In 1831 French sociologist and political theorist Alexis De Tocqueville and a lawyer he befriended named Gustave de Beaumont, spent nine months traveling around America studying its prisons and came back with a full report on the cultural, political and psychological life in America. While Beaumont wrote about the penitentiary system, Tocqueville focused more in the cultural and political life in America. He wrote two essays and published them in a book called Democracy in America. He discussed the possible threats to democracy and the possible dangers of democracy. He believed that religion and equality were the greatest ideas and they were the most advanced in the United States and that’s why democracy worked so well in America.
Tocqueville admired american religion, he believed that religion “imposes certain obligations toward the human race or encourage a shared endeavor” (Page 512, Chapter 5, Democracy in America, Tocqueville). He said that Americans need to believe in something in common to be equal and it shows how important it is for men to retain their religion even on achieving equality. “Men who are similar and equal find it easy to formulate the notion of a single God who imposes upon each of them the same rules, while granting them future happiness at the same cost” (Page 513, Chapter 5, Democracy in America, Tocqueville). Tocqueville is saying that the people that try to examine details and try to challenge these common ideas such as religion don’t get future happiness from God. This is why everyone should follow these believes unconsciously.In the second chapter of part one in the second volume, Tocqueville says that without common ides common action is impossible, and without common action society cannot exist and much less prosper. He thinks that in each day there isn’t enough time for everyone to doubt, examine and prove all of the believes that each man uses in his daily life, so people should just believe what important people say without questioning it.
“The independence of an individual can be more or less extensive but it could not possibly be boundless” (Page 500, Chapter 2, Democracy in America, Tocqueville) This quote is saying how no one can be completely free because even in a democratic society you have to give in into some common beliefs and follow them. Religion has this kind of authority.Religion is believed without discussion, because it has its own set of limits so that law and politics can change without changing beliefs.
“Religion itself dominates less a revealed doctrine than a commonly held opinion. I do, therefore, realize that, among Americans, political laws are such that the majority exercises sovereign power over society” (Page 501, Chapter 2, Democracy in America, Tocqueville). In this quote Tocqueville explains how Americans try to find answers to their everyday lives and challenges they encounter in religion. They need something to rely on when everything in their lives turns out wrong, and religion is usually their option.In a democracy, everyone is equal. While laws and ideals change, and new truths are discovered, everyone is still equal. He believes that “Aristocratic nations are by nature liable to restrict too much the bounds of human perfectibility while democratic nations stretch them sometimes to excess” (Page 523, Chapter 8, Democracy in America, Tocqueville).
He is saying that people tend to think that there is unlimited capability for humans to progress in the world. Equality has been ingrained in laws, social conditions, habits and opinions that destroying it would be very difficult. “When a man living in a democratic country compares himself individually with all those around him, he sees with pride that he is equal to each of them; but when he happens to contemplate the huge gathering of his fellow men and to take his place beside this great body, he is straightway overwhelmed by his own insignificance and weaknesses” (Page 501, Chapter 2, Democracy in America, Tocqueville). This quote explains how a man feels about democracy and equality, it says that men like how everyone is equal and that in their everyday lives they experience that equality but that when they observe it in a bigger picture that includes the whole nation and society, he sees how they aren’t as equal and how he is weaker than others with more authority, and he realizes how insignificant he is.
He believed that women should start being more equal by educating them, due to it becoming a danger if they revolt. He wrote that it’s better to ensure their follow instead of forcing them, and that’s all in the education system. “We need a democratic education to safeguard women from the dangers with which democratic institutions and customs surround them” (Page 686, Chapter 9, Democracy in America, Tocqueville). He explained that if women are taught to be loving wives and loyal companions they will only believe that.
On the contrantrary if they aren’t taught at all, one day one of them will start believing they can change society and have a woman in power and it will end in a tragedy. In democracy there are some good and bad things, that both impressed and worried Tocqueville. He believed that religion is crucial in democracies and proposed a Catholic American Church, he thought that democracy can be helpful to Christian beliefs because people naturally accept the unity of God and the moral laws because these ideas have to do with equality and that’s what democracies are about. He wrote “if a man is without faith, he must serve someone and if he is free, he must believe it” (Page 512, Chapter 5, Democracy in America, Tocqueville). By this he means that everyone including slaves and servants should have faith in whoever their masters believe in, and if they are free they have to believe in religion.The flaw that Tocqueville saw in the American system was individualism. His definition of individualism was that people are happiest when they ignore the outside world and they stay in their bubble of friends, family and domestic life. He compares egoism to individualism saying that: “Egoism is a preversity as old as the world and is scarcely peculiar to one form of society more than another.
Individualism is democratic origin and threatens to grow as conditions become equal” (Page 588, Chapter 2, Democracy in America, Tocqueville). He is saying that egoism is only a few steps away from individualism and that a democracy causes men to focus more on themselves since everyone is already equal socially they want to be different within themselves. Another democratic evil is the tyranny of the majority. He explains that any big group of people could get want they wanted even if it wasn’t the best option for the country. In addition, if that majority is the wealthy upper class and not the society as a whole then that decision isn’t equal and that goes against democracy.
Tocqueville writes that the problem with freedom is that it’s something everyone has always dreamed about, to be completely free. He is afraid that the desire for freedom will overcome the desire for equality which is both more easily attained and possible to see in the future. Tocqueville was both a pessimist and an optimist about the democracy in America. He liked the new ideas crawling their way though american society and life, but he did predict that the Civil war was going to occur, the abolishment slavery, that Russia and the United States of America would become two major powers and the cold war. He knew that America’s future would be rough but that it would emerge becoming one of the most powerful countries in the world. He believed in religion very firmly, even if in America they didn’t have a set religion he suggested that Catholicism would work really well.
The Americans of course didn’t exactly agree due to the many religions that had gone through and were believed in the country at the moment.In conclusion, Tocqueville believed that equality and religion were the two most important aspects in a democracy. He believed that religion could be a good addition into democracy due to when the system fails for anyone they turn to religion to solve the problem. I agree with this.
I think the best parts of our system is that little by little everyone is becoming equal, and I also agree with Tocqueville that people are individualists and it’s a big weakness in the political, economic and social life of every American. In a democracy everyone works together to achieve a common goal, and that is how the United States became and is one of the most important countries in the world.