Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville, or known to most Americans as just Alexis de Tocqueville, wrote Democracy in America (1835) after his travels in the United States.
de Tocqueville saw democracy as an equation that balanced liberty and equality, concern for the individual as well as the community.
How many of the quotes below from de Tocqueville’s early 1830’s observations about America and Americans still represent our country today?
“The whole life of an American is passed like a game of chance, a revolutionary crisis, or a battle.”
“What is most important for democracy is not that great fortunes should not exist, but that great fortunes should not remain in the same hands. In that way there are rich men, but they do not form a class.”
“No protracted war can fail to endanger the freedom of a democratic country.”
“The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”
“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?”
“The Americans combine the notions of religion and liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive of one without the other.”
“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.”
“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.”
“The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”
“There are many men of principle in both parties in America, but there is no party of principle.”
“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.”
“There is hardly a political question in the United States which does not sooner or later turn into a judicial one.”
“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.”
“I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America.”
“A democratic government is the only one in which those who vote for a tax can escape the obligation to pay it.”
“Americans are so enamored of equality that they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom.”
“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 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.”
“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 politics shared hatreds are almost always the basis of friendships.”
You can download Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America from Google Books for free.