Alexis Charles Henri Clérel, comte de Tocqueville / 1805–1859 / France / Politician, Author, Political Philosopher
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?Letter to Ernest de Chabrol, June 9, 1831.
I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America.De la démocratie en Amérique [Democracy in America], Volume 1 (1835).
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.De la démocratie en Amérique [Democracy in America], Volume 2 (1840).
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.De la démocratie en Amérique [Democracy in America], Volume 2 (1840).
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.De la démocratie en Amérique [Democracy in America], Volume 2 (1840).
The President … may err … Congress may decide amiss … But if the Supreme Court is ever composed of imprudent or bad men, the Union may be plunged into anarchy or civil war.De la démocratie en Amérique [Democracy in America], Volume 1 (1835).
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.De la démocratie en Amérique [Democracy in America], Volume 2 (1840).
“Equality” 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.In conversation with Nassau William Senior, May 22, 1850.
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.De la démocratie en Amérique [Democracy in America], Volume 1 (1835).
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.De la démocratie en Amérique [Democracy in America], Volume 1 (1835).
History, it is easily perceived, is a picture-gallery containing a host of copies and very few originals.L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution [The Ancien Régime and the Revolution] (fourth edition, 1858).
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.Letter to Eugene Stoffels, January 3, 1845.
Law and Morality
The best laws cannot make a constitution work in spite of morals; morals can turn the worst laws to advantage.“De la supériorité des mœurs sur les lois” [On the superiority of morals over laws] (1831).
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.L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution [The Ancien Régime and the Revolution] (fourth edition, 1858).
He who seeks in liberty anything other than liberty itself is born to serve others.L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution [The Ancien Régime and the Revolution] (fourth edition, 1858).
Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.De la démocratie en Amérique [Democracy in America], Volume 1 (1835).
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?De la démocratie en Amérique [Democracy in America], Volume 1 (1835).
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.De la démocratie en Amérique [Democracy in America], Volume 2 (1840).
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.“France Avant le Consulat” [France Before the Consulate], in Souvenirs politiques de la Ilᵉ République [Recollections: The French Revolution of 1848 and Its Aftermath] (1850).
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.De la démocratie en Amérique [Democracy in America], Volume 2 (1840).
We are sleeping on a volcano… A wind of revolution blows, the storm is on the horizon.Speech, Chamber of Deputies, 1848.
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.Letter to Pierre Freslon, September 23, 1853.
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.Notes for a Speech on Socialism, 1848.
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.Speech to the National Constituant Assembly on the question of the right to work, September 12, 1848.
No protracted war can fail to endanger the freedom of a democratic country.De la démocratie en Amérique [Democracy in America], Volume 2 (1840).