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Democracy In America, Volume 2 by Alexis de Toqueville

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impart, moreover, certain peculiar tendencies to all the
imitative arts, which it is easy to point out. They frequently
withdraw them from the delineation of the soul to fix them
exclusively on that of the body: and they substitute the
representation of motion and sensation for that of sentiment and
thought: in a word, they put the real in the place of the ideal.
I doubt whether Raphael studied the minutest intricacies of the
mechanism of the human body as thoroughly as the draughtsmen of
our own time. He did not attach the same importance to rigorous
accuracy on this point as they do, because he aspired to surpass
nature. He sought to make of man something which should be
superior to man, and to embellish beauty's self. David and his
scholars were, on the contrary, as good anatomists as they were
good painters. They wonderfully depicted the models which they
had before their eyes, but they rarely imagined anything beyond
them: they followed nature with fidelity: whilst Raphael sought
for something better than nature. They have left us an exact
portraiture of man; but he discloses in his works a glimpse of
the Divinity. This remark as to the manner of treating a subject
is no less applicable to the choice of it. The painters of the
Middle Ages generally sought far above themselves, and away from
their own time, for mighty subjects, which left to their
imagination an unbounded range. Our painters frequently employ
their talents in the exact imitation of the details of private
life, which they have always before their eyes; and they are
forever copying trivial objects, the originals of which are only
too abundant in nature.

Chapter XII: Why The Americans Raise Some Monuments So
Insignificant, And Others So Important

I have just observed, that in democratic ages monuments of
the arts tend to become more numerous and less important. I now
hasten to point out the exception to this rule. In a democratic
community individuals are very powerless; but the State which
represents them all, and contains them all in its grasp, is very
powerful. Nowhere do citizens appear so insignificant as in a
democratic nation; nowhere does the nation itself appear greater,
or does the mind more easily take in a wide general survey of it.
In democratic communities the imagination is compressed when men
consider themselves; it expands indefinitely when they think of
the State. Hence it is that the same men who live on a small
scale in narrow dwellings, frequently aspire to gigantic splendor
in the erection of their public monuments.

The Americans traced out the circuit of an immense city on
the site which they intended to make their capital, but which, up
to the present time, is hardly more densely peopled than
Pontoise, though, according to them, it will one day contain a
million of inhabitants. They have already rooted up trees for
ten miles round, lest they should interfere with the future
citizens of this imaginary metropolis. They have erected a
magnificent palace for Congress in the centre of the city, and
have given it the pompous name of the Capitol. The several
States of the Union are every day planning and erecting for
themselves prodigious undertakings, which would astonish the
engineers of the great European nations. Thus democracy not only
leads men to a vast number of inconsiderable productions; it also
leads them to raise some monuments on the largest scale: but
between these two extremes there is a blank. A few scattered
remains of enormous buildings can therefore teach us nothing of
the social condition and the institutions of the people by whom
they were raised. I may add, though the remark leads me to step
out of my subject, that they do not make us better acquainted
with its greatness, its civilization, and its real prosperity.
Whensoever a power of any kind shall be able to make a whole
people co-operate in a single undertaking, that power, with a
little knowledge and a great deal of time, will succeed in
obtaining something enormous from the co-operation of efforts so
multiplied. But this does not lead to the conclusion that the
people was very happy, very enlightened, or even very strong.

The Spaniards found the City of Mexico full of magnificent
temples and vast palaces; but that did not prevent Cortes from
conquering the Mexican Empire with 600 foot soldiers and sixteen
horses. If the Romans had been better acquainted with the laws
of hydraulics, they would not have constructed all the aqueducts
which surround the ruins of their cities - they would have made a
better use of their power and their wealth. If they had invented
the steam-engine, perhaps they would not have extended to the
extremities of their empire those long artificial roads which are
called Roman roads. These things are at once the splendid
memorials of their ignorance and of their greatness. A people
which should leave no other vestige of its track than a few
leaden pipes in the earth and a few iron rods upon its surface,
might have been more the master of nature than the Romans.

Book One - Chapters XIII-XV

Chapter XIII: Literary Characteristics Of Democratic Ages

When a traveller goes into a bookseller's shop in the United
States, and examines the American books upon the shelves, the
number of works appears extremely great; whilst that of known
authors appears, on the contrary, to be extremely small. He will
first meet with a number of elementary treatises, destined to
teach the rudiments of human knowledge. Most of these books are
written in Europe; the Americans reprint them, adapting them to
their own country. Next comes an enormous quantity of religious
works, Bibles, sermons, edifying anecdotes, controversial
divinity, and reports of charitable societies; lastly, appears
the long catalogue of political pamphlets. In America, parties
do not write books to combat each others' opinions, but pamphlets
which are circulated for a day with incredible rapidity, and then
expire. In the midst of all these obscure productions of the
human brain are to be found the more remarkable works of that
small number of authors, whose names are, or ought to be, known
to Europeans.

Although America is perhaps in our days the civilized
country in which literature is least attended to, a large number
of persons are nevertheless to be found there who take an
interest in the productions of the mind, and who make them, if
not the study of their lives, at least the charm of their leisure
hours. But England supplies these readers with the larger
portion of the books which they require. Almost all important
English books are republished in the United States. The literary
genius of Great Britain still darts its rays into the recesses of
the forests of the New World. There is hardly a pioneer's hut
which does not contain a few odd volumes of Shakespeare. I
remember that I read the feudal play of Henry V for the first
time in a loghouse.

Not only do the Americans constantly draw upon the treasures
of English literature, but it may be said with truth that they
find the literature of England growing on their own soil. The
larger part of that small number of men in the United States who
are engaged in the composition of literary works are English in
substance, and still more so in form. Thus they transport into
the midst of democracy the ideas and literary fashions which are
current amongst the aristocratic nation they have taken for their
model. They paint with colors borrowed from foreign manners; and
as they hardly ever represent the country they were born in as it
really is, they are seldom popular there. The citizens of the
United States are themselves so convinced that it is not for them
that books are published, that before they can make up their
minds upon the merit of one of their authors, they generally wait
till his fame has been ratified in England, just as in pictures
the author of an original is held to be entitled to judge of the
merit of a copy. The inhabitants of the United States have then
at present, properly speaking, no literature. The only authors
whom I acknowledge as American are the journalists. They indeed
are not great writers, but they speak the language of their
countrymen, and make themselves heard by them. Other authors are
aliens; they are to the Americans what the imitators of the
Greeks and Romans were to us at the revival of learning - an
object of curiosity, not of general sympathy. They amuse the
mind, but they do not act upon the manners of the people.

I have already said that this state of things is very far
from originating in democracy alone, and that the causes of it
must be sought for in several peculiar circumstances independent
of the democratic principle. If the Americans, retaining the same
laws and social condition, had had a different origin, and had
been transported into another country, I do not question that
they would have had a literature. Even as they now are, I am
convinced that they will ultimately have one; but its character
will be different from that which marks the American literary
productions of our time, and that character will be peculiarly
its own. Nor is it impossible to trace this character

I suppose an aristocratic people amongst whom letters are
cultivated; the labors of the mind, as well as the affairs of
state, are conducted by a ruling class in society. The literary
as well as the political career is almost entirely confined to
this class, or to those nearest to it in rank. These premises
suffice to give me a key to all the rest. When a small number of
the same men are engaged at the same time upon the same objects,
they easily concert with one another, and agree upon certain
leading rules which are to govern them each and all. If the
object which attracts the attention of these men is literature,
the productions of the mind will soon be subjected by them to
precise canons, from which it will no longer be allowable to
depart. If these men occupy a hereditary position in the
country, they will be naturally inclined, not only to adopt a
certain number of fixed rules for themselves, but to follow those
which their forefathers laid down for their own guidance; their
code will be at once strict and traditional. As they are not
necessarily engrossed by the cares of daily life - as they have
never been so, any more than their fathers were before them -
they have learned to take an interest, for several generations
back, in the labors of the mind. They have learned to understand
literature as an art, to love it in the end for its own sake, and
to feel a scholar-like satisfaction in seeing men conform to its
rules. Nor is this all: the men of whom I speak began and will
end their lives in easy or in affluent circumstances; hence they
have naturally conceived a taste for choice gratifications, and a
love of refined and delicate pleasures. Nay more, a kind of
indolence of mind and heart, which they frequently contract in
the midst of this long and peaceful enjoyment of so much welfare,
leads them to put aside, even from their pleasures, whatever
might be too startling or too acute. They had rather be amused
than intensely excited; they wish to be interested, but not to be
carried away.

Now let us fancy a great number of literary performances
executed by the men, or for the men, whom I have just described,
and we shall readily conceive a style of literature in which
everything will be regular and prearranged. The slightest work
will be carefully touched in its least details; art and labor
will be conspicuous in everything; each kind of writing will have
rules of its own, from which it will not be allowed to swerve,
and which distinguish it from all others. Style will be thought
of almost as much importance as thought; and the form will be no
less considered than the matter: the diction will be polished,
measured, and uniform. The tone of the mind will be always
dignified, seldom very animated; and writers will care more to
perfect what they produce than to multiply their productions. It
will sometimes happen that the members of the literary class,
always living amongst themselves and writing for themselves
alone, will lose sight of the rest of the world, which will
infect them with a false and labored style; they will lay down
minute literary rules for their exclusive use, which will
insensibly lead them to deviate from common-sense, and finally to
transgress the bounds of nature. By dint of striving after a
mode of parlance different from the vulgar, they will arrive at a
sort of aristocratic jargon, which is hardly less remote from
pure language than is the coarse dialect of the people. Such are
the natural perils of literature amongst aristocracies. Every
aristocracy which keeps itself entirely aloof from the people
becomes impotent - a fact which is as true in literature as it is
in politics. *a

[Footnote a: All this is especially true of the aristocratic
countries which have been long and peacefully subject to a
monarchical government. When liberty prevails in an aristocracy,
the higher ranks are constantly obliged to make use of the lower
classes; and when they use, they approach them. This frequently
introduces something of a democratic spirit into an aristocratic
community. There springs up, moreover, in a privileged body,
governing with energy and an habitually bold policy, a taste for
stir and excitement which must infallibly affect all literary

Let us now turn the picture and consider the other side of
it; let us transport ourselves into the midst of a democracy, not
unprepared by ancient traditions and present culture to partake
in the pleasures of the mind. Ranks are there intermingled and
confounded; knowledge and power are both infinitely subdivided,
and, if I may use the expression, scattered on every side. Here
then is a motley multitude, whose intellectual wants are to be
supplied. These new votaries of the pleasures of the mind have
not all received the same education; they do not possess the same
degree of culture as their fathers, nor any resemblance to them -
nay, they perpetually differ from themselves, for they live in a
state of incessant change of place, feelings, and fortunes. The
mind of each member of the community is therefore unattached to
that of his fellow-citizens by tradition or by common habits; and
they have never had the power, the inclination, nor the time to
concert together. It is, however, from the bosom of this
heterogeneous and agitated mass that authors spring; and from the
same source their profits and their fame are distributed. I can
without difficulty understand that, under these circumstances, I
must expect to meet in the literature of such a people with but
few of those strict conventional rules which are admitted by
readers and by writers in aristocratic ages. If it should happen
that the men of some one period were agreed upon any such rules,
that would prove nothing for the following period; for amongst
democratic nations each new generation is a new people. Amongst
such nations, then, literature will not easily be subjected to
strict rules, and it is impossible that any such rules should
ever be permanent.

In democracies it is by no means the case that all the men
who cultivate literature have received a literary education; and
most of those who have some tinge of belles-lettres are either
engaged in politics, or in a profession which only allows them to
taste occasionally and by stealth the pleasures of the mind.
These pleasures, therefore, do not constitute the principal charm
of their lives; but they are considered as a transient and
necessary recreation amidst the serious labors of life. Such man
can never acquire a sufficiently intimate knowledge of the art of
literature to appreciate its more delicate beauties; and the
minor shades of expression must escape them. As the time they can
devote to letters is very short, they seek to make the best use
of the whole of it. They prefer books which may be easily
procured, quickly read, and which require no learned researches
to be understood. They ask for beauties, self-proffered and
easily enjoyed; above all, they must have what is unexpected and
new. Accustomed to the struggle, the crosses, and the monotony
of practical life, they require rapid emotions, startling
passages -truths or errors brilliant enough to rouse them up, and
to plunge them at once, as if by violence, into the midst of a

Why should I say more? or who does not understand what is
about to follow, before I have expressed it? Taken as a whole,
literature in democratic ages can never present, as it does in
the periods of aristocracy, an aspect of order, regularity,
science, and art; its form will, on the contrary, ordinarily be
slighted, sometimes despised. Style will frequently be
fantastic, incorrect, overburdened, and loose - almost always
vehement and bold. Authors will aim at rapidity of execution,
more than at perfection of detail. Small productions will be
more common than bulky books; there will be more wit than
erudition, more imagination than profundity; and literary
performances will bear marks of an untutored and rude vigor of
thought -frequently of great variety and singular fecundity. The
object of authors will be to astonish rather than to please, and
to stir the passions more than to charm the taste. Here and
there, indeed, writers will doubtless occur who will choose a
different track, and who will, if they are gifted with superior
abilities, succeed in finding readers, in spite of their defects
or their better qualities; but these exceptions will be rare, and
even the authors who shall so depart from the received practice
in the main subject of their works, will always relapse into it
in some lesser details.

I have just depicted two extreme conditions: the transition
by which a nation passes from the former to the latter is not
sudden but gradual, and marked with shades of very various
intensity. In the passage which conducts a lettered people from
the one to the other, there is almost always a moment at which
the literary genius of democratic nations has its confluence with
that of aristocracies, and both seek to establish their joint
sway over the human mind. Such epochs are transient, but very
brilliant: they are fertile without exuberance, and animated
without confusion. The French literature of the eighteenth
century may serve as an example.

I should say more than I mean if I were to assert that the
literature of a nation is always subordinate to its social
condition and its political constitution. I am aware that,
independently of these causes, there are several others which
confer certain characteristics on literary productions; but these
appear to me to be the chief. The relations which exist between
the social and political condition of a people and the genius of
its authors are always very numerous: whoever knows the one is
never completely ignorant of the other.

Chapter XIV: The Trade Of Literature

Democracy not only infuses a taste for letters among the
trading classes, but introduces a trading spirit into literature.
In aristocracies, readers are fastidious and few in number; in
democracies, they are far more numerous and far less difficult to
please. The consequence is, that among aristocratic nations, no
one can hope to succeed without immense exertions, and that these
exertions may bestow a great deal of fame, but can never earn
much money; whilst among democratic nations, a writer may flatter
himself that he will obtain at a cheap rate a meagre reputation
and a large fortune. For this purpose he need not be admired; it
is enough that he is liked. The ever-increasing crowd of
readers, and their continual craving for something new, insure
the sale of books which nobody much esteems.

In democratic periods the public frequently treat authors as
kings do their courtiers; they enrich, and they despise them.
What more is needed by the venal souls which are born in courts,
or which are worthy to live there? Democratic literature is
always infested with a tribe of writers who look upon letters as
a mere trade: and for some few great authors who adorn it you may
reckon thousands of idea-mongers.

Chapter XV: The Study Of Greek And Latin Literature Peculiarly
Useful In Democratic Communities

What was called the People in the most democratic republics
of antiquity, was very unlike what we designate by that term. In
Athens, all the citizens took part in public affairs; but there
were only 20,000 citizens to more than 350,000 inhabitants. All
the rest were slaves, and discharged the greater part of those
duties which belong at the present day to the lower or even to
the middle classes. Athens, then, with her universal suffrage,
was after all merely an aristocratic republic in which all the
nobles had an equal right to the government. The struggle
between the patricians and plebeians of Rome must be considered
in the same light: it was simply an intestine feud between the
elder and younger branches of the same family. All the citizens
belonged, in fact, to the aristocracy, and partook of its

It is moreover to be remarked, that amongst the ancients
books were always scarce and dear; and that very great
difficulties impeded their publication and circulation. These
circumstances concentrated literary tastes and habits amongst a
small number of men, who formed a small literary aristocracy out
of the choicer spirits of the great political aristocracy.
Accordingly nothing goes to prove that literature was ever
treated as a trade amongst the Greeks and Romans.

These peoples, which not only constituted aristocracies, but
very polished and free nations, of course imparted to their
literary productions the defects and the merits which
characterize the literature of aristocratic ages. And indeed a
very superficial survey of the literary remains of the ancients
will suffice to convince us, that if those writers were sometimes
deficient in variety, or fertility in their subjects, or in
boldness, vivacity, or power of generalization in their thoughts,
they always displayed exquisite care and skill in their details.
Nothing in their works seems to be done hastily or at random:
every line is written for the eye of the connoisseur, and is
shaped after some conception of ideal beauty. No literature
places those fine qualities, in which the writers of democracies
are naturally deficient, in bolder relief than that of the
ancients; no literature, therefore, ought to be more studied in
democratic ages. This study is better suited than any other to
combat the literary defects inherent in those ages; as for their
more praiseworthy literary qualities, they will spring up of
their own accord, without its being necessary to learn to acquire

It is important that this point should be clearly
understood. A particular study may be useful to the literature
of a people, without being appropriate to its social and
political wants. If men were to persist in teaching nothing but
the literature of the dead languages in a community where
everyone is habitually led to make vehement exertions to augment
or to maintain his fortune, the result would be a very polished,
but a very dangerous, race of citizens. For as their social and
political condition would give them every day a sense of wants
which their education would never teach them to supply, they
would perturb the State, in the name of the Greeks and Romans,
instead of enriching it by their productive industry.

It is evident that in democratic communities the interest of
individuals, as well as the security of the commonwealth, demands
that the education of the greater number should be scientific,
commercial, and industrial, rather than literary. Greek and
Latin should not be taught in all schools; but it is important
that those who by their natural disposition or their fortune are
destined to cultivate letters or prepared to relish them, should
find schools where a complete knowledge of ancient literature may
be acquired, and where the true scholar may be formed. A few
excellent universities would do more towards the attainment of
this object than a vast number of bad grammar schools, where
superfluous matters, badly learned, stand in the way of sound
instruction in necessary studies.

All who aspire to literary excellence in democratic nations,
ought frequently to refresh themselves at the springs of ancient
literature: there is no more wholesome course for the mind. Not
that I hold the literary productions of the ancients to be
irreproachable; but I think that they have some especial merits,
admirably calculated to counterbalance our peculiar defects.
They are a prop on the side on which we are in most danger of

Book One - Chapters XVI-XVIII

Chapter XVI: The Effect Of Democracy On Language

If the reader has rightly understood what I have already
said on the subject of literature in general, he will have no
difficulty in comprehending that species of influence which a
democratic social condition and democratic institutions may
exercise over language itself, which is the chief instrument of

American authors may truly be said to live more in England
than in their own country; since they constantly study the
English writers, and take them every day for their models. But
such is not the case with the bulk of the population, which is
more immediately subjected to the peculiar causes acting upon the
United States. It is not then to the written, but to the spoken
language that attention must be paid, if we would detect the
modifications which the idiom of an aristocratic people may
undergo when it becomes the language of a democracy.

Englishmen of education, and more competent judges than I
can be myself of the nicer shades of expression, have frequently
assured me that the language of the educated classes in the
United States is notably different from that of the educated
classes in Great Britain. They complain not only that the
Americans have brought into use a number of new words - the
difference and the distance between the two countries might
suffice to explain that much - but that these new words are more
especially taken from the jargon of parties, the mechanical arts,
or the language of trade. They assert, in addition to this, that
old English words are often used by the Americans in new
acceptations; and lastly, that the inhabitants of the United
States frequently intermingle their phraseology in the strangest
manner, and sometimes place words together which are always kept
apart in the language of the mother- country. These remarks,
which were made to me at various times by persons who appeared to
be worthy of credit, led me to reflect upon the subject; and my
reflections brought me, by theoretical reasoning, to the same
point at which my informants had arrived by practical

In aristocracies, language must naturally partake of that
state of repose in which everything remains. Few new words are
coined, because few new things are made; and even if new things
were made, they would be designated by known words, whose meaning
has been determined by tradition. If it happens that the human
mind bestirs itself at length, or is roused by light breaking in
from without, the novel expressions which are introduced are
characterized by a degree of learning, intelligence, and
philosophy, which shows that they do not originate in a
democracy. After the fall of Constantinople had turned the tide
of science and literature towards the west, the French language
was almost immediately invaded by a multitude of new words, which
had all Greek or Latin roots. An erudite neologism then sprang
up in France which was confined to the educated classes, and
which produced no sensible effect, or at least a very gradual
one, upon the people. All the nations of Europe successively
exhibited the same change. Milton alone introduced more than six
hundred words into the English language, almost all derived from
the Latin, the Greek, or the Hebrew. The constant agitation
which prevails in a democratic community tends unceasingly, on
the contrary, to change the character of the language, as it does
the aspect of affairs. In the midst of this general stir and
competition of minds, a great number of new ideas are formed, old
ideas are lost, or reappear, or are subdivided into an infinite
variety of minor shades. The consequence is, that many words
must fall into desuetude, and others must be brought into use.

Democratic nations love change for its own sake; and this is
seen in their language as much as in their politics. Even when
they do not need to change words, they sometimes feel a wish to
transform them. The genius of a democratic people is not only
shown by the great number of words they bring into use, but also
by the nature of the ideas these new words represent. Amongst
such a people the majority lays down the law in language as well
as in everything else; its prevailing spirit is as manifest in
that as in other respects. But the majority is more engaged in
business than in study - in political and commercial interests
than in philosophical speculation or literary pursuits. Most of
the words coined or adopted for its use will therefore bear the
mark of these habits; they will mainly serve to express the wants
of business, the passions of party, or the details of the public
administration. In these departments the language will
constantly spread, whilst on the other hand it will gradually
lose ground in metaphysics and theology.

As to the source from which democratic nations are wont to
derive their new expressions, and the manner in which they go to
work to coin them, both may easily be described. Men living in
democratic countries know but little of the language which was
spoken at Athens and at Rome, and they do not care to dive into
the lore of antiquity to find the expression they happen to want.
If they have sometimes recourse to learned etymologies, vanity
will induce them to search at the roots of the dead languages;
but erudition does not naturally furnish them with its resources.
The most ignorant, it sometimes happens, will use them most. The
eminently democratic desire to get above their own sphere will
often lead them to seek to dignify a vulgar profession by a Greek
or Latin name. The lower the calling is, and the more remote
from learning, the more pompous and erudite is its appellation.
Thus the French rope-dancers have transformed themselves into
acrobates and funambules.

In the absence of knowledge of the dead languages,
democratic nations are apt to borrow words from living tongues;
for their mutual intercourse becomes perpetual, and the
inhabitants of different countries imitate each other the more
readily as they grow more like each other every day.

But it is principally upon their own languages that
democratic nations attempt to perpetrate innovations. From time
to time they resume forgotten expressions in their vocabulary,
which they restore to use; or they borrow from some particular
class of the community a term peculiar to it, which they
introduce with a figurative meaning into the language of daily
life. Many expressions which originally belonged to the
technical language of a profession or a party, are thus drawn
into general circulation.

The most common expedient employed by democratic nations to
make an innovation in language consists in giving some unwonted
meaning to an expression already in use. This method is very
simple, prompt, and convenient; no learning is required to use it
aright, and ignorance itself rather facilitates the practice; but
that practice is most dangerous to the language. When a
democratic people doubles the meaning of a word in this way, they
sometimes render the signification which it retains as ambiguous
as that which it acquires. An author begins by a slight
deflection of a known expression from its primitive meaning, and
he adapts it, thus modified, as well as he can to his subject. A
second writer twists the sense of the expression in another way;
a third takes possession of it for another purpose; and as there
is no common appeal to the sentence of a permanent tribunal which
may definitely settle the signification of the word, it remains
in an ambiguous condition. The consequence is that writers
hardly ever appear to dwell upon a single thought, but they
always seem to point their aim at a knot of ideas, leaving the
reader to judge which of them has been hit. This is a deplorable
consequence of democracy. I had rather that the language should
be made hideous with words imported from the Chinese, the
Tartars, or the Hurons, than that the meaning of a word in our
own language should become indeterminate. Harmony and uniformity
are only secondary beauties in composition; many of these things
are conventional, and, strictly speaking, it is possible to
forego them; but without clear phraseology there is no good

The principle of equality necessarily introduces several
other changes into language. In aristocratic ages, when each
nation tends to stand aloof from all others and likes to have
distinct characteristics of its own, it often happens that
several peoples which have a common origin become nevertheless
estranged from each other, so that, without ceasing to understand
the same language, they no longer all speak it in the same
manner. In these ages each nation is divided into a certain
number of classes, which see but little of each other, and do not
intermingle. Each of these classes contracts, and invariably
retains, habits of mind peculiar to itself, and adopts by choice
certain words and certain terms, which afterwards pass from
generation to generation, like their estates. The same idiom
then comprises a language of the poor and a language of the rich
- a language of the citizen and a language of the nobility - a
learned language and a vulgar one. The deeper the divisions, and
the more impassable the barriers of society become, the more must
this be the case. I would lay a wager, that amongst the castes
of India there are amazing variations of language, and that there
is almost as much difference between the language of the pariah
and that of the Brahmin as there is in their dress. When, on the
contrary, men, being no longer restrained by ranks, meet on terms
of constant intercourse - when castes are destroyed, and the
classes of society are recruited and intermixed with each other,
all the words of a language are mingled. Those which are
unsuitable to the greater number perish; the remainder form a
common store, whence everyone chooses pretty nearly at random.
Almost all the different dialects which divided the idioms of
European nations are manifestly declining; there is no patois in
the New World, and it is disappearing every day from the old

The influence of this revolution in social conditions is as
much felt in style as it is in phraseology. Not only does
everyone use the same words, but a habit springs up of using them
without discrimination. The rules which style had set up are
almost abolished: the line ceases to be drawn between expressions
which seem by their very nature vulgar, and other which appear to
be refined. Persons springing from different ranks of society
carry the terms and expressions they are accustomed to use with
them, into whatever circumstances they may pass; thus the origin
of words is lost like the origin of individuals, and there is as
much confusion in language as there is in society.

I am aware that in the classification of words there are
rules which do not belong to one form of society any more than to
another, but which are derived from the nature of things. Some
expressions and phrases are vulgar, because the ideas they are
meant to express are low in themselves; others are of a higher
character, because the objects they are intended to designate are
naturally elevated. No intermixture of ranks will ever efface
these differences. But the principle of equality cannot fail to
root out whatever is merely conventional and arbitrary in the
forms of thought. Perhaps the necessary classification which I
pointed out in the last sentence will always be less respected by
a democratic people than by any other, because amongst such a
people there are no men who are permanently disposed by
education, culture, and leisure to study the natural laws of
language, and who cause those laws to be respected by their own
observance of them.

I shall not quit this topic without touching on a feature of
democratic languages, which is perhaps more characteristic of
them than any other. It has already been shown that democratic
nations have a taste, and sometimes a passion, for general ideas,
and that this arises from their peculiar merits and defects.
This liking for general ideas is displayed in democratic
languages by the continual use of generic terms or abstract
expressions, and by the manner in which they are employed. This
is the great merit and the great imperfection of these languages.
Democratic nations are passionately addicted to generic terms or
abstract expressions, because these modes of speech enlarge
thought, and assist the operations of the mind by enabling it to
include several objects in a small compass. A French democratic
writer will be apt to say capacites in the abstract for men of
capacity, and without particularizing the objects to which their
capacity is applied: he will talk about actualites to designate
in one word the things passing before his eyes at the instant;
and he will comprehend under the term eventualites whatever may
happen in the universe, dating from the moment at which he
speaks. Democratic writers are perpetually coining words of this
kind, in which they sublimate into further abstraction the
abstract terms of the language. Nay, more, to render their mode
of speech more succinct, they personify the subject of these
abstract terms, and make it act like a real entity. Thus they
would say in French, "La force des choses veut que les capacites

I cannot better illustrate what I mean than by my own
example. I have frequently used the word "equality" in an
absolute sense - nay, I have personified equality in several
places; thus I have said that equality does such and such things,
or refrains from doing others. It may be affirmed that the
writers of the age of Louis XIV would not have used these
expressions: they would never have thought of using the word
"equality" without applying it to some particular object; and
they would rather have renounced the term altogether than have
consented to make a living personage of it.

These abstract terms which abound in democratic languages,
and which are used on every occasion without attaching them to
any particular fact, enlarge and obscure the thoughts they are
intended to convey; they render the mode of speech more succinct,
and the idea contained in it less clear. But with regard to
language, democratic nations prefer obscurity to labor. I know
not indeed whether this loose style has not some secret charm for
those who speak and write amongst these nations. As the men who
live there are frequently left to the efforts of their individual
powers of mind, they are almost always a prey to doubt; and as
their situation in life is forever changing, they are never held
fast to any of their opinions by the certain tenure of their
fortunes. Men living in democratic countries are, then, apt to
entertain unsettled ideas, and they require loose expressions to
convey them. As they never know whether the idea they express
to-day will be appropriate to the new position they may occupy
to-morrow, they naturally acquire a liking for abstract terms.
An abstract term is like a box with a false bottom: you may put
in it what ideas you please, and take them out again without
being observed.

Amongst all nations, generic and abstract terms form the
basis of language. I do not, therefore, affect to expel these
terms from democratic languages; I simply remark that men have an
especial tendency, in the ages of democracy, to multiply words of
this kind - to take them always by themselves in their most
abstract acceptation, and to use them on all occasions, even when
the nature of the discourse does not require them.

Chapter XVII: Of Some Of The Sources Of Poetry Amongst Democratic

Various different significations have been given to the word
"poetry." It would weary my readers if I were to lead them into a
discussion as to which of these definitions ought to be selected:
I prefer telling them at once that which I have chosen. In my
opinion, poetry is the search and the delineation of the ideal.
The poet is he who, by suppressing a part of what exists, by
adding some imaginary touches to the picture, and by combining
certain real circumstances, but which do not in fact concurrently
happen, completes and extends the work of nature. Thus the
object of poetry is not to represent what is true, but to adorn
it, and to present to the mind some loftier imagery. Verse,
regarded as the ideal beauty of language, may be eminently
poetical; but verse does not, of itself, constitute poetry.

I now proceed to inquire whether, amongst the actions, the
sentiments, and the opinions of democratic nations, there are any
which lead to a conception of ideal beauty, and which may for
this reason be considered as natural sources of poetry. It must
in the first place, be acknowledged that the taste for ideal
beauty, and the pleasure derived from the expression of it, are
never so intense or so diffused amongst a democratic as amongst
an aristocratic people. In aristocratic nations it sometimes
happens that the body goes on to act as it were spontaneously,
whilst the higher faculties are bound and burdened by repose.
Amongst these nations the people will very often display poetic
tastes, and sometimes allow their fancy to range beyond and above
what surrounds them. But in democracies the love of physical
gratification, the notion of bettering one's condition, the
excitement of competition, the charm of anticipated success, are
so many spurs to urge men onwards in the active professions they
have embraced, without allowing them to deviate for an instant
from the track. The main stress of the faculties is to this
point. The imagination is not extinct; but its chief function is
to devise what may be useful, and to represent what is real.

The principle of equality not only diverts men from the
description of ideal beauty - it also diminishes the number of
objects to be described. Aristocracy, by maintaining society in a
fixed position, is favorable to the solidity and duration of
positive religions, as well as to the stability of political
institutions. It not only keeps the human mind within a certain
sphere of belief, but it predisposes the mind to adopt one faith
rather than another. An aristocratic people will always be prone
to place intermediate powers between God and man. In this
respect it may be said that the aristocratic element is favorable
to poetry. When the universe is peopled with supernatural
creatures, not palpable to the senses but discovered by the mind,
the imagination ranges freely, and poets, finding a thousand
subjects to delineate, also find a countless audience to take an
interest in their productions. In democratic ages it sometimes
happens, on the contrary, that men are as much afloat in matters
of belief as they are in their laws. Scepticism then draws the
imagination of poets back to earth, and confines them to the real
and visible world. Even when the principle of equality does not
disturb religious belief, it tends to simplify it, and to divert
attention from secondary agents, to fix it principally on the
Supreme Power. Aristocracy naturally leads the human mind to the
contemplation of the past, and fixes it there. Democracy, on the
contrary, gives men a sort of instinctive distaste for what is
ancient. In this respect aristocracy is far more favorable to
poetry; for things commonly grow larger and more obscure as they
are more remote; and for this twofold reason they are better
suited to the delineation of the ideal.

After having deprived poetry of the past, the principle of
equality robs it in part of the present. Amongst aristocratic
nations there are a certain number of privileged personages,
whose situation is, as it were, without and above the condition
of man; to these, power, wealth, fame, wit, refinement, and
distinction in all things appear peculiarly to belong. The crowd
never sees them very closely, or does not watch them in minute
details; and little is needed to make the description of such men
poetical. On the other hand, amongst the same people, you will
meet with classes so ignorant, low, and enslaved, that they are
no less fit objects for poetry from the excess of their rudeness
and wretchedness, than the former are from their greatness and
refinement. Besides, as the different classes of which an
aristocratic community is composed are widely separated, and
imperfectly acquainted with each other, the imagination may
always represent them with some addition to, or some subtraction
from, what they really are. In democratic communities, where men
are all insignificant and very much alike, each man instantly
sees all his fellows when he surveys himself. The poets of
democratic ages can never, therefore, take any man in particular
as the subject of a piece; for an object of slender importance,
which is distinctly seen on all sides, will never lend itself to
an ideal conception. Thus the principle of equality; in
proportion as it has established itself in the world, has dried
up most of the old springs of poetry. Let us now attempt to show
what new ones it may disclose.

When scepticism had depopulated heaven, and the progress of
equality had reduced each individual to smaller and better known
proportions, the poets, not yet aware of what they could
substitute for the great themes which were departing together
with the aristocracy, turned their eyes to inanimate nature. As
they lost sight of gods and heroes, they set themselves to
describe streams and mountains. Thence originated in the last
century, that kind of poetry which has been called, by way of
distinction, the
descriptive. Some have thought that this sort of delineation,
embellished with all the physical and inanimate objects which
cover the earth, was the kind of poetry peculiar to democratic
ages; but I believe this to be an error, and that it only belongs
to a period of transition.

I am persuaded that in the end democracy diverts the
imagination from all that is external to man, and fixes it on man
alone. Democratic nations may amuse themselves for a while with
considering the productions of nature; but they are only excited
in reality by a survey of themselves. Here, and here alone, the
true sources of poetry amongst such nations are to be found; and
it may be believed that the poets who shall neglect to draw their
inspirations hence, will lose all sway over the minds which they
would enchant, and will be left in the end with none but
unimpassioned spectators of their transports. I have shown how
the ideas of progression and of the indefinite perfectibility of
the human race belong to democratic ages. Democratic nations care
but little for what has been, but they are haunted by visions of
what will be; in this direction their unbounded imagination grows
and dilates beyond all measure. Here then is the wildest range
open to the genius of poets, which allows them to remove their
performances to a sufficient distance from the eye. Democracy
shuts the past against the poet, but opens the future before him.
As all the citizens who compose a democratic community are nearly
equal and alike, the poet cannot dwell upon any one of them; but
the nation itself invites the exercise of his powers. The general
similitude of individuals, which renders any one of them taken
separately an improper subject of poetry, allows poets to include
them all in the same imagery, and to take a general survey of the
people itself. Democractic nations have a clearer perception than
any others of their own aspect; and an aspect so imposing is
admirably fitted to the delineation of the ideal.

I readily admit that the Americans have no poets; I cannot
allow that they have no poetic ideas. In Europe people talk a
great deal of the wilds of America, but the Americans themselves
never think about them: they are insensible to the wonders of
inanimate nature, and they may be said not to perceive the mighty
forests which surround them till they fall beneath the hatchet.
Their eyes are fixed upon another sight: the American people
views its own march across these wilds - drying swamps, turning
the course of rivers, peopling solitudes, and subduing nature.
This magnificent image of themselves does not meet the gaze of
the Americans at intervals only; it may be said to haunt every
one of them in his least as well as in his most important
actions, and to be always flitting before his mind. Nothing
conceivable is so petty, so insipid, so crowded with paltry
interests, in one word so anti-poetic, as the life of a man in
the United States. But amongst the thoughts which it suggests
there is always one which is full of poetry, and that is the
hidden nerve which gives vigor to the frame.

In aristocratic ages each people, as well as each
individual, is prone to stand separate and aloof from all others.
In democratic ages, the extreme fluctuations of men and the
impatience of their desires keep them perpetually on the move; so
that the inhabitants of different countries intermingle, see,
listen to, and borrow from each other's stores. It is not only
then the members of the same community who grow more alike;
communities are themselves assimilated to one another, and the
whole assemblage presents to the eye of the spectator one vast
democracy, each citizen of which is a people. This displays the
aspect of mankind for the first time in the broadest light. All
that belongs to the existence of the human race taken as a whole,
to its vicissitudes and to its future, becomes an abundant mine
of poetry. The poets who lived in aristocratic ages have been
eminently successful in their delineations of certain incidents
in the life of a people or a man; but none of them ever ventured
to include within his performances the destinies of mankind - a
task which poets writing in democratic ages may attempt. At that
same time at which every man, raising his eyes above his country,
begins at length to discern mankind at large, the Divinity is
more and more manifest to the human mind in full and entire
majesty. If in democratic ages faith in positive religions be
often shaken, and the belief in intermediate agents, by whatever
name they are called, be overcast; on the other hand men are
disposed to conceive a far broader idea of Providence itself, and
its interference in human affairs assumes a new and more imposing
appearance to their eyes. Looking at the human race as one great
whole, they easily conceive that its destinies are regulated by
the same design; and in the actions of every individual they are
led to acknowledge a trace of that universal and eternal plan on
which God rules our race. This consideration may be taken as
another prolific source of poetry which is opened in democratic
ages. Democratic poets will always appear trivial and frigid if
they seek to invest gods, demons, or angels, with corporeal
forms, and if they attempt to draw them down from heaven to
dispute the supremacy of earth. But if they strive to connect the
great events they commemorate with the general providential
designs which govern the universe, and, without showing the
finger of the Supreme Governor, reveal the thoughts of the
Supreme Mind, their works will be admired and understood, for the
imagination of their contemporaries takes this direction of its
own accord.

It may be foreseen in the like manner that poets living in
democratic ages will prefer the delineation of passions and ideas
to that of persons and achievements. The language, the dress,
and the daily actions of men in democracies are repugnant to
ideal conceptions. These things are not poetical in themselves;
and, if it were otherwise, they would cease to be so, because
they are too familiar to all those to whom the poet would speak
of them. This forces the poet constantly to search below the
external surface which is palpable to the senses, in order to
read the inner soul: and nothing lends itself more to the
delineation of the ideal than the scrutiny of the hidden depths
in the immaterial nature of man. I need not to ramble over earth
and sky to discover a wondrous object woven of contrasts, of
greatness and littleness infinite, of intense gloom and of
amazing brightness - capable at once of exciting pity,
admiration, terror, contempt. I find that object in myself. Man
springs out of nothing, crosses time, and disappears forever in
the bosom of God; he is seen but for a moment,
staggering on the verge of the two abysses, and there he is lost.
If man were wholly ignorant of himself, he would have no poetry
in him; for it is impossible to describe what the mind does not
conceive. If man clearly discerned his own nature, his
imagination would remain idle, and would have nothing to add to
the picture. But the nature of man is sufficiently disclosed for
him to apprehend something of himself; and sufficiently obscure
for all the rest to be plunged in thick darkness, in which he
gropes forever - and forever in vain - to lay hold on some
completer notion of his being.

Amongst a democratic people poetry will not be fed with
legendary lays or the memorials of old traditions. The poet will
not attempt to people the universe with supernatural beings in
whom his readers and his own fancy have ceased to believe; nor
will he present virtues and vices in the mask of frigid
personification, which are better received under their own
features. All these resources fail him; but Man remains, and the
poet needs no more. The destinies of mankind - man himself, taken
aloof from his age and his country, and standing in the presence
of Nature and of God, with his passions, his doubts, his rare
prosperities, and inconceivable wretchedness - will become the
chief, if not the sole theme of poetry amongst these nations.
Experience may confirm this assertion, if we consider the
productions of the greatest poets who have appeared since the
world has been turned to democracy. The authors of our age who
have so admirably delineated the features of Faust, Childe
Harold, Rene, and Jocelyn, did not seek to record the actions of
an individual, but to enlarge and to throw light on some of the
obscurer recesses of the human heart. Such are the poems of
democracy. The principle of equality does not then destroy all
the subjects of poetry: it renders them less numerous, but more

Chapter XVIII: Of The Inflated Style Of American Writers And

I have frequently remarked that the Americans, who generally
treat of business in clear, plain language, devoid of all
ornament, and so extremely simple as to be often coarse, are apt
to become inflated as soon as they attempt a more poetical
diction. They then vent their pomposity from one end of a
harangue to the other; and to hear them lavish imagery on every
occasion, one might fancy that they never spoke of anything with
simplicity. The English are more rarely given to a similar
failing. The cause of this may be pointed out without much
difficulty. In democratic communities each citizen is habitually
engaged in the contemplation of a very puny object, namely
himself. If he ever raises his looks higher, he then perceives
nothing but the immense form of society at large, or the still
more imposing aspect of mankind. His ideas are all either
extremely minute and clear, or extremely general and vague: what
lies between is an open void. When he has been drawn out of his
own sphere, therefore, he always expects that some amazing object
will be offered to his attention; and it is on these terms alone
that he consents to tear himself for an instant from the petty
complicated cares which form the charm and the excitement of his
life. This appears to me sufficiently to explain why men in
democracies, whose concerns are in general so paltry, call upon
their poets for conceptions so vast and descriptions so

The authors, on their part, do not fail to obey a propensity
of which they themselves partake; they perpetually inflate their
imaginations, and expanding them beyond all bounds, they not
unfrequently abandon the great in order to reach the gigantic.
By these means they hope to attract the observation of the
multitude, and to fix it easily upon themselves: nor are their
disappointed; for as the multitude seeks for nothing in poetry
but subjects of very vast dimensions, it has neither the time to
measure with accuracy the proportions of all the subjects set
before it, nor a taste sufficiently correct to perceive at once
in what respect they are out of proportion. The author and the
public at once vitiate one another.

We have just seen that amongst democratic nations, the
sources of poetry are grand, but not abundant. They are soon
exhausted: and poets, not finding the elements of the ideal in
what is real and true, abandon them entirely and create monsters.
I do not fear that the poetry of democratic nations will prove
too insipid, or that it will fly too near the ground; I rather
apprehend that it will be forever losing itself in the clouds,
and that it will range at last to purely imaginary regions. I
fear that the productions of democratic poets may often be
surcharged with immense and incoherent imagery, with exaggerated
descriptions and strange creations; and that the fantastic beings
of their brain may sometimes make us regret the world of reality.

Book One -Chapters XIX-XXI

Chapter XIX: Some Observations On The Drama Amongst Democratic

When the revolution which subverts the social and political
state of an aristocratic people begins to penetrate into
literature, it generally first manifests itself in the drama, and
it always remains conspicuous there. The spectator of a dramatic
piece is, to a certain extent, taken by surprise by the
impression it conveys. He has no time to refer to his memory, or
to consult those more able to judge than himself. It does not
occur to him to resist the new literary tendencies which begin to
be felt by him; he yields to them before he knows what they are.
Authors are very prompt in discovering which way the taste of the
public is thus secretly inclined. They shape their productions
accordingly; and the literature of the stage, after having served
to indicate the approaching literary revolution, speedily
completes its accomplishment. If you would judge beforehand of
the literature of a people which is lapsing into democracy, study
its dramatic productions.

The literature of the stage, moreover, even amongst
aristocratic nations, constitutes the most democratic part of
their literature. No kind of literary gratification is so much
within the reach of the multitude as that which is derived from
theatrical representations. Neither preparation nor study is
required to enjoy them: they lay hold on you in the midst of your
prejudices and your ignorance. When the yet untutored love of
the pleasures of the mind begins to affect a class of the
community, it instantly draws them to the stage. The theatres of
aristocratic nations have always been filled with spectators not
belonging to the aristocracy. At the theatre alone the higher
ranks mix with the middle and the lower classes; there alone do
the former consent to listen to the opinion of the latter, or at
least to allow them to give an opinion at all. At the theatre,
men of cultivation and of literary attainments have always had
more difficulty than elsewhere in making their taste prevail over
that of the people, and in preventing themselves from being
carried away by the latter. The pit has frequently made laws for
the boxes.

If it be difficult for an aristocracy to prevent the people
from getting the upper hand in the theatre, it will readily be
understood that the people will be supreme there when democratic
principles have crept into the laws and manners - when ranks are
intermixed - when minds, as well as fortunes, are brought more
nearly together - and when the upper class has lost, with its
hereditary wealth, its power, its precedents, and its leisure.
The tastes and propensities natural to democratic nations, in
respect to literature, will therefore first be discernible in the
drama, and it may be foreseen that they will break out there with
vehemence. In written productions, the literary canons of
aristocracy will be gently, gradually, and, so to speak, legally
modified; at the theatre they will be riotously overthrown.
The drama brings out most of the good qualities, and almost
all the defects, inherent in democratic literature. Democratic
peoples hold erudition very cheap, and care but little for what
occurred at Rome and Athens; they want to hear something which
concerns themselves, and the delineation of the present age is
what they demand.

When the heroes and the manners of antiquity are frequently
brought upon the stage, and dramatic authors faithfully observe
the rules of antiquated precedent, that is enough to warrant a
conclusion that the democratic classes have not yet got the upper
hand of the theatres. Racine makes a very humble apology in the
preface to the "Britannicus" for having disposed of Junia amongst
the Vestals, who, according to Aulus Gellius, he says, "admitted
no one below six years of age nor above ten." We may be sure that
he would neither have accused himself of the offence, nor
defended himself from censure, if he had written for our
contemporaries. A fact of this kind not only illustrates the
state of literature at the time when it occurred, but also that
of society itself. A democratic stage does not prove that the
nation is in a state of democracy, for, as we have just seen,
even in aristocracies it may happen that democratic tastes affect
the drama; but when the spirit of aristocracy reigns exclusively
on the stage, the fact irrefragably demonstrates that the whole
of society is aristocratic; and it may be boldly inferred that
the same lettered and learned class which sways the dramatic
writers commands the people and governs the country.

The refined tastes and the arrogant bearing of an
aristocracy will rarely fail to lead it, when it manages the
stage, to make a kind of selection in human nature. Some of the
conditions of society claim its chief interest; and the scenes
which delineate their manners are preferred upon the stage.
Certain virtues, and even certain vices, are thought more
particularly to deserve to figure there; and they are applauded
whilst all others are excluded. Upon the stage, as well as
elsewhere, an aristocratic audience will only meet personages of
quality, and share the emotions of kings. The same thing applies
to style: an aristocracy is apt to impose upon dramatic authors
certain modes of expression which give the key in which
everything is to be delivered. By these means the stage
frequently comes to delineate only one side of man, or sometimes
even to represent what is not to be met with in human nature at
all - to rise above nature and to go beyond it.

In democratic communities the spectators have no such
partialities, and they rarely display any such antipathies: they
like to see upon the stage that medley of conditions, of
feelings, and of opinions, which occurs before their eyes. The
drama becomes more striking, more common, and more true.
Sometimes, however, those who write for the stage in democracies
also transgress the bounds of human nature - but it is on a
different side from their predecessors. By seeking to represent
in minute detail the little singularities of the moment and the
peculiar characteristics of certain personages, they forget to
portray the general features of the race.

When the democratic classes rule the stage, they introduce
as much license in the manner of treating subjects as in the
choice of them. As the love of the drama is, of all literary
tastes, that which is most natural to democratic nations, the
number of authors and of spectators, as well as of theatrical
representations, is constantly increasing amongst these
communities. A multitude composed of elements so different, and
scattered in so many different places, cannot acknowledge the
same rules or submit to the same laws. No concurrence is
possible amongst judges so numerous, who know not when they may
meet again; and therefore each pronounces his own sentence on the
piece. If the effect of democracy is generally to question the
authority of all literary rules and conventions, on the stage it
abolishes them altogether, and puts in their place nothing but
the whim of each author and of each public.

The drama also displays in an especial manner the truth of
what I have said before in speaking more generally of style and
art in democratic literature. In reading the criticisms which
were occasioned by the dramatic productions of the age of Louis
XIV, one is surprised to remark the great stress which the public
laid on the probability of the plot, and the importance which was
attached to the perfect consistency of the characters, and to
their doing nothing which could not be easily explained and
understood. The value which was set upon the forms of language at
that period, and the paltry strife about words with which
dramatic authors were assailed, are no less surprising. It would
seem that the men of the age of Louis XIV attached very
exaggerated importance to those details, which may be perceived
in the study, but which escape attention on the stage. For,
after all, the principal object of a dramatic piece is to be
performed, and its chief merit is to affect the audience. But
the audience and the readers in that age were the same: on
quitting the theatre they called up the author for judgment to
their own firesides. In democracies, dramatic pieces are
listened to, but not read. Most of those who frequent the
amusements of the stage do not go there to seek the pleasures of
the mind, but the keen emotions of the heart. They do not expect
to hear a fine literary work, but to see a play; and provided the
author writes the language of his country correctly enough to be
understood, and that his characters excite curiosity and awaken
sympathy, the audience are satisfied. They ask no more of
fiction, and immediately return to real life. Accuracy of style
is therefore less required, because the attentive observance of
its rules is less perceptible on the stage. As for the
probability of the plot, it is incompatible with perpetual
novelty, surprise, and rapidity of invention. It is therefore
neglected, and the public excuses the neglect. You may be sure
that if you succeed in bringing your audience into the presence
of something that affects them, they will not care by what road
you brought them there; and they will never reproach you for
having excited their emotions in spite of dramatic rules.

The Americans very broadly display all the different
propensities which I have here described when they go to the
theatres; but it must be acknowledged that as yet a very small
number of them go to theatres at all. Although playgoers and
plays have prodigiously increased in the United States in the
last forty years, the population indulges in this kind of
amusement with the greatest reserve. This is attributable to
peculiar causes, which the reader is already acquainted with, and
of which a few words will suffice to remind him. The Puritans
who founded the American republics were not only enemies to
amusements, but they professed an especial abhorrence for the
stage. They considered it as an abominable pastime; and as long
as their principles prevailed with undivided sway, scenic
performances were wholly unknown amongst them. These opinions of
the first fathers of the colony have left very deep marks on the
minds of their descendants. The extreme regularity of habits and
the great strictness of manners which are observable in the
United States, have as yet opposed additional obstacles to the
growth of dramatic art. There are no dramatic subjects in a
country which has witnessed no great political catastrophes, and
in which love invariably leads by a straight and easy road to
matrimony. People who spend every day in the week in making
money, and the Sunday in going to church, have nothing to invite
the muse of Comedy.

A single fact suffices to show that the stage is not very
popular in the United States. The Americans, whose laws allow of
the utmost freedom and even license of language in all other
respects, have nevertheless subjected their dramatic authors to a
sort of censorship. Theatrical performances can only take place
by permission of the municipal authorities. This may serve to
show how much communities are like individuals; they surrender
themselves unscrupulously to their ruling passions, and
afterwards take the greatest care not to yield too much to the
vehemence of tastes which they do not possess.

No portion of literature is connected by closer or more
numerous ties with the present condition of society than the
drama. The drama of one period can never be suited to the
following age, if in the interval an important revolution has
changed the manners and the laws of the nation. The great
authors of a preceding age may be read; but pieces written for a
different public will not be followed. The dramatic authors of
the past live only in books. The traditional taste of certain
individuals, vanity, fashion, or the genius of an actor may
sustain or resuscitate for a time the aristocratic drama amongst
a democracy; but it will speedily fall away of itself - not
overthrown, but abandoned.

Chapter XX: Characteristics Of Historians In Democratic Ages
Historians who write in aristocratic ages are wont to refer
all occurrences to the particular will or temper of certain
individuals; and they are apt to attribute the most important
revolutions to very slight accidents. They trace out the smallest
causes with sagacity, and frequently leave the greatest
unperceived. Historians who live in democratic ages exhibit
precisely opposite characteristics. Most of them attribute
hardly any influence to the individual over the destiny of the
race, nor to citizens over the fate of a people; but, on the
other hand, they assign great general causes to all petty
incidents. These contrary tendencies explain each other.

When the historian of aristocratic ages surveys the theatre
of the world, he at once perceives a very small number of
prominent actors, who manage the whole piece. These great
personages, who occupy the front of the stage, arrest the
observation, and fix it on themselves; and whilst the historian
is bent on penetrating the secret motives which make them speak
and act, the rest escape his memory. The importance of the
things which some men are seen to do, gives him an exaggerated
estimate of the influence which one man may possess; and
naturally leads him to think, that in order to explain the
impulses of the multitude, it is necessary to refer them to the
particular influence of some one individual.

When, on the contrary, all the citizens are independent of
one another, and each of them is individually weak, no one is
seen to exert a great, or still less a lasting power, over the
community. At first sight, individuals appear to be absolutely
devoid of any influence over it; and society would seem to
advance alone by the free and voluntary concurrence of all the
men who compose it. This naturally prompts the mind to search
for that general reason which operates upon so many men's
faculties at the same time, and turns them simultaneously in the
same direction.

I am very well convinced that even amongst democratic
nations, the genius, the vices, or the virtues of certain
individuals retard or accelerate the natural current of a
people's history: but causes of this secondary and fortuitous
nature are infinitely more various, more concealed, more complex,
less powerful, and consequently less easy to trace in periods of
equality than in ages of aristocracy, when the task of the
historian is simply to detach from the mass of general events the
particular influences of one man or of a few men. In the former
case the historian is soon wearied by the toil; his mind loses
itself in this labyrinth; and, in his inability clearly to
discern or conspicuously to point out the influence of
individuals, he denies their existence. He prefers talking about
the characteristics of race, the physical conformation of the
country, or the genius of civilization, which abridges his own
labors, and satisfies his reader far better at less cost.

M. de Lafayette says somewhere in his "Memoirs" that the
exaggerated system of general causes affords surprising
consolations to second-rate statesmen. I will add, that its
effects are not less consolatory to second-rate historians; it
can always furnish a few mighty reasons to extricate them from
the most difficult part of their work, and it indulges the
indolence or incapacity of their minds, whilst it confers upon
them the honors of deep thinking.

For myself, I am of opinion that at all times one great
portion of the events of this world are attributable to general
facts, and another to special influences. These two kinds of
cause are always in operation: their proportion only varies.
General facts serve to explain more things in democratic than in
aristocratic ages, and fewer things are then assignable to
special influences. At periods of aristocracy the reverse takes
place: special influences are stronger, general causes weaker -
unless indeed we consider as a general cause the fact itself of
the inequality of conditions, which allows some individuals to
baffle the natural tendencies of all the rest. The historians
who seek to describe what occurs in democratic societies are
right, therefore, in assigning much to general causes, and in
devoting their chief attention to discover them; but they are
wrong in wholly denying the special influence of individuals,
because they cannot easily trace or follow it.

The historians who live in democratic ages are not only
prone to assign a great cause to every incident, but they are
also given to connect incidents together, so as to deduce a
system from them. In aristocratic ages, as the attention of
historians is constantly drawn to individuals, the connection of
events escapes them; or rather, they do not believe in any such
connection. To them the clew of history seems every instant
crossed and broken by the step of man. In democratic ages, on
the contrary, as the historian sees much more of actions than of
actors, he may easily establish some kind of sequency and
methodical order amongst the former. Ancient literature, which
is so rich in fine historical compositions, does not contain a
single great historical system, whilst the poorest of modern
literatures abound with them. It would appear that the ancient
historians did not make sufficient use of those general theories
which our historical writers are ever ready to carry to excess.

Those who write in democratic ages have another more
dangerous tendency. When the traces of individual action upon
nations are lost, it often happens that the world goes on to
move, though the moving agent is no longer discoverable. As it
becomes extremely difficult to discern and to analyze the reasons
which, acting separately on the volition of each member of the
community, concur in the end to produce movement in the old mass,
men are led to believe that this movement is involuntary, and
that societies unconsciously obey some superior force ruling over
them. But even when the general fact which governs the private
volition of all individuals is supposed to be discovered upon the
earth, the principle of human free-will is not secure. A cause
sufficiently extensive to affect millions of men at once, and
sufficiently strong to bend them all together in the same
direction, may well seem irresistible: having seen that mankind
do yield to it, the mind is close upon the inference that mankind
cannot resist it.

Historians who live in democratic ages, then, not only deny
that the few have any power of acting upon the destiny of a
people, but they deprive the people themselves of the power of
modifying their own condition, and they subject them either to an
inflexible Providence, or to some blind necessity. According to
them, each nation is indissolubly bound by its position, its
origin, its precedents, and its character, to a certain lot which
no efforts can ever change. They involve generation in
generation, and thus, going back from age to age, and from
necessity to necessity, up to the origin of the world, they forge
a close and enormous chain, which girds and binds the human race.
To their minds it is not enough to show what events have
occurred: they would fain show that events could not have
occurred otherwise. They take a nation arrived at a certain
stage of its history, and they affirm that it could not but
follow the track which brought it thither. It is easier to make
such an assertion than to show by what means the nation might
have adopted a better course.

In reading the historians of aristocratic ages, and
especially those of antiquity, it would seem that, to be master
of his lot, and to govern his fellow-creatures, man requires only
to be master of himself. In perusing the historical volumes
which our age has produced, it would seem that man is utterly
powerless over himself and over all around him. The historians
of antiquity taught how to command: those of our time teach only
how to obey; in their writings the author often appears great,
but humanity is always diminutive. If this doctrine of
necessity, which is so attractive to those who write history in
democratic ages, passes from authors to their readers, till it
infects the whole mass of the community and gets possession of
the public mind, it will soon paralyze the activity of modern
society, and reduce Christians to the level of the Turks. I
would moreover observe, that such principles are peculiarly
dangerous at the period at which we are arrived. Our
contemporaries are but too prone to doubt of the human free-will,
because each of them feels himself confined on every side by his
own weakness; but they are still willing to acknowledge the
strength and independence of men united in society. Let not this
principle be lost sight of; for the great object in our time is
to raise the faculties of men, not to complete their prostration.
Chapter XXI: Of Parliamentary Eloquence In The United States
Amongst aristocratic nations all the members of the
community are connected with and dependent upon each other; the
graduated scale of different ranks acts as a tie, which keeps
everyone in his proper place and the whole body in subordination.
Something of the same kind always occurs in the political
assemblies of these nations. Parties naturally range themselves
under certain leaders, whom they obey by a sort of instinct,
which is only the result of habits contracted elsewhere. They
carry the manners of general society into the lesser assemblage.

In democratic countries it often happens that a great number
of citizens are tending to the same point; but each one only
moves thither, or at least flatters himself that he moves, of his
own accord. Accustomed to regulate his doings by personal
impulse alone, he does not willingly submit to dictation from
without. This taste and habit of independence accompany him into
the councils of the nation. If he consents to connect himself
with other men in the prosecution of the same purpose, at least
he chooses to remain free to contribute to the common success
after his own fashion. Hence it is that in democratic countries
parties are so impatient of control, and are never manageable
except in moments of great public danger. Even then, the
authority of leaders, which under such circumstances may be able
to make men act or speak, hardly ever reaches the extent of
making them keep silence.

Amongst aristocratic nations the members of political
assemblies are at the same time members of the aristocracy. Each
of them enjoys high established rank in his own right, and the
position which he occupies in the assembly is often less
important in his eyes than that which he fills in the country.
This consoles him for playing no part in the discussion of public
affairs, and restrains him from too eagerly attempting to play an
insignificant one.

In America, it generally happens that a Representative only
becomes somebody from his position in the Assembly. He is
therefore perpetually haunted by a craving to acquire importance
there, and he feels a petulant desire to be constantly obtruding
his opinions upon the House. His own vanity is not the only
stimulant which urges him on in this course, but that of his
constituents, and the continual necessity of propitiating them.
Amongst aristocratic nations a member of the legislature is
rarely in strict dependence upon his constituents: he is
frequently to them a sort of unavoidable representative;
sometimes they are themselves strictly dependent upon him; and if
at length they reject him, he may easily get elected elsewhere,
or, retiring from public life, he may still enjoy the pleasures
of splendid idleness. In a democratic country like the United
States a Representative has hardly ever a lasting hold on the
minds of his constituents. However small an electoral body may
be, the fluctuations of democracy are constantly changing its
aspect; it must, therefore, be courted unceasingly. He is never
sure of his supporters, and, if they forsake him, he is left
without a resource; for his natural position is not sufficiently
elevated for him to be easily known to those not close to him;
and, with the complete state of independence prevailing among the
people, he cannot hope that his friends or the government will
send him down to be returned by an electoral body unacquainted
with him. The seeds of his fortune are, therefore, sown in his
own neighborhood; from that nook of earth he must start, to raise
himself to the command of a people and to influence the destinies
of the world. Thus it is natural that in democratic countries
the members of political assemblies think more of their
constituents than of their party, whilst in aristocracies they
think more of their party than of their constituents.

But what ought to be said to gratify constituents is not
always what ought to be said in order to serve the party to which
Representatives profess to belong. The general interest of a
party frequently demands that members belonging to it should not
speak on great questions which they understand imperfectly; that
they should speak but little on those minor questions which
impede the great ones; lastly, and for the most part, that they
should not speak at all. To keep silence is the most useful
service that an indifferent spokesman can render to the
commonwealth. Constituents, however, do not think so. The
population of a district sends a representative to take a part in
the government of a country, because they entertain a very lofty
notion of his merits. As men appear greater in proportion to the
littleness of the objects by which they are surrounded, it may be
assumed that the opinion entertained of the delegate will be so
much the higher as talents are more rare among his constituents.
It will therefore frequently happen that the less constituents
have to expect from their representative, the more they will
anticipate from him; and, however incompetent he may be, they
will not fail to call upon him for signal exertions,
corresponding to the rank they have conferred upon him.

Independently of his position as a legislator of the State,
electors also regard their Representative as the natural patron
of the constituency in the Legislature; they almost consider him
as the proxy of each of his supporters, and they flatter
themselves that he will not be less zealous in defense of their
private interests than of those of the country. Thus electors
are well assured beforehand that the Representative of their
choice will be an orator; that he will speak often if he can, and
that in case he is forced to refrain, he will strive at any rate
to compress into his less frequent orations an inquiry into all
the great questions of state, combined with a statement of all
the petty grievances they have themselves to complain to; so
that, though he be not able to come forward frequently, he should
on each occasion prove what he is capable of doing; and that,
instead of perpetually lavishing his powers, he should
occasionally condense them in a small compass, so as to furnish a
sort of complete and brilliant epitome of his constituents and of
himself. On these terms they will vote for him at the next
election. These conditions drive worthy men of humble abilities
to despair, who, knowing their own powers, would never
voluntarily have come forward. But thus urged on, the
Representative begins to speak, to the great alarm of his
friends; and rushing imprudently into the midst of the most
celebrated orators, he perplexes the debate and wearies the

All laws which tend to make the Representative more
dependent on the elector, not only affect the conduct of the
legislators, as I have remarked elsewhere, but also their
language. They exercise a simultaneous influence on affairs
themselves, and on the manner in which affairs are discussed.

There is hardly a member of Congress who can make up his
mind to go home without having despatched at least one speech to
his constituents; nor who will endure any interruption until he
has introduced into his harangue whatever useful suggestions may
be made touching the four-and-twenty States of which the Union is
composed, and especially the district which he represents. He
therefore presents to the mind of his auditors a succession of
great general truths (which he himself only comprehends, and
expresses, confusedly), and of petty minutia, which he is but too
able to discover and to point out. The consequence is that the
debates of that great assembly are frequently vague and
perplexed, and that they seem rather to drag their slow length
along than to advance towards a distinct object. Some such state
of things will, I believe, always arise in the public assemblies
of democracies.

Propitious circumstances and good laws might succeed in
drawing to the legislature of a democratic people men very
superior to those who are returned by the Americans to Congress;
but nothing will ever prevent the men of slender abilities who
sit there from obtruding themselves with complacency, and in all
ways, upon the public. The evil does not appear to me to be
susceptible of entire cure, because it not only originates in the
tactics of that assembly, but in its constitution and in that of
the country. The inhabitants of the United States seem themselves
to consider the matter in this light; and they show their long
experience of parliamentary life not by abstaining from making
bad speeches, but by courageously submitting to hear them made.
They are resigned to it, as to an evil which they know to be

We have shown the petty side of political debates in
democratic assemblies - let us now exhibit the more imposing one.
The proceedings within the Parliament of England for the last one
hundred and fifty years have never occasioned any great sensation
out of that country; the opinions and feelings expressed by the
speakers have never awakened much sympathy, even amongst the
nations placed nearest to the great arena of British liberty;
whereas Europe was excited by the very first debates which took
place in the small colonial assemblies of America at the time of
the Revolution. This was attributable not only to particular and
fortuitous circumstances, but to general and lasting causes. I
can conceive nothing more admirable or more powerful than a great
orator debating on great questions of state in a democratic
assembly. As no particular class is ever represented there by men
commissioned to defend its own interests, it is always to the
whole nation, and in the name of the whole nation, that the
orator speaks. This expands his thoughts, and heightens his
power of language. As precedents have there but little weight
-as there are no longer any privileges attached to certain
property, nor any rights inherent in certain bodies or in certain
individuals, the mind must have recourse to general truths
derived from human nature to resolve the particular question
under discussion. Hence the political debates of a democratic
people, however small it may be, have a degree of breadth which
frequently renders them attractive to mankind. All men are
interested by them, because they treat of man, who is everywhere
the same. Amongst the greatest aristocratic nations, on the
contrary, the most general questions are almost always argued on
some special grounds derived from the practice of a particular
time, or the rights of a particular class; which interest that
class alone, or at most the people amongst whom that class
happens to exist. It is owing to this, as much as to the
greatness of the French people, and the favorable disposition of
the nations who listen to them, that the great effect which the
French political debates sometimes produce in the world, must be
attributed. The orators of France frequently speak to mankind,
even when they are addressing their countrymen only.

Book 2

Influence Of Democracy On The Feelings Of Americans

Chapter I: Why Democratic Nations Show A More Ardent And Enduring
Love Of Equality Than Of Liberty

The first and most intense passion which is engendered by
the equality of conditions is, I need hardly say, the love of
that same equality. My readers will therefore not be surprised
that I speak of its before all others. Everybody has remarked
that in our time, and especially in France, this passion for
equality is every day gaining ground in the human heart. It has
been said a hundred times that our contemporaries are far more
ardently and tenaciously attached to equality than to freedom;
but as I do not find that the causes of the fact have been
sufficiently analyzed, I shall endeavor to point them out.

It is possible to imagine an extreme point at which freedom
and equality would meet and be confounded together. Let us
suppose that all the members of the community take a part in the
government, and that each of them has an equal right to take a
part in it. As none is different from his fellows, none can
exercise a tyrannical power: men will be perfectly free, because
they will all be entirely equal; and they will all be perfectly
equal, because they will be entirely free. To this ideal state
democratic nations tend. Such is the completest form that
equality can assume upon earth; but there are a thousand others
which, without being equally perfect, are not less cherished by
those nations.

The principle of equality may be established in civil
society, without prevailing in the political world. Equal rights
may exist of indulging in the same pleasures, of entering the
same professions, of frequenting the same places - in a word, of
living in the same manner and seeking wealth by the same means,
although all men do not take an equal share in the government. A
kind of equality may even be established in the political world,
though there should be no political freedom there. A man may be
the equal of all his countrymen save one, who is the master of
all without distinction, and who selects equally from among them
all the agents of his power. Several other combinations might be
easily imagined, by which very great equality would be united to
institutions more or less free, or even to institutions wholly
without freedom. Although men cannot become absolutely equal
unless they be entirely free, and consequently equality, pushed
to its furthest extent, may be confounded with freedom, yet there
is good reason for distinguishing the one from the other. The
taste which men have for liberty, and that which they feel for
equality, are, in fact, two different things; and I am not afraid
to add that, amongst democratic nations, they are two unequal

Upon close inspection, it will be seen that there is in
every age some peculiar and preponderating fact with which all
others are connected; this fact almost always gives birth to some
pregnant idea or some ruling passion, which attracts to itself,
and bears away in its course, all the feelings and opinions of
the time: it is like a great stream, towards which each of the
surrounding rivulets seems to flow. Freedom has appeared in the
world at different times and under various forms; it has not been
exclusively bound to any social condition, and it is not confined
to democracies. Freedom cannot, therefore, form the
distinguishing characteristic of democratic ages. The peculiar
and preponderating fact which marks those ages as its own is the
equality of conditions; the ruling passion of men in those
periods is the love of this equality. Ask not what singular
charm the men of democratic ages find in being equal, or what
special reasons they may have for clinging so tenaciously to
equality rather than to the other advantages which society holds
out to them: equality is the distinguishing characteristic of the
age they live in; that, of itself, is enough to explain that they
prefer it to all the rest.

But independently of this reason there are several others,
which will at all times habitually lead men to prefer equality to
freedom. If a people could ever succeed in destroying, or even
in diminishing, the equality which prevails in its own body, this
could only be accomplished by long and laborious efforts. Its
social condition must be modified, its laws abolished, its
opinions superseded, its habits changed, its manners corrupted.
But political liberty is more easily lost; to neglect to hold it
fast is to allow it to escape. Men therefore not only cling to
equality because it is dear to them; they also adhere to it
because they think it will last forever.

That political freedom may compromise in its excesses the
tranquillity, the property, the lives of individuals, is obvious
to the narrowest and most unthinking minds. But, on the
contrary, none but attentive and clear-sighted men perceive the
perils with which equality threatens us, and they commonly avoid
pointing them out. They know that the calamities they apprehend
are remote, and flatter themselves that they will only fall upon
future generations, for which the present generation takes but
little thought. The evils which freedom sometimes brings with it
are immediate; they are apparent to all, and all are more or less
affected by them. The evils which extreme equality may produce
are slowly disclosed; they creep gradually into the social frame;
they are only seen at intervals, and at the moment at which they
become most violent habit already causes them to be no longer
felt. The advantages which freedom brings are only shown by
length of time; and it is always easy to mistake the cause in
which they originate. The advantages of equality are
instantaneous, and they may constantly be traced from their
source. Political liberty bestows exalted pleasures, from time
to time, upon a certain number of citizens. Equality every day
confers a number of small enjoyments on every man. The charms of
equality are every instant felt, and are within the reach of all;
the noblest hearts are not insensible to them, and the most
vulgar souls exult in them. The passion which equality engenders
must therefore be at once strong and general. Men cannot enjoy
political liberty unpurchased by some sacrifices, and they never
obtain it without great exertions. But the pleasures of equality
are self-proffered: each of the petty incidents of life seems to
occasion them, and in order to taste them nothing is required but
to live.

Democratic nations are at all times fond of equality, but
there are certain epochs at which the passion they entertain for
it swells to the height of fury. This occurs at the moment when
the old social system, long menaced, completes its own
destruction after a last intestine struggle, and when the
barriers of rank are at length thrown down. At such times men
pounce upon equality as their booty, and they cling to it as to
some precious treasure which they fear to lose. The passion for
equality penetrates on every side into men's hearts, expands
there, and fills them entirely. Tell them not that by this blind
surrender of themselves to an exclusive passion they risk their
dearest interests: they are deaf. Show them not freedom escaping
from their grasp, whilst they are looking another way: they are
blind - or rather, they can discern but one sole object to be
desired in the universe.

What I have said is applicable to all democratic nations:
what I am about to say concerns the French alone. Amongst most
modern nations, and especially amongst all those of the Continent
of Europe, the taste and the idea of freedom only began to exist
and to extend themselves at the time when social conditions were
tending to equality, and as a consequence of that very equality.
Absolute kings were the most efficient levellers of ranks amongst
their subjects. Amongst these nations equality preceded freedom:
equality was therefore a fact of some standing when freedom was
still a novelty: the one had already created customs, opinions,
and laws belonging to it, when the other, alone and for the first
time, came into actual existence. Thus the latter was still only
an affair of opinion and of taste, whilst the former had already
crept into the habits of the people, possessed itself of their
manners, and given a particular turn to the smallest actions of
their lives. Can it be wondered that the men of our own time
prefer the one to the other?

I think that democratic communities have a natural taste for
freedom: left to themselves, they will seek it, cherish it, and
view any privation of it with regret. But for equality, their
passion is ardent, insatiable, incessant, invincible: they call
for equality in freedom; and if they cannot obtain that, they
still call for equality in slavery. They will endure poverty,
servitude, barbarism - but they will not endure aristocracy.
This is true at all times, and especially true in our own. All
men and all powers seeking to cope with this irresistible
passion, will be overthrown and destroyed by it. In our age,
freedom cannot be established without it, and despotism itself
cannot reign without its support.

Chapter II: Of Individualism In Democratic Countries

I have shown how it is that in ages of equality every man
seeks for his opinions within himself: I am now about to show how
it is that, in the same ages, all his feelings are turned towards
himselfalone. Individualism *a is a novel expression, to which a
novel idea has given birth. Our fathers were only acquainted
with egotism. Egotism is a passionate and exaggerated love of
self, which leads a man to connect everything with his own
person, and to prefer himself to everything in the world.
Individualism is a mature and calm feeling, which disposes each
member of the community to sever himself from the mass of his
fellow-creatures; and to draw apart with his family and his
friends; so that, after he has thus formed a little circle of his
own, he willingly leaves society at large to itself. Egotism
originates in blind instinct: individualism proceeds from
erroneous judgment more than from depraved feelings; it
originates as much in the deficiencies of the mind as in the
perversity of the heart. Egotism blights the germ of all virtue;
individualism, at first, only saps the virtues of public life;
but, in the long run, it attacks and destroys all others, and is
at length absorbed in downright egotism. Egotism is a vice as
old as the world, which does not belong to one form of society
more than to another: individualism is of democratic origin, and
it threatens to spread in the same ratio as the equality of

[Footnote a: [I adopt the expression of the original, however
strange it may seem to the English ear, partly because it
illustrates the remark on the introduction of general terms into
democratic language which was made in a preceding chapter, and
partly because I know of no English word exactly equivalent to
the expression. The chapter itself defines the meaning attached
to it by the author. - Translator's Note.]]

Amongst aristocratic nations, as families remain for
centuries in the same condition, often on the same spot, all
generations become as it were contemporaneous. A man almost
always knows his forefathers, and respects them: he thinks he
already sees his remote descendants, and he loves them. He
willingly imposes duties on himself towards the former and the
latter; and he will frequently sacrifice his personal
gratifications to those who went before and to those who will
come after him. Aristocratic institutions have, moreover, the
effect of closely binding every man to several of his
fellow-citizens. As the classes of an aristocratic people are
strongly marked and permanent, each of them is regarded by its
own members as a sort of lesser country, more tangible and more
cherished than the country at large. As in aristocratic
communities all the citizens occupy fixed positions, one above
the other, the result is that each of them always sees a man
above himself whose patronage is necessary to him, and below
himself another man whose co-operation he may claim. Men living
in aristocratic ages are therefore almost always closely attached
to something placed out of their own sphere, and they are often
disposed to forget themselves. It is true that in those ages the
notion of human fellowship is faint, and that men seldom think of
sacrificing themselves for mankind; but they often sacrifice
themselves for other men. In democratic ages, on the contrary,
when the duties of each individual to the race are much more
clear, devoted service to any one man becomes more rare; the bond
of human affection is extended, but it is relaxed.

Amongst democratic nations new families are constantly
springing up, others are constantly falling away, and all that
remain change their condition; the woof of time is every instant
broken, and the track of generations effaced. Those who went
before are soon forgotten; of those who will come after no one
has any idea: the interest of man is confined to those in close
propinquity to himself. As each class approximates to other
classes, and intermingles with them, its members become
indifferent and as strangers to one another. Aristocracy had
made a chain of all the members of the community, from the
peasant to the king: democracy breaks that chain, and severs
every link of it. As social conditions become more equal, the
number of persons increases who, although they are neither rich
enough nor powerful enough to exercise any great influence over
their fellow-creatures, have nevertheless acquired or retained
sufficient education and fortune to satisfy their own wants.
They owe nothing to any man, they expect nothing from any man;
they acquire the habit of always considering themselves as
standing alone, and they are apt to imagine that their whole
destiny is in their own hands. Thus not only does democracy make
every man forget his ancestors, but it hides his descendants, and
separates his contemporaries from him; it throws him back forever
upon himself alone, and threatens in the end to confine him
entirely within the solitude of his own heart.
Chapter III: Individualism Stronger At The Close Of A Democratic
Revolution Than At Other Periods

The period when the construction of democratic society upon
the ruins of an aristocracy has just been completed, is
especially that at which this separation of men from one another,
and the egotism resulting from it, most forcibly strike the
observation. Democratic communities not only contain a large
number of independent citizens, but they are constantly filled
with men who, having entered but yesterday upon their independent
condition, are intoxicated with their new power. They entertain
a presumptuous confidence in their strength, and as they do not
suppose that they can henceforward ever have occasion to claim
the assistance of their fellow-creatures, they do not scruple to
show that they care for nobody but themselves.

An aristocracy seldom yields without a protracted struggle,
in the course of which implacable animosities are kindled between
the different classes of society. These passions survive the
victory, and traces of them may be observed in the midst of the
democratic confusion which ensues. Those members of the
community who were at the top of the late gradations of rank
cannot immediately forget their former greatness; they will long
regard themselves as aliens in the midst of the newly composed
society. They look upon all those whom this state of society has
made their equals as oppressors, whose destiny can excite no
sympathy; they have lost sight of their former equals, and feel
no longer bound by a common interest to their fate: each of them,
standing aloof, thinks that he is reduced to care for himself
alone. Those, on the contrary, who were formerly at the foot of
the social scale, and who have been brought up to the common
level by a sudden revolution, cannot enjoy their newly acquired
independence without secret uneasiness; and if they meet with
some of their former superiors on the same footing as themselves,
they stand aloof from them with an expression of triumph and of
fear. It is, then, commonly at the outset of democratic society
that citizens are most disposed to live apart. Democracy leads
men not to draw near to their fellow- creatures; but democratic
revolutions lead them to shun each other, and perpetuate in a
state of equality the animosities which the state of inequality
engendered. The great advantage of the Americans is that they
have arrived at a state of democracy without having to endure a
democratic revolution; and that they are born equal, instead of
becoming so.

Chapter IV: That The Americans Combat The Effects Of
Individualism By Free Institutions

Despotism, which is of a very timorous nature, is never more
secure of continuance than when it can keep men asunder; and all
is influence is commonly exerted for that purpose. No vice of
the human heart is so acceptable to it as egotism: a despot
easily forgives his subjects for not loving him, provided they do
not love each other. He does not ask them to assist him in
governing the State; it is enough that they do not aspire to
govern it themselves. He stigmatizes as turbulent and unruly
spirits those who would combine their exertions to promote the
prosperity of the community, and, perverting the natural meaning
of words, he applauds as good citizens those who have no sympathy
for any but themselves. Thus the vices which despotism engenders
are precisely those which equality fosters. These two things
mutually and perniciously complete and assist each other.
Equality places men side by side, unconnected by any common tie;
despotism raises barriers to keep them asunder; the former
predisposes them not to consider their fellow-creatures, the
latter makes general indifference a sort of public virtue.

Despotism then, which is at all times dangerous, is more
particularly to be feared in democratic ages. It is easy to see
that in those same ages men stand most in need of freedom. When
the members of a community are forced to attend to public
affairs, they are necessarily drawn from the circle of their own
interests, and snatched at times from self-observation. As soon
as a man begins to treat of public affairs in public, he begins
to perceive that he is not so independent of his fellow-men as he
had at first imagined, and that, in order to obtain their
support, he must often lend them his co-operation.

When the public is supreme, there is no man who does not
feel the value of public goodwill, or who does not endeavor to
court it by drawing to himself the esteem and affection of those
amongst whom he is to live. Many of the passions which congeal
and keep asunder human hearts, are then obliged to retire and
hide below the surface. Pride must be dissembled; disdain dares
not break out; egotism fears its own self. Under a free
government, as most public offices are elective, the men whose
elevated minds or aspiring hopes are too closely circumscribed in
private life, constantly feel that they cannot do without the
population which surrounds them. Men learn at such times to
think of their fellow- men from ambitious motives; and they
frequently find it, in a manner, their interest to forget

I may here be met by an objection derived from
electioneering intrigues, the meannesses of candidates, and the
calumnies of their opponents. These are opportunities for
animosity which occur the oftener the more frequent elections
become. Such evils are doubtless great, but they are transient;
whereas the benefits which attend them remain. The desire of
being elected may lead some men for a time to violent hostility;
but this same desire leads all men in the long run mutually to
support each other; and if it happens that an election
accidentally severs two friends, the electoral system brings a
multitude of citizens permanently together, who would always have
remained unknown to each other. Freedom engenders private
animosities, but despotism gives birth to general indifference.

The Americans have combated by free institutions the
tendency of equality to keep men asunder, and they have subdued
it. The legislators of America did not suppose that a general
representation of the whole nation would suffice to ward off a
disorder at once so natural to the frame of democratic society,
and so fatal: they also thought that it would be well to infuse
political life into each portion of the territory, in order to
multiply to an infinite extent opportunities of acting in concert
for all the members of the community, and to make them constantly
feel their mutual dependence on each other. The plan was a wise
one. The general affairs of a country only engage the attention
of leading politicians, who assemble from time to time in the
same places; and as they often lose sight of each other
afterwards, no lasting ties are established between them. But if
the object be to have the local affairs of a district conducted
by the men who reside there, the same persons are always in
contact, and they are, in a manner, forced to be acquainted, and
to adapt themselves to one another.

It is difficult to draw a man out of his own circle to
interest him in the destiny of the State, because he does not
clearly understand what influence the destiny of the State can
have upon his own lot. But if it be proposed to make a road
cross the end of his estate, he will see at a glance that there
is a connection between this small public affair and his greatest
private affairs; and he will discover, without its being shown to
him, the close tie which unites private to general interest.
Thus, far more may be done by intrusting to the citizens the
administration of minor affairs than by surrendering to them the
control of important ones, towards interesting them in the public
welfare, and convincing them that they constantly stand in need
one of the other in order to provide for it. A brilliant
achievement may win for you the favor of a people at one stroke;
but to earn the love and respect of the population which
surrounds you, a long succession of little services rendered and
of obscure good deeds -a constant habit of kindness, and an
established reputation for disinterestedness - will be required.
Local freedom, then, which leads a great number of citizens to
value the affection of their neighbors and of their kindred,
perpetually brings men together, and forces them to help one
another, in spite of the propensities which sever them.

In the United States the more opulent citizens take great
care not to stand aloof from the people; on the contrary, they
constantly keep on easy terms with the lower classes: they listen
to them, they speak to them every day. They know that the rich
in democracies always stand in need of the poor; and that in
democratic ages you attach a poor man to you more by your manner
than by benefits conferred. The magnitude of such benefits,
which sets off the difference of conditions, causes a secret
irritation to those who reap advantage from them; but the charm
of simplicity of manners is almost irresistible: their affability
carries men away, and even their want of polish is not always
displeasing. This truth does not take root at once in the minds
of the rich. They generally resist it as long as the democratic
revolution lasts, and they do not acknowledge it immediately

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