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Democracy In America, Volume 2 by Alexis de Toqueville

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after that revolution is accomplished. They are very ready to do
good to the people, but they still choose to keep them at arm's
length; they think that is sufficient, but they are mistaken.
They might spend fortunes thus without warming the hearts of the
population around them; - that population does not ask them for
the sacrifice of their money, but of their pride.

It would seem as if every imagination in the United States
were upon the stretch to invent means of increasing the wealth
and satisfying the wants of the public. The best-informed
inhabitants of each district constantly use their information to
discover new truths which may augment the general prosperity; and
if they have made any such discoveries, they eagerly surrender
them to the mass of the people.

When the vices and weaknesses, frequently exhibited by those
who govern in America, are closely examined, the prosperity of
the people occasions - but improperly occasions - surprise.
Elected magistrates do not make the American democracy flourish;
it flourishes because the magistrates are elective.

It would be unjust to suppose that the patriotism and the
zeal which every American displays for the welfare of his fellow-
citizens are wholly insincere. Although private interest directs
the greater part of human actions in the United States as well as
elsewhere, it does not regulate them all. I must say that I have
often seen Americans make great and real sacrifices to the public
welfare; and I have remarked a hundred instances in which they
hardly ever failed to lend faithful support to each other. The
free institutions which the inhabitants of the United States
possess, and the political rights of which they make so much use,
remind every citizen, and in a thousand ways, that he lives in
society. They every instant impress upon his mind the notion
that it is the duty, as well as the interest of men, to make
themselves useful to their fellow-creatures; and as he sees no
particular ground of animosity to them, since he is never either
their master or their slave, his heart readily leans to the side
of kindness. Men attend to the interests of the public, first by
necessity, afterwards by choice: what was intentional becomes an
instinct; and by dint of working for the good of one's fellow
citizens, the habit and the taste for serving them is at length

Many people in France consider equality of conditions as one
evil, and political freedom as a second. When they are obliged
to yield to the former, they strive at least to escape from the
latter. But I contend that in order to combat the evils which
equality may produce, there is only one effectual remedy -
namely, political freedom.

Book Two - Chapters V-VII

Chapter V: Of The Use Which The Americans Make Of Public
Associations In Civil Life

I do not propose to speak of those political associations -
by the aid of which men endeavor to defend themselves against the
despotic influence of a majority - or against the aggressions of
regal power. That subject I have already treated. If each
citizen did not learn, in proportion as he individually becomes
more feeble, and consequently more incapable of preserving his
freedom single-handed, to combine with his fellow-citizens for
the purpose of defending it, it is clear that tyranny would
unavoidably increase together with equality.

Those associations only which are formed in civil life,
without reference to political objects, are here adverted to.
The political associations which exist in the United States are
only a single feature in the midst of the immense assemblage of
associations in that country. Americans of all ages, all
conditions, and all dispositions, constantly form associations.
They have not only commercial and manufacturing companies, in
which all take part, but associations of a thousand other kinds -
religious, moral, serious, futile, extensive, or restricted,
enormous or diminutive. The Americans make associations to give
entertainments, to found establishments for education, to build
inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send
missionaries to the antipodes; and in this manner they found
hospitals, prisons, and schools. If it be proposed to advance
some truth, or to foster some feeling by the encouragement of a
great example, they form a society. Wherever, at the head of
some new undertaking, you see the government in France, or a man
of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find
an association. I met with several kinds of associations in
America, of which I confess I had no previous notion; and I have
often admired the extreme skill with which the inhabitants of the
United States succeed in proposing a common object to the
exertions of a great many men, and in getting them voluntarily to
pursue it. I have since travelled over England, whence the
Americans have taken some of their laws and many of their
customs; and it seemed to me that the principle of
association was by no means so constantly or so adroitly used in
that country. The English often perform great things singly;
whereas the Americans form associations for the smallest
undertakings. It is evident that the former people consider
association as a powerful means of action, but the latter seem to
regard it as the only means they have of acting.

Thus the most democratic country on the face of the earth is
that in which men have in our time carried to the highest
perfection the art of pursuing in common the object of their
common desires, and have applied this new science to the greatest
number of purposes. Is this the result of accident? or is there
in reality any necessary connection between the principle of
association and that of equality? Aristocratic communities
always contain, amongst a multitude of persons who by themselves
are powerless, a small number of powerful and wealthy citizens,
each of whom can achieve great undertakings single-handed. In
aristocratic societies men do not need to combine in order to
act, because they are strongly held together. Every wealthy and
powerful citizen constitutes the head of a permanent and
compulsory association, composed of all those who are dependent
upon him, or whom he makes subservient to the execution of his
designs. Amongst democratic nations, on the contrary, all the
citizens are independent and feeble; they can do hardly anything
by themselves, and none of them can oblige his fellow-men to lend
him their assistance. They all, therefore, fall into a state of
incapacity, if they do not learn voluntarily to help each other.
If men living in democratic countries had no right and no
inclination to associate for political purposes, their
independence would be in great jeopardy; but they might long
preserve their wealth and their cultivation: whereas if they
never acquired the habit of forming associations in ordinary
life, civilization itself would be endangered. A people amongst
which individuals should lose the power of achieving great things
single-handed, without acquiring the means of producing them by
united exertions, would soon relapse into barbarism.

Unhappily, the same social condition which renders
associations so necessary to democratic nations, renders their
formation more difficult amongst those nations than amongst all
others. When several members of an aristocracy agree to combine,
they easily succeed in doing so; as each of them brings great
strength to the partnership, the number of its members may be
very limited; and when the members of an association are limited
in number, they may easily become mutually acquainted, understand
each other, and establish fixed regulations. The same
opportunities do not occur amongst democratic nations, where the
associated members must always be very numerous for their
association to have any power.

I am aware that many of my countrymen are not in the least
embarrassed by this difficulty. They contend that the more
enfeebled and incompetent the citizens become, the more able and
active the government ought to be rendered, in order that society
at large may execute what individuals can no longer accomplish.
They believe this answers the whole difficulty, but I think they
are mistaken. A government might perform the part of some of the
largest American companies; and several States, members of the
Union, have already attempted it; but what political power could
ever carry on the vast multitude of lesser undertakings which the
American citizens perform every day, with the assistance of the
principle of association? It is easy to foresee that the time is
drawing near when man will be less and less able to produce, of
himself alone, the commonest necessaries of life. The task of
the governing power will therefore perpetually increase, and its
very efforts will extend it every day. The more it stands in the
place of associations, the more will individuals, losing the
notion of combining together, require its assistance: these are
causes and effects which unceasingly engender each other. Will
the administration of the country ultimately assume the
management of all the manufacturers, which no single citizen is
able to carry on? And if a time at length arrives, when, in
consequence of the extreme subdivision of landed property, the
soil is split into an infinite number of parcels, so that it can
only be cultivated by companies of husbandmen, will it be
necessary that the head of the government should leave the helm
of state to follow the plough? The morals and the intelligence of
a democratic people would be as much endangered as its business
and manufactures, if the government ever wholly usurped the place
of private companies.

Feelings and opinions are recruited, the heart is enlarged,
and the human mind is developed by no other means than by the
reciprocal influence of men upon each other. I have shown that
these influences are almost null in democratic countries; they
must therefore be artificially created, and this can only be
accomplished by associations.

When the members of an aristocratic community adopt a new
opinion, or conceive a new sentiment, they give it a station, as
it were, beside themselves, upon the lofty platform where they
stand; and opinions or sentiments so conspicuous to the eyes of
the multitude are easily introduced into the minds or hearts of
all around. In democratic countries the governing power alone is
naturally in a condition to act in this manner; but it is easy to
see that its action is always inadequate, and often dangerous. A
government can no more be competent to keep alive and to renew
the circulation of opinions and feelings amongst a great people,
than to manage all the speculations of productive industry. No
sooner does a government attempt to go beyond its political
sphere and to enter upon this new track, than it exercises, even
unintentionally, an insupportable tyranny; for a government can
only dictate strict rules, the opinions which it favors are
rigidly enforced, and it is never easy to discriminate between
its advice and its commands. Worse still will be the case if the
government really believes itself interested in preventing all
circulation of ideas; it will then stand motionless, and
oppressed by the heaviness of voluntary torpor. Governments
therefore should not be the only active powers: associations
ought, in democratic nations, to stand in lieu of those powerful
private individuals whom the equality of conditions has swept

As soon as several of the inhabitants of the United States
have taken up an opinion or a feeling which they wish to promote
in the world, they look out for mutual assistance; and as soon as
they have found each other out, they combine. From that moment
they are no longer isolated men, but a power seen from afar,
whose actions serve for an example, and whose language is
listened to. The first time I heard in the United States that
100,000 men had bound themselves publicly to abstain from
spirituous liquors, it appeared to me more like a joke than a
serious engagement; and I did not at once perceive why these
temperate citizens could not content themselves with drinking
water by their own firesides. I at last understood that 300,000
Americans, alarmed by the progress of drunkenness around them,
had made up their minds to patronize temperance. They acted just
in the same way as a man of high rank who should dress very
plainly, in order to inspire the humbler orders with a contempt
of luxury. It is probable that if these 100,000 men had lived in
France, each of them would singly have memorialized the
government to watch the publichouses all over the kingdom.

Nothing, in my opinion, is more deserving of our attention
than the intellectual and moral associations of America. The
political and industrial associations of that country strike us
forcibly; but the others elude our observation, or if we discover
them, we understand them imperfectly, because we have hardly ever
seen anything of the kind. It must, however, be acknowledged
that they are as necessary to the American people as the former,
and perhaps more so. In democratic countries the science of
association is the mother of science; the progress of all the
rest depends upon the progress it has made. Amongst the laws
which rule human societies there is one which seems to be more
precise and clear than all others. If men are to remain
civilized, or to become so, the art of associating together must
grow and improve in the same ratio in which the equality of
conditions is increased.

Chapter VI: Of The Relation Between Public Associations And

When men are no longer united amongst themselves by firm and
lasting ties, it is impossible to obtain the cooperation of any
great number of them, unless you can persuade every man whose
concurrence you require that this private interest obliges him
voluntarily to unite his exertions to the exertions of all the
rest. This can only be habitually and conveniently effected by
means of a newspaper; nothing but a newspaper can drop the same
thought into a thousand minds at the same moment. A newspaper is
an adviser who does not require to be sought, but who comes of
his own accord, and talks to you briefly every day of the common
weal, without distracting you from your private affairs.

Newspapers therefore become more necessary in proportion as
men become more equal, and individualism more to be feared. To
suppose that they only serve to protect freedom would be to
diminish their importance: they maintain civilization. I shall
not deny that in democratic countries newspapers frequently lead
the citizens to launch together in very ill-digested schemes; but
if there were no newspapers there would be no common activity.
The evil which they produce is therefore much less than that
which they cure.

The effect of a newspaper is not only to suggest the same
purpose to a great number of persons, but also to furnish means
for executing in common the designs which they may have singly
conceived. The principal citizens who inhabit an aristocratic
country discern each other from afar; and if they wish to unite
their forces, they move towards each other, drawing a multitude
of men after them. It frequently happens, on the contrary, in
democratic countries, that a great number of men who wish or who
want to combine cannot accomplish it, because as they are very
insignificant and lost amidst the crowd, they cannot see, and
know not where to find, one another. A newspaper then takes up
the notion or the feeling which had occurred simultaneously, but
singly, to each of them. All are then immediately guided towards
this beacon; and these wandering minds, which had long sought
each other in darkness, at length meet and unite.

The newspaper brought them together, and the newspaper is
still necessary to keep them united. In order that an
association amongst a democratic people should have any power, it
must be a numerous body. The persons of whom it is composed are
therefore scattered over a wide extent, and each of them is
detained in the place of his domicile by the narrowness of his
income, or by the small unremitting exertions by which he earns
it. Means then must be found to converse every day without seeing
each other, and to take steps in common without having met. Thus
hardly any democratic association can do without newspapers.
There is consequently a necessary connection between public
associations and newspapers: newspapers make associations, and
associations make newspapers; and if it has been correctly
advanced that associations will increase in number as the
conditions of men become more equal, it is not less certain that
the number of newspapers increases in proportion to that of
associations. Thus it is in America that we find at the same
time the greatest number of associations and of newspapers.

This connection between the number of newspapers and that of
associations leads us to the discovery of a further connection
between the state of the periodical press and the form of the
administration in a country; and shows that the number of
newspapers must diminish or increase amongst a democratic people,
in proportion as its administration is more or less centralized.
For amongst democratic nations the exercise of local powers
cannot be intrusted to the principal members of the community as
in aristocracies. Those powers must either be abolished, or
placed in the hands of very large numbers of men, who then in
fact constitute an association permanently established by law for
the purpose of administering the affairs of a certain extent of
territory; and they require a journal, to bring to them every
day, in the midst of their own minor concerns, some intelligence
of the state of their public weal. The more numerous local
powers are, the greater is the number of men in whom they are
vested by law; and as this want is hourly felt, the more
profusely do newspapers abound.

The extraordinary subdivision of administrative power has
much more to do with the enormous number of American newspapers
than the great political freedom of the country and the absolute
liberty of the press. If all the inhabitants of the Union had
the suffrage - but a suffrage which should only extend to the
choice of their legislators in Congress - they would require but
few newspapers, because they would only have to act together on a
few very important but very rare occasions. But within the pale
of the great association of the nation, lesser associations have
been established by law in every country, every city, and indeed
in every village, for the purposes of local administration. The
laws of the country thus compel every American to co-operate
every day of his life with some of his fellow-citizens for a
common purpose, and each one of them requires a newspaper to
inform him what all the others are doing.

I am of opinion that a democratic people, *a without any
national representative assemblies, but with a great number of
small local powers, would have in the end more newspapers than
another people governed by a centralized administration and an
elective legislation. What best explains to me the enormous
circulation of the daily press in the United States, is that
amongst the Americans I find the utmost national freedom combined
with local freedom of every kind. There is a prevailing opinion
in France and England that the circulation of newspapers would be
indefinitely increased by removing the taxes which have been laid
upon the press. This is a very exaggerated estimate of the
effects of such a reform. Newspapers increase in numbers, not
according to their cheapness, but according to the more or less
frequent want which a great number of men may feel for
intercommunication and combination.

[Footnote a: I say a democratic people: the administration of an
aristocratic people may be the reverse of centralized, and yet
the want of newspapers be little felt, because local powers are
then vested in the hands of a very small number of men, who
either act apart, or who know each other and can easily meet and
come to an understanding.]

In like manner I should attribute the increasing influence
of the daily press to causes more general than those by which it
is commonly explained. A newspaper can only subsist on the
condition of publishing sentiments or principles common to a
large number of men. A newspaper therefore always represents an
association which is composed of its habitual readers. This
association may be more or less defined, more or less restricted,
more or less numerous; but the fact that the newspaper keeps
alive, is a proof that at least the germ of such an association
exists in the minds of its readers.

This leads me to a last reflection, with which I shall
conclude this chapter. The more equal the conditions of men
become, and the less strong men individually are, the more easily
do they give way to the current of the multitude, and the more
difficult is it for them to adhere by themselves to an opinion
which the multitude discard. A newspaper represents an
association; it may be said to address each of its readers in the
name of all the others, and to exert its influence over them in
proportion to their individual weakness. The power of the
newspaper press must therefore increase as the social conditions
of men become more equal.

Chapter VII: Connection Of Civil And Political Associations
There is only one country on the face of the earth where the
citizens enjoy unlimited freedom of association for political
purposes. This same country is the only one in the world where
the continual exercise of the right of association has been
introduced into civil life, and where all the advantages which
civilization can confer are procured by means of it. In all the
countries where political associations are prohibited, civil
associations are rare. It is hardly probable that this is the
result of accident; but the inference should rather be, that
there is a natural, and perhaps a necessary, connection between
these two kinds of associations. Certain men happen to have a
common interest in some concern - either a commercial undertaking
is to be managed, or some speculation in manufactures to be
tried; they meet, they combine, and thus by degrees they become
familiar with the principle of association. The greater is the
multiplicity of small affairs, the more do men, even without
knowing it, acquire facility in prosecuting great undertakings in
common. Civil associations, therefore, facilitate political
association: but, on the other hand, political association
singularly strengthens and improves associations for civil
purposes. In civil life every man may, strictly speaking, fancy
that he can provide for his own wants; in politics, he can fancy
no such thing. When a people, then, have any knowledge of public
life, the notion of association, and the wish to coalesce,
present themselves every day to the minds of the whole community:
whatever natural repugnance may restrain men from acting in
concert, they will always be ready to combine for the sake of a
party. Thus political life makes the love and practice of
association more general; it imparts a desire of union, and
teaches the means of combination to numbers of men who would have
always lived apart.

Politics not only give birth to numerous associations, but
to associations of great extent. In civil life it seldom happens
that any one interest draws a very large number of men to act in
concert; much skill is required to bring such an interest into
existence: but in politics opportunities present themselves every
day. Now it is solely in great associations that the general
value of the principle of association is displayed. Citizens who
are individually powerless, do not very clearly anticipate the
strength which they may acquire by uniting together; it must be
shown to them in order to be understood. Hence it is often
easier to collect a multitude for a public purpose than a few
persons; a thousand citizens do not see what interest they have
in combining together - ten thousand will be perfectly aware of
it. In politics men combine for great undertakings; and the use
they make of the principle of association in important affairs
practically teaches them that it is their interest to help each
other in those of less moment. A political association draws a
number of individuals at the same time out of their own circle:
however they may be naturally kept asunder by age, mind, and
fortune, it places them nearer together and brings them into
contact. Once met, they can always meet again.

Men can embark in few civil partnerships without risking a
portion of their possessions; this is the case with all
manufacturing and trading companies. When men are as yet but
little versed in the art of association, and are unacquainted
with its principal rules, they are afraid, when first they
combine in this manner, of buying their experience dear. They
therefore prefer depriving themselves of a powerful instrument of
success to running the risks which attend the use of it. They
are, however, less reluctant to join political associations,
which appear to them to be without danger, because they adventure
no money in them. But they cannot belong to these associations
for any length of time without finding out how order is
maintained amongst a large number of men, and by what contrivance
they are made to advance, harmoniously and methodically, to the
same object. Thus they learn to surrender their own will to that
of all the rest, and to make their own exertions subordinate to
the common impulse - things which it is not less necessary to
know in civil than in political associations. Political
associations may therefore be considered as large free schools,
where all the members of the community go to learn the general
theory of association.

But even if political association did not directly
contribute to the progress of civil association, to destroy the
former would be to impair the latter. When citizens can only
meet in public for certain purposes, they regard such meetings as
a strange proceeding of rare occurrence, and they rarely think at
all about it. When they are allowed to meet freely for all
purposes, they ultimately look upon public association as the
universal, or in a manner the sole means, which men can employ to
accomplish the different purposes they may have in view. Every
new want instantly revives the notion. The art of association
then becomes, as I have said before, the mother of action,
studied and applied by all.

When some kinds of associations are prohibited and others
allowed, it is difficult to distinguish the former from the
latter, beforehand. In this state of doubt men abstain from them
altogether, and a sort of public opinion passes current which
tends to cause any association whatsoever to be regarded as a
bold and almost an illicit enterprise. *a

[Footnote a: This is more especially true when the executive
government has a discretionary power of allowing or prohibiting
associations. When certain associations are simply prohibited by
law, and the courts of justice have to punish infringements of
that law, the evil is far less considerable. Then every citizen
knows beforehand pretty nearly what he has to expect. He judges
himself before he is judged by the law, and, abstaining from
prohibited associations, he embarks in those which are legally
sanctioned. It is by these restrictions that all free nations
have always admitted that the right of association might be
limited. But if the legislature should invest a man with a power
of ascertaining beforehand which associations are dangerous and
which are useful, and should authorize him to destroy all
associations in the bud or allow them to be formed, as nobody
would be able to foresee in what cases associations might be
established and in what cases they would be put down, the spirit
of association would be entirely paralyzed. The former of these
laws would only assail certain associations; the latter would
apply to society itself, and inflict an injury upon it. I can
conceive that a regular government may have recourse to the
former, but I do not concede that any government has the right of
enacting the latter.]

It is therefore chimerical to suppose that the spirit of
association, when it is repressed on some one point, will
nevertheless display the same vigor on all others; and that if
men be allowed to prosecute certain undertakings in common, that
is quite enough for them eagerly to set about them. When the
members of a community are allowed and accustomed to combine for
all purposes, they will combine as readily for the lesser as for
the more important ones; but if they are only allowed to combine
for small affairs, they will be neither inclined nor able to
effect it. It is in vain that you will leave them entirely free
to prosecute their business on joint-stock account: they will
hardly care to avail themselves of the rights you have granted to
them; and, after having exhausted your strength in vain efforts
to put down prohibited associations, you will be surprised that
you cannot persuade men to form the associations you encourage.

I do not say that there can be no civil associations in a
country where political association is prohibited; for men can
never live in society without embarking in some common
undertakings: but I maintain that in such a country civil
associations will always be few in number, feebly planned,
unskillfully managed, that they will never form any vast designs,
or that they will fail in the execution of them.

This naturally leads me to think that freedom of association
in political matters is not so dangerous to public tranquillity
as is supposed; and that possibly, after having agitated society
for some time, it may strengthen the State in the end. In
democratic countries political associations are, so to speak, the
only powerful persons who aspire to rule the State. Accordingly,
the governments of our time look upon associations of this kind
just as sovereigns in the Middle Ages regarded the great vassals
of the Crown: they entertain a sort of instinctive abhorrence of
them, and they combat them on all occasions. They bear, on the
contrary, a natural goodwill to civil associations, because they
readily discover that, instead of directing the minds of the
community to public affairs, these institutions serve to divert
them from such reflections; and that, by engaging them more and
more in the pursuit of objects which cannot be attained without
public tranquillity, they deter them from revolutions. But these
governments do not attend to the fact that political associations
tend amazingly to multiply and facilitate those of a civil
character, and that in avoiding a dangerous evil they deprive
themselves of an efficacious remedy.

When you see the Americans freely and constantly forming
associations for the purpose of promoting some political
principle, of raising one man to the head of affairs, or of
wresting power from another, you have some difficulty in
understanding that men so independent do not constantly fall into
the abuse of freedom. If, on the other hand, you survey the
infinite number of trading companies which are in operation in
the United States, and perceive that the Americans are on every
side unceasingly engaged in the execution of important and
difficult plans, which the slightest revolution would throw into
confusion, you will readily comprehend why people so well
employed are by no means tempted to perturb the State, nor to
destroy that public tranquillity by which they all profit.

Is it enough to observe these things separately, or should
we not discover the hidden tie which connects them? In their
political associations, the Americans of all conditions, minds,
and ages, daily acquire a general taste for association, and grow
accustomed to the use of it. There they meet together in large
numbers, they converse, they listen to each other, and they are
mutually stimulated to all sorts of undertakings. They
afterwards transfer to civil life the notions they have thus
acquired, and make them subservient to a thousand purposes. Thus
it is by the enjoyment of a dangerous freedom that the Americans
learn the art of rendering the dangers of freedom less

If a certain moment in the existence of a nation be
selected, it is easy to prove that political associations perturb
the State, and paralyze productive industry; but take the whole
life of a people, and it may perhaps be easy to demonstrate that
freedom of association in political matters is favorable to the
prosperity and even to the tranquillity of the community.

I said in the former part of this work, "The unrestrained
liberty of political association cannot be entirely assimilated
to the liberty of the press. The one is at the same time less
necessary and more dangerous than the other. A nation may
confine it within certain limits without ceasing to be mistress
of itself; and it may sometimes be obliged to do so in order to
maintain its own authority." And further on I added: "It cannot
be denied that the unrestrained liberty of association for
political purposes is the last degree of liberty which a people
is fit for. If it does not throw them into anarchy, it
perpetually brings them, as it were, to the verge of it." Thus I
do not think that a nation is always at liberty to invest its
citizens with an absolute right of association for political
purposes; and I doubt whether, in any country or in any age, it
be wise to set no limits to freedom of association. A certain
nation, it is said, could not maintain tranquillity in the
community, cause the laws to be respected, or establish a lasting
government, if the right of association were not confined within
narrow limits. These blessings are doubtless invaluable, and I
can imagine that, to acquire or to preserve them, a nation may
impose upon itself severe temporary restrictions: but still it is
well that the nation should know at what price these blessings
are purchased. I can understand that it may be advisable to cut
off a man's arm in order to save his life; but it would be
ridiculous to assert that he will be as dexterous as he was
before he lost it.

Book Two - Chapters VII-XIII

Chapter VIII: The Americans Combat Individualism By The Principle
Of Interest Rightly Understood

When the world was managed by a few rich and powerful
individuals, these persons loved to entertain a lofty idea of the
duties of man. They were fond of professing that it is
praiseworthy to forget one's self, and that good should be done
without hope of reward, as it is by the Deity himself. Such were
the standard opinions of that time in morals. I doubt whether
men were more virtuous in aristocratic ages than in others; but
they were incessantly talking of the beauties of virtue, and its
utility was only studied in secret. But since the imagination
takes less lofty flights and every man's thoughts are centred in
himself, moralists are alarmed by this idea of self-sacrifice,
and they no longer venture to present it to the human mind. They
therefore content themselves with inquiring whether the personal
advantage of each member of the community does not consist in
working for the good of all; and when they have hit upon some
point on which private interest and public interest meet and
amalgamate, they are eager to bring it into notice. Observations
of this kind are gradually multiplied: what was only a single
remark becomes a general principle; and it is held as a truth
that man serves himself in serving his fellow-creatures, and that
his private interest is to do good.

I have already shown, in several parts of this work, by what
means the inhabitants of the United States almost always manage
to combine their own advantage with that of their
fellow-citizens: my present purpose is to point out the general
rule which enables them to do so. In the United States hardly
anybody talks of the beauty of virtue; but they maintain that
virtue is useful, and prove it every day. The American moralists
do not profess that men ought to sacrifice themselves for their
fellow-creatures because it is noble to make such sacrifices; but
they boldly aver that such sacrifices are as necessary to him who
imposes them upon himself as to him for whose sake they are made.
They have found out that in their country and their age man is
brought home to himself by an irresistible force; and losing all
hope of stopping that force, they turn all their thoughts to the
direction of it. They therefore do not deny that every man may
follow his own interest; but they endeavor to prove that it is
the interest of every man to be virtuous. I shall not here enter
into the reasons they allege, which would divert me from my
subject: suffice it to say that they have convinced their

Montaigne said long ago: "Were I not to follow the straight
road for its straightness, I should follow it for having found by
experience that in the end it is commonly the happiest and most
useful track." The doctrine of interest rightly understood is
not, then, new, but amongst the Americans of our time it finds
universal acceptance: it has become popular there; you may trace
it at the bottom of all their actions, you will remark it in all
they say. It is as often to be met with on the lips of the poor
man as of the rich. In Europe the principle of interest is much
grosser than it is in America, but at the same time it is less
common, and especially it is less avowed; amongst us, men still
constantly feign great abnegation which they no longer feel. The
Americans, on the contrary, are fond of explaining almost all the
actions of their lives by the principle of interest rightly
understood; they show with complacency how an enlightened regard
for themselves constantly prompts them to assist each other, and
inclines them willingly to sacrifice a portion of their time and
property to the welfare of the State. In this respect I think
they frequently fail to do themselves justice; for in the United
States, as well as elsewhere, people are sometimes seen to give
way to those disinterested and spontaneous impulses which are
natural to man; but the Americans seldom allow that they yield to
emotions of this kind; they are more anxious to do honor to their
philosophy than to themselves.

I might here pause, without attempting to pass a judgment on
what I have described. The extreme difficulty of the subject
would be my excuse, but I shall not avail myself of it; and I had
rather that my readers, clearly perceiving my object, should
refuse to follow me than that I should leave them in suspense.
The principle of interest rightly understood is not a lofty one,
but it is clear and sure. It does not aim at mighty objects, but
it attains without excessive exertion all those at which it aims.
As it lies within the reach of all capacities, everyone can
without difficulty apprehend and retain it. By its admirable
conformity to human weaknesses, it easily obtains great dominion;
nor is that dominion precarious, since the principle checks one
personal interest by another, and uses, to direct the passions,
the very same instrument which excites them. The principle of
interest rightly understood produces no great acts of
self-sacrifice, but it suggests daily small acts of self-denial.
By itself it cannot suffice to make a man virtuous, but it
disciplines a number of citizens in habits of regularity,
temperance, moderation, foresight, self-command; and, if it does
not lead men straight to virtue by the will, it gradually draws
them in that direction by their habits. If the principle of
interest rightly understood were to sway the whole moral world,
extraordinary virtues would doubtless be more rare; but I think
that gross depravity would then also be less common. The
principle of interest rightly understood perhaps prevents some
men from rising far above the level of mankind; but a great
number of other men, who were falling far below it, are caught
and restrained by it. Observe some few individuals, they are
lowered by it; survey mankind, it is raised. I am not afraid to
say that the principle of interest, rightly understood, appears
to me the best suited of all philosophical theories to the wants
of the men of our time, and that I regard it as their chief
remaining security against themselves. Towards it, therefore,
the minds of the moralists of our age should turn; even should
they judge it to be incomplete, it must nevertheless be adopted
as necessary.

I do not think upon the whole that there is more egotism
amongst us than in America; the only difference is, that there it
is enlightened - here it is not. Every American will sacrifice a
portion of his private interests to preserve the rest; we would
fain preserve the whole, and oftentimes the whole is lost.
Everybody I see about me seems bent on teaching his
contemporaries, by precept and example, that what is useful is
never wrong. Will nobody undertake to make them understand how
what is right may be useful? No power upon earth can prevent the
increasing equality of conditions from inclining the human mind
to seek out what is useful, or from leading every member of the
community to be wrapped up in himself. It must therefore be
expected that personal interest will become more than ever the
principal, if not the sole, spring of men's actions; but it
remains to be seen how each man will understand his personal
interest. If the members of a community, as they become more
equal, become more ignorant and coarse, it is difficult to
foresee to what pitch of stupid excesses their egotism may lead
them; and no one can foretell into what disgrace and wretchedness
they would plunge themselves, lest they should have to sacrifice
something of their own well-being to the prosperity of their
fellow-creatures. I do not think that the system of interest, as
it is professed in America, is, in all its parts, self-evident;
but it contains a great number of truths so evident that men, if
they are but educated, cannot fail to see them. Educate, then,
at any rate; for the age of implicit self- sacrifice and
instinctive virtues is already flitting far away from us, and the
time is fast approaching when freedom, public peace, and social
order itself will not be able to exist without

Chapter IX: That The Americans Apply The Principle Of Interest
Rightly Understood To Religious Matters

If the principle of interest rightly understood had nothing
but the present world in view, it would be very insufficient; for
there are many sacrifices which can only find their recompense in
another; and whatever ingenuity may be put forth to demonstrate
the utility of virtue, it will never be an easy task to make that
man live aright who has no thoughts of dying. It is therefore
necessary to ascertain whether the principle of interest rightly
understood is easily compatible with religious belief. The
philosophers who inculcate this system of morals tell men, that
to be happy in this life they must watch their own passions and
steadily control their excess; that lasting happiness can only be
secured by renouncing a thousand transient gratifications; and
that a man must perpetually triumph over himself, in order to
secure his own advantage. The founders of almost all religions
have held the same language. The track they point out to man is
the same, only that the goal is more remote; instead of placing
in this world the reward of the sacrifices they impose, they
transport it to another. Nevertheless I cannot believe that all
those who practise virtue from religious motives are only
actuated by the hope of a recompense. I have known zealous
Christians who constantly forgot themselves, to work with greater
ardor for the happiness of their fellow-men; and I have heard
them declare that all they did was only to earn the blessings of
a future state. I cannot but think that they deceive themselves;
I respect them too much to believe them.

Christianity indeed teaches that a man must prefer his
neighbor to himself, in order to gain eternal life; but
Christianity also teaches that men ought to benefit their fellow-
creatures for the love of God. A sublime expression! Man,
searching by his intellect into the divine conception, and seeing
that order is the purpose of God, freely combines to prosecute
the great design; and whilst he sacrifices his personal interests
to this consummate order of all created things, expects no other
recompense than the pleasure of contemplating it. I do not
believe that interest is the sole motive of religious men: but I
believe that interest is the principal means which religions
themselves employ to govern men, and I do not question that this
way they strike into the multitude and become popular. It is not
easy clearly to perceive why the principle of interest rightly
understood should keep aloof from religious opinions; and it
seems to me more easy to show why it should draw men to them.
Let it be supposed that, in order to obtain happiness in this
world, a man combats his instinct on all occasions and
deliberately calculates every action of his life; that, instead
of yielding blindly to the impetuosity of first desires, he has
learned the art of resisting them, and that he has accustomed
himself to sacrifice without an effort the pleasure of a moment
to the lasting interest of his whole life. If such a man believes
in the religion which he professes, it will cost him but little
to submit to the restrictions it may impose. Reason herself
counsels him to obey, and habit has prepared him to endure them.
If he should have conceived any doubts as to the object of his
hopes, still he will not easily allow himself to be stopped by
them; and he will decide that it is wise to risk some of the
advantages of this world, in order to preserve his rights to the
great inheritance promised him in another. "To be mistaken in
believing that the Christian religion is true," says Pascal, "is
no great loss to anyone; but how dreadful to be mistaken in
believing it to be false!"

The Americans do not affect a brutal indifference to a
future state; they affect no puerile pride in despising perils
which they hope to escape from. They therefore profess their
religion without shame and without weakness; but there generally
is, even in their zeal, something so indescribably tranquil,
methodical, and deliberate, that it would seem as if the head,
far more than the heart, brought them to the foot of the altar.
The Americans not only follow their religion from interest, but
they often place in this world the interest which makes them
follow it. In the Middle Ages the clergy spoke of nothing but a
future state; they hardly cared to prove that a sincere Christian
may be a happy man here below. But the American preachers are
constantly referring to the earth; and it is only with great
difficulty that they can divert their attention from it. To
touch their congregations, they always show them how favorable
religious opinions are to freedom and public tranquillity; and it
is often difficult to ascertain from their discourses whether the
principal object of religion is to procure eternal felicity in
the other world, or prosperity in this.

Chapter X: Of The Taste For Physical Well-Being In America

In America the passion for physical well-being is not always
exclusive, but it is general; and if all do not feel it in the
same manner, yet it is felt by all. Carefully to satisfy all,
even the least wants of the body, and to provide the little
conveniences of life, is uppermost in every mind. Something of an
analogous character is more and more apparent in Europe. Amongst
the causes which produce these similar consequences in both
hemispheres, several are so connected with my subject as to
deserve notice.

When riches are hereditarily fixed in families, there are a
great number of men who enjoy the comforts of life without
feeling an exclusive taste for those comforts. The heart of man
is not so much caught by the undisturbed possession of anything
valuable as by the desire, as yet imperfectly satisfied, of
possessing it, and by the incessant dread of losing it. In
aristocratic communities, the wealthy, never having experienced a
condition different from their own, entertain no fear of changing
it; the existence of such conditions hardly occurs to them. The
comforts of life are not to them the end of life, but simply a
way of living; they regard them as existence itself - enjoyed,
but scarcely thought of. As the natural and instinctive taste
which all men feel for being well off is thus satisfied without
trouble and without apprehension, their faculties are turned
elsewhere, and cling to more arduous and more lofty undertakings,
which excite and engross their minds. Hence it is that, in the
midst of physical gratifications, the members of an aristocracy
often display a haughty contempt of these very enjoyments, and
exhibit singular powers of endurance under the privation of them.
All the revolutions which have ever shaken or destroyed
aristocracies, have shown how easily men accustomed to
superfluous luxuries can do without the necessaries of life;
whereas men who have toiled to acquire a competency can hardly
live after they have lost it.

If I turn my observation from the upper to the lower
classes, I find analogous effects produced by opposite causes.
Amongst a nation where aristocracy predominates in society, and
keeps it stationary, the people in the end get as much accustomed
to poverty as the rich to their opulence. The latter bestow no
anxiety on their physical comforts, because they enjoy them
without an effort; the former do not think of things which they
despair of obtaining, and which they hardly know enough of to
desire them. In communities of this kind, the imagination of the
poor is driven to seek another world; the miseries of real life
inclose it around, but it escapes from their control, and flies
to seek its pleasures far beyond. When, on the contrary, the
distinctions of ranks are confounded together and privileges are
destroyed - when hereditary property is subdivided, and education
and freedom widely diffused, the desire of acquiring the comforts
of the world haunts the imagination of the poor, and the dread of
losing them that of the rich. Many scanty fortunes spring up;
those who possess them have a sufficient share of physical
gratifications to conceive a taste for these pleasures - not
enough to satisfy it. They never procure them without exertion,
and they never indulge in them without apprehension. They are
therefore always straining to pursue or to retain gratifications
so delightful, so imperfect, so fugitive.

If I were to inquire what passion is most natural to men who
are stimulated and circumscribed by the obscurity of their birth
or the mediocrity of their fortune, I could discover none more
peculiarly appropriate to their condition than this love of
physical prosperity. The passion for physical comforts is
essentially a passion of the middle classes: with those classes
it grows and spreads, with them it preponderates. From them it
mounts into the higher orders of society, and descends into the
mass of the people. I never met in America with any citizen so
poor as not to cast a glance of hope and envy on the enjoyments
of the rich, or whose imagination did not possess itself by
anticipation of those good things which fate still obstinately
withheld from him. On the other hand, I never perceived amongst
the wealthier inhabitants of the United States that proud
contempt of physical gratifications which is sometimes to be met
with even in the most opulent and dissolute aristocracies. Most
of these wealthy persons were once poor; they have felt the sting
of want; they were long a prey to adverse fortunes; and now that
the victory is won, the passions which accompanied the contest
have survived it: their minds are, as it were, intoxicated by the
small enjoyments which they have pursued for forty years. Not but
that in the United States, as elsewhere, there are a certain
number of wealthy persons who, having come into their property by
inheritance, possess, without exertion, an opulence they have not
earned. But even these men are not less devotedly attached to
the pleasures of material life. The love of well-being is now
become the predominant taste of the nation; the great current of
man's passions runs in that channel, and sweeps everything along
in its course.

Chapter XI: Peculiar Effects Of The Love Of Physical
Gratifications In Democratic Ages

It may be supposed, from what has just been said, that the
love of physical gratifications must constantly urge the
Americans to irregularities in morals, disturb the peace of
families, and threaten the security of society at large. Such is
not the case: the passion for physical gratifications produces in
democracies effects very different from those which it occasions
in aristocratic nations. It sometimes happens that, wearied with
public affairs and sated with opulence, amidst the ruin of
religious belief and the decline of the State, the heart of an
aristocracy may by degrees be seduced to the pursuit of sensual
enjoyments only. At other times the power of the monarch or the
weakness of the people, without stripping the nobility of their
fortune, compels them to stand aloof from the administration of
affairs, and whilst the road to mighty enterprise is closed,
abandons them to the inquietude of their own desires; they then
fall back heavily upon themselves, and seek in the pleasures of
the body oblivion of their former greatness. When the members of
an aristocratic body are thus exclusively devoted to the pursuit
of physical gratifications, they commonly concentrate in that
direction all the energy which they derive from their long
experience of power. Such men are not satisfied with the pursuit
of comfort; they require sumptuous depravity and splendid
corruption. The worship they pay the senses is a gorgeous one;
and they seem to vie with each other in the art of degrading
their own natures. The stronger, the more famous, and the more
free an aristocracy has been, the more depraved will it then
become; and however brilliant may have been the lustre of its
virtues, I dare predict that they will always be surpassed by the
splendor of its vices.

The taste for physical gratifications leads a democratic
people into no such excesses. The love of well-being is there
displayed as a tenacious, exclusive, universal passion; but its
range is confined. To build enormous palaces, to conquer or to
mimic nature, to ransack the world in order to gratify the
passions of a man, is not thought of: but to add a few roods of
land to your field, to plant an orchard, to enlarge a dwelling,
to be always making life more comfortable and convenient, to
avoid trouble, and to satisfy the smallest wants without effort
and almost without cost. These are small objects, but the soul
clings to them; it dwells upon them closely and day by day, till
they at last shut out the rest of the world, and sometimes
intervene between itself and heaven.

This, it may be said, can only be applicable to those
members of the community who are in humble circumstances;
wealthier individuals will display tastes akin to those which
belonged to them in aristocratic ages. I contest the
proposition: in point of physical gratifications, the most
opulent members of a democracy will not display tastes very
different from those of the people; whether it be that, springing
from the people, they really share those tastes, or that they
esteem it a duty to submit to them. In democratic society the
sensuality of the public has taken a moderate and tranquil
course, to which all are bound to conform: it is as difficult to
depart from the common rule by one's vices as by one's virtues.
Rich men who live amidst democratic nations are therefore more
intent on providing for their smallest wants than for their
extraordinary enjoyments; they gratify a number of petty desires,
without indulging in any great irregularities of passion: thus
they are more apt to become enervated than debauched.
The especial taste which the men of democratic ages
entertain for physical enjoyments is not naturally opposed to the
principles of public order; nay, it often stands in need of order
that it may be gratified. Nor is it adverse to regularity of
morals, for good morals contribute to public tranquillity and are
favorable to industry. It may even be frequently combined with a
species of religious morality: men wish to be as well off as they
can in this world, without foregoing their chance of another.
Some physical gratifications cannot be indulged in without crime;
from such they strictly abstain. The enjoyment of others is
sanctioned by religion and morality; to these the heart, the
imagination, and life itself are unreservedly given up; till, in
snatching at these lesser gifts, men lose sight of those more
precious possessions which constitute the glory and the greatness
of mankind. The reproach I address to the principle of equality,
is not that it leads men away in the pursuit of forbidden
enjoyments, but that it absorbs them wholly in quest of those
which are allowed. By these means, a kind of virtuous
materialism may ultimately be established in the world, which
would not corrupt, but enervate the soul, and noiselessly unbend
its springs of action.

Chapter XII: Causes Of Fanatical Enthusiasm In Some Americans

Although the desire of acquiring the good things of this
world is the prevailing passion of the American people, certain
momentary outbreaks occur, when their souls seem suddenly to
burst the bonds of matter by which they are restrained, and to
soar impetuously towards heaven. In all the States of the Union,
but especially in the half-peopled country of the Far West,
wandering preachers may be met with who hawk about the word of
God from place to place. Whole families - old men, women, and
children - cross rough passes and untrodden wilds, coming from a
great distance, to join a camp- meeting, where they totally
forget for several days and nights, in listening to these
discourses, the cares of business and even the most urgent wants
of the body. Here and there, in the midst of American society,
you meet with men, full of a fanatical and almost wild
enthusiasm, which hardly exists in Europe. From time to time
strange sects arise, which endeavor to strike out extraordinary
paths to eternal happiness. Religious insanity is very common in
the United States.

Nor ought these facts to surprise us. It was not man who
implanted in himself the taste for what is infinite and the love
of what is immortal: those lofty instincts are not the offspring
of his capricious will; their steadfast foundation is fixed in
human nature, and they exist in spite of his efforts. He may
cross and distort them - destroy them he cannot. The soul has
wants which must be satisfied; and whatever pains be taken to
divert it from itself, it soon grows weary, restless, and
disquieted amidst the enjoyments of sense. If ever the faculties
of the great majority of mankind were exclusively bent upon the
pursuit of material objects, it might be anticipated that an
amazing reaction would take place in the souls of some men. They
would drift at large in the world of spirits, for fear of
remaining shackled by the close bondage of the body.

It is not then wonderful if, in the midst of a community
whose thoughts tend earthward, a small number of individuals are
to be found who turn their looks to heaven. I should be
surprised if mysticism did not soon make some advance amongst a
people solely engaged in promoting its own worldly welfare. It is
said that the deserts of the Thebaid were peopled by the
persecutions of the emperors and the massacres of the Circus; I
should rather say that it was by the luxuries of Rome and the
Epicurean philosophy of Greece. If their social condition, their
present circumstances, and their laws did not confine the minds
of the Americans so closely to the pursuit of worldly welfare, it
is probable that they would display more reserve and more
experience whenever their attention is turned to things
immaterial, and that they would check themselves without
difficulty. But they feel imprisoned within bounds which they
will apparently never be allowed to pass. As soon as they have
passed these bounds, their minds know not where to fix
themselves, and they often rush unrestrained beyond the range of

Chapter XIII: Causes Of The Restless Spirit Of Americans In The
Midst Of Their Prosperity

In certain remote corners of the Old World you may still
sometimes stumble upon a small district which seems to have been
forgotten amidst the general tumult, and to have remained
stationary whilst everything around it was in motion. The
inhabitants are for the most part extremely ignorant and poor;
they take no part in the business of the country, and they are
frequently oppressed by the government; yet their countenances
are generally placid, and their spirits light. In America I saw
the freest and most enlightened men, placed in the happiest
circumstances which the world affords: it seemed to me as if a
cloud habitually hung upon their brow, and I thought them serious
and almost sad even in their pleasures. The chief reason of this
contrast is that the former do not think of the ills they endure
- the latter are forever brooding over advantages they do not
possess. It is strange to see with what feverish ardor the
Americans pursue their own welfare; and to watch the vague dread
that constantly torments them lest they should not have chosen
the shortest path which may lead to it. A native of the United
States clings to this world's goods as if he were certain never
to die; and he is so hasty in grasping at all within his reach,
that one would suppose he was constantly afraid of not living
long enough to enjoy them. He clutches everything, he holds
nothing fast, but soon loosens his grasp to pursue fresh

In the United States a man builds a house to spend his
latter years in it, and he sells it before the roof is on: he
plants a garden, and lets it just as the trees are coming into
bearing: he brings a field into tillage, and leaves other men to
gather the crops: he embraces a profession, and gives it up: he
settles in a place, which he soon afterwards leaves, to carry his
changeable longings elsewhere. If his private affairs leave him
any leisure, he instantly plunges into the vortex of politics;
and if at the end of a year of unremitting labor he finds he has
a few days' vacation, his eager curiosity whirls him over the
vast extent of the United States, and he will travel fifteen
hundred miles in a few days, to shake off his happiness. Death at
length overtakes him, but it is before he is weary of his
bootless chase of that complete felicity which is forever on the

At first sight there is something surprising in this strange
unrest of so many happy men, restless in the midst of abundance.
The spectacle itself is however as old as the world; the novelty
is to see a whole people furnish an exemplification of it. Their
taste for physical gratifications must be regarded as the
original source of that secret inquietude which the actions of
the Americans betray, and of that inconstancy of which they
afford fresh examples every day. He who has set his heart
exclusively upon the pursuit of worldly welfare is always in a
hurry, for he has but a limited time at his disposal to reach it,
to grasp it, and to enjoy it. The recollection of the brevity of
life is a constant spur to him. Besides the good things which he
possesses, he every instant fancies a thousand others which death
will prevent him from trying if he does not try them soon. This
thought fills him with anxiety, fear, and regret, and keeps his
mind in ceaseless trepidation, which leads him perpetually to
change his plans and his abode. If in addition to the taste for
physical well-being a social condition be superadded, in which
the laws and customs make no condition permanent, here is a great
additional stimulant to this restlessness of temper. Men will
then be seen continually to change their track, for fear of
missing the shortest cut to happiness. It may readily be
conceived that if men, passionately bent upon physical
gratifications, desire eagerly, they are also easily discouraged:
as their ultimate object is to enjoy, the means to reach that
object must be prompt and easy, or the trouble of acquiring the
gratification would be greater than the gratification itself.
Their prevailing frame of mind then is at once ardent and
relaxed, violent and enervated. Death is often less dreaded than
perseverance in continuous efforts to one end.

The equality of conditions leads by a still straighter road
to several of the effects which I have here described. When all
the privileges of birth and fortune are abolished, when all
professions are accessible to all, and a man's own energies may
place him at the top of any one of them, an easy and unbounded
career seems open to his ambition, and he will readily persuade
himself that he is born to no vulgar destinies. But this is an
erroneous notion, which is corrected by daily experience. The
same equality which allows every citizen to conceive these lofty
hopes, renders all the citizens less able to realize them: it
circumscribes their powers on every side, whilst it gives freer
scope to their desires. Not only are they themselves powerless,
but they are met at every step by immense obstacles, which they
did not at first perceive. They have swept away the privileges
of some of their fellow-creatures which stood in their way, but
they have opened the door to universal competition: the barrier
has changed its shape rather than its position. When men are
nearly alike, and all follow the same track, it is very difficult
for any one individual to walk quick and cleave a way through the
dense throng which surrounds and presses him. This constant
strife between the propensities springing from the equality of
conditions and the means it supplies to satisfy them, harasses
and wearies the mind.

It is possible to conceive men arrived at a degree of
freedom which should completely content them; they would then
enjoy their independence without anxiety and without impatience.
But men will never establish any equality with which they can be
contented. Whatever efforts a people may make, they will never
succeed in reducing all the conditions of society to a perfect
level; and even if they unhappily attained that absolute and
complete depression, the inequality of minds would still remain,
which, coming directly from the hand of God, will forever escape
the laws of man. However democratic then the social state and the
political constitution of a people may be, it is certain that
every member of the community will always find out several points
about him which command his own position; and we may foresee that
his looks will be doggedly fixed in that direction. When
inequality of conditions is the common law of society, the most
marked inequalities do not strike the eye: when everything is
nearly on the same level, the slightest are marked enough to hurt
it. Hence the desire of equality always becomes more insatiable
in proportion as equality is more complete.

Amongst democratic nations men easily attain a certain
equality of conditions: they can never attain the equality they
desire. It perpetually retires from before them, yet without
hiding itself from their sight, and in retiring draws them on.
At every moment they think they are about to grasp it; it escapes
at every moment from their hold. They are near enough to see its
charms, but too far off to enjoy them; and before they have fully
tasted its delights they die. To these causes must be attributed
that strange melancholy which oftentimes will haunt the
inhabitants of democratic countries in the midst of their
abundance, and that disgust at life which sometimes seizes upon
them in the midst of calm and easy circumstances. Complaints are
made in France that the number of suicides increases; in America
suicide is rare, but insanity is said to be more common than
anywhere else. These are all different symptoms of the same
disease. The Americans do not put an end to their lives, however
disquieted they may be, because their religion forbids it; and
amongst them materialism may be said hardly to exist,
notwithstanding the general passion for physical gratification.
The will resists - reason frequently gives way. In democratic
ages enjoyments are more intense than in the ages of aristocracy,
and especially the number of those who partake in them is larger:
but, on the other hand, it must be admitted that man's hopes and
his desires are oftener blasted, the soul is more stricken and
perturbed, and care itself more keen.

Book Two - Chapters XIV-XIII

Chapter XIV: Taste For Physical Gratifications United In America
To Love Of Freedom And Attention To Public Affairs

When a democratic state turns to absolute monarchy, the
activity which was before directed to public and to private
affairs is all at once centred upon the latter: the immediate
consequence is, for some time, great physical prosperity; but
this impulse soon slackens, and the amount of productive industry
is checked. I know not if a single trading or manufacturing
people can be cited, from the Tyrians down to the Florentines and
the English, who were not a free people also. There is therefore
a close bond and necessary relation between these two elements -
freedom and productive industry. This proposition is generally
true of all nations, but especially of democratic nations. I
have already shown that men who live in ages of equality
continually require to form associations in order to procure the
things they covet; and, on the other hand, I have shown how great
political freedom improves and diffuses the art of association.
Freedom, in these ages, is therefore especially favorable to the
production of wealth; nor is it difficult to perceive that
despotism is especially adverse to the same result. The nature of
despotic power in democratic ages is not to be fierce or cruel,
but minute and meddling. Despotism of this kind, though it does
not trample on humanity, is directly opposed to the genius of
commerce and the pursuits of industry.

Thus the men of democratic ages require to be free in order
more readily to procure those physical enjoyments for which they
are always longing. It sometimes happens, however, that the
excessive taste they conceive for these same enjoyments abandons
them to the first master who appears. The passion for worldly
welfare then defeats itself, and, without perceiving it, throws
the object of their desires to a greater distance.

There is, indeed, a most dangerous passage in the history of
a democratic people. When the taste for physical gratifications
amongst such a people has grown more rapidly than their education
and their experience of free institutions, the time will come
when men are carried away, and lose all self-restraint, at the
sight of the new possessions they are about to lay hold upon. In
their intense and exclusive anxiety to make a fortune, they lose
sight of the close connection which exists between the private
fortune of each of them and the prosperity of all. It is not
necessary to do violence to such a people in order to strip them
of the rights they enjoy; they themselves willingly loosen their
hold. The discharge of political duties appears to them to be a
troublesome annoyance, which diverts them from their occupations
and business. If they be required to elect representatives, to
support the Government by personal service, to meet on public
business, they have no time - they cannot waste their precious
time in useless engagements: such idle amusements are unsuited to
serious men who are engaged with the more important interests of
life. These people think they are following the principle of
self-interest, but the idea they entertain of that principle is a
very rude one; and the better to look after what they call their
business, they neglect their chief business, which is to remain
their own masters.

As the citizens who work do not care to attend to public
business, and as the class which might devote its leisure to
these duties has ceased to exist, the place of the Government is,
as it were, unfilled. If at that critical moment some able and
ambitious man grasps the supreme power, he will find the road to
every kind of usurpation open before him. If he does but attend
for some time to the material prosperity of the country, no more
will be demanded of him. Above all he must insure public
tranquillity: men who are possessed by the passion of physical
gratification generally find out that the turmoil of freedom
disturbs their welfare, before they discover how freedom itself
serves to promote it. If the slightest rumor of public commotion
intrudes into the petty pleasures of private life, they are
aroused and alarmed by it. The fear of anarchy perpetually haunts
them, and they are always ready to fling away their freedom at
the first disturbance.

I readily admit that public tranquillity is a great good;
but at the same time I cannot forget that all nations have been
enslaved by being kept in good order. Certainly it is not to be
inferred that nations ought to despise public tranquillity; but
that state ought not to content them. A nation which asks
nothing of its government but the maintenance of order is already
a slave at heart - the slave of its own well-being, awaiting but
the hand that will bind it. By such a nation the despotism of
faction is not less to be dreaded than the despotism of an
individual. When the bulk of the community is engrossed by
private concerns, the smallest parties need not despair of
getting the upper hand in public affairs. At such times it is
not rare to see upon the great stage of the world, as we see at
our theatres, a multitude represented by a few players, who alone
speak in the name of an absent or inattentive crowd: they alone
are in action whilst all are stationary; they regulate everything
by their own caprice; they change the laws, and tyrannize at will
over the manners of the country; and then men wonder to see into
how small a number of weak and worthless hands a great people may

Hitherto the Americans have fortunately escaped all the
perils which I have just pointed out; and in this respect they
are really deserving of admiration. Perhaps there is no country
in the world where fewer idle men are to be met with than in
America, or where all who work are more eager to promote their
own welfare. But if the passion of the Americans for physical
gratifications is vehement, at least it is not indiscriminating;
and reason, though unable to restrain it, still directs its
course. An American attends to his private concerns as if he
were alone in the world, and the next minute he gives himself up
to the common weal as if he had forgotten them. At one time he
seems animated by the most selfish cupidity, at another by the
most lively patriotism. The human heart cannot be thus divided.
The inhabitants of the United States alternately display so
strong and so similar a passion for their own welfare and for
their freedom, that it may be supposed that these passions are
united and mingled in some part of their character. And indeed
the Americans believe their freedom to be the best instrument and
surest safeguard of their welfare: they are attached to the one
by the other. They by no means think that they are not called
upon to take a part in the public weal; they believe, on the
contrary, that their chief business is to secure for themselves a
government which will allow them to acquire the things they
covet, and which will not debar them from the peaceful enjoyment
of those possessions which they have acquired.

Chapter XV: That Religious Belief Sometimes Turns The Thoughts Of
The Americans To Immaterial Pleasures

In the United States, on the seventh day of every week, the
trading and working life of the nation seems suspended; all
noises cease; a deep tranquillity, say rather the solemn calm of
meditation, succeeds the turmoil of the week, and the soul
resumes possession and contemplation of itself. Upon this day the
marts of traffic are deserted; every member of the community,
accompanied by his children, goes to church, where he listens to
strange language which would seem unsuited to his ear. He is
told of the countless evils caused by pride and covetousness: he
is reminded of the necessity of checking his desires, of the
finer pleasures which belong to virtue alone, and of the true
happiness which attends it. On his return home, he does not turn
to the ledgers of his calling, but he opens the book of Holy
Scripture; there he meets with sublime or affecting descriptions
of the greatness and goodness of the Creator, of the infinite
magnificence of the handiwork of God, of the lofty destinies of
man, of his duties, and of his immortal privileges. Thus it is
that the American at times steals an hour from himself; and
laying aside for a while the petty passions which agitate his
life, and the ephemeral interests which engross it, he strays at
once into an ideal world, where all is great, eternal, and pure.

I have endeavored to point out in another part of this work
the causes to which the maintenance of the political institutions
of the Americans is attributable; and religion appeared to be one
of the most prominent amongst them. I am now treating of the
Americans in an individual capacity, and I again observe that
religion is not less useful to each citizen than to the whole
State. The Americans show, by their practice, that they feel the
high necessity of imparting morality to democratic communities by
means of religion. What they think of themselves in this respect
is a truth of which every democratic nation ought to be
thoroughly persuaded.

I do not doubt that the social and political constitution of
a people predisposes them to adopt a certain belief and certain
tastes, which afterwards flourish without difficulty amongst
them; whilst the same causes may divert a people from certain
opinions and propensities, without any voluntary effort, and, as
it were, without any distinct consciousness, on their part. The
whole art of the legislator is correctly to discern beforehand
these natural inclinations of communities of men, in order to
know whether they should be assisted, or whether it may not be
necessary to check them. For the duties incumbent on the
legislator differ at different times; the goal towards which the
human race ought ever to be tending is alone stationary; the
means of reaching it are perpetually to be varied.

If I had been born in an aristocratic age, in the midst of a
nation where the hereditary wealth of some, and the irremediable
penury of others, should equally divert men from the idea of
bettering their condition, and hold the soul as it were in a
state of torpor fixed on the contemplation of another world, I
should then wish that it were possible for me to rouse that
people to a sense of their wants; I should seek to discover more
rapid and more easy means for satisfying the fresh desires which
I might have awakened; and, directing the most strenuous efforts
of the human mind to physical pursuits, I should endeavor to
stimulate it to promote the well-being of man. If it happened
that some men were immoderately incited to the pursuit of riches,
and displayed an excessive liking for physical gratifications, I
should not be alarmed; these peculiar symptoms would soon be
absorbed in the general aspect of the people.

The attention of the legislators of democracies is called to
other cares. Give democratic nations education and freedom, and
leave them alone. They will soon learn to draw from this world
all the benefits which it can afford; they will improve each of
the useful arts, and will day by day render life more
comfortable, more convenient, and more easy. Their social
condition naturally urges them in this direction; I do not fear
that they will slacken their course.

But whilst man takes delight in this honest and lawful
pursuit of his wellbeing, it is to be apprehended that he may in
the end lose the use of his sublimest faculties; and that whilst
he is busied in improving all around him, he may at length
degrade himself. Here, and here only, does the peril lie. It
should therefore be the unceasing object of the legislators of
democracies, and of all the virtuous and enlightened men who live
there, to raise the souls of their fellow-citizens, and keep them
lifted up towards heaven. It is necessary that all who feel an
interest in the future destinies of democratic society should
unite, and that all should make joint and continual efforts to
diffuse the love of the infinite, a sense of greatness, and a
love of pleasures not of earth. If amongst the opinions of a
democratic people any of those pernicious theories exist which
tend to inculcate that all perishes with the body, let men by
whom such theories are professed be marked as the natural foes of
such a people.

The materialists are offensive to me in many respects; their
doctrines I hold to be pernicious, and I am disgusted at their
arrogance. If their system could be of any utility to man, it
would seem to be by giving him a modest opinion of himself. But
these reasoners show that it is not so; and when they think they
have said enough to establish that they are brutes, they show
themselves as proud as if they had demonstrated that they are
gods. Materialism is, amongst all nations, a dangerous disease of
the human mind; but it is more especially to be dreaded amongst a
democratic people, because it readily amalgamates with that vice
which is most familiar to the heart under such circumstances.
Democracy encourages a taste for physical gratification: this
taste, if it become excessive, soon disposes men to believe that
all is matter only; and materialism, in turn, hurries them back
with mad impatience to these same delights: such is the fatal
circle within which democratic nations are driven round. It were
well that they should see the danger and hold back.

Most religions are only general, simple, and practical means
of teaching men the doctrine of the immortality of the soul.
That is the greatest benefit which a democratic people derives,
from its belief, and hence belief is more necessary to such a
people than to all others. When therefore any religion has
struck its roots deep into a democracy, beware lest you disturb
them; but rather watch it carefully, as the most precious bequest
of aristocratic ages. Seek not to supersede the old religious
opinions of men by new ones; lest in the passage from one faith
to another, the soul being left for a while stripped of all
belief, the love of physical gratifications should grow upon it
and fill it wholly.

The doctrine of metempsychosis is assuredly not more
rational than that of materialism; nevertheless if it were
absolutely necessary that a democracy should choose one of the
two, I should not hesitate to decide that the community would run
less risk of being brutalized by believing that the soul of man
will pass into the carcass of a hog, than by believing that the
soul of man is nothing at all. The belief in a supersensual and
immortal principle, united for a time to matter, is so
indispensable to man's greatness, that its effects are striking
even when it is not united to the doctrine of future reward and
punishment; and when it holds no more than that after death the
divine principle contained in man is absorbed in the Deity, or
transferred to animate the frame of some other creature. Men
holding so imperfect a belief will still consider the body as the
secondary and inferior portion of their nature, and they will
despise it even whilst they yield to its influence; whereas they
have a natural esteem and secret admiration for the immaterial
part of man, even though they sometimes refuse to submit to its
dominion. That is enough to give a lofty cast to their opinions
and their tastes, and to bid them tend with no interested motive,
and as it were by impulse, to pure feelings and elevated

It is not certain that Socrates and his followers had very
fixed opinions as to what would befall man hereafter; but the
sole point of belief on which they were determined - that the
soul has nothing in common with the body, and survives it - was
enough to give the Platonic philosophy that sublime aspiration by
which it is distinguished. It is clear from the works of Plato,
that many philosophical writers, his predecessors or
contemporaries, professed materialism. These writers have not
reached us, or have reached us in mere fragments. The same thing
has happened in almost all ages; the greater part of the most
famous minds in literature adhere to the doctrines of a
supersensual philosophy. The instinct and the taste of the human
race maintain those doctrines; they save them oftentimes in spite
of men themselves, and raise the names of their defenders above
the tide of time. It must not then be supposed that at any
period or under any political condition, the passion for physical
gratifications, and the opinions which are superinduced by that
passion, can ever content a whole people. The heart of man is of
a larger mould: it can at once comprise a taste for the
possessions of earth and the love of those of heaven: at times it
may seem to cling devotedly to the one, but it will never be long
without thinking of the other.

If it be easy to see that it is more particularly important
in democratic ages that spiritual opinions should prevail, it is
not easy to say by what means those who govern democratic nations
may make them predominate. I am no believer in the prosperity,
any more than in the durability, of official philosophies; and as
to state religions, I have always held, that if they be sometimes
of momentary service to the interests of political power, they
always, sooner or later, become fatal to the Church. Nor do I
think with those who assert, that to raise religion in the eyes
of the people, and to make them do honor to her spiritual
doctrines, it is desirable indirectly to give her ministers a
political influence which the laws deny them. I am so much alive
to the almost inevitable dangers which beset religious belief
whenever the clergy take part in public affairs, and I am so
convinced that Christianity must be maintained at any cost in the
bosom of modern democracies, that I had rather shut up the
priesthood within the sanctuary than allow them to step beyond

What means then remain in the hands of constituted
authorities to bring men back to spiritual opinions, or to hold
them fast to the religion by which those opinions are suggested?
My answer will do me harm in the eyes of politicians. I believe
that the sole effectual means which governments can employ in
order to have the doctrine of the immortality of the soul duly
respected, is ever to act as if they believed in it themselves;
and I think that it is only by scrupulous conformity to religious
morality in great affairs that they can hope to teach the
community at large to know, to love, and to observe it in the
lesser concerns of life.

Chapter XVI: That Excessive Care Of Worldly Welfare May Impair
That Welfare

There is a closer tie than is commonly supposed between the
improvement of the soul and the amelioration of what belongs to
the body. Man may leave these two things apart, and consider
each of them alternately; but he cannot sever them entirely
without at last losing sight of one and of the other. The beasts
have the same senses as ourselves, and very nearly the same
appetites. We have no sensual passions which are not common to
our race and theirs, and which are not to be found, at least in
the germ, in a dog as well as in a man. Whence is it then that
the animals can only provide for their first and lowest wants,
whereas we can infinitely vary and endlessly increase our

We are superior to the beasts in this, that we use our souls
to find out those material benefits to which they are only led by
instinct. In man, the angel teaches the brute the art of
contenting its desires. It is because man is capable of rising
above the things of the body, and of contemning life itself, of
which the beasts have not the least notion, that he can multiply
these same things of the body to a degree which inferior races
are equally unable to conceive. Whatever elevates, enlarges, and
expands the soul, renders it more capable of succeeding in those
very undertakings which concern it not. Whatever, on the other
hand, enervates or lowers it, weakens it for all purposes, the
chiefest, as well as the least, and threatens to render it almost
equally impotent for the one and for the other. Hence the soul
must remain great and strong, though it were only to devote its
strength and greatness from time to time to the service of the
body. If men were ever to content themselves with material
objects, it is probable that they would lose by degrees the art
of producing them; and they would enjoy them in the end, like the
brutes, without discernment and without improvement.

Chapter XVII: That In Times Marked By Equality Of Conditions And
Sceptical Opinions, It Is Important To Remove To A Distance The
Objects Of Human Actions

In the ages of faith the final end of life is placed beyond
life. The men of those ages therefore naturally, and in a manner
involuntarily, accustom themselves to fix their gaze for a long
course of years on some immovable object, towards which they are
constantly tending; and they learn by insensible degrees to
repress a multitude of petty passing desires, in order to be the
better able to content that great and lasting desire which
possesses them. When these same men engage in the affairs of
this world, the same habits may be traced in their conduct. They
are apt to set up some general and certain aim and end to their
actions here below, towards which all their efforts are directed:
they do not turn from day to day to chase some novel object of
desire, but they have settled designs which they are never weary
of pursuing. This explains why religious nations have so often
achieved such lasting results: for whilst they were thinking only
of the other world, they had found out the great secret of
success in this. Religions give men a general habit of conducting
themselves with a view to futurity: in this respect they are not
less useful to happiness in this life than to felicity hereafter;
and this is one of their chief political characteristics.

But in proportion as the light of faith grows dim, the range
of man's sight is circumscribed, as if the end and aim of human
actions appeared every day to be more within his reach. When men
have once allowed themselves to think no more of what is to
befall them after life, they readily lapse into that complete and
brutal indifference to futurity, which is but too conformable to
some propensities of mankind. As soon as they have lost the
habit of placing their chief hopes upon remote events, they
naturally seek to gratify without delay their smallest desires;
and no sooner do they despair of living forever, than they are
disposed to act as if they were to exist but for a single day.
In sceptical ages it is always therefore to be feared that men
may perpetually give way to their daily casual desires; and that,
wholly renouncing whatever cannot be acquired without protracted
effort, they may establish nothing great, permanent, and calm.

If the social condition of a people, under these
circumstances, becomes democratic, the danger which I here point
out is thereby increased. When everyone is constantly striving
to change his position - when an immense field for competition is
thrown open to all - when wealth is amassed or dissipated in the
shortest possible space of time amidst the turmoil of democracy,
visions of sudden and easy fortunes - of great possessions easily
won and lost - of chance, under all its forms - haunt the mind.
The instability of society itself fosters the natural instability
of man's desires. In the midst of these perpetual fluctuations
of his lot, the present grows upon his mind, until it conceals
futurity from his sight, and his looks go no further than the

In those countries in which unhappily irreligion and
democracy coexist, the most important duty of philosophers and of
those in power is to be always striving to place the objects of
human actions far beyond man's immediate range. Circumscribed by
the character of his country and his age, the moralist must learn
to vindicate his principles in that position. He must constantly
endeavor to show his contemporaries, that, even in the midst of
the perpetual commotion around them, it is easier than they think
to conceive and to execute protracted undertakings. He must
teach them that, although the aspect of mankind may have changed,
the methods by which men may provide for their prosperity in this
world are still the same; and that amongst democratic nations, as
well as elsewhere, it is only by resisting a thousand petty
selfish passions of the hour that the general and unquenchable
passion for happiness can be satisfied.

The task of those in power is not less clearly marked out.
At all times it is important that those who govern nations should
act with a view to the future: but this is even more necessary in
democratic and sceptical ages than in any others. By acting
thus, the leading men of democracies not only make public affairs
prosperous, but they also teach private individuals, by their
example, the art of managing private concerns. Above all they
must strive as much as possible to banish chance from the sphere
of politics. The sudden and undeserved promotion of a courtier
produces only a transient impression in an aristocratic country,
because the aggregate institutions and opinions of the nation
habitually compel men to advance slowly in tracks which they
cannot get out of. But nothing is more pernicious than similar
instances of favor exhibited to the eyes of a democratic people:
they give the last impulse to the public mind in a direction
where everything hurries it onwards. At times of scepticism and
equality more especially, the favor of the people or of the
prince, which chance may confer or chance withhold, ought never
to stand in lieu of attainments or services. It is desirable
that every advancement should there appear to be the result of
some effort; so that no greatness should be of too easy
acquirement, and that ambition should be obliged to fix its gaze
long upon an object before it is gratified. Governments must
apply themselves to restore to men that love of the future with
which religion and the state of society no longer inspire them;
and, without saying so, they must practically teach the community
day by day that wealth, fame, and power are the rewards of labor
- that great success stands at the utmost range of long desires,
and that nothing lasting is obtained but what is obtained by
toil. When men have accustomed themselves to foresee from afar
what is likely to befall in the world and to feed upon hopes,
they can hardly confine their minds within the precise
circumference of life, and they are ready to break the boundary
and cast their looks beyond. I do not doubt that, by training
the members of a community to think of their future condition in
this world, they would be gradually and unconsciously brought
nearer to religious convictions. Thus the means which allow men,
up to a certain point, to go without religion, are perhaps after
all the only means we still possess for bringing mankind back by
a long and roundabout path to a state of faith.

Chapter XVIII: That Amongst The Americans All Honest Callings Are

Amongst a democratic people, where there is no hereditary
wealth, every man works to earn a living, or has worked, or is
born of parents who have worked. The notion of labor is
therefore presented to the mind on every side as the necessary,
natural, and honest condition of human existence. Not only is
labor not dishonorable amongst such a people, but it is held in
honor: the prejudice is not against it, but in its favor. In the
United States a wealthy man thinks that he owes it to public
opinion to devote his leisure to some kind of industrial or
commercial pursuit, or to public business. He would think
himself in bad repute if he employed his life solely in living.
It is for the purpose of escaping this obligation to work, that
so many rich Americans come to Europe, where they find some
scattered remains of aristocratic society, amongst which idleness
is still held in honor.

Equality of conditions not only ennobles the notion of labor
in men's estimation, but it raises the notion of labor as a
source of profit. In aristocracies it is not exactly labor that
is despised, but labor with a view to profit. Labor is honorific
in itself, when it is undertaken at the sole bidding of ambition
or of virtue. Yet in aristocratic society it constantly happens
that he who works for honor is not insensible to the attractions
of profit. But these two desires only intermingle in the
innermost depths of his soul: he carefully hides from every eye
the point at which they join; he would fain conceal it from
himself. In aristocratic countries there are few public officers
who do not affect to serve their country without interested
motives. Their salary is an incident of which they think but
little, and of which they always affect not to think at all.
Thus the notion of profit is kept distinct from that of labor;
however they may be united in point of fact, they are not thought
of together.

In democratic communities these two notions are, on the
contrary, always palpably united. As the desire of well-being is
universal - as fortunes are slender or fluctuating - as everyone
wants either to increase his own resources, or to provide fresh
ones for his progeny, men clearly see that it is profit which, if
not wholly, at least partially, leads them to work. Even those
who are principally actuated by the love of fame are necessarily
made familiar with the thought that they are not exclusively
actuated by that motive; and they discover that the desire of
getting a living is mingled in their minds with the desire of
making life

As soon as, on the one hand, labor is held by the whole
community to be an honorable necessity of man's condition, and,
on the other, as soon as labor is always ostensibly performed,
wholly or in part, for the purpose of earning remuneration, the
immense interval which separated different callings in
aristocratic societies disappears. If all are not alike, all at
least have one feature in common. No profession exists in which
men do not work for money; and the remuneration which is common
to them all gives them all an air of resemblance. This serves to
explain the opinions which the Americans entertain with respect
to different callings. In America no one is degraded because he
works, for everyone about him works also; nor is anyone
humiliated by the notion of receiving pay, for the President of
the United States also works for pay. He is paid for commanding,
other men for obeying orders. In the United States professions
are more or less laborious, more or less profitable; but they are
never either high or low: every honest calling is honorable.

Book Two - Chapters XIX-XX

Chapter XIX: That Almost All The Americans Follow Industrial

Agriculture is, perhaps, of all the useful arts that which
improves most slowly amongst democratic nations. Frequently,
indeed, it would seem to be stationary, because other arts are
making rapid strides towards perfection. On the other hand,
almost all the tastes and habits which the equality of condition
engenders naturally lead men to commercial and industrial

Suppose an active, enlightened, and free man, enjoying a
competency, but full of desires: he is too poor to live in
idleness; he is rich enough to feel himself protected from the
immediate fear of want, and he thinks how he can better his
condition. This man has conceived a taste for physical
gratifications, which thousands of his fellow-men indulge in
around him; he has himself begun to enjoy these pleasures, and he
is eager to increase his means of satisfying these tastes more
completely. But life is slipping away, time is urgent - to what
is he to turn? The cultivation of the ground promises an almost
certain result to his exertions, but a slow one; men are not
enriched by it without patience and toil. Agriculture is
therefore only suited to those who have already large,
superfluous wealth, or to those whose penury bids them only seek
a bare subsistence. The choice of such a man as we have supposed
is soon made; he sells his plot of ground, leaves his dwelling,
and embarks in some hazardous but lucrative calling. Democratic
communities abound in men of this kind; and in proportion as the
equality of conditions becomes greater, their multitude
increases. Thus democracy not only swells the number of
workingmen, but it leads men to prefer one kind of labor to
another; and whilst it diverts them from agriculture, it
encourages their taste for commerce and manufactures. *a

[Footnote a: It has often been remarked that manufacturers and
mercantile men are inordinately addicted to physical
gratifications, and this has been attributed to commerce and
manufactures; but that is, I apprehend, to take the effect for
the cause. The taste for physical gratifications is not imparted
to men by commerce or manufactures, but it is rather this taste
which leads men to embark in commerce and manufactures, as a
means by which they hope to satisfy themselves more promptly and
more completely. If commerce and manufactures increase the
desire of well-being, it is because every passion gathers
strength in proportion as it is cultivated, and is increased by
all the efforts made to satiate it. All the causes which make
the love of worldly welfare predominate in the heart of man are
favorable to the growth of commerce and manufactures. Equality
of conditions is one of those causes; it encourages trade, not
directly by giving men a taste for business, but indirectly by
strengthening and expanding in their minds a taste for

This spirit may be observed even amongst the richest members
of the community. In democratic countries, however opulent a man
is supposed to be, he is almost always discontented with his
fortune, because he finds that he is less rich than his father
was, and he fears that his sons will be less rich than himself.
Most rich men in democracies are therefore constantly haunted by
the desire of obtaining wealth, and they naturally turn their
attention to trade and manufactures, which appear to offer the
readiest and most powerful means of success. In this respect
they share the instincts of the poor, without feeling the same
necessities; say rather, they feel the most imperious of all
necessities, that of not sinking in the world.

In aristocracies the rich are at the same time those who
govern. The attention which they unceasingly devote to important
public affairs diverts them from the lesser cares which trade and
manufactures demand. If the will of an individual happens,
nevertheless, to turn his attention to business, the will of the
body to which he belongs will immediately debar him from pursuing
it; for however men may declaim against the rule of numbers, they
cannot wholly escape their sway; and even amongst those
aristocratic bodies which most obstinately refuse to acknowledge
the rights of the majority of the nation, a private majority is
formed which governs the rest. *b

[Footnote b: Some aristocracies, however, have devoted themselves
eagerly to commerce, and have cultivated manufactures with
success. The history of the world might furnish several
conspicuous examples. But, generally speaking, it may be
affirmed that the aristocratic principle is not favorable to the
growth of trade and manufactures. Moneyed aristocracies are the
only exception to the rule. Amongst such aristocracies there are
hardly any desires which do not require wealth to satisfy them;
the love of riches becomes, so to speak, the high road of human
passions, which is crossed by or connected with all lesser
tracks. The love of money and the thirst for that distinction
which attaches to power, are then so closely intermixed in the
same souls, that it becomes difficult to discover whether men
grow covetous from ambition, or whether they are ambitious from
covetousness. This is the case in England, where men seek to get
rich in order to arrive at distinction, and seek distinctions as
a manifestation of their wealth. The mind is then seized by both
ends, and hurried into trade and manufactures, which are the
shortest roads that lead to opulence.

This, however, strikes me as an exceptional and transitory
circumstance. When wealth is become the only symbol of
aristocracy, it is very difficult for the wealthy to maintain
sole possession of political power, to the exclusion of all other
men. The aristocracy of birth and pure democracy are at the two
extremes of the social and political state of nations: between
them moneyed aristocracy finds its place. The latter
approximates to the aristocracy of birth by conferring great
privileges on a small number of persons; it so far belongs to the
democratic element, that these privileges may be successively
acquired by all. It frequently forms a natural transition
between these two conditions of society, and it is difficult to
say whether it closes the reign of aristocratic institutions, or
whether it already opens the new era of democracy.]

In democratic countries, where money does not lead those who
possess it to political power, but often removes them from it,
the rich do not know how to spend their leisure. They are driven
into active life by the inquietude and the greatness of their
desires, by the extent of their resources, and by the taste for
what is extraordinary, which is almost always felt by those who
rise, by whatsoever means, above the crowd. Trade is the only
road open to them. In democracies nothing is more great or more
brilliant than commerce: it attracts the attention of the public,
and fills the imagination of the multitude; all energetic
passions are directed towards it. Neither their own prejudices,
nor those of anybody else, can prevent the rich from devoting
themselves to it. The wealthy members of democracies never form
a body which has manners and regulations of its own; the opinions
peculiar to their class do not restrain them, and the common
opinions of their country urge them on. Moreover, as all the
large fortunes which are to be met with in a democratic community
are of commercial growth, many generations must succeed each
other before their possessors can have entirely laid aside their
habits of business.

Circumscribed within the narrow space which politics leave
them, rich men in democracies eagerly embark in commercial
enterprise: there they can extend and employ their natural
advantages; and indeed it is even by the boldness and the
magnitude of their industrial speculations that we may measure
the slight esteem in which productive industry would have been
held by them, if they had been born amidst an aristocracy.

A similar observation is likewise applicable to all men
living in democracies, whether they be poor or rich. Those who
live in the midst of democratic fluctuations have always before
their eyes the phantom of chance; and they end by liking all
undertakings in which chance plays a part. They are therefore
all led to engage in commerce, not only for the sake of the
profit it holds out to them, but for the love of the constant
excitement occasioned by that pursuit.

The United States of America have only been emancipated for
half a century [in 1840] from the state of colonial dependence in
which they stood to Great Britain; the number of large fortunes
there is small, and capital is still scarce. Yet no people in
the world has made such rapid progress in trade and manufactures
as the Americans: they constitute at the present day the second
maritime nation in the world; and although their manufactures
have to struggle with almost insurmountable natural impediments,
they are not prevented from making great and daily advances. In
the United States the greatest undertakings and speculations are
executed without difficulty, because the whole population is
engaged in productive industry, and because the poorest as well
as the most opulent members of the commonwealth are ready to
combine their efforts for these purposes. The consequence is,
that a stranger is constantly amazed by the immense public works
executed by a nation which contains, so to speak, no rich men.
The Americans arrived but as yesterday on the territory which
they inhabit, and they have already changed the whole order of
nature for their own advantage. They have joined the Hudson to
the Mississippi, and made the Atlantic Ocean communicate with the
Gulf of Mexico, across a continent of more than five hundred
leagues in extent which separates the two seas. The longest
railroads which have been constructed up to the present time are
in America. But what most astonishes me in the United States, is
not so much the marvellous grandeur of some undertakings, as the
innumerable multitude of small ones. Almost all the farmers of
the United States combine some trade with agriculture; most of
them make agriculture itself a trade. It seldom happens that an
American farmer settles for good upon the land which he occupies:
especially in the districts of the Far West he brings land into
tillage in order to sell it again, and not to farm it: he builds
a farmhouse on the speculation that, as the state of the country
will soon be changed by the increase of population, a good price
will be gotten for it. Every year a swarm of the inhabitants of
the North arrive in the Southern States, and settle in the parts
where the cotton plant and the sugar-cane grow. These men
cultivate the soil in order to make it produce in a few years
enough to enrich them; and they already look forward to the time
when they may return home to enjoy the competency thus acquired.
Thus the Americans carry their business- like qualities into
agriculture; and their trading passions are displayed in that as
in their other pursuits.

The Americans make immense progress in productive industry,
because they all devote themselves to it at once; and for this
same reason they are exposed to very unexpected and formidable
embarrassments. As they are all engaged in commerce, their
commercial affairs are affected by such various and complex
causes that it is impossible to foresee what difficulties may
arise. As they are all more or less engaged in productive
industry, at the least shock given to business all private
fortunes are put in jeopardy at the same time, and the State is
shaken. I believe that the return of these commercial panics is
an endemic disease of the democratic nations of our age. It may
be rendered less dangerous, but it cannot be cured; because it
does not originate in accidental circumstances, but in the
temperament of these nations.

Chapter XX: That Aristocracy May Be Engendered By Manufactures

I have shown that democracy is favorable to the growth of
manufactures, and that it increases without limit the numbers of
the manufacturing classes: we shall now see by what side road
manufacturers may possibly in their turn bring men back to
aristocracy. It is acknowledged that when a workman is engaged
every day upon the same detail, the whole commodity is produced
with greater ease, promptitude, and economy. It is likewise
acknowledged that the cost of the production of manufactured
goods is diminished by the extent of the establishment in which
they are made, and by the amount of capital employed or of
credit. These truths had long been imperfectly discerned, but in
our time they have been demonstrated. They have been already
applied to many very important kinds of manufactures, and the
humblest will gradually be governed by them. I know of nothing
in politics which deserves to fix the attention of the legislator
more closely than these two new axioms of the science of

When a workman is unceasingly and exclusively engaged in the
fabrication of one thing, he ultimately does his work with
singular dexterity; but at the same time he loses the general
faculty of applying his mind to the direction of the work. He
every day becomes more adroit and less industrious; so that it
may be said of him, that in proportion as the workman improves
the man is degraded. What can be expected of a man who has spent
twenty years of his life in making heads for pins? and to what
can that mighty human intelligence, which has so often stirred
the world, be applied in him, except it be to investigate the
best method of making pins' heads? When a workman has spent a
considerable portion of his existence in this manner, his

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