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Democracy in America

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3.95 of 5 stars 3.95  ·  rating details  ·  12,466 ratings  ·  431 reviews
Democracy in America has had the singular honor of being even to this day the work that polit?ical commentators of every stripe refer to when they seek to draw large conclusions about the soci?ety of the USA. Alexis de Tocqueville, a young French aristocrat, came to the young nation to investigate the functioning of American democracy & the social, political & econ ...more
Paperback, 992 pages
Published July 1st 2003 by Penguin Classics (first published 1835)
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Autumn Altman He is writing down his thoughts , although a bit unorganized, about the new government of the United States that was unlike anything history had ever…moreHe is writing down his thoughts , although a bit unorganized, about the new government of the United States that was unlike anything history had ever seen before. He is stating how the government works and how it is stable enough to hold its own for years to come.(less)

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Mike (the Paladin)
I'm going with 4 stars here, it isn't always the easiest book to read, but worth it. There is a lot of wisdom in this book, a lot of insight. While history hasn't borne out all his predictions, there have been enough. Sadly also, it looks as though more of the things he said may still prove to be true.

In today's atmosphere, the thoughts here compared to the reality we live in and that "may" be coming to pass....well, it's worth some thought. When America broke away from the "branch" so to speak
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Karey
Update: My brother just told me that Kurt Vonnegut says that anyone who hasn't read Democracy in America is a wimp. So I guess that makes me almost not a wimp. Well!

Post from a few weeks ago: I've been wanting to read de Toqueville's, Democracy in America for some time, and I've finally bit the bullet. The translation is beautifully done. De Toqueville's sentiments are eloquent and thought provoking. Wonderful.

How's that for summer reading! Part of me wishes we still talked like pilgrims.
booklady
My husband and I have listened to the audio version of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America for the past few months. We have paused many times to discuss interesting passages and have thoroughly enjoyed this courteous visitor’s (de Tocqueville was French) perspective on the early years of our nation. The first Volume was written in 1835 and the second in 1840.

To fully appreciate this monumental socio-economic classic of colonial and antebellum political life, one would need to devote man
...more
Dan
This is not a review by any means, just a placeholder to indicate that after two months of enthusiasm, two months of stalling, and a final two months of hard reading, I have finally finished Democracy in America. I am no longer a wimp!

In my altered state (the euphoria of having finished such an amazing book), I cannot with sound mind expound upon how awesome this book is. It will take many years of study and careful re-reading to fully comprehend the importance of what I just read. I'll write a
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Richard
Have to eventually read this, of course.

Just a note, for now. I was reading about some essay on The Economist, and one of the comments quoted from de Tocqueville. The comment, below, reminded me of one of the reasons I’m somewhat pessimistic about America’s future as Aquinas’ “city on a hill”.
The foundation of New England was a novel spectacle, and all the circumstances attending it were singular and original. […]
The settlers who established themselves on the shores of New England all belonged
...more
Russell Bittner
I don’t mind admitting that Alexis de Toqueville’s Democracy in America is quite possible the most demanding piece of exposition I’ve read since Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind. I suspect it’s one of those books — analogous, if you will, to Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Melville’s Moby Dick, Proust’s In Search of Lost Time or Musil’s Man Without Qualities — that avid readers want to have read, but never have.

I finally did.

If you can find the time (and the quiet) to read fifty pages of this book a da
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Lynn Beyrouthy
In the 1830s, the period during which this book was written, Europe was still straining under the social structures of The Old Regime (the Helvetian Confederation excluded) while a new democratic state had emerged, ever since its Declaration of Independence on July 4 1776, the United States of America, led by George Washington who seemed to be the modern American version of Solon or Pericles.

Alexis de Tocqueville, a French aristocrat and politician, fascinated by the democracy so easily establis
...more
Jake
Growing up I was thankful that nowhere in my liberal arts education was I assigned to read Tocqueville’s “(On) Democracy in America”. The idea that it was written by a Frenchman always worried me, not for any particular political reasons but more so because I was afraid the connection would not be made between the author's intentions and the translation produced. Of course, there is no way to determine if the author's thoughts are properly conveyed but the translation comes across clear and reve ...more
Brandon T.
Jan 12, 2009 Brandon T. rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: every American.
De Tocqueville's opus was the first sociological account of the fledgling American culture, and was aimed in part at creating a road map for a Democratic government in France. The sheer impact it has had on the way the world views American society - and how we view ourselves - makes this a must-read.

Democracy in America leaves no stone unturned. It systematically describes the governmental structure, from local to national. It weighs the effects of public education, freedom of the press, and ext
...more
Jerry Raviol
I read this in response to my frustration with what I saw as our inability to bring democracy to other places in the world. Chapters 1-42 and 55 - 57 are the most insightful. Others tend to drag. In 1830s de Tocqueville comes to America to figure our why a democratic revolution in France lead to anarchy and despotism, while a democratic revolution in America lead to freedom. What he finds is still relevant to our trying to bring or give democracy to others.

Two things emerge- first there were ma
...more
Heidi
I read selections this time around, as I did years ago.

de Tocqueville toured and studied America not long after the French Revolution. He was hoping to glean ideas for his own country. I think what he found couldn't necessarily apply. He says we had no democratic revolution, because we began democratically. This makes sense, as our Revolution was simply an effort to keep that independent flavor, rather than lose it to our parent country.

Among the many things he observes and analyzes, I was inter
...more
blake
Caveat: I read the 320 page abridged version, so some of my complaints may be simple misunderstandings due to ignorance.

I'll start by saying that I'm not sure what gives a 25 year-old rich French kid on a pleasure cruise through the New World the credibility to make completely unsupported assertions on the political and social climate of early America and have them accepted as gospel.

After slogging through 300 or so pages, I'm exceedingly grateful that this abridged version exists, because I ca
...more
blue-collar mind
Jun 18, 2014 blue-collar mind rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: lucid people who find representative democracy a bit puzzling
I love doing that time travel thing, when you find an author who can bring you to his or her time, and you are like Samantha in Bewitched talking to Benjamin Franklin in her 60s housewife clothes.
I take this from my shelf every few years and stick it in my backpack and read my little copy of this book for a few minutes every other day or so, much like the religious read the bible I assume, although I always remember that mine was written by a youngish white European of no particular esteem who
...more
Brian
De Tocqueville was Nostradamus with regards to his predictions for America to date. He foresaw the rise of America as a world leader economically, militarily, and culturally. He saw that the greatness of America was not due to our superior class of citizens, but rather that the average American citizen was empowered to take action to improve conditions for himself, his family, and his community and did not rely on decisions to be made for him by a distant authority. The American citizen was empo ...more
Trashy Pit
Considered a must-read classic about US history and US political culture. In fact, the most over-rated book in all of history. Complete waste of your time. I'd give it zero stars if I could. Alexis spent all his time hanging with his plantation-owner buddies in the South who ran the US gov't at the time, then wrote a book about how great Democracy in the US was. Except for a couple of pages, he ignores all the main issues of US political and economic history: slavery, racism, exploitation, genoc ...more
Maureen
Jun 09, 2008 Maureen rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Maureen by: Neil
Shelves: history
Did you have to read this book for Political Science 101? I did, and I still have my copy of it. In this election year, it would be worth taking a look at this book again. It seems to me that, particularly in the past eight years, we have strayed off the path of the ideals that this book represents. Anyone interested in democracy, equality, and the role of the military in government should own a copy of this book. Make sure it is the unabridged one.
Czarny Pies
Sep 11, 2014 Czarny Pies rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Americans, Europeans, etc.
Recommended to Czarny by: Pierre Trudeau
This is a great book about America that only a foreigner could write. At times he heaps praises upon the Americans that must surely make them blush. On other occasions he voices criticisms that must have surprised them; above all his thesis that democracy led to a levelling of ideas and conformism must have seemed odd in Ante-Bellum America.

The tyranny of Democracy as describe by de Tocqueville is not the tyranny of the majority. It is the tyranny of system which rallies dissenters to the to con
...more
Alan Marchant
Exploring the New World ...

... of Sociology.

I had expected that deTocqueville's classic would be a study of political technique, like an expanded version of The Prince or The Art Of War. Instead Democracy in America (Harper Perennial Modern Classics) is an original and powerful exploration of Sociology (generations before Max Weber).

deTocqueville draws on his experiences touring the United States in 1830 to make observations and speculations about the influence of social ideals (especially equal
...more
The Chestertonian (Sarah G)
Five reasons you really might want to consider reading Democracy in America:

1. You were assigned it for a political theory class. Yes, in this circumstance, I would definitely recommend reading it. This should not need elaboration.

2. You just love beautiful writing. Congratulations. The introduction alone will be a literary feast worth the price of the book. (Note that this might vary by translation; mine is the Mansfield and Winthrop translation.)

3. You feel unlearned, inferior, left out, and
...more
Carole
Jun 21, 2008 Carole rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who want to feel more educated.
I read this book while I was in Sweden - sort of the opposite of the "You are there" reading strategy. It was kind of cool though because the book is about what makes America different from other countries, specifically Europe. So it was cool to read it while in Europe.

I don't know if I would agree with Kurt Vonnegut's opinion that anyone who hasn't read this book is a twerp. It was interesting, though. If you get it from the library and don't want to read the whole thing, I would recommend the
...more
Heather
This is an interesting book that I don't understand completely, but I think it's a good and timely read to be studying about our republic and the unique freedom and democracy we enjoy in America. Alexis de Tocqueville describes and teaches about each branch and level of American democracy and government. He begins with local government and talks about state and federal government--including details of the establishment and importance of the executive, judicial and legislative branches. He also t ...more
Rebecca
Even for the modern reader, de Tocqueville’s message is germane and enlightening, and at times feels prophetic. Though one may not agree with every facet, his arguments are consistent and fair glimpses of his perspective of the unique American culture (I say “American” instead of United Statesian - not because I don’t understand the vast topography of the Americas, and that the United States is but a portion of the Americas – but because Statesian isn’t a word. I choose culture instead of democr ...more
Jason Pettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com:]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)

The CCLaP 100: In which I read for the first time a hundred so-called classics, then write reports on whether or not they deserve the label

Essay #35: Democracy in America, by Alexis de Tocqueville (1835)

The story in a nutshell:
Although these days we take it for granted, for a long time democracy had
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Rachel
My father always described this book as the most quoted least read book. It's true that during election seasons, candidate speeches are peppered with phrases from DIA. But the book's value is that at the birth of our nation, a Frenchman recognized the sanctity and greatness of the democratic dream, but also the hypocrisy and err with which we practice.

This is not a book to sit and read one weekend. It's a book I've been picking up and flipping through for a decade. I've re-read the beginning pro
...more
Hortense
Some of the diagnosis is complete in the best of these pages. But you see, the experiment has been undertaken. Anxious bonhomie, the enraged conformity, the shallow and the ruthless pragmatism. Singular suffering of loud social intimacy, everywhere, in the middle of a stunned silence of the world. Voting behavior.

What's a man to do, bewildered by all this beauty? Destroy it. -He can't be expected to withstand the state of bewilderment and he has to get on with life. Make a dance floor of a vast
...more
brook
This book is (of course) very dated now, but it gives the reader an excellent idea of how America came to be, and also shows how American "values" have not changed over time. Clearly Tocqueville is a bit enamored with the America that he sees, but he manages to do a thorough and not always positive review of what constitutes the country. Much of it is contrasting Americans of the time with the rest of the world. As an American, this is a valuable book to read for a better understanding of the be ...more
Jeremy
My biggest reservation about this is that Tocqueville seems to be using such broad strokes. Even in the middle of the 1800's I find it hard to believe that there is a definitive American character which you can just codify and examine at will. That being said, he does make some really smart observations about the problems of individualism versus collective action and how Americans tend not to really examine the sorts of hypocrisies which both of these kinds of action and belief entail. I think i ...more
Emily
Vielleicht kein sehr lesbares Buch, ähnlich wie Madame de Staël(alter, langer Schinken). Aber Tocqueville sieht um 1830 in einem ihm fremden Land die Zukunft voraus: Er beschreibt eine Gesellschaft, in der Freiheitsrechte und eine freie Presse bestehen, in der es das Ideal der Chancengleichheit gibt, die demokratisch organisiert ist. 170 Jahre später sind wir fasziniert von Amerika, weil diese Gesellschaft einen schwarzen Afrikaner an die Spitze ihres politischen Systems gestellt hat. Das hat To ...more
H
Aug 26, 2014 H added it
Shelves: essays
No necessity forced them to leave their country; they gave up a desirable social position and assured means of livelihood; nor was their object in going to the New World to better their position or accumulate wealth; they tore themselves away from home comforts in obedience to a purely intellectual craving; in facing the inevitable sufferings of exile they hoped for the triumph of an idea. (36)

One may count on it that the majority of mankind will always stop short in one of these two conditions:
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wow not bad 10 70 Aug 22, 2014 11:46PM  
Goodreads Librari...: A book in two volumes 5 20 Oct 22, 2013 11:47AM  
Goodreads Librari...: ISBN13: 9780451623201 4 21 May 06, 2013 05:13AM  
  • Reflections on the Revolution in France
  • The Anti-Federalist Papers and the Constitutional Convention Debates
  • Jefferson: Writings (Library of America #17)
  • The Spirit of the Laws (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought)
  • Paine: Collected Writings: Common Sense/The Crisis/Rights of Man/The Age of Reason/Pamphlets/Articles & Letters (Library of America #76)
  • Two Treatises of Government
  • The Debate on the Constitution : Federalist and Antifederalist Speeches, Articles, and Letters During the Struggle over Ratification : Part One, September 1787-February 1788 (Library of America #62)
  • Writings (Library of America #109)
  • The Constitution of Liberty
  • The Federalist Papers
  • The Origins of Totalitarianism
  • The Basic Political Writings
  • Natural Right and History
  • The Age of Reform
  • The Conservative Mind
  • The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
  • From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776
  • Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made
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Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville (July 29, 1805 – April 16, 1859) was a French political thinker and historian best known for his Democracy in America (appearing in two volumes: 1835 and 1840) and The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856). In both of these works, he explored the effects of the rising equality of social conditions on the individual and the state in western societies.

Democr
...more
More about Alexis de Tocqueville...
The Old Regime and the French Revolution Democracy in America Volume 1 Democracy in America Volume 2 Democracy in America - Volume 1 Letters from America

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“I do not know if the people of the United States would vote for superior men if they ran for office, but there can be no doubt that such men do not run.” 116 likes
“Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.” 81 likes
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