Rebecca's Reviews > Democracy in America

Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
May 04, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: political, non-fiction
Read in May, 2012

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 democracy, because we all know we’re a Democratic Republic. Right? Good.) I loved the clarity of his discourse, and found it flowed gracefully.

There were many quotes which stuck out for me, including:

"The settlers … possessed, in proportion to their number, a greater mass of intelligence than is to be found in any European nation of our own time … Nor did they cross the Atlantic to improve their situation or to increase their wealth; it was a purely intellectual craving that called them from the comforts of their former homes; and in facing the inevitable sufferings of exile their object was the triumph of an idea."


"Centralization easily succeeds, indeed, in subjecting the external actions of men to a certain uniformity, which we come at last to love for its own sake, independently of the objects to which it is applied, like those devotees who worship the statue and forget the deity it represents."

But my greatest delight was Chapter XI, "Of The Spirit In Which The Americans Cultivate The Arts." If I could, I would have included the entire section in this review. I thought de Tocqueville’s observations regarding the creation of arts and the ethos of New World artisans most fascinating!

"Democratic nations… will therefore cultivate the arts which serve to render life easy, in preference to those whose object is to adorn it. They will habitually prefer the useful to the beautiful, and they will require that the beautiful should be useful."

"When, on the contrary, every profession is open to all—when a multitude of persons are constantly embracing and abandoning it—and when its several members are strangers to each other, indifferent, and from their numbers hardly seen amongst themselves; the social tie is destroyed, and each workman, standing alone, endeavors simply to gain the greatest possible quantity of money at the least possible cost. The will of the customer is then his only limit."

"… In democracies there are always a multitude of individuals whose wants are above their means, and who are very willing to take up with imperfect satisfaction rather than abandon the object of their desires."

"When none but the wealthy had watches, they were almost all very good ones: few are now made which are worth much, but everybody has one in his pocket. Thus the democratic principle not only tends to direct the human mind to the useful arts, but it induces the artisan to produce with greater rapidity a quantity of imperfect commodities, and the consumer to content himself with these commodities."

"When I arrived for the first time at New York, by that part of the Atlantic Ocean which is called the East River, I was surprised to perceive along the shore, at some distance from the city, a considerable number of little palaces of white marble, several of which were built after the models of ancient architecture. When I went the next day to inspect more closely one which had particularly attracted my notice, I found that its walls were of whitewashed brick, and its columns of painted wood. All the edifices which I had admired the night before were of the same kind."

By no means is this difficult or dry reading. For the student of political science, it is a must.
1 like · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Democracy in America.
Sign In »

No comments have been added yet.