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Democracy in America

3.98  ·  Rating Details ·  16,841 Ratings  ·  552 Reviews
Democracy in America has had the singular honor of being even to this day the work that political commentators of every stripe refer to when they seek to draw large conclusions about the society 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 & econom ...more
Paperback, 992 pages
Published April 24th 2003 by Penguin Classics (first published 1835)
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Alexander Alexander In this book de Toqueville, a French nobleman, writes down the lessons he learns (and he wants to draw for revolutionary France) from his stay in…moreIn this book de Toqueville, a French nobleman, writes down the lessons he learns (and he wants to draw for revolutionary France) from his stay in America, in particular in relation to the newly installed democracy there. He appears to make the case for a politically engaged citizenry and a bottom-up rather than a top-down governed society, where the power of the government rests with the people, who are equals before the law.(less)

Community Reviews

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Roy Lotz
I struggle to penetrate God’s point of view, from which vantage point I try to observe and judge human affairs.

A few months ago, bored at work and with no other obligations to tie me to New York, I decided that I would look into employment in Europe; and now, several months and an irksome visa process later, I am on the verge of setting off to Madrid. Unsurprisingly, I’m very excited to go; but of course leaving one’s home is always bittersweet. This is partly why I picked up Tocqueville’s Dem
Introduction & Notes
Further Reading
Translator's Note

--Democracy in America

Two Essays on America:
--Two Weeks in the Wilderness
--Excursion to Lake Oneida
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
Russell Bittner
Jun 14, 2013 Russell Bittner rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 01, 2008 K.S.R. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bettering-myself
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.
Rebecca Renner
Feb 05, 2017 Rebecca Renner rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
One of the most pivotal books in my college education. It got me to start rethinking the concept of prisons and mass incarceration in America.
Douglas Wilson
Apr 05, 2015 Douglas Wilson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: culture-studies
Justly a classic. I learned a great deal, including about myself.
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
Ahmad Sharabiani
De la democratie en Amerique=Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville
عنوانها: دموکراسی در دنیای جدید؛ دموکراسی در امریکا؛ تحلیل دموکراسی در امریکا؛
عنوان: تحلیل دموکراسی در دنیای جدید؛ نویسنده: شارل هانری موریس کارل دو توکویل؛ یا: الکسی دو توکویل؛ با مقدمه هارولد نسکی؛ مترجم: رحمت الله مقدم (رحمت الله مقدم مراغه ای)؛ تهران، بنگاه ترجمه و نشر کتاب، 1346؛ در 815 ص؛ چاپ دیگر: تهران، نشر همراه، 1380، در 743 ص؛ شابک: 9641319505؛ موضوع: دموکراسی در امریکا قرن 19 م

عنوان: تحلیل دموکراسی در امریکا؛ نوی
Mar 17, 2012 Richard marked it as to-read-2nd
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
Aug 30, 2011 Dan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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! (nor am I a "twerp", in the words of Vonnegut. Thanks Dion)

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
Lynn Beyrouthy
Feb 04, 2014 Lynn Beyrouthy rated it liked it
Shelves: politics
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
Jul 05, 2007 David rated it did not like it
The evidence is mounting. I am a philistine.
Jerry Raviol
Oct 03, 2007 Jerry Raviol rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 16, 2009 blakeR rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Sep 18, 2008 Heidi rated it really liked it
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
Brandon T.
Apr 21, 2008 Brandon T. rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 29, 2009 Jake rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 05, 2008 Maureen rated it it was amazing  ·  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.
De Tocqueville pretty much sums up why I love America and our Constitution so much!
Jan 10, 2010 Heather rated it really liked it
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
John Wise
Mar 29, 2015 John Wise rated it it was amazing
Shelves: culture, history, politics
Americans boast in democracy, but we are unaware of the ways it has biased and prejudiced our thinking in negative ways. Enter de Tocqueville, the Frenchmen who visited the United States in the 1830s. His reflections contained in Democracy in America give Americans a fresh, piercing perspective about our way of life. The benefits of democracy are obvious, but the dangers are subtle and often work themselves out over many years. De Tocqueville was something of a seer. By looking at the seed of eq ...more
JoséMaría BlancoWhite
Witticisms like

the lower classes of society ... what they always lack, more or less, is the art of judging the means, even while sincerely wishing the end

and its related One must not conceal from oneself that democratic institutions develop the sentiment of envy in the human heart to a very high degree. It is not so much because they offer to each the means of becoming equal to others, but because this means constantly fail those who employ them (...) Every day this complete equality eludes the
Blaine Welgraven
Oct 22, 2016 Blaine Welgraven rated it really liked it
Tocqueville's style in Democracy in America can best be described as verbose and exhausting; the young aristocrat perpetually found a way to turn an idea easily described in a paragraph into a multi-page discourse, followed often by virtual restatements pages later. However, Tocqueville's writing style is worth slogging through, as his discourses on political and civil society are both astute and startlingly clairvoyant. As political scientist William Ebenstein noted of Tocqueville's work, "noth ...more
blue-collar mind
Nov 22, 2007 blue-collar mind rated it really liked it
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
Trashy Pit
Feb 15, 2008 Trashy Pit rated it did not like it
Shelves: history
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
Jan 22, 2017 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Have all centuries, then, resembled ours? Has man as in our day, always had before his eyes a world where nothing is linked, where virtue is without genius and genius without honor; where love of order is confused with a taste for tyrants and the holy cult of freedom with contempt for laws; where conscience casts only a dubious light on human actions; where nothing seems any longer to be forbidden or permitted, or honest or shameful, or true or false? pg. 12, Introduction.

Tocqueville’s an intere
Jan 30, 2017 Ben rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
From whatever angle one views the destiny of the natives of North America, one sees only irremediable afflictions. If they remain savages, they will be driven out as others advance. If they wish to become civilized, contact with more civilized people subjects them to oppression and misery. If they continue to wander from wilderness to wilderness, they will perish. If they try to settle in one place, they will also perish. They can gain enlightenment only with the help of Europeans, and the appro ...more
Kyle Bunkers
Feb 04, 2017 Kyle Bunkers rated it really liked it
This is a thought-provoking book. It says many things, and so I can see why it is very quoteable. On the other hand, very insightful ideas are often followed by ideas that are so broad it is hard to determine if they have merit. Tocqueville (and translator Gerald Bevan) certainly do have a nice style of writing, that presents itself nicely in rather self-contained chapters analyzing the US in the first half of the 1800s. It certainly helped me come to a better understanding of what life and thou ...more
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  • Reflections on the Revolution in France
  • The Spirit of the Laws (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought)
  • The Anti-Federalist Papers and the Constitutional Convention Debates
  • The Federalist Papers
  • Writings: Autobiography/Notes on the State of Virginia/Public & Private Papers/Addresses/Letters
  • James Madison: Writings
  • Two Treatises of Government
  • The Discourses
  • History of Political Philosophy
  • 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)
  • Collected Writings: Common Sense/The Crisis/Rights of Man/The Age of Reason/Pamphlets/Articles & Letters
  • The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot
  • Lies the Government Told You: Myth, Power, and Deception in American History
  • Ideas Have Consequences
  • On Liberty
  • The Origins of Totalitarianism
  • The Conscience of a Conservative
  • The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups
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.

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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.” 186 likes
“Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom.” 148 likes
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