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Democracy In America, Volume 2 by Alexis de Toqueville

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A request to all readers:
I have tried to catch as many actual errors as I could, but I am
sure others exist. If you notice an error, please let me know,
identifying by chapter and paragraph where the mistake occurs.

David Reed, haradda@aol.com or davidr@inconnect.com

Democracy In America
Alexis De Tocqueville
Translator - Henry Reeve

Book Two

A request to all readers:
I have tried to catch as many actual errors as I could, but I am
sure others exist. If you notice an error, please let me know,
identifying by chapter and paragraph where the mistake occurs.
David Reed, haradda@aol.com or davidr@inconnect.com

Influence Of Democracy On Progress Of Opinion In US

De Tocqueville's Preface To The Second Part

The Americans live in a democratic state of society, which
has naturally suggested to them certain laws and a certain
political character. This same state of society has, moreover,
engendered amongst them a multitude of feelings and opinions
which were unknown amongst the elder aristocratic communities of
Europe: it has destroyed or modified all the relations which
before existed, and established others of a novel kind. The
aspect of civil society has been no less affected by these
changes than that of the political world. The former subject has
been treated of in the work on the Democracy of America, which I
published five years ago; to examine the latter is the object of
the present book; but these two parts complete each other, and
form one and the same work.

I must at once warn the reader against an error which would
be extremely prejudicial to me. When he finds that I attribute
so many different consequences to the principle of equality, he
may thence infer that I consider that principle to be the sole
cause of all that takes place in the present age: but this would
be to impute to me a very narrow view. A multitude of opinions,
feelings, and propensities are now in existence, which owe their
origin to circumstances unconnected with or even contrary to the
principle of equality. Thus if I were to select the United
States as an example, I could easily prove that the nature of the
country, the origin of its inhabitants, the religion of its
founders, their acquired knowledge, and their former habits, have
exercised, and still exercise, independently of democracy, a vast
influence upon the thoughts and feelings of that people.
Different causes, but no less distinct from the circumstance of
the equality of conditions, might be traced in Europe, and would
explain a great portion of the occurrences taking place amongst

I acknowledge the existence of all these different causes,
and their power, but my subject does not lead me to treat of
them. I have not undertaken to unfold the reason of all our
inclinations and all our notions: my only object is to show in
what respects the principle of equality has modified both the
former and the latter.

Some readers may perhaps be astonished that - firmly
persuaded as I am that the democratic revolution which we are
witnessing is an irresistible fact against which it would be
neither desirable nor wise to struggle - I should often have had
occasion in this book to address language of such severity to
those democratic communities which this revolution has brought
into being. My answer is simply, that it is because I am not an
adversary of democracy, that I have sought to speak of democracy
in all sincerity.

Men will not accept truth at the hands of their enemies, and
truth is seldom offered to them by their friends: for this reason
I have spoken it. I was persuaded that many would take upon
themselves to announce the new blessings which the principle of
equality promises to mankind, but that few would dare to point
out from afar the dangers with which it threatens them. To those
perils therefore I have turned my chief attention, and believing
that I had discovered them clearly, I have not had the cowardice
to leave them untold.

I trust that my readers will find in this Second Part that
impartiality which seems to have been remarked in the former
work. Placed as I am in the midst of the conflicting opinions
between which we are divided, I have endeavored to suppress
within me for a time the favorable sympathies or the adverse
emotions with which each of them inspires me. If those who read
this book can find a single sentence intended to flatter any of
the great parties which have agitated my country, or any of those
petty factions which now harass and weaken it, let such readers
raise their voices to accuse me.

The subject I have sought to embrace is immense, for it
includes the greater part of the feelings and opinions to which
the new state of society has given birth. Such a subject is
doubtless above my strength, and in treating it I have not
succeeded in satisfying myself. But, if I have not been able to
reach the goal which I had in view, my readers will at least do
me the justice to acknowledge that I have conceived and followed
up my undertaking in a spirit not unworthy of success.

A. De T.

March, 1840

Chapter I: Philosophical Method Among the Americans

I think that in no country in the civilized world is less
attention paid to philosophy than in the United States. The
Americans have no philosophical school of their own; and they
care but little for all the schools into which Europe is divided,
the very names of which are scarcely known to them. Nevertheless
it is easy to perceive that almost all the inhabitants of the
United States conduct their understanding in the same manner, and
govern it by the same rules; that is to say, that without ever
having taken the trouble to define the rules of a philosophical
method, they are in possession of one, common to the whole
people. To evade the bondage of system and habit, of family
maxims, class opinions, and, in some degree, of national
prejudices; to accept tradition only as a means of information,
and existing facts only as a lesson used in doing otherwise, and
doing better; to seek the reason of things for one's self, and in
one's self alone; to tend to results without being bound to
means, and to aim at the substance through the form; - such are
the principal characteristics of what I shall call the
philosophical method of the Americans. But if I go further, and
if I seek amongst these characteristics that which predominates
over and includes almost all the rest, I discover that in most of
the operations of the mind, each American appeals to the
individual exercise of his own understanding alone. America is
therefore one of the countries in the world where philosophy is
least studied, and where the precepts of Descartes are best
applied. Nor is this surprising. The Americans do not read the
works of Descartes, because their social condition deters them
from speculative studies; but they follow his maxims because this
very social condition naturally disposes their understanding to
adopt them. In the midst of the continual movement which agitates
a democratic community, the tie which unites one generation to
another is relaxed or broken; every man readily loses the trace
of the ideas of his forefathers or takes no care about them. Nor
can men living in this state of society derive their belief from
the opinions of the class to which they belong, for, so to speak,
there are no longer any classes, or those which still exist are
composed of such mobile elements, that their body can never
exercise a real control over its members. As to the influence
which the intelligence of one man has on that of another, it must
necessarily be very limited in a country where the citizens,
placed on the footing of a general similitude, are all closely
seen by each other; and where, as no signs of incontestable
greatness or superiority are perceived in any one of them, they
are constantly brought back to their own reason as the most
obvious and proximate source of truth. It is not only confidence
in this or that man which is then destroyed, but the taste for
trusting the ipse dixit of any man whatsoever. Everyone shuts
himself up in his own breast, and affects from that point to
judge the world.

The practice which obtains amongst the Americans of fixing
the standard of their judgment in themselves alone, leads them to
other habits of mind. As they perceive that they succeed in
resolving without assistance all the little difficulties which
their practical life presents, they readily conclude that
everything in the world may be explained, and that nothing in it
transcends the limits of the understanding. Thus they fall to
denying what they cannot comprehend; which leaves them but little
faith for whatever is extraordinary, and an almost insurmountable
distaste for whatever is supernatural. As it is on their own
testimony that they are accustomed to rely, they like to discern
the object which engages their attention with extreme clearness;
they therefore strip off as much as possible all that covers it,
they rid themselves of whatever separates them from it, they
remove whatever conceals it from sight, in order to view it more
closely and in the broad light of day. This disposition of the
mind soon leads them to contemn forms, which they regard as
useless and inconvenient veils placed between them and the truth.

The Americans then have not required to extract their
philosophical method from books; they have found it in
themselves. The same thing may be remarked in what has taken
place in Europe. This same method has only been established and
made popular in Europe in proportion as the condition of society
has become more equal, and men have grown more like each other.
Let us consider for a moment the connection of the periods in
which this change may be traced. In the sixteenth century the
Reformers subjected some of the dogmas of the ancient faith to
the scrutiny of private judgment; but they still withheld from it
the judgment of all the rest. In the seventeenth century, Bacon
in the natural sciences, and Descartes in the study of philosophy
in the strict sense of the term, abolished recognized formulas,
destroyed the empire of tradition, and overthrew the authority of
the schools. The philosophers of the eighteenth century,
generalizing at length the same principle, undertook to submit to
the private judgment of each man all the objects of his belief.

Who does not perceive that Luther, Descartes, and Voltaire
employed the same method, and that they differed only in the
greater or less use which they professed should be made of it?
Why did the Reformers confine themselves so closely within the
circle of religious ideas? Why did Descartes, choosing only to
apply his method to certain matters, though he had made it fit to
be applied to all, declare that men might judge for themselves in
matters philosophical but not in matters political? How happened
it that in the eighteenth century those general applications were
all at once drawn from this same method, which Descartes and his
predecessors had either not perceived or had rejected? To what,
lastly, is the fact to be attributed, that at this period the
method we are speaking of suddenly emerged from the schools, to
penetrate into society and become the common standard of
intelligence; and that, after it had become popular among the
French, it has been ostensibly adopted or secretly followed by
all the nations of Europe?

The philosophical method here designated may have been
engendered in the sixteenth century - it may have been more
accurately defined and more extensively applied in the
seventeenth; but neither in the one nor in the other could it be
commonly adopted. Political laws, the condition of society, and
the habits of mind which are derived from these causes, were as
yet opposed to it. It was discovered at a time when men were
beginning to equalize and assimilate their conditions. It could
only be generally followed in ages when those conditions had at
length become nearly equal, and men nearly alike.

The philosophical method of the eighteenth century is then
not only French, but it is democratic; and this explains why it
was so readily admitted throughout Europe, where it has
contributed so powerfully to change the face of society. It is
not because the French have changed their former opinions, and
altered their former manners, that they have convulsed the world;
but because they were the first to generalize and bring to light
a philosophical method, by the assistance of which it became easy
to attack all that was old, and to open a path to all that was

If it be asked why, at the present day, this same method is
more rigorously followed and more frequently applied by the
French than by the Americans, although the principle of equality
be no less complete, and of more ancient date, amongst the latter
people, the fact may be attributed to two circumstances, which it
is essential to have clearly understood in the first instance.
It must never be forgotten that religion gave birth to
Anglo-American society. In the United States religion is
therefore commingled with all the habits of the nation and all
the feelings of patriotism; whence it derives a peculiar force.
To this powerful reason another of no less intensity may be
added: in American religion has, as it were, laid down its own
limits. Religious institutions have remained wholly distinct from
political institutions, so that former laws have been easily
changed whilst former belief has remained unshaken. Christianity
has therefore retained a strong hold on the public mind in
America; and, I would more particularly remark, that its sway is
not only that of a philosophical doctrine which has been adopted
upon inquiry, but of a religion which is believed without
discussion. In the United States Christian sects are infinitely
diversified and perpetually modified; but Christianity itself is
a fact so irresistibly established, that no one undertakes either
to attack or to defend it. The Americans, having admitted the
principal doctrines of the Christian religion without inquiry,
are obliged to accept in like manner a great number of moral
truths originating in it and connected with it. Hence the
activity of individual analysis is restrained within narrow
limits, and many of the most important of human opinions are
removed from the range of its influence.

The second circumstance to which I have alluded is the
following: the social condition and the constitution of the
Americans are democratic, but they have not had a democratic
revolution. They arrived upon the soil they occupy in nearly the
condition in which we see them at the present day; and this is of
very considerable importance.

There are no revolutions which do not shake existing belief,
enervate authority, and throw doubts over commonly received
ideas. The effect of all revolutions is therefore, more or less,
to surrender men to their own guidance, and to open to the mind
of every man a void and almost unlimited range of speculation.
When equality of conditions succeeds a protracted conflict
between the different classes of which the elder society was
composed, envy, hatred, and uncharitableness, pride, and
exaggerated self- confidence are apt to seize upon the human
heart, and plant their sway there for a time. This,
independently of equality itself, tends powerfully to divide men
- to lead them to mistrust the judgment of others, and to seek
the light of truth nowhere but in their own understandings.
Everyone then attempts to be his own sufficient guide, and makes
it his boast to form his own opinions on all subjects. Men are
no longer bound together by ideas, but by interests; and it would
seem as if human opinions were reduced to a sort of intellectual
dust, scattered on every side, unable to collect, unable to

Thus, that independence of mind which equality supposes to
exist, is never so great, nor ever appears so excessive, as at
the time when equality is beginning to establish itself, and in
the course of that painful labor by which it is established.
That sort of intellectual freedom which equality may give ought,
therefore, to be very carefully distinguished from the anarchy
which revolution brings. Each of these two things must be
severally considered, in order not to conceive exaggerated hopes
or fears of the future.

I believe that the men who will live under the new forms of
society will make frequent use of their private judgment; but I
am far from thinking that they will often abuse it. This is
attributable to a cause of more general application to all
democratic countries, and which, in the long run, must needs
restrain in them the independence of individual speculation
within fixed, and sometimes narrow, limits. I shall proceed to
point out this cause in the next chapter.

Chapter II: Of The Principal Source Of Belief Among Democratic

At different periods dogmatical belief is more or less
abundant. It arises in different ways, and it may change its
object or its form; but under no circumstances will dogmatical
belief cease to exist, or, in other words, men will never cease
to entertain some implicit opinions without trying them by actual
discussion. If everyone undertook to form his own opinions and
to seek for truth by isolated paths struck out by himself alone,
it is not to be supposed that any considerable number of men
would ever unite in any common belief. But obviously without
such common belief no society can prosper - say rather no society
can subsist; for without ideas held in common, there is no common
action, and without common action, there may still be men, but
there is no social body. In order that society should exist,
and, a fortiori, that a society should prosper, it is required
that all the minds of the citizens should be rallied and held
together by certain predominant ideas; and this cannot be the
case, unless each of them sometimes draws his opinions from the
common source, and consents to accept certain matters of belief
at the hands of the community.

If I now consider man in his isolated capacity, I find that
dogmatical belief is not less indispensable to him in order to
live alone, than it is to enable him to co-operate with his
fellow- creatures. If man were forced to demonstrate to himself
all the truths of which he makes daily use, his task would never
end. He would exhaust his strength in preparatory exercises,
without advancing beyond them. As, from the shortness of his
life, he has not the time, nor, from the limits of his
intelligence, the capacity, to accomplish this, he is reduced to
take upon trust a number of facts and opinions which he has not
had either the time or the power to verify himself, but which men
of greater ability have sought out, or which the world adopts. On
this groundwork he raises for himself the structure of his own
thoughts; nor is he led to proceed in this manner by choice so
much as he is constrainsd by the inflexible law of his condition.
There is no philosopher of such great parts in the world, but
that he believes a million of things on the faith of other
people, and supposes a great many more truths than he
demonstrates. This is not only necessary but desirable. A man
who should undertake to inquire into everything for himself,
could devote to each thing but little time and attention. His
task would keep his mind in perpetual unrest, which would prevent
him from penetrating to the depth of any truth, or of grappling
his mind indissolubly to any conviction. His intellect would be
at once independent and powerless. He must therefore make his
choice from amongst the various objects of human belief, and he
must adopt many opinions without discussion, in order to search
the better into that smaller number which he sets apart for
investigation. It is true that whoever receives an opinion on
the word of another, does so far enslave his mind; but it is a
salutary servitude which allows him to make a good use of

A principle of authority must then always occur, under all
circumstances, in some part or other of the moral and
intellectual world. Its place is variable, but a place it
necessarily has. The independence of individual minds may be
greater, or it may be less: unbounded it cannot be. Thus the
question is, not to know whether any intellectual authority
exists in the ages of democracy, but simply where it resides and
by what standard it is to be measured.

I have shown in the preceding chapter how the equality of
conditions leads men to entertain a sort of instinctive
incredulity of the supernatural, and a very lofty and often
exaggerated opinion of the human understanding. The men who live
at a period of social equality are not therefore easily led to
place that intellectual authority to which they bow either beyond
or above humanity. They commonly seek for the sources of truth
in themselves, or in those who are like themselves. This would
be enough to prove that at such periods no new religion could be
established, and that all schemes for such a purpose would be not
only impious but absurd and irrational. It may be foreseen that
a democratic people will not easily give credence to divine
missions; that they will turn modern prophets to a ready jest;
and they that will seek to discover the chief arbiter of their
belief within, and not beyond, the limits of their kind.

When the ranks of society are unequal, and men unlike each
other in condition, there are some individuals invested with all
the power of superior intelligence, learning, and enlightenment,
whilst the multitude is sunk in ignorance and prejudice. Men
living at these aristocratic periods are therefore naturally
induced to shape their opinions by the superior standard of a
person or a class of persons, whilst they are averse to recognize
the infallibility of the mass of the people.

The contrary takes place in ages of equality. The nearer
the citizens are drawn to the common level of an equal and
similar condition, the less prone does each man become to place
implicit faith in a certain man or a certain class of men. But
his readiness to believe the multitude increases, and opinion is
more than ever mistress of the world. Not only is common opinion
the only guide which private judgment retains amongst a
democratic people, but amongst such a people it possesses a power
infinitely beyond what it has elsewhere. At periods of equality
men have no faith in one another, by reason of their common
resemblance; but this very resemblance gives them almost
unbounded confidence in the judgment of the public; for it would
not seem probable, as they are all endowed with equal means of
judging, but that the greater truth should go with the greater

When the inhabitant of a democratic country compares himself
individually with all those about him, he feels with pride that
he is the equal of any one of them; but when he comes to survey
the totality of his fellows, and to place himself in contrast to
so huge a body, he is instantly overwhelmed by the sense of his
own insignificance and weakness. The same equality which renders
him independent of each of his fellow-citizens taken severally,
exposes him alone and unprotected to the influence of the greater
number. The public has therefore among a democratic people a
singular power, of which aristocratic nations could never so much
as conceive an idea; for it does not persuade to certain
opinions, but it enforces them, and infuses them into the
faculties by a sort of enormous pressure of the minds of all upon
the reason of each.

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. Everybody there adopts great numbers of theories, on
philosophy, morals, and politics, without inquiry, upon public
trust; and if we look to it very narrowly, it will be perceived
that religion herself holds her sway there, much less as a
doctrine of revelation than as a commonly received opinion. The
fact that the political laws of the Americans are such that the
majority rules the community with sovereign sway, materially
increases the power which that majority naturally exercises over
the mind. For nothing is more customary in man than to recognize
superior wisdom in the person of his oppressor. This political
omnipotence of the majority in the United States doubtless
augments the influence which public opinion would obtain without
it over the mind of each member of the community; but the
foundations of that influence do not rest upon it. They must be
sought for in the principle of equality itself, not in the more
or less popular institutions which men living under that
condition may give themselves. The intellectual dominion of the
greater number would probably be less absolute amongst a
democratic people governed by a king than in the sphere of a pure
democracy, but it will always be extremely absolute; and by
whatever political laws men are governed in the ages of equality,
it may be foreseen that faith in public opinion will become a
species of religion there, and the majority its ministering

Thus intellectual authority will be different, but it will
not be diminished; and far from thinking that it will disappear,
I augur that it may readily acquire too much preponderance, and
confine the action of private judgment within narrower limits
than are suited either to the greatness or the happiness of the
human race. In the principle of equality I very clearly discern
two tendencies; the one leading the mind of every man to untried
thoughts, the other inclined to prohibit him from thinking at
all. And I perceive how, under the dominion of certain laws,
democracy would extinguish that liberty of the mind to which a
democratic social condition is favorable; so that, after having
broken all the bondage once imposed on it by ranks or by men, the
human mind would be closely fettered to the general will of the
greatest number.

If the absolute power of the majority were to be substituted
by democratic nations, for all the different powers which checked
or retarded overmuch the energy of individual minds, the evil
would only have changed its symptoms. Men would not have found
the means of independent life; they would simply have invented
(no easy task) a new dress for servitude. There is - and I
cannot repeat it too often - there is in this matter for profound
reflection for those who look on freedom as a holy thing, and who
hate not only the despot, but despotism. For myself, when I feel
the hand of power lie heavy on my brow, I care but little to know
who oppresses me; and I am not the more disposed to pass beneath
the yoke, because it is held out to me by the arms of a million
of men.

Book One - Chapters III-V

Chapter III: Why The Americans Display More Readiness And More
Taste For General Ideas Than Their Forefathers, The English
The Deity does not regard the human race collectively. He
surveys at one glance and severally all the beings of whom
mankind is composed, and he discerns in each man the resemblances
which assimilate him to all his fellows, and the differences
which distinguish him from them. God, therefore, stands in no
need of general ideas; that is to say, he is never sensible of
the necessity of collecting a considerable number of analogous
objects under the same form for greater convenience in thinking.
Such is, however, not the case with man. If the human mind were
to attempt to examine and pass a judgment on all the individual
cases before it, the immensity of detail would soon lead it
astray and bewilder its discernment: in this strait, man has
recourse to an imperfect but necessary expedient, which at once
assists and demonstrates his weakness. Having superficially
considered a certain number of objects, and remarked their
resemblance, he assigns to them a common name, sets them apart,
and proceeds onwards.

General ideas are no proof of the strength, but rather of
the insufficiency of the human intellect; for there are in nature
no beings exactly alike, no things precisely identical, nor any
rules indiscriminately and alike applicable to several objects at
once. The chief merit of general ideas is, that they enable the
human mind to pass a rapid judgment on a great many objects at
once; but, on the other hand, the notions they convey are never
otherwise than incomplete, and they always cause the mind to lose
as much in accuracy as it gains in comprehensiveness. As social
bodies advance in civilization, they acquire the knowledge of new
facts, and they daily lay hold almost unconsciously of some
particular truths. The more truths of this kind a man
apprehends, the more general ideas is he naturally led to
conceive. A multitude of particular facts cannot be seen
separately, without at last discovering the common tie which
connects them. Several individuals lead to the perception of the
species; several species to that of the genus. Hence the habit
and the taste for general ideas will always be greatest amongst a
people of ancient cultivation and extensive knowledge.

But there are other reasons which impel men to generalize
their ideas, or which restrain them from it.

The Americans are much more addicted to the use of general
ideas than the English, and entertain a much greater relish for
them: this appears very singular at first sight, when it is
remembered that the two nations have the same origin, that they
lived for centuries under the same laws, and that they still
incessantly interchange their opinions and their manners. This
contrast becomes much more striking still, if we fix our eyes on
our own part of the world, and compare together the two most
enlightened nations which inhabit it. It would seem as if the
mind of the English could only tear itself reluctantly and
painfully away from the observation of particular facts, to rise
from them to their causes; and that it only generalizes in spite
of itself. Amongst the French, on the contrary, the taste for
general ideas would seem to have grown to so ardent a passion,
that it must be satisfied on every occasion. I am informed,
every morning when I wake, that some general and eternal law has
just been discovered, which I never heard mentioned before.
There is not a mediocre scribbler who does not try his hand at
discovering truths applicable to a great kingdom, and who is very
ill pleased with himself if he does not succeed in compressing
the human race into the compass of an article. So great a
dissimilarity between two very enlightened nations surprises me.
If I again turn my attention to England, and observe the events
which have occurred there in the last half-century, I think I may
affirm that a taste for general ideas increases in that country
in proportion as its ancient constitution is weakened.

The state of civilization is therefore insufficient by
itself to explain what suggests to the human mind the love of
general ideas, or diverts it from them. When the conditions of
men are very unequal, and inequality itself is the permanent
state of society, individual men gradually become so dissimilar
that each class assumes the aspect of a distinct race: only one
of these classes is ever in view at the same instant; and losing
sight of that general tie which binds them all within the vast
bosom of mankind, the observation invariably rests not on man,
but on certain men. Those who live in this aristocratic state of
society never, therefore, conceive very general ideas respecting
themselves, and that is enough to imbue them with an habitual
distrust of such ideas, and an instinctive aversion of them.
He, on the contrary, who inhabits a democratic country, sees
around him, one very hand, men differing but little from each
other; he cannot turn his mind to any one portion of mankind,
without expanding and dilating his thought till it embrace the
whole. All the truths which are applicable to himself, appear to
him equally and similarly applicable to each of his
fellow-citizens and fellow-men. Having contracted the habit of
generalizing his ideas in the study which engages him most, and
interests him more than others, he transfers the same habit to
all his pursuits; and thus it is that the craving to discover
general laws in everything, to include a great number of objects
under the same formula, and to explain a mass of facts by a
single cause, becomes an ardent, and sometimes an undiscerning,
passion in the human mind.

Nothing shows the truth of this proposition more clearly
than the opinions of the ancients respecting their slaves. The
most profound and capacious minds of Rome and Greece were never
able to reach the idea, at once so general and so simple, of the
common likeness of men, and of the common birthright of each to
freedom: they strove to prove that slavery was in the order of
nature, and that it would always exist. Nay, more, everything
shows that those of the ancients who had passed from the servile
to the free condition, many of whom have left us excellent
writings, did themselves regard servitude in no other light.

All the great writers of antiquity belonged to the
aristocracy of masters, or at least they saw that aristocracy
established and uncontested before their eyes. Their mind, after
it had expanded itself in several directions, was barred from
further progress in this one; and the advent of Jesus Christ upon
earth was required to teach that all the members of the human
race are by nature equal and alike.

In the ages of equality all men are independent of each
other, isolated and weak. The movements of the multitude are not
permanently guided by the will of any individuals; at such times
humanity seems always to advance of itself. In order, therefore,
to explain what is passing in the world, man is driven to seek
for some great causes, which, acting in the same manner on all
our fellow-creatures, thus impel them all involuntarily to pursue
the same track. This again naturally leads the human mind to
conceive general ideas, and superinduces a taste for them.

I have already shown in what way the equality of conditions
leads every man to investigate truths for himself. It may
readily be perceived that a method of this kind must insensibly
beget a tendency to general ideas in the human mind. When I
repudiate the traditions of rank, profession, and birth; when I
escape from the authority of example, to seek out, by the single
effort of my reason, the path to be followed, I am inclined to
derive the motives of my opinions from human nature itself; which
leads me necessarily, and almost unconsciously, to adopt a great
number of very general notions.

All that I have here said explains the reasons for which the
English display much less readiness and taste or the
generalization of ideas than their American progeny, and still
less again than their French neighbors; and likewise the reason
for which the English of the present day display more of these
qualities than their forefathers did. The English have long been
a very enlightened and a very aristocratic nation; their
enlightened condition urged them constantly to generalize, and
their aristocratic habits confined them to particularize. Hence
arose that philosophy, at once bold and timid, broad and narrow,
which has hitherto prevailed in England, and which still
obstructs and stagnates in so many minds in that country.

Independently of the causes I have pointed out in what goes
before, others may be discerned less apparent, but no less
efficacious, which engender amongst almost every democratic
people a taste, and frequently a passion, for general ideas. An
accurate distinction must be taken between ideas of this kind.
Some are the result of slow, minute, and conscientious labor of
the mind, and these extend the sphere of human knowledge; others
spring up at once from the first rapid exercise of the wits, and
beget none but very superficial and very uncertain notions. Men
who live in ages of equality have a great deal of curiosity and
very little leisure; their life is so practical, so confused, so
excited, so active, that but little time remains to them for
thought. Such men are prone to general ideas because they spare
them the trouble of studying particulars; they contain, if I may
so speak, a great deal in a little compass, and give, in a little
time, a great return. If then, upon a brief and inattentive
investigation, a common relation is thought to be detected
between certain obtects, inquiry is not pushed any further; and
without examining in detail how far these different objects
differ or agree, they are hastily arranged under one formulary,
in order to pass to another subject.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of a democratic
period is the taste all men have at such ties for easy success
and present enjoyment. This occurs in the pursuits of the
intellect as well as in all others. Most of those who live at a
time of equality are full of an ambition at once aspiring and
relaxed: they would fain succeed brilliantly and at once, but
they would be dispensed from great efforts to obtain success.
These conflicting tendencies lead straight to the research of
general ideas, by aid of which they flatter themselves that they
can figure very importantly at a small expense, and draw the
attention of the public with very little trouble. And I know not
whether they be wrong in thinking thus. For their readers are as
much averse to investigating anything to the bottom as they can
be themselves; and what is generally sought in the productions of
the mind is easy pleasure and information without labor.

If aristocratic nations do not make sufficient use of
general ideas, and frequently treat them with inconsiderate
disdain, it is true, on the other hand, that a democratic people
is ever ready to carry ideas of this kind to excess, and to
espouse the with injudicious warmth.

Chapter IV: Why The Americans Have Never Been So Eager As The
French For General Ideas In Political Matters

I observed in the last chapter, that the Americans show a
less decided taste for general ideas than the French; this is
more especially true in political matters. Although the
Americans infuse into their legislation infinitely more general
ideas than the English, and although they pay much more attention
than the latter people to the adjustment of the practice of
affairs to theory, no political bodies in the United States have
ever shown so warm an attachment to general ideas as the
Constituent Assembly and the Convention in France. At no time
has the American people laid hold on ideas of this kind with the
passionate energy of the French people in the eighteenth century,
or displayed the same blind confidence in the value and absolute
truth of any theory. This difference between the Americans and
the French originates in several causes, but principally in the
following one. The Americans form a democratic people, which has
always itself directed public affairs. The French are a
democratic people, who, for a long time, could only speculate on
the best manner of conducting them. The social condition of
France led that people to conceive very general ideas on the
subject of government, whilst its political constitution
prevented it from correcting those ideas by experiment,and from
gradually detecting their insufficiency; whereas in America the
two things constantly balance and correct each other.

It may seem, at first sight, that this is very much opposed
to what I have said before, that democratic nations derive their
love of theory from the excitement of their active life. A more
attentive examination will show that there is nothing
contradictory in the proposition. Men living in democratic
countries eagerly lay hold of general ideas because they have but
little leisure, and because these ideas spare them the trouble of
studying particulars. This is true; but it is only to be
understood to apply to those matters which are not the necessary
and habitual subjects of their thoughts. Mercantile men will take
up very eagerly, and without any very close scrutiny, all the
general ideas on philosophy, politics, science, or the arts,
which may be presented to them; but for such as relate to
commerce, they will not receive them without inquiry, or adopt
them without reserve. The same thing applies to statesmen with
regard to general ideas in politics. If, then, there be a subject
upon which a democratic people is peculiarly liable to abandon
itself, blindly and extravagantly, to general ideas, the best
corrective that can be used will be to make that subject a part
of the daily practical occupation of that people. The people
will then be compelled to enter upon its details, and the details
will teach them the weak points of the theory. This remedy may
frequently be a painful one, but its effect is certain.

Thus it happens, that the democratic institutions which
compel every citizen to take a practical part in the government,
moderate that excessive taste for general theories in politics
which the principle of equality suggests.

Chapter V: Of The Manner In Which Religion In The United States
Avails Itself Of Democratic Tendencies

I have laid it down in a preceding chapter that men cannot
do without dogmatical belief; and even that it is very much to be
desired that such belief should exist amongst them. I now add,
that of all the kinds of dogmatical belief the most desirable
appears to me to be dogmatical belief in matters of religion; and
this is a very clear inference, even from no higher consideration
than the interests of this world. There is hardly any human
action, however particular a character be assigned to it, which
does not originate in some very general idea men have conceived
of the Deity, of his relation to mankind, of the nature of their
own souls, and of their duties to their fellow-creatures. Nor
can anything prevent these ideas from being the common spring
from which everything else emanates. Men are therefore
immeasurably interested in acquiring fixed ideas of God, of the
soul, and of their common duties to their Creator and to their
fellow-men; for doubt on these first principles would abandon all
their actions to the impulse of chance, and would condemn them to
live, to a certain extent, powerless and undisciplined.

This is then the subject on which it is most important for
each of us to entertain fixed ideas; and unhappily it is also the
subject on which it is most difficult for each of us, left to
himself, to settle his opinions by the sole force of his reason.
None but minds singularly free from the ordinary anxieties of
life - minds at once penetrating, subtle, and trained by thinking
- can even with the assistance of much time and care, sound the
depth of these most necessary truths. And, indeed, we see that
these philosophers are themselves almost always enshrouded in
uncertainties; that at every step the natural light which
illuminates their path grows dimmer and less secure; and that, in
spite of all their efforts, they have as yet only discovered a
small number of conflicting notions, on which the mind of man has
been tossed about for thousands of years, without either laying a
firmer grasp on truth, or finding novelty even in its errors.
Studies of this nature are far above the average capacity of men;
and even if the majority of mankind were capable of such
pursuits, it is evident that leisure to cultivate them would
still be wanting. Fixed ideas of God and human nature are
indispensable to the daily practice of men's lives; but the
practice of their lives prevents them from acquiring such ideas.

The difficulty appears to me to be without a parallel.
Amongst the sciences there are some which are useful to the mass
of mankind, and which are within its reach; others can only be
approached by the few, and are not cultivated by the many, who
require nothing beyond their more remote applications: but the
daily practice of the science I speak of is indispensable to all,
although the study of it is inaccessible to the far greater

General ideas respecting God and human nature are therefore
the ideas above all others which it is most suitable to withdraw
from the habitual action of private judgment, and in which there
is most to gain and least to lose by recognizing a principle of
authority. The first object and one of the principal advantages
of religions, is to furnish to each of these fundamental
questions a solution which is at once clear, precise,
intelligible to the mass of mankind, and lasting. There are
religions which are very false and very absurd; but it may be
affirmed, that any religion which remains within the circle I
have just traced, without aspiring to go beyond it (as many
religions have attempted to do, for the purpose of enclosing on
every side the free progress of the human mind), imposes a
salutary restraint on the intellect; and it must be admitted
that, if it do not save men in another world, such religion is at
least very conducive to their happiness and their greatness in
this. This is more especially true of men living in free
countries. When the religion of a people is destroyed, doubt
gets hold of the highest portions of the intellect, and half
paralyzes all the rest of its powers. Every man accustoms
himself to entertain none but confused and changing notions on
the subjects most interesting to his fellow-creatures and
himself. His opinions are ill-defended and easily abandoned:
and, despairing of ever resolving by himself the hardest problems
of the destiny of man, he ignobly submits to think no more about
them. Such a condition cannot but enervate the soul, relax the
springs of the will, and prepare a people for servitude. Nor
does it only happen, in such a case, that they allow their
freedom to be wrested from them; they frequently themselves
surrender it. When there is no longer any principle of authority
in religion any more than in politics, men are speedily
frightened at the aspect of this unbounded independence. The
constant agitation of all surrounding things alarms and exhausts
them. As everything is at sea in the sphere of the intellect,
they determine at least that the mechanism of society should be
firm and fixed; and as they cannot resume their ancient belief,
they assume a master.

For my own part, I doubt whether man can ever support at the
same time complete religious independence and entire public
freedom. And I am inclined to think, that if faith be wanting in
him, he must serve; and if he be free, he must believe.

Perhaps, however, this great utility of religions is still
more obvious amongst nations where equality of conditions
prevails than amongst others. It must be acknowledged that
equality, which brings great benefits into the world,
nevertheless suggests to men (as will be shown hereafter) some
very dangerous propensities. It tends to isolate them from each
other, to concentrate every man's attention upon himself; and it
lays open the soul to an inordinate love of material
gratification. The greatest advantage of religion is to inspire
diametrically contrary principles. There is no religion which
does not place the object of man's desires above and beyond the
treasures of earth, and which does not naturally raise his soul
to regions far above those of the senses. Nor is there any which
does not impose on man some sort of duties to his kind, and thus
draws him at times from the contemplation of himself. This
occurs in religions the most false and dangerous. Religious
nations are therefore naturally strong on the very point on which
democratic nations are weak; which shows of what importance it is
for men to preserve their religion as their conditions become
more equal.

I have neither the right nor the intention of examining the
supernatural means which God employs to infuse religious belief
into the heart of man. I am at this moment considering religions
in a purely human point of view: my object is to inquire by what
means they may most easily retain their sway in the democratic
ages upon which we are entering. It has been shown that, at
times of general cultivation and equality, the human mind does
not consent to adopt dogmatical opinions without reluctance, and
feels their necessity acutely in spiritual matters only. This
proves, in the first place, that at such times religions ought,
more cautiously than at any other, to confine themselves within
their own precincts; for in seeking to extend their power beyond
religious matters, they incur a risk of not being believed at
all. The circle within which they seek to bound the human
intellect ought therefore to be carefully traced, and beyond its
verge the mind should be left in entire freedom to its own
guidance. Mahommed professed to derive from Heaven, and he has
inserted in the Koran, not only a body of religious doctrines,
but political maxims, civil and criminal laws, and theories of
science. The gospel, on the contrary, only speaks of the general
relations of men to God and to each other - beyond which it
inculcates and imposes no point of faith. This alone, besides a
thousand other reasons, would suffice to prove that the former of
these religions will never long predominate in a cultivated and
democratic age, whilst the latter is destined to retain its sway
at these as at all other periods.

But in continuation of this branch of the subject, I find
that in order for religions to maintain their authority, humanly
speaking, in democratic ages, they must not only confine
themselves strictly within the circle of spiritual matters: their
power also depends very much on the nature of the belief they
inculcate, on the external forms they assume, and on the
obligations they impose. The preceding observation, that
equality leads men to very general and very extensive notions, is
principally to be understood as applied to the question of
religion. Men living in a similar and equal condition in the
world readily conceive the idea of the one God, governing every
man by the same laws, and granting to every man future happiness
on the same conditions. The idea of the unity of mankind
constantly leads them back to the idea of the unity of the
Creator; whilst, on the contrary, in a state of society where men
are broken up into very unequal ranks, they are apt to devise as
many deities as there are nations, castes, classes, or families,
and to trace a thousand private roads to heaven.

It cannot be denied that Christianity itself has felt, to a
certain extent, the influence which social and political
conditions exercise on religious opinions. At the epoch at which
the Christian religion appeared upon earth, Providence, by whom
the world was doubtless prepared for its coming, had gathered a
large portion of the human race, like an immense flock, under the
sceptre of the Caesars. The men of whom this multitude was
composed were distinguished by numerous differences; but they had
thus much in common, that they all obeyed the same laws, and that
every subject was so weak and insignificant in relation to the
imperial potentate, that all appeared equal when their condition
was contrasted with his. This novel and peculiar state of
mankind necessarily predisposed men to listen to the general
truths which Christianity teaches, and may serve to explain the
facility and rapidity with which they then penetrated into the
human mind. The counterpart of this state of things was
exhibited after the destruction of the empire. The Roman world
being then as it were shattered into a thousand fragments, each
nation resumed its pristine individuality. An infinite scale of
ranks very soon grew up in the bosom of these nations; the
different races were more sharply defined, and each nation was
divided by castes into several peoples. In the midst of this
common effort, which seemed to be urging human society to the
greatest conceivable amount of voluntary subdivision,
Christianity did not lose sight of the leading general ideas
which it had brought into the world. But it appeared,
nevertheless, to lend itself, as much as was possible, to those
new tendencies to which the fractional distribution of mankind
had given birth. Men continued to worship an only God, the
Creator and Preserver of all things; but every people, every
city, and, so to speak, every man, thought to obtain some
distinct privilege, and win the favor of an especial
patron at the foot of the Throne of Grace. Unable to subdivide
the Deity, they multiplied and improperly enhanced the importance
of the divine agents. The homage due to saints and angels became
an almost idolatrous worship amongst the majority of the
Christian world; and apprehensions might be entertained for a
moment lest the religion of Christ should retrograde towards the
superstitions which it had subdued. It seems evident, that the
more the barriers are removed which separate nation from nation
amongst mankind, and citizen from citizen amongst a people, the
stronger is the bent of the human mind, as if by its own impulse,
towards the idea of an only and all-powerful Being, dispensing
equal laws in the same manner to every man. In democratic ages,
then, it is more particularly important not to allow the homage
paid to secondary agents to be confounded with the worship due to
the Creator alone.

Another truth is no less clear - that religions ought to
assume fewer external observances in democratic periods than at
any others. In speaking of philosophical method among the
Americans, I have shown that nothing is more repugnant to the
human mind in an age of equality than the idea of subjection to
forms. Men living at such times are impatient of figures; to
their eyes symbols appear to be the puerile artifice which is
used to conceal or to set off truths, which should more naturally
be bared to the light of open day: they are unmoved by ceremonial
observances, and they are predisposed to attach a secondary
importance to the details of public worship. Those whose care it
is to regulate the external forms of religion in a democratic age
should pay a close attention to these natural propensities of the
human mind, in order not unnecessarily to run counter to them. I
firmly believe in the necessity of forms, which fix the human
mind in the contemplation of abstract truths, and stimulate its
ardor in the pursuit of them, whilst they invigorate its powers
of retaining them steadfastly. Nor do I suppose that it is
possible to maintain a religion without external observances;
but, on the other hand, I am persuaded that, in the ages upon
which we are entering, it would be peculiarly dangerous to
multiply them beyond measure; and that they ought rather to be
limited to as much as is absolutely necessary to perpetuate the
doctrine itself, which is the substance of religions of which the
ritual is only the form. *a A religion which should become more
minute, more peremptory, and more surcharged with small
observances at a time in which men are becoming more equal, would
soon find itself reduced to a band of fanatical zealots in the
midst of an infidel people.

[Footnote a: In all religions there are some ceremonies which are
inherent in the substance of the faith itself, and in these
nothing should, on any account, be changed. This is especially
the case with Roman Catholicism, in which the doctrine and the
form are frequently so closely united as to form one point of

I anticipate the objection, that as all religions have
general and eternal truths for their object, they cannot thus
shape themselves to the shifting spirit of every age without
forfeiting their claim to certainty in the eyes of mankind. To
this I reply again, that the principal opinions which constitute
belief, and which theologians call articles of faith, must be
very carefully distinguished from the accessories connected with
them. Religions are obliged to hold fast to the former, whatever
be the peculiar spirit of the age; but they should take good care
not to bind themselves in the same manner to the latter at a time
when everything is in transition, and when the mind, accustomed
to the moving pageant of human affairs, reluctantly endures the
attempt to fix it to any given point. The fixity of external and
secondary things can only afford a chance of duration when civil
society is itself fixed; under any other circumstances I hold it
to be perilous.

We shall have occasion to see that, of all the passions
which originate in, or are fostered by, equality, there is one
which it renders peculiarly intense, and which it infuses at the
same time into the heart of every man: I mean the love of
well-being. The taste for well-being is the prominent and
indelible feature of democratic ages. It may be believed that a
religion which should undertake to destroy so deep seated a
passion, would meet its own destruction thence in the end; and if
it attempted to wean men entirely from the contemplation of the
good things of this world, in order to devote their faculties
exclusively to the thought of another, it may be foreseen that
the soul would at length escape from its grasp, to plunge into
the exclusive enjoyment of present and material pleasures. The
chief concern of religions is to purify, to regulate, and to
restrain the excessive and exclusive taste for well-being which
men feel at periods of equality; but they would err in attempting
to control it completely or to eradicate it. They will not
succeed in curing men of the love of riches: but they may still
persuade men to enrich themselves by none but honest means.

This brings me to a final consideration, which comprises, as
it were, all the others. The more the conditions of men are
equalized and assimilated to each other, the more important is it
for religions, whilst they carefully abstain from the daily
turmoil of secular affairs, not needlessly to run counter to the
ideas which generally prevail, and the permanent interests which
exist in the mass of the people. For as public opinion grows to
be more and more evidently the first and most irresistible of
existing powers, the religious principle has no external support
strong enough to enable it long to resist its attacks. This is
not less true of a democratic people, ruled by a despot, than in
a republic. In ages of equality, kings may often command
obedience, but the majority always commands belief: to the
majority, therefore, deference is to be paid in whatsoever is not
contrary to the faith.

I showed in my former volumes how the American clergy stand
aloof from secular affairs. This is the most obvious, but it is
not the only, example of their self-restraint. In America
religion is a distinct sphere, in which the priest is sovereign,
but out of which he takes care never to go. Within its limits he
is the master of the mind; beyond them, he leaves men to
themselves, and surrenders them to the independence and
instability which belong to their nature and their age. I have
seen no country in which Christianity is clothed with fewer
forms, figures, and observances than in the United States; or
where it presents more distinct, more simple, or more general
notions to the mind. Although the Christians of America are
divided into a multitude of sects, they all look upon their
religion in the same light. This applies to Roman Catholicism as
well as to the other forms of belief. There are no Romish
priests who show less taste for the minute individual observances
for extraordinary or peculiar means of salvation, or who cling
more to the spirit, and less to the letter of the law, than the
Roman Catholic priests of the United States. Nowhere is that
doctrine of the Church, which prohibits the worship reserved to
God alone from being offered to the saints, more clearly
inculcated or more generally followed. Yet the Roman Catholics
of America are very submissive and very sincere.

Another remark is applicable to the clergy of every
communion. The American ministers of the gospel do not attempt
to draw or to fix all the thoughts of man upon the life to come;
they are willing to surrender a portion of his heart to the cares
of the present; seeming to consider the goods of this world as
important, although as secondary, objects. If they take no part
themselves in productive labor, they are at least interested in
its progression, and ready to applaud its results; and whilst
they never cease to point to the other world as the great object
of the hopes and fears of the believer, they do not forbid him
honestly to court prosperity in this. Far from attempting to show
that these things are distinct and contrary to one another, they
study rather to find out on what point they are most nearly and
closely connected.

All the American clergy know and respect the intellectual
supremacy exercised by the majority; they never sustain any but
necessary conflicts with it. They take no share in the
altercations of parties, but they readily adopt the general
opinions of their country and their age; and they allow
themselves to be borne away without opposition in the current of
feeling and opinion by which everything around them is carried
along. They endeavor to amend their contemporaries, but they do
not quit fellowship with them. Public opinion is therefore never
hostile to them; it rather supports and protects them; and their
belief owes its authority at the same time to the strength which
is its own, and to that which they borrow from the opinions of
the majority. Thus it is that, by respecting all democratic
tendencies not absolutely contrary to herself, and by making use
of several of them for her own purposes, religion sustains an
advantageous struggle with that spirit of individual independence
which is her most dangerous antagonist.

Book One - Chapters VI-IX

Chapter VI: Of The Progress Of Roman Catholicism In The United

America is the most democratic country in the world, and it
is at the same time (according to reports worthy of belief) the
country in which the Roman Catholic religion makes most progress.
At first sight this is surprising. Two things must here be
accurately distinguished: equality inclines men to wish to form
their own opinions; but, on the other hand, it imbues them with
the taste and the idea of unity, simplicity, and impartiality in
the power which governs society. Men living in democratic ages
are therefore very prone to shake off all religious authority;
but if they consent to subject themselves to any authority of
this kind, they choose at least that it should be single and
uniform. Religious powers not radiating from a common centre are
naturally repugnant to their minds; and they almost as readily
conceive that there should be no religion, as that there should
be several. At the present time, more than in any preceding one,
Roman Catholics are seen to lapse into infidelity, and
Protestants to be converted to Roman Catholicism. If the Roman
Catholic faith be considered within the pale of the church, it
would seem to be losing ground; without that pale, to be gaining
it. Nor is this circumstance difficult of explanation. The men
of our days are naturally disposed to believe; but, as soon as
they have any religion, they immediately find in themselves a
latent propensity which urges them unconsciously towards
Catholicism. Many of the doctrines and the practices of the
Romish Church astonish them; but they feel a secret admiration
for its discipline, and its great unity attracts them. If
Catholicism could at length withdraw itself from the political
animosities to which it has given rise, I have hardly any doubt
but that the same spirit of the age, which appears to be so
opposed to it, would become so favorable as to admit of its great
and sudden advancement. One of the most ordinary weaknesses of
the human intellect is to seek to reconcile contrary principles,
and to purchase peace at the expense of logic. Thus there have
ever been, and will ever be, men who, after having submitted some
portion of their religious belief to the principle of authority,
will seek to exempt several other parts of their faith from its
influence, and to keep their minds floating at random between
liberty and obedience. But I am inclined to believe that the
number of these thinkers will be less in democratic than in other
ages; and that our posterity will tend more and more to a single
division into two parts - some relinquishing Christianity
entirely, and others returning to the bosom of the Church of

Chapter VII: Of The Cause Of A Leaning To Pantheism Amongst
Democratic Nations

I shall take occasion hereafter to show under what form the
preponderating taste of a democratic people for very general
ideas manifests itself in politics; but I would point out, at the
present stage of my work, its principal effect on philosophy. It
cannot be denied that pantheism has made great progress in our
age. The writings of a part of Europe bear visible marks of it:
the Germans introduce it into philosophy, and the French into
literature. Most of the works of imagination published in France
contain some opinions or some tinge caught from pantheistical
doctrines, or they disclose some tendency to such doctrines in
their authors. This appears to me not only to proceed from an
accidental, but from a permanent cause.

When the conditions of society are becoming more equal, and
each individual man becomes more like all the rest, more weak and
more insignificant, a habit grows up of ceasing to notice the
citizens to consider only the people, and of overlooking
individuals to think only of their kind. At such times the human
mind seeks to embrace a multitude of different objects at once;
and it constantly strives to succeed in connecting a variety of
consequences with a single cause. The idea of unity so possesses
itself of man, and is sought for by him so universally, that if
he thinks he has found it, he readily yields himself up to repose
in that belief. Nor does he content himself with the discovery
that nothing is in the world but a creation and a Creator; still
embarrassed by this primary division of things, he seeks to
expand and to simplify his conception by including God and the
universe in one great whole. If there be a philosophical system
which teaches that all things material and immaterial, visible
and invisible, which the world contains, are only to be
considered as the several parts of an immense Being, which alone
remains unchanged amidst the continual change and ceaseless
transformation of all that constitutes it, we may readily infer
that such a system, although it destroy the individuality of man
- nay, rather because it destroys that individuality - will have
secret charms for men living in democracies. All their habits of
thought prepare them to conceive it, and predispose them to adopt
it. It naturally attracts and fixes their imagination; it
fosters the pride, whilst it soothes the indolence, of their
minds. Amongst the different systems by whose aid philosophy
endeavors to explain the universe, I believe pantheism to be one
of those most fitted to seduce the human mind in democratic ages.
Against it all who abide in their attachment to the true
greatness of man should struggle and combine.

Chapter VIII: The Principle Of Equality Suggests To The Americans
The Idea Of The Indefinite Perfectibility Of Man

Equality suggests to the human mind several ideas which
would not have originated from any other source, and it modifies
almost all those previously entertained. I take as an example
the idea of human perfectibility, because it is one of the
principal notions that the intellect can conceive, and because it
constitutes of itself a great philosophical theory, which is
every instant to be traced by its consequences in the practice of
human affairs. Although man has many points of resemblance with
the brute creation, one characteristic is peculiar to himself -
he improves: they are incapable of improvement. Mankind could
not fail to discover this difference from its earliest period.
The idea of perfectibility is therefore as old as the world;
equality did not give birth to it, although it has imparted to it
a novel character.

When the citizens of a community are classed according to
their rank, their profession, or their birth, and when all men
are constrained to follow the career which happens to open before
them, everyone thinks that the utmost limits of human power are
to be discerned in proximity to himself, and none seeks any
longer to resist the inevitable law of his destiny. Not indeed
that an aristocratic people absolutely contests man's faculty of
self- improvement, but they do not hold it to be indefinite;
amelioration they conceive, but not change: they imagine that the
future condition of society may be better, but not essentially
different; and whilst they admit that mankind has made vast
strides in improvement, and may still have some to make, they
assign to it beforehand certain impassable limits. Thus they do
not presume that they have arrived at the supreme good or at
absolute truth (what people or what man was ever wild enough to
imagine it?) but they cherish a persuasion that they have pretty
nearly reached that degree of greatness and knowledge which our
imperfect nature admits of; and as nothing moves about them they
are willing to fancy that everything is in its fit place. Then it
is that the legislator affects to lay down eternal laws; that
kings and nations will raise none but imperishable monuments; and
that the present generation undertakes to spare generations to
come the care of regulating their destinies.

In proportion as castes disappear and the classes of society
approximate - as manners, customs, and laws vary, from the
tumultuous intercourse of men -as new facts arise - as new truths
are brought to light - as ancient opinions are dissipated, and
others take their place -the image of an ideal perfection,
forever on the wing, presents itself to the human mind. Continual
changes are then every instant occurring under the observation of
every man: the position of some is rendered worse; and he learns
but too well, that no people and no individual, how enlightened
soever they may be, can lay claim to infallibility; - the
condition of others is improved; whence he infers that man is
endowed with an indefinite faculty of improvement. His reverses
teach him that none may hope to have discovered absolute good -
his success stimulates him to the never-ending pursuit of it.
Thus, forever seeking -forever falling, to rise again - often
disappointed, but not discouraged - he tends unceasingly towards
that unmeasured greatness so indistinctly visible at the end of
the long track which humanity has yet to tread. It can hardly be
believed how many facts naturally flow from the philosophical
theory of the indefinite perfectibility of man, or how strong an
influence it exercises even on men who, living entirely for the
purposes of action and not of thought, seem to conform their
actions to it, without knowing anything about it. I accost an
American sailor, and I inquire why the ships of his country are
built so as to last but for a short time; he answers without
hesitation that the art of navigation is every day making such
rapid progress, that the finest vessel would become almost
useless if it lasted beyond a certain number of years. In these
words, which fell accidentally and on a particular subject from a
man of rude attainments, I recognize the general and systematic
idea upon which a great people directs all its concerns.

Aristocratic nations are naturally too apt to narrow the
scope of human perfectibility; democratic nations to expand it
beyond compass.

Chapter IX: The Example Of The Americans Does Not Prove That A
Democratic People Can Have No Aptitude And No Taste For Science,
Literature, Or Art

It must be acknowledged that amongst few of the civilized
nations of our time have the higher sciences made less progress
than in the United States; and in few have great artists, fine
poets, or celebrated writers been more rare. Many Europeans,
struck by this fact, have looked upon it as a natural and
inevitable result of equality; and they have supposed that if a
democratic state of society and democratic institutions were ever
to prevail over the whole earth, the human mind would gradually
find its beacon-lights grow dim, and men would relapse into a
period of darkness. To reason thus is, I think, to confound
several ideas which it is important to divide and to examine
separately: it is to mingle, unintentionally, what is democratic
with what is only American.

The religion professed by the first emigrants, and
bequeathed by them to their descendants, simple in its form of
worship, austere and almost harsh in its principles, and hostile
to external symbols and to ceremonial pomp, is naturally
unfavorable to the fine arts, and only yields a reluctant
sufferance to the pleasures of literature. The Americans are a
very old and a very enlightened people, who have fallen upon a
new and unbounded country, where they may extend themselves at
pleasure, and which they may fertilize without difficulty. This
state of things is without a parallel in the history of the
world. In America, then, every one finds facilities, unknown
elsewhere, for making or increasing his fortune. The spirit of
gain is always on the stretch, and the human mind, constantly
diverted from the pleasures of imagination and the labors of the
intellect, is there swayed by no impulse but the pursuit of
wealth. Not only are manufacturing and commercial classes to be
found in the United States, as they are in all other countries;
but what never occurred elsewhere, the whole community is
simultaneously engaged in productive industry and commerce. I am
convinced that, if the Americans had been alone in the world,
with the freedom and the knowledge acquired by their forefathers,
and the passions which are their own, they would not have been
slow to discover that progress cannot long be made in the
application of the sciences without cultivating the theory of
them; that all the arts are perfected by one another: and,
however absorbed they might have been by the pursuit of the
principal object of their desires, they would speedily have
admitted, that it is necessary to turn aside from it
occasionally, in order the better to attain it in the end.

The taste for the pleasures of the mind is moreover so
natural to the heart of civilized man, that amongst the polite
nations, which are least disposed to give themselves up to these
pursuits, a certain number of citizens are always to be found who
take part in them. This intellectual craving, when once felt,
would very soon have been satisfied. But at the very time when
the Americans were naturally inclined to require nothing of
science but its special applications to the useful arts and the
means of rendering life comfortable, learned and literary Europe
was engaged in exploring the common sources of truth, and in
improving at the same time all that can minister to the pleasures
or satisfy the wants of man. At the head of the enlightened
nations of the Old World the inhabitants of the United States
more particularly distinguished one, to which they were closely
united by a common origin and by kindred habits. Amongst this
people they found distinguished men of science, artists of skill,
writers of eminence, and they were enabled to enjoy the treasures
of the intellect without requiring to labor in amassing them. I
cannot consent to separate America from Europe, in spite of the
ocean which intervenes. I consider the people of the United
States as that portion of the English people which is
commissioned to explore the wilds of the New World; whilst the
rest of the nation, enjoying more leisure and less harassed by
the drudgery of life, may devote its energies to thought, and
enlarge in all directions the empire of the mind.
The position of the Americans is therefore quite exceptional, and
it may be believed that no democratic people will ever be placed
in a similar one. Their strictly Puritanical origin - their
exclusively commercial habits - even the country they inhabit,
which seems to divert their minds from the pursuit of science,
literature, and the arts - the proximity of Europe, which allows
them to neglect these pursuits without relapsing into barbarism -
a thousand special causes, of which I have only been able to
point out the most important - have singularly concurred to fix
the mind of the American upon purely practical objects. His
passions, his wants, his education, and everything about him seem
to unite in drawing the native of the United States earthward:
his religion alone bids him turn, from time to time, a transient
and distracted glance to heaven. Let us cease then to view all
democratic nations under the mask of the American people, and let
us attempt to survey them at length with their own proper

It is possible to conceive a people not subdivided into any
castes or scale of ranks; in which the law, recognizing no
privileges, should divide inherited property into equal shares;
but which, at the same time, should be without knowledge and
without freedom. Nor is this an empty hypothesis: a despot may
find that it is his interest to render his subjects equal and to
leave them ignorant, in order more easily to keep them slaves.
Not only would a democratic people of this kind show neither
aptitude nor taste for science, literature, or art, but it would
probably never arrive at the possession of them. The law of
descent would of itself provide for the destruction of fortunes
at each succeeding generation; and new fortunes would be acquired
by none. The poor man, without either knowledge or freedom,
would not so much as conceive the idea of raising himself to
wealth; and the rich man would allow himself to be degraded to
poverty, without a notion of self-defence. Between these two
members of the community complete and invincible equality would
soon be established.

No one would then have time or taste to devote himself to
the pursuits or pleasures of the intellect; but all men would
remain paralyzed by a state of common ignorance and equal
servitude. When I conceive a democratic society of this kind, I
fancy myself in one of those low, close, and gloomy abodes, where
the light which breaks in from without soon faints and fades
away. A sudden heaviness overpowers me, and I grope through the
surrounding darkness, to find the aperture which will restore me
to daylight and the air.

But all this is not applicable to men already enlightened
who retain their freedom, after having abolished from amongst
them those peculiar and hereditary rights which perpetuated the
tenure of property in the hands of certain individuals or certain
bodies. When men living in a democratic state of society are
enlightened, they readily discover that they are confined and
fixed within no limits which constrain them to take up with their
present fortune. They all therefore conceive the idea of
increasing it; if they are free, they all attempt it, but all do
not succeed in the same manner. The legislature, it is true, no
longer grants privileges, but they are bestowed by nature. As
natural inequality is very great, fortunes become unequal as soon
as every man exerts all his faculties to get rich. The law of
descent prevents the establishment of wealthy families; but it
does not prevent the existence of wealthy individuals. It
constantly brings back the members of the community to a common
level, from which they as constantly escape: and the inequality
of fortunes augments in proportion as knowledge is diffused and
liberty increased.

A sect which arose in our time, and was celebrated for its
talents and its extravagance, proposed to concentrate all
property into the hands of a central power, whose function it
should afterwards be to parcel it out to individuals, according
to their capacity. This would have been a method of escaping
from that complete and eternal equality which seems to threaten
democratic society. But it would be a simpler and less dangerous
remedy to grant no privilege to any, giving to all equal
cultivation and equal independence, and leaving everyone to
determine his own position. Natural inequality will very soon
make way for itself, and wealth will spontaneously pass into the
hands of the most capable.

Free and democratic communities, then, will always contain a
considerable number of people enjoying opulence or competency.
The wealthy will not be so closely linked to each other as the
members of the former aristocratic class of society: their
propensities will be different, and they will scarcely ever enjoy
leisure as secure or as complete: but they will be far more
numerous than those who belonged to that class of society could
ever be. These persons will not be strictly confined to the
cares of practical life, and they will still be able, though in
different degrees, to indulge in the pursuits and pleasures of
the intellect. In those pleasures they will indulge; for if it
be true that the human mind leans on one side to the narrow, the
practical, and the useful, it naturally rises on the other to the
infinite, the spiritual, and the beautiful. Physical wants
confine it to the earth; but, as soon as the tie is loosened, it
will unbend itself again.

Not only will the number of those who can take an interest
in the productions of the mind be enlarged, but the taste for
intellectual enjoyment will descend, step by step, even to those
who, in aristocratic societies, seem to have neither time nor
ability to in indulge in them. When hereditary wealth, the
privileges of rank, and the prerogatives of birth have ceased to
be, and when every man derives his strength from himself alone,
it becomes evident that the chief cause of disparity between the
fortunes of men is the mind. Whatever tends to invigorate, to
extend, or to adorn the mind, instantly rises to great value.
The utility of knowledge becomes singularly conspicuous even to
the eyes of the multitude: those who have no taste for its charms
set store upon its results, and make some efforts to acquire it.
In free and enlightened democratic ages, there is nothing to
separate men from each other or to retain them in their peculiar
sphere; they rise or sink with extreme rapidity. All classes
live in perpetual intercourse from their great proximity to each
other. They communicate and intermingle every day -they imitate
and envy one other: this suggests to the people many ideas,
notions, and desires which it would never have entertained if the
distinctions of rank had been fixed and society at rest. In such
nations the servant never considers himself as an entire stranger
to the pleasures and toils of his master, nor the poor man to
those of the rich; the rural population assimilates itself to
that of the towns, and the provinces to the capital. No one
easily allows himself to be reduced to the mere material cares of
life; and the humblest artisan casts at times an eager and a
furtive glance into the higher regions of the intellect. People
do not read with the same notions or in the same manner as they
do in an aristocratic community; but the circle of readers is
unceasingly expanded, till it includes all the citizens.

As soon as the multitude begins to take an interest in the
labors of the mind, it finds out that to excel in some of them is
a powerful method of acquiring fame, power, or wealth. The
restless ambition which equality begets instantly takes this
direction as it does all others. The number of those who
cultivate science, letters, and the arts, becomes immense. The
intellectual world starts into prodigious activity: everyone
endeavors to open for himself a path there, and to draw the eyes
of the public after him. Something analogous occurs to what
happens in society in the United States, politically considered.
What is done is often imperfect, but the attempts are
innumerable; and, although the results of individual effort are
commonly very small, the total amount is always very large.

It is therefore not true to assert that men living in
democratic ages are naturally indifferent to science, literature,
and the arts: only it must be acknowledged that they cultivate
them after their own fashion, and bring to the task their own
peculiar qualifications and deficiencies.

Book One - Chapters X-XII

Chapter X: Why The Americans Are More Addicted To Practical Than
To Theoretical Science

If a democratic state of society and democratic institutions
do not stop the career of the human mind, they incontestably
guide it in one direction in preference to another. Their
effects, thus circumscribed, are still exceedingly great; and I
trust I may be pardoned if I pause for a moment to survey them.
We had occasion, in speaking of the philosophical method of the
American people, to make several remarks which must here be
turned to account.

Equality begets in man the desire of judging of everything
for himself: it gives him, in all things, a taste for the
tangible and the real, a contempt for tradition and for forms.
These general tendencies are principally discernible in the
peculiar subject of this chapter. Those who cultivate the
sciences amongst a democratic people are always afraid of losing
their way in visionary speculation. They mistrust systems; they
adhere closely to facts and the study of facts with their own
senses. As they do not easily defer to the mere name of any
fellow-man, they are never inclined to rest upon any man's
authority; but, on the contrary, they are unremitting in their
efforts to point out the weaker points of their neighbors'
opinions. Scientific precedents have very little weight with
them; they are never long detained by the subtility of the
schools, nor ready to accept big words for sterling coin; they
penetrate, as far as they can, into the principal parts of the
subject which engages them, and they expound them in the
vernacular tongue. Scientific pursuits then follow a freer and a
safer course, but a less lofty one.

The mind may, as it appears to me, divide science into three
parts. The first comprises the most theoretical principles, and
those more abstract notions whose application is either unknown
or very remote. The second is composed of those general truths
which still belong to pure theory, but lead, nevertheless, by a
straight and short road to practical results. Methods of
application and means of execution make up the third. Each of
these different portions of science may be separately cultivated,
although reason and experience show that none of them can prosper
long, if it be absolutely cut off from the two others.

In America the purely practical part of science is admirably
understood, and careful attention is paid to the theoretical
portion which is immediately requisite to application. On this
head the Americans always display a clear, free, original, and
inventive power of mind. But hardly anyone in the United States
devotes himself to the essentially theoretical and abstract
portion of human knowledge. In this respect the Americans carry
to excess a tendency which is, I think, discernible, though in a
less degree, amongst all democratic nations.

Nothing is more necessary to the culture of the higher
sciences, or of the more elevated departments of science, than
meditation; and nothing is less suited to meditation than the
structure of democratic society. We do not find there, as
amongst an aristocratic people, one class which clings to a state
of repose because it is well off; and another which does not
venture to stir because it despairs of improving its condition.
Everyone is actively in motion: some in quest of power, others of
gain. In the midst of this universal tumult - this incessant
conflict of jarring interests - this continual stride of men
after fortune - where is that calm to be found which is necessary
for the deeper combinations of the intellect? How can the mind
dwell upon any single point, when everything whirls around it,
and man himself is swept and beaten onwards by the heady current
which rolls all things in its course? But the permanent
agitation which subsists in the bosom of a peaceable and
established democracy, must be distinguished from the tumultuous
and revolutionary movements which almost always attend the birth
and growth of democratic society. When a violent revolution
occurs amongst a highly civilized people, it cannot fail to give
a sudden impulse to their feelings and their opinions. This is
more particularly true of democratic revolutions, which stir up
all the classes of which a people is composed, and beget, at the
same time, inordinate ambition in the breast of every member of
the community. The French made most surprising advances in the
exact sciences at the very time at which they were finishing the
destruction of the remains of their former feudal society; yet
this sudden fecundity is not to be attributed to democracy, but
to the unexampled revolution which attended its growth. What
happened at that period was a special incident, and it would be
unwise to regard it as the test of a general principle.
Great revolutions are not more common amongst democratic
nations than amongst others: I am even inclined to believe that
they are less so. But there prevails amongst those populations a
small distressing motion -a sort of incessant jostling of men -
which annoys and disturbs the mind, without exciting or elevating
it. Men who live in democratic communities not only seldom
indulge in meditation, but they naturally entertain very little
esteem for it. A democratic state of society and democratic
institutions plunge the greater part of men in constant active
life; and the habits of mind which are suited to an active life,
are not always suited to a contemplative one. The man of action
is frequently obliged to content himself with the best he can
get, because he would never accomplish his purpose if he chose to
carry every detail to perfection. He has perpetually occasion to
rely on ideas which he has not had leisure to search to the
bottom; for he is much more frequently aided by the opportunity
of an idea than by its strict accuracy; and, in the long run, he
risks less in making use of some false principles, than in
spending his time in establishing all his principles on the basis
of truth. The world is not led by long or learned demonstrations;
a rapid glance at particular incidents, the daily study of the
fleeting passions of the multitude, the accidents of the time,
and the art of turning them to account, decide all its affairs.

In the ages in which active life is the condition of almost
everyone, men are therefore generally led to attach an excessive
value to the rapid bursts and superficial conceptions of the
intellect; and, on the other hand, to depreciate below their true
standard its slower and deeper labors. This opinion of the
public influences the judgment of the men who cultivate the
sciences; they are persuaded that they may succeed in those
pursuits without meditation, or deterred from such pursuits as
demand it.

There are several methods of studying the sciences. Amongst
a multitude of men you will find a selfish, mercantile, and
trading taste for the discoveries of the mind, which must not be
confounded with that disinterested passion which is kindled in
the heart of the few. A desire to utilize knowledge is one
thing; the pure desire to know is another. I do not doubt that
in a few minds and far between, an ardent, inexhaustible love of
truth springs up, self-supported, and living in ceaseless
fruition without ever attaining the satisfaction which it seeks.
This ardent love it is - this proud, disinterested love of what
is true - which raises men to the abstract sources of truth, to
draw their mother-knowledge thence. If Pascal had had nothing in
view but some large gain, or even if he had been stimulated by
the love of fame alone, I cannot conceive that he would ever have
been able to rally all the powers of his mind, as he did, for the
better discovery of the most hidden things of the Creator. When
I see him, as it were, tear his soul from the midst of all the
cares of life to devote it wholly to these researches, and,
prematurely snapping the links which bind the frame to life, die
of old age before forty, I stand amazed, and I perceive that no
ordinary cause is at work to produce efforts so extra-ordinary.

The future will prove whether these passions, at once so
rare and so productive, come into being and into growth as easily
in the midst of democratic as in aristocratic communities. For
myself, I confess that I am slow to believe it. In aristocratic
society, the class which gives the tone to opinion, and has the
supreme guidance of affairs, being permanently and hereditarily
placed above the multitude, naturally conceives a lofty idea of
itself and of man. It loves to invent for him noble pleasures,
to carve out splendid objects for his ambition. Aristocracies
often commit very tyrannical and very inhuman actions; but they
rarely entertain grovelling thoughts; and they show a kind of
haughty contempt of little pleasures, even whilst they indulge in
them. The effect is greatly to raise the general pitch of
society. In aristocratic ages vast ideas are commonly entertained
of the dignity, the power, and the greatness of man. These
opinions exert their influence on those who cultivate the
sciences, as well as on the rest of the community. They
facilitate the natural impulse of the mind to the highest regions
of thought, and they naturally prepare it to conceive a sublime -
nay, almost a divine - love of truth. Men of science at such
periods are consequently carried away by theory; and it even
happens that they frequently conceive an inconsiderate contempt
for the practical part of learning. "Archimedes," says Plutarch,
"was of so lofty a spirit, that he never condescended to write
any treatise on the manner of constructing all these engines of
offence and defence. And as he held this science of inventing
and putting together engines, and all arts generally speaking
which tended to any usetul end in practice, to be vile, low, and
mercenary, he spent his talents and his studious hours in writing
of those things only whose beauty and subtilty had in them no
admixture of necessity." Such is the aristocratic aim of science;
in democratic nations it cannot be the same.

The greater part of the men who constitute these nations are
extremely eager in the pursuit of actual and physical
gratification. As they are always dissatisfied with the position
which they occupy, and are always free to leave it, they think of
nothing but the means of changing their fortune, or of increasing
it. To minds thus predisposed, every new method which leads by a
shorter road to wealth, every machine which spares labor, every
instrument which diminishes the cost of production, every
discovery which facilitates pleasures or augments them, seems to
be the grandest effort of the human intellect. It is chiefly
from these motives that a democratic people addicts itself to
scientific pursuits - that it understands, and that it respects
them. In aristocratic ages, science is more particularly called
upon to furnish gratification to the mind; in democracies, to the
body. You may be sure that the more a nation is democratic,
enlightened, and free, the greater will be the number of these
interested promoters of scientific genius, and the more will
discoveries immediately applicable to productive industry confer
gain, fame, and even power on their authors. For in democracies
the working class takes a part in public affairs; and public
honors, as well as pecuniary remuneration, may be awarded to
those who deserve them. In a community thus organized it may
easily be conceived that the human mind may be led insensibly to
the neglect of theory; and that it is urged, on the contrary,
with unparalleled vehemence to the applications of science, or at
least to that portion of theoretical science which is necessary
to those who make such applications. In vain will some innate
propensity raise the mind towards the loftier spheres of the
intellect; interest draws it down to the middle zone. There it
may develop all its energy and restless activity, there it may
engender all its wonders. These very Americans, who have not
discovered one of the general laws of mechanics, have introduced
into navigation an engine which changes the aspect of the world.

Assuredly I do not content that the democratic nations of
our time are destined to witness the extinction of the
transcendent luminaries of man's intelligence, nor even that no
new lights will ever start into existence. At the age at which
the world has now arrived, and amongst so many cultivated
nations, perpetually excited by the fever of productive industry,
the bonds which connect the different parts of science together
cannot fail to strike the observation; and the taste for
practical science itself, if it be enlightened, ought to lead men
not to neglect theory. In the midst of such numberless attempted
applications of so many experiments, repeated every day, it is
almost impossible that general laws should not frequently be
brought to light; so that great discoveries would be frequent,
though great inventors be rare. I believe, moreover, in the high
calling of scientific minds. If the democratic principle does
not, on the one hand, induce men to cultivate science for its own
sake, on the other it enormously increases the number of those
who do cultivate it. Nor is it credible that, from amongst so
great a multitude no speculative genius should from time to time
arise, inflamed by the love of truth alone. Such a one, we may
be sure, would dive into the deepest mysteries of nature,
whatever be the spirit of his country or his age. He requires no
assistance in his course - enough that he be not checked in it.

All that I mean to say is this: - permanent inequality of
conditions leads men to confine themselves to the arrogant and
sterile research of abstract truths; whilst the social condition
and the institutions of democracy prepare them to seek the
immediate and useful practical results of the sciences. This
tendency is natural and inevitable: it is curious to be
acquainted with it, and it may be necessary to point it out. If
those who are called upon to guide the nations of our time
clearly discerned from afar off these new tendencies, which will
soon be irresistible, they would understand that, possessing
education and freedom, men living in democratic ages cannot fail
to improve the industrial part of science; and that henceforward
all the efforts of the constituted authorities ought to be
directed to support the highest branches of learning, and to
foster the nobler passion for science itself. In the present age
the human mind must be coerced into theoretical studies; it runs
of its own accord to practical applications; and, instead of
perpetually referring it to the minute examination of secondary
effects, it is well to divert it from them sometimes, in order to
raise it up to the contemplation of primary causes. Because the
civilization of ancient Rome perished in consequence of the
invasion of the barbarians, we are perhaps too apt to think that
civilization cannot perish in any other manner. If the light by
which we are guided is ever extinguished, it will dwindle by
degrees, and expire of itself. By dint of close adherence to
mere applications, principles would be lost sight of; and when
the principles were wholly forgotten, the methods derived from
them would be ill-pursued. New methods could no longer be
invented, and men would continue to apply, without intelligence,
and without art, scientific processes no longer understood.

When Europeans first arrived in China, three hundred years
ago, they found that almost all the arts had reached a certain
degree of perfection there; and they were surprised that a people
which had attained this point should not have gone beyond it. At
a later period they discovered some traces of the higher branches
of science which were lost. The nation was absorbed in
productive industry: the greater part of its scientific processes
had been preserved, but science itself no longer existed there.
This served to explain the strangely motionless state in which
they found the minds of this people. The Chinese, in following
the track of their forefathers, had forgotten the reasons by
which the latter had been guided. They still used the formula,
without asking for its meaning: they retained the instrument, but
they no longer possessed the art of altering or renewing it. The
Chinese, then, had lost the power of change; for them to improve
was impossible. They were compelled, at all times and in all
points, to imitate their predecessors, lest they should stray
into utter darkness, by deviating for an instant from the path
already laid down for them. The source of human knowledge was
all but dry; and though the stream still ran on, it could neither
swell its waters nor alter its channel. Notwithstanding this,
China had subsisted peaceably for centuries. The invaders who
had conquered the country assumed the manners of the inhabitants,
and order prevailed there. A sort of physical prosperity was
everywhere discernible: revolutions were rare, and war was, so to
speak, unknown.

It is then a fallacy to flatter ourselves with the
reflection that the barbarians are still far from us; for if
there be some nations which allow civilization to be torn from
their grasp, there are others who trample it themselves under
their feet.

Chapter XI: Of The Spirit In Which The Americans Cultivate The

It would be to waste the time of my readers and my own if I
strove to demonstrate how the general mediocrity of fortunes, the
absence of superfluous wealth, the universal desire of comfort,
and the constant efforts by which everyone attempts to procure
it, make the taste for the useful predominate over the love of
the beautiful in the heart of man. Democratic nations, amongst
which all these things exist, 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. But I propose to go further; and after having pointed
out this first feature, to sketch several others.

It commonly happens that in the ages of privilege the
practice of almost all the arts becomes a privilege; and that
every profession is a separate walk, upon which it is not
allowable for everyone to enter. Even when productive industry
is free, the fixed character which belongs to aristocratic
nations gradually segregates all the persons who practise the
same art, till they form a distinct class, always composed of the
same families, whose members are all known to each other, and
amongst whom a public opinion of their own and a species of
corporate pride soon spring up. In a class or guild of this kind,
each artisan has not only his fortune to make, but his reputation
to preserve. He is not exclusively swayed by his own interest,
or even by that of his customer, but by that of the body to which
he belongs; and the interest of that body is, that each artisan
should produce the best possible workmanship. In aristocratic
ages, the object of the arts is therefore to manufacture as well
as possible - not with the greatest despatch, or at the lowest

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. But at the same time a
corresponding revolution takes place in the customer also. In
countries in which riches as well as power are concentrated and
retained in the hands of the few, the use of the greater part of
this world's goods belongs to a small number of individuals, who
are always the same. Necessity, public opinion, or moderate
desires exclude all others from the enjoyment of them. As this
aristocratic class remains fixed at the pinnacle of greatness on
which it stands, without diminution or increase, it is always
acted upon by the same wants and affected by them in the same
manner. The men of whom it is composed naturally derive from
their superior and hereditary position a taste for what is
extremely well made and lasting. This affects the general way of
thinking of the nation in relation to the arts. It often occurs,
among such a people, that even the peasant will rather go without
the object he covets, than procure it in a state of imperfection.
In aristocracies, then, the handicraftsmen work for only a
limited number of very fastidious customers: the profit they hope
to make depends principally on the perfection of their

Such is no longer the case when, all privileges being
abolished, ranks are intermingled, and men are forever rising or
sinking upon the ladder of society. Amongst a democratic people
a number of citizens always exist whose patrimony is divided and
decreasing. They have contracted, under more prosperous
circumstances, certain wants, which remain after the means of
satisfying such wants are gone; and they are anxiously looking
out for some surreptitious method of providing for them. On the
other hand, there are always in democracies a large number of men
whose fortune is upon the increase, but whose desires grow much
faster than their fortunes: and who gloat upon the gifts of
wealth in anticipation, long before they have means to command
them. Such men eager to find some short cut to these
gratifications, already almost within their reach. From the
combination of these causes the result is, that 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.

The artisan readily understands these passions, for he
himself partakes in them: in an aristocracy he would seek to sell
his workmanship at a high price to the few; he now conceives that
the more expeditious way of getting rich is to sell them at a low
price to all. But there are only two ways of lowering the price
of commodities. The first is to discover some better, shorter,
and more ingenious method of producing them: the second is to
manufacture a larger quantity of goods, nearly similar, but of
less value. Amongst a democratic population, all the intellectual
faculties of the workman are directed to these two objects: he
strives to invent methods which may enable him not only to work
better, but quicker and cheaper; or, if he cannot succeed in
that, to diminish the intrinsic qualities of the thing he makes,
without rendering it wholly unfit for the use for which it is
intended. 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.

Not that in democracies the arts are incapable of producing
very commendable works, if such be required. This may
occasionally be the case, if customers appear who are ready to
pay for time and trouble. In this rivalry of every kind of
industry - in the midst of this immense competition and these
countless experiments, some excellent workmen are formed who
reach the utmost limits of their craft. But they have rarely an
opportunity of displaying what they can do; they are scrupulously
sparing of their powers; they remain in a state of accomplished
mediocrity, which condemns itself, and, though it be very well
able to shoot beyond the mark before it, aims only at what it
hits. In aristocracies, on the contrary, workmen always do all
they can; and when they stop, it is because they have reached the
limit of their attainments.

When I arrive in a country where I find some of the finest
productions of the arts, I learn from this fact nothing of the
social condition or of the political constitution of the country.
But if I perceive that the productions of the arts are generally
of an inferior quality, very abundant and very cheap, I am
convinced that, amongst the people where this occurs, privilege
is on the decline, and that ranks are beginning to intermingle,
and will soon be confounded together.

The handicraftsmen of democratic ages endeavor not only to
bring their useful productions within the reach of the whole
community, but they strive to give to all their commodities
attractive qualities which they do not in reality possess. In
the confusion of all ranks everyone hopes to appear what he is
not, and makes great exertions to succeed in this object. This
sentiment indeed, which is but too natural to the heart of man,
does not originate in the democratic principle; but that
principle applies it to material objects. To mimic virtue is of
every age; but the hypocrisy of luxury belongs more particularly
to the ages of democracy.

To satisfy these new cravings of human vanity the arts have
recourse to every species of imposture: and these devices
sometimes go so far as to defeat their own purpose. Imitation
diamonds are now made which may be easily mistaken for real ones;
as soon as the art of fabricating false diamonds shall have
reached so high a degree of perfection that they cannot be
distinguished from real ones, it is probable that both one and
the other will be abandoned, and become mere pebbles again.

This leads me to speak of those arts which are called the
fine arts, by way of distinction. I do not believe that it is a
necessary effect of a democratic social condition and of
democratic institutions to diminish the number of men who
cultivate the fine arts; but these causes exert a very powerful
influence on the manner in which these arts are cultivated. Many
of those who had already contracted a taste for the fine arts are
impoverished: on the other hand, many of those who are not yet
rich begin to conceive that taste, at least by imitation; and the
number of consumers increases, but opulent and fastidious
consumers become more scarce. Something analogous to what I have
already pointed out in the useful arts then takes place in the
fine arts; the productions of artists are more numerous, but the
merit of each production is diminished. No longer able to soar
to what is great, they cultivate what is pretty and elegant; and
appearance is more attended to than reality. In aristocracies a
few great pictures are produced; in democratic countries, a vast
number of insignificant ones. In the former, statues are raised
of bronze; in the latter, they are modelled in plaster.

When I arrived for the first time at New York, by that part
of the Atlantic Ocean which is called the Narrows, 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
the building 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.

The social condition and the institutions of democracy

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