Without philosophers and brilliant minds, countries wouldn’t be as productive or successful as they are today. It’s people like Alexis de Tocqueville who were men of many special talents who have shaped countries to where they are today. His research and dedication alone are the foundations that we still use today. Tocqueville’s numerous works on religion, politics, crime and punishment, democracy and parties, and tyranny have helped cultivate the United States and are considered to be master pieces to the human race. This great philosopher dedicated his life and work to educate others and spread his knowledge and wisdom. Tocqueville has become one of the greatest minds who has ever lived based on his understanding on democracy and his philosophies. His greatest piece of work was his book, Democracy in America which is considered to be the best known writing about the United States in todays world which he wrote over two hundred years ago. In this paper it will go into details and explain why Alexis de Tocqueville was such a prolific writer and how Democracy in America really was a foundation stone for America and other countries with its issues on tyranny and majority, American parties, and origin of Americans (Cosentino, 1989).
Alexis Charles Henri Clerel de Tocqueville was born on July 29, 1805, and made his career studying America and its democratic philosophies. Tocqueville was a French nobles man who wrote the foundation for democracy while he studied America’s principles. Tocqueville was a small, short, frail man who was fearless but his mind was as superior than anyone his time. He came from an aristocratic family who supported him throughout college by getting him private tutors and the best education that they could buy. Today he is considered to one of the greatest minds who have ever lived. His theories and books are still being used today and are more relevant as time goes on. Much of his knowledge came from where he went to school in Paris. He attended the Lycee Fabert school where he focused mainly on law. His family was very religious and had a strong set of morals which they passed down to their beloved youngest son. When he was younger he really was not too sure of what he wanted to do. Alexis was a man of many talents but most of his understanding on the philosophies that he knew and preached were because of his father.
His father was an important official in the Bourbon regime where many of his close friends were accused of being legitimists, partisans of royalty. Even though Alexis did not agree with this government he changed his mind and decided to accompany it in the end. However while in office he realized that this not what he wanted to do and therefore wanted to know about other great republics and he then started his journey off to North America. Tocqueville spent a total of nine months over in America seeking the famous democratic system that they had. He took nine months of his time visiting main cities, such as, Boston, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Memphis, New Orleans, Washington to get a better understanding on the American culture (Samuelson, 2000). and understanding how America works. Tocqueville spent so much time here that he ended up not wanting to leave. He fell so in love with America’s ways and beliefs, that it was his goal to bring back these ideals to his struggling home country. ( Lukacs, 2012). In order to pass these thoughts along in an effective way, Tocqueville wrote what is to be one of the most well known doctrines on American policies, Democracy in America.
Alexis de Tocqueville’s book Democracy in America became one of the most influential books in political history. Tocqueville wrote this book to explain to a troubled France why America’s form of democracy is the best possible solution for a government. After he experienced America’s politics first hand he felt that he contained the solution to a lasting and stable government. This book, however, ended up lasting long beyond the years of his life. Today his work is still studied, analyzed, and marveled upon due to his incredible futuristic views of the government.
One of the reasons Tocqueville is known to be such a great philosopher is because of his understanding of the American ways. He looked so thoroughly into the democratic system he was able to predict future hardships in America. For example Tocqueville stated that in order for there to be democratic equality, America would have to abolish slavery, thus resulting in a split of the country. Similarly enough, when the issue of slavery came to the surface the Civil War erupted. Another example of a remarkable prediction was that of World War II and the Cold War. Tocqueville made many references to Russia and America’s struggle for power against one another. Hundreds of years later his idea that these countries would butt heads was right on, the Cold War tensions began. At the current time however, Tocqueville analyzed America’s politics and expressed three main themes.
One of his four themes is the Origin of the Angle of Americans. Tocqueville believes in that if someone is going to open their mouth on a topic, than they better know exactly what they are talking about and be educated. For instance, Tocqueville was researching about democracy in America and learning about it really was, so he went off and got some real life knowledge by going over and seeing it for himself. Instead of just assuming what life was over in the states he went and toured it for nine months to get a better understanding of what it really was. He went around interviewing people and finding out the truths from people who knew what is was like to live their and who are accustomed. Tocqueville was not afraid of going out of his way to find out details. As one can tell he didn’t by going all the way across the world at the time to learn and discover what he believed in (Bartz, 2009).
Another main point he makes in his book is the Parties in the United States government. Tocqueville believes that parties are evil in a free government and are a waste. The two types of parties consist of the Republicans and Federalist. The Republicans wanted to extend the power while the Federalist wanted to limit the power. He believes that parties divide a nation and make an unhappy country. Tocqueville wants the least amount of problems as possible. So when there is two parties he says that with a nation being divided in the end there will be conflict and that leads to civil wars. He agrees on keeping the American interests similar and the less divided the better. His main point with the parties in America is that without controversies and being divided a nation will be better off and stronger in the end. (Reeve, 2012)
The most superior point that Tocqueville makes in his book is the majority rules. This is by far the one thing that makes Tocqueville love democracy more than everything. He believes in equality and that a group of votes weighs a lot more than one person. He is astonished with the fact that the citizens can get together and vote on a decision or topic and then the majority rules. On the other hand in France, one ruler makes all the decisions and then everyone has to listen to what he wants instead of being a whole. Tocqueville agrees with letting the people have all the power since they are the ones who abide by the rules. The reason why Tocqueville agrees with this system so much is that he really dislikes the way France does their government and thats why he is so determined to spread democracy (Nola, 2010).
Similar to all great philosophers, Alexis de Tocqueville developed his own social theory. He proclaimed that democracy has three main principles; equality, sovereignty of the people, and public opinion. ( Fredericksen, n.d.) The first concept of the social theory describes that people should have equal rights. Tocqueville thinks that democracy will be stable if the people are treated as equals as opposed to being suppressed. The second concept of democracy he believes in is sovereignty of the people but this can only work if the people are equal if not this principle doesn’t mean anything.
He believes in that people rule the people and that a higher government or leader makes it worse and doesn’t agree with that one bit. “In the township, as well as everywhere else, the people are the only source of power” (Frederiksen, n.d.). What Tocqueville means by this is that the people make the decisions and should go out and vote on what they truly believe in and not what someone else thinks. The third and final concept of democracy in his social theory is public opinion. Public opinion is the most crucial part of a democracy. Tocqueville says without it than there is nothing, it also goes hand in hand with the tyranny of majority. However public opinion could be a harmful as well as beneficiary because of the power that is going in the hands of the people. analogy that can be interpreted is that the ball is in the peoples court and it is their job to do something with it.
One of Tocqueville’s errors in thought was that he believed democracy would always crumble and the system would downfall. When in practice democracy is more stable because the role the people play in majority rules. Tocqueville’s initial theory on the workings of democracy was the basis of his work. As he developed his theories and grew more mature as a philosopher his ideas on democracy expanded. Tocqueville’s main principle theme of Democracy in America was that America is an illustration of an orderly democracy and that both conservative and radical European views on democracy ought to be revised (lukacs,2012). His views on democracy ended up being more useful in later on around the late 1990’s then it was when he wrote it. Another point in this article “Alexis de Tocqueville,” his grounds for democracy in how he is all for it but still gives his opinions to make it as strong as it can. Tocqueville states that democratic men suffer from excessive individualism because they worry too much about their material pleasures then going out of their way and making sacrifices.
Another major point in his book, is how everything is tied between religion. Tocqueville implies that religion supports public and private morality and restrains the love of pleasure. It also brings operates realization of his future into more of a consideration then it would generally. He believes that religion brings the best out of man and makes him more self conscious about his actions moreover brings out his imagination (Teti,1998). Alexis de Tocqueville could not get enough interest in America’s belief system. He was a gigantic fan of America’s values and practices about what people should expect from their life. He loved the equality that the Americans had and that no one was greater then anybody else and that everyone has opinions and can speak what they want. That was his biggest love of the American culture. (Samuelson, 2000)
The separation of church and state was a founding principle of Tocqueville’s work. Tocqueville feared that any separation between the two would cripple the authority of religion. He believes that religion does not need power to survive. It is not supposed to be a power struggle, and by giving religion outside power one does not help the religious ideas and in return may cause its collapse. Tocqueville makes three points on how democracy prevails in relation to the strength of religion in America. The First valid point he makes is that religion in democracy needs to focus on one God as opposed to religions who focus on more than one higher being. For example, countries who believe in separate Gods usually tend to have different cliques and beliefs and therefore the country is divided and is more likely to become fragile. Furthermore, Tocqueville agrees that it is okay to find meaning in separate objects however if people become obsessed with these objects it could change the founding of the religion and become corrupt. The more flexible a religion becomes the worse it gets. The main purpose of a religion is for everyone beliefs to be the same and therefore become one as a whole and believe in the same principles and morals by following one God.
The final point he makes is extremely crucial to his thought of the separation of church and state. He states that the strength of religion in American democracy is due to the church members ability to stay out of politics. Church officials do not run for political office and they stand unbiased to religious affairs so that they can stand clear of controversy. Religions stay strong through public support, therefore, by staying out of political issues the community will not be offended and will support the church. Tocqueville’s philosophies on religion has set the stage for democratic ideals when dealing with religion. This can be seen today when churches interfere with government movements. For example, the recent movement for allowing gay marriage as been heavily controversial in today’s society. In reality this is a new law being passed, just like a law for tax cuts, however churches with strong feelings on the subject have been intervening with the legislative process and have actually rioted in uncivil manners to make their point seen. This is exactly what Tocqueville means when he explains the collapse of a society due to a churches’ interference with the state (Graebner, 1976).
“The American struggles against the obstacles that nature opposes to him; the adversaries of the Russian are men. The former combats the wilderness and savage life; the latter, civilization with all its arms. The conquests of the American are therefore gained by the plowshare; those of the Russian by the sword…the principal instrument of the former is freedom; of the latter, servitude. Their starting-point is different and their courses are not the same; yet each of them seems marked out by the will of Heaven to sway the destinies of half the globe.” (Lukacs,2012)
These are the most famous words of Tocqueville in his Democracy of America His contrasting between America and Russia sum up his ideas of the democratic system in America. He claims that America has to take on challenges of an uncivilized life, and that they are overcome by hard work and wise decisions from the community. On the contrast he points out that Russia handles it’s problems with force and violence. His final line is one of the most moving phrases he made in his lifetime, that both countries have different origins and goals, however they both are taking over the political movements of the world. In short, he means that America’s political and democratic ways are influential on other countries who are trying to develop their own governments.
In conclusion, Alexis de Tocqueville was one of the most influential and brilliant minds who ever was born. His book, Democracy in America is arguably the most prominent and insightful work on democracy. Tocqueville helped establish countries and religions throughout his historical journeyed career.
Frederiksen, R. (n.d). Alexis de Tocqueville. Retrieved from http://www.criminology.fsu.edu/crimtheory/tocqueville.htm