Tocqueville focuses so entirely on the masters of America that he does not see this. He often repeats that America has "universal" suffrage; universal except for women, slaves, natives and the poor. And although he does have a funny anecdote about confronting a Northerner about why free blacks are prevented from voting, he later concludes that the reason democracy works in America is due to (a little) our good Constitutional framework, (a little) our favorable location away from hostile European monarchies, and (mostly) because white English people are intrinsically awesome. So one major problem with the book is that it has a fair amount of 19th Century racism and sexism in it. My version of the translation had "translator notes" from some pretty vile US Southerners that exacerbated that problem. I wonder if some of the worst stuff originates with that translation rather than de Tocqeville's original. However, substantial space is given to the argument that a race war in the South is inevitable and will result in the genocide of blacks in America. Ultimately, these problems made me wonder whether there are really any greater lessons that can be gleaned from the work or if it must be regarded as just the opinions of a particular person at a particular place and time.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Easton

    Definately a classic that should be read by anyone who loves freedom....I would think that is everyone I would hope. De Toqueville not only expounds on how each adult was in the habit of BEING government on a local level that doesn't exist today but also that it was the majority of americans's customs that made our democratic republic work well. By customs, he means the intelligence/wisdom (knowledge applied) and morals (tendancy to do right or goodness) that make us unique. In other words, our Definately a classic that should be read by anyone who loves freedom....I would think that is everyone I would hope. De Toqueville not only expounds on how each adult was in the habit of BEING government on a local level that doesn't exist today but also that it was the majority of americans's customs that made our democratic republic work well. By customs, he means the intelligence/wisdom (knowledge applied) and morals (tendancy to do right or goodness) that make us unique. In other words, our type of government will not work with poorly educated masses who are taught WHAT to think not HOW to think and with an immoral majority. Hmmm....sounds like exactly what the American Communist agenda has been over the last century..They are winning BUT there are groups of individuals who are forming communities to fight this societal decay and trend of declining enlightenment. I am so excited to be a part of that community of entreprenuers who are independent thinkers and innovators, creative and tenacious who are developing ourselves for lives of excellence in tribal communities and lead through example, encouragement and service to the best ideals of mankind. WE ARE LIFE and we ARE the change. The Freedom Shift is in full gear. In one year, our goals it to have one million souls in our community, learning, loving, growing, respecting and hoping that it isn't too late by the power of Providence to keep the flame of liberty burning bright on a hill for all the world to see.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    This was a very worthwhile read. I think it was considerably longer than it needed to be, with quite a lot of redundancy, but I kept reading because every few pages I would come across a complete gem. Overall, I think de Toqueville was remarkably prescient, a very intelligent socio-political observer of only 30 years old when he wrote this volume. His knowledge and insights were impressive. To me, the most striking things were those which have not changed since those early days of our nation, and This was a very worthwhile read. I think it was considerably longer than it needed to be, with quite a lot of redundancy, but I kept reading because every few pages I would come across a complete gem. Overall, I think de Toqueville was remarkably prescient, a very intelligent socio-political observer of only 30 years old when he wrote this volume. His knowledge and insights were impressive. To me, the most striking things were those which have not changed since those early days of our nation, and those things which have changed radically. Unfortunately, for the most part, things have gotten much worse since then. I found his description of what happened to the Native Americans very depressing. Likewise with his analysis of the African American. I feel much closer to the founding of our country now - as if far less time has passed. I recommend this to anyone interested in knowing something about how our system of government came to be what it is today.

  23. 5 out of 5

    F.

    Amazing that it was written by a twenty-something Frenchman and even more amazing how relevant much of it still is. Tocqueville does a great job of remaining impartial throughout his analysis of America's strengths and weaknesses, often times pointing out inherent flaws within the American style of government that aren't readily apparent. Not light reading by any means. Sometimes it was so dry that I had to repeat chapters in order to get through them because my mind would wander and I'd realize Amazing that it was written by a twenty-something Frenchman and even more amazing how relevant much of it still is. Tocqueville does a great job of remaining impartial throughout his analysis of America's strengths and weaknesses, often times pointing out inherent flaws within the American style of government that aren't readily apparent. Not light reading by any means. Sometimes it was so dry that I had to repeat chapters in order to get through them because my mind would wander and I'd realize that I had missed the last twenty minutes. That said, it's still probably worth the read for anyone interested in American government and/or democracy in general.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Erica

    Had only read pieces of this work throughout grad school, was glad to finally get through the whole first volume. Not s impressed/fascinated as I thought I would be. I generally find political writing from any period boring, though. I did appreciate his chapters on Race in America, of course, and unexpectedly, Chapter XVII: Principle Causes of Maintaining the Democratic Republic, Part III, on religion in America. May have to use it in my next blocked course (Hist 101 with Early American Religion Had only read pieces of this work throughout grad school, was glad to finally get through the whole first volume. Not s impressed/fascinated as I thought I would be. I generally find political writing from any period boring, though. I did appreciate his chapters on Race in America, of course, and unexpectedly, Chapter XVII: Principle Causes of Maintaining the Democratic Republic, Part III, on religion in America. May have to use it in my next blocked course (Hist 101 with Early American Religion).

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mara

    I still LOVE Tocqueville. I wish he were alive today to travel around and compare America today with the America he first saw. I am curious as to how religious he would think Americans are now, what he would think of our customs now in our various regions, and of course, his final analysis of democracy today in America. If only. Of course, this is just volume one, and I am sort of cheating to count this as a book separate from volume two...

  26. 5 out of 5

    Bob G

    This is my first review after Amazon purchase of Goodreads. Keeping it short. Not interested in Amazon owning this. Absolutely must read for anyone of any political persuasion. Helps explain why U.S. is what it is today. Some of his predictions were wrong but the historical analysis based on his interviews and research seems sound. I can't express how important I think this book is to understanding the U.S. in 2013.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Marc Moore

    The first and final thirds of this book should be required reading for all people, regardless of race, creed, whatever. It rambles a little in the middle section, but it's quite striking how observant the Frenchman was, almost 200 year's ago. His prediction that the U.S. and Russia would be the preeminent powers, for instance, was probably ridiculed at the time, given the woeful state of Russian military power, pre-Soviets.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    Reeding De Tocquville's Democracy in America was like reading a text book. Read, think, read, think. Over the last two months I have "studied" the book. Found many concepts of thinking outdated, but he gives us a perspective into that time (1830s). It is a must read for all those interested in American history and government.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ziggie

    De-Tocqueville's books democracy in America are important books that people need to read, to learn about your country, to learn what your schools no longer teach you, the important facts about our country that the progressive movement has been doing everything they can to erase from history. These are important books to read, to learn about the greatness of the country you live in.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Thor

    Though this is mostly political theory (I can't bring myself to say political science), what I liked best was the sociology of America by a brilliant visitor from almost another planet. For me, there are dozens of quotable quotes. I'm very interested in this time period for a project I'm doing, and it captures agrarian New England political culture in a way that works for me.

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