Democracy In America by Alexis de Toqueville

Dr T

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Democracy In America by Alexis de Toqueville

Why I picked this book up: I was interested in reading an educated man’s thoughts about America and how a functioning democracy actually functioned, what the inner workings that he saw as he come over from France and toured around talking to people from America.

Why I finished this book: I was truly hooked from the very begging of this book. I love it! I wish I had read much more political science, economics, government, etc. when I was growing up but once I found this book it knocked my socks off! It was very fun to read, I think he nailed a whole lot right on the nose and I took pride in how described America in general and how different it was/is from dictatorships and oligarchies and tyrannical oligarchies or dictators. It really opened my eyes and was SO fun to read.

Rating: I’d give this book a 4.5 star rating out of 5 stars. It was a new experience for me and am happy I read it.

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Read the quotations below by Alexis de Toqueville from Democracy in America, which cover topics such as religion in American life and American politics, Americans' belief in the importance of material goods, the power of public opinion in the United States, and the weakness of social bonds in a democracy.

"[T]here is no country in the whole world in which the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America."

"Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society, but it must nevertheless be regarded as the foremost of the political institutions of that country; for if it does not impart a taste for freedom, it facilitates the use of free institutions... I do not know whether all the Americans have a sincere faith in their religion... but I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions."

"It may be asserted that in the United States no religious doctrine displays the slightest hostility to democratic and republican institutions."

"In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom pursuing courses diametrically opposed to each other; but in America I found that they were intimately united, and that they reigned in common over the same country... [To find out why,] I questioned the members of all the different sects; and I more especially sought the society of the clergy... [T]hey mainly attributed the peaceful dominion of religion in their country to the separation of Church and State... I did not meet with a single individual, of the clergy or of the laity, who was not of the same opinion upon this point."

"I learned with surprise that [the clergy] filled no public appointments; not one of them is to be met with in the administration, and they are not even represented in the legislative assemblies... And when I came to inquire into the prevailing spirit of the clergy I found that most of its members seemed to retire of their own accord from the exercise of power, and that they made it the pride of their profession to abstain from politics."

"The American clergy... saw that they must renounce their religious influence, if they were to strive for political power; and they chose to give up the support of the State, rather than to share its vicissitudes."

"I know of no country . . . where the love of money has taken stronger hold on the affections of men [than in the United States]."

"A native of the United States clings to this world's goods as if he were certain never to die; and he is so hasty in grasping at all within his reach, that one would suppose he was constantly afraid of not living long enough to enjoy them. He clutches everything, he holds nothing fast, but soon loosens his grasp to pursue fresh gratifications."

"If ever the free institutions of America are destroyed, that event may be attributed to the unlimited authority of the majority, which may at some future time urge the minorities to desperation, and oblige them to have recourse to physical force. Anarchy will then be the result, but it will have been brought about by despotism."

"[T]he most absolute monarchs in Europe are unable to prevent certain notions, which are opposed to their authority, from circulating in secret throughout their dominions, and even in their courts. Such is not the case in America; as long as the majority is still undecided, discussion is carried on; but as soon as its decision is irrevocably pronounced, a submissive silence is observed, and the friends, as well as the opponents, of the measure unite in assenting to its propriety. The reason of this is perfectly clear... The authority of a king is purely physical, and it controls the actions of the subject without subduing his private will; but the majority possesses a power which is physical and moral at the same time; it acts upon the will as well as upon the actions of men... I know no country in which there is so little true independence of mind and freedom of discussion as in America."

"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."

"When an opinion has taken root amongst a democratic people, and established itself in the minds of the bulk of the community, it afterwards... is maintained without effort, because no one attacks it. Those who at first rejected it as false, ultimately receive it as the general impression; and those who still dispute it in their hearts, conceal their dissent; they are careful not to engage in a dangerous and useless conflict."

"Aristocracy had made a chain of all the members of the community, from the peasant to the king: democracy breaks that chain, and severs every link of it. As social conditions become more equal, the number of persons increases who, although they are neither rich enough nor powerful enough to exercise any great influence over their fellow-creatures, have nevertheless acquired or retained sufficient education and fortune to satisfy their own wants. They owe nothing to any man, they expect nothing from any man; they acquire the habit of always considering themselves as standing alone, and they are apt to imagine that their whole destiny is in their own hands. Thus not only does democracy make every man forget his ancestors, but it hides his descendants, and separates his contemporaries from him; it throws him back forever upon himself alone, and threatens in the end to confine him entirely within the solitude of his own heart."

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