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Democracy In America, Volume 2 by Alexis de Toqueville

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Americans can conceive nothing more precious than a woman's
honor, and nothing which ought so much to be respected as her
independence, they hold that no punishment is too severe for the
man who deprives her of them against her will. In France, where
the same offence is visited with far milder penalties, it is
frequently difficult to get a verdict from a jury against the
prisoner. Is this a consequence of contempt of decency or
contempt of women? I cannot but believe that it is a contempt of
one and of the other.

Thus the Americans do not think that man and woman have
either the duty or the right to perform the same offices, but
they show an equal regard for both their respective parts; and
though their lot is different, they consider both of them as
beings of equal value. They do not give to the courage of woman
the same form or the same direction as to that of man; but they
never doubt her courage: and if they hold that man and his
partner ought not always to exercise their intellect and
understanding in the same manner, they at least believe the
understanding of the one to be as sound as that of the other, and
her intellect to be as clear. Thus, then, whilst they have
allowed the social inferiority of woman to subsist, they have
done all they could to raise her morally and intellectually to
the level of man; and in this respect they appear to me to have
excellently understood the true principle of democratic
improvement. As for myself, I do not hesitate to avow that,
although the women of the United States are confined within the
narrow circle of domestic life, and their situation is in some
respects one of extreme dependence, I have nowhere seen woman
occupying a loftier position; and if I were asked, now that I am
drawing to the close of this work, in which I have spoken of so
many important things done by the Americans, to what the singular
prosperity and growing strength of that people ought mainly to be
attributed, I should reply - to the superiority of their women.
Chapter XIII: That The Principle Of Equality Naturally Divides
The Americans Into A Number Of Small Private Circles

It may probably be supposed that the final consequence and
necessary effect of democratic institutions is to confound
together all the members of the community in private as well as
in public life, and to compel them all to live in common; but
this would be to ascribe a very coarse and oppressive form to the
equality which originates in democracy. No state of society or
laws can render men so much alike, but that education, fortune,
and tastes will interpose some differences between them; and,
though different men may sometimes find it their interest to
combine for the same purposes, they will never make it their
pleasure. They will therefore always tend to evade the
provisions of legislation, whatever they may be; and departing in
some one respect from the circle within which they were to be
bounded, they will set up, close by the great political
community, small private circles, united together by the
similitude of their conditions, habits, and manners.

In the United States the citizens have no sort of
pre-eminence over each other; they owe each other no mutual
obedience or respect; they all meet for the administration of
justice, for the government of the State, and in general to treat
of the affairs which concern their common welfare; but I never
heard that attempts have been made to bring them all to follow
the same diversions, or to amuse themselves promiscuously in the
same places of recreation. The Americans, who mingle so readily
in their political assemblies and courts of justice, are wont on
the contrary carefully to separate into small distinct circles,
in order to indulge by themselves in the enjoyments of private
life. Each of them is willing to acknowledge all his
fellow-citizens as his equals, but he will only receive a very
limited number of them amongst his friends or his guests. This
appears to me to be very natural. In proportion as the circle of
public society is extended, it may be anticipated that the sphere
of private intercourse will be contracted; far from supposing
that the members of modern society will ultimately live in
common, I am afraid that they may end by forming nothing but
small coteries.

Amongst aristocratic nations the different classes are like
vast chambers, out of which it is impossible to get, into which
it is impossible to enter. These classes have no communication
with each other, but within their pale men necessarily live in
daily contact; even though they would not naturally suit, the
general conformity of a similar condition brings them nearer
together. But when neither law nor custom professes to establish
frequent and habitual relations between certain men, their
intercourse originates in the accidental analogy of opinions and
tastes; hence private society is infinitely varied. In
democracies, where the members of the community never differ much
from each other, and naturally stand in such propinquity that
they may all at any time be confounded in one general mass,
numerous artificial and arbitrary distinctions spring up, by
means of which every man hopes to keep himself aloof, lest he
should be carried away in the crowd against his will. This can
never fail to be the case; for human institutions may be changed,
but not man: whatever may be the general endeavor of a community
to render its members equal and alike, the personal pride of
individuals will always seek to rise above the line, and to form
somewhere an inequality to their own advantage.

In aristocracies men are separated from each other by lofty
stationary barriers; in democracies they are divided by a number
of small and almost invisible threads, which are constantly
broken or moved from place to place. Thus, whatever may be the
progress of equality, in democratic nations a great number of
small private communities will always be formed within the
general pale of political society; but none of them will bear any
resemblance in its manners to the highest class in aristocracies.

Chapter XIV: Some Reflections On American Manners

Nothing seems at first sight less important than the outward
form of human actions, yet there is nothing upon which men set
more store: they grow used to everything except to living in a
society which has not their own manners. The influence of the
social and political state of a country upon manners is therefore
deserving of serious examination. Manners are, generally, the
product of the very basis of the character of a people, but they
are also sometimes the result of an arbitrary convention between
certain men; thus they are at once natural and acquired. When
certain men perceive that they are the foremost persons in
society, without contestation and without effort - when they are
constantly engaged on large objects, leaving the more minute
details to others - and when they live in the enjoyment of wealth
which they did not amass and which they do not fear to lose, it
may be supposed that they feel a kind of haughty disdain of the
petty interests and practical cares of life, and that their
thoughts assume a natural greatness, which their language and
their manners denote. In democratic countries manners are
generally devoid of dignity, because private life is there
extremely petty in its character; and they are frequently low,
because the mind has few opportunities of rising above the
engrossing cares of domestic interests. True dignity in manners
consists in always taking one's proper station, neither too high
nor too low; and this is as much within the reach of a peasant as
of a prince. In democracies all stations appear doubtful; hence
it is that the manners of democracies, though often full of
arrogance, are commonly wanting in dignity, and, moreover, they
are never either well disciplined or accomplished.

The men who live in democracies are too fluctuating for a
certain number of them ever to succeed in laying down a code of
good breeding, and in forcing people to follow it. Every man
therefore behaves after his own fashion, and there is always a
certain incoherence in the manners of such times, because they
are moulded upon the feelings and notions of each individual,
rather than upon an ideal model proposed for general imitation.
This, however, is much more perceptible at the time when an
aristocracy has just been overthrown than after it has long been
destroyed. New political institutions and new social elements
then bring to the same places of resort, and frequently compel to
live in common, men whose education and habits are still
amazingly dissimilar, and this renders the motley composition of
society peculiarly visible. The existence of a former strict
code of good breeding is still remembered, but what it contained
or where it is to be found is already forgotten. Men have lost
the common law of manners, and they have not yet made up their
minds to do without it; but everyone endeavors to make to himself
some sort of arbitrary and variable rule, from the remnant of
former usages; so that manners have neither the regularity and
the dignity which they often display amongst aristocratic
nations, nor the simplicity and freedom which they sometimes
assume in democracies; they are at once constrained and without

This, however, is not the normal state of things. When the
equality of conditions is long established and complete, as all
men entertain nearly the same notions and do nearly the same
things, they do not require to agree or to copy from one another
in order to speak or act in the same manner: their manners are
constantly characterized by a number of lesser diversities, but
not by any great differences. They are never perfectly alike,
because they do not copy from the same pattern; they are never
very unlike, because their social condition is the same. At
first sight a traveller would observe that the manners of all the
Americans are exactly similar; it is only upon close examination
that the peculiarities in which they differ may be detected.

The English make game of the manners of the Americans; but
it is singular that most of the writers who have drawn these
ludicrous delineations belonged themselves to the middle classes
in England, to whom the same delineations are exceedingly
applicable: so that these pitiless censors for the most part
furnish an example of the very thing they blame in the United
States; they do not perceive that they are deriding themselves,
to the great amusement of the aristocracy of their own country.

Nothing is more prejudicial to democracy than its outward
forms of behavior: many men would willingly endure its vices, who
cannot support its manners. I cannot, however, admit that there
is nothing commendable in the manners of a democratic people.
Amongst aristocratic nations, all who live within reach of the
first class in society commonly strain to be like it, which gives
rise to ridiculous and insipid imitations. As a democratic
people does not possess any models of high breeding, at least it
escapes the daily necessity of seeing wretched copies of them.
In democracies manners are never so refined as amongst
aristocratic nations, but on the other hand they are never so
coarse. Neither the coarse oaths of the populace, nor the
elegant and choice expressions of the nobility are to be heard
there: the manners of such a people are often vulgar, but they
are neither brutal nor mean. I have already observed that in
democracies no such thing as a regular code of good breeding can
be laid down; this has some inconveniences and some advantages.
In aristocracies the rules of propriety impose the same demeanor
on everyone; they make all the members of the same class appear
alike, in spite of their private inclinations; they adorn and
they conceal the natural man. Amongst a democratic people
manners are neither so tutored nor so uniform, but they are
frequently more sincere. They form, as it were, a light and
loosely woven veil, through which the real feelings and private
opinions of each individual are easily discernible. The form and
the substance of human actions often, therefore, stand in closer
relation; and if the great picture of human life be less
embellished, it is more true. Thus it may be said, in one sense,
that the effect of democracy is not exactly to give men any
particular manners, but to prevent them from having manners at

The feelings, the passions, the virtues, and the vices of an
aristocracy may sometimes reappear in a democracy, but not its
manners; they are lost, and vanish forever, as soon as the
democratic revolution is completed. It would seem that nothing
is more lasting than the manners of an aristocratic class, for
they are preserved by that class for some time after it has lost
its wealth and its power - nor so fleeting, for no sooner have
they disappeared than not a trace of them is to be found; and it
is scarcely possible to say what they have been as soon as they
have ceased to be. A change in the state of society works this
miracle, and a few generations suffice to consummate it. The
principal characteristics of aristocracy are handed down by
history after an aristocracy is destroyed, but the light and
exquisite touches of manners are effaced from men's memories
almost immediately after its fall. Men can no longer conceive
what these manners were when they have ceased to witness them;
they are gone, and their departure was unseen, unfelt; for in
order to feel that refined enjoyment which is derived from choice
and distinguished manners, habit and education must have prepared
the heart, and the taste for them is lost almost as easily as the
practice of them. Thus not only a democratic people cannot have
aristocratic manners, but they neither comprehend nor desire
them; and as they never have thought of them, it is to their
minds as if such things had never been. Too much importance
should not be attached to this loss, but it may well be

I am aware that it has not unfrequently happened that the
same men have had very high-bred manners and very low-born
feelings: the interior of courts has sufficiently shown what
imposing externals may conceal the meanest hearts. But though the
manners of aristocracy did not constitute virtue, they sometimes
embellish virtue itself. It was no ordinary sight to see a
numerous and powerful class of men, whose every outward action
seemed constantly to be dictated by a natural elevation of
thought and feeling, by delicacy and regularity of taste, and by
urbanity of manners. Those manners threw a pleasing illusory
charm over human nature; and though the picture was often a false
one, it could not be viewed without a noble satisfaction.

Book Three - Chapters XV-XVII

Chapter XV: Of The Gravity Of The Americans, And Why It Does Not
Prevent Them From Often Committing Inconsiderate Actions

Men who live in democratic countries do not value the
simple, turbulent, or coarse diversions in which the people
indulge in aristocratic communities: such diversions are thought
by them to be puerile or insipid. Nor have they a greater
inclination for the intellectual and refined amusements of the
aristocratic classes. They want something productive and
substantial in their pleasures; they want to mix actual fruition
with their joy. In aristocratic communities the people readily
give themselves up to bursts of tumultuous and boisterous gayety,
which shake off at once the recollection of their privations: the
natives of democracies are not fond of being thus violently
broken in upon, and they never lose sight of their own selves
without regret. They prefer to these frivolous delights those
more serious and silent amusements which are like business, and
which do not drive business wholly from their minds. An
American, instead of going in a leisure hour to dance merrily at
some place of public resort, as the fellows of his calling
continue to do throughout the greater part of Europe, shuts
himself up at home to drink. He thus enjoys two pleasures; he
can go on thinking of his business, and he can get drunk decently
by his own fireside.

I thought that the English constituted the most serious
nation on the face of the earth, but I have since seen the
Americans and have changed my opinion. I do not mean to say that
temperament has not a great deal to do with the character of the
inhabitants of the United States, but I think that their
political institutions are a still more influential cause. I
believe the seriousness of the Americans arises partly from their
pride. In democratic countries even poor men entertain a lofty
notion of their personal importance: they look upon themselves
with complacency, and are apt to suppose that others are looking
at them, too. With this disposition they watch their language
and their actions with care, and do not lay themselves open so as
to betray their deficiencies; to preserve their dignity they
think it necessary to retain their gravity.

But I detect another more deep-seated and powerful cause
which instinctively produces amongst the Americans this
astonishing gravity. Under a despotism communities give way at
times to bursts of vehement joy; but they are generally gloomy
and moody, because they are afraid. Under absolute monarchies
tempered by the customs and manners of the country, their spirits
are often cheerful and even, because as they have some freedom
and a good deal of security, they are exempted from the most
important cares of life; but all free peoples are serious,
because their minds are habitually absorbed by the contemplation
of some dangerous or difficult purpose. This is more especially
the case amongst those free nations which form democratic
communities. Then there are in all classes a very large number
of men constantly occupied with the serious affairs of the
government; and those whose thoughts are not engaged in the
direction of the commonwealth are wholly engrossed by the
acquisition of a private fortune. Amongst such a people a
serious demeanor ceases to be peculiar to certain men, and
becomes a habit of the nation.

We are told of small democracies in the days of antiquity,
in which the citizens met upon the public places with garlands of
roses, and spent almost all their time in dancing and theatrical
amusements. I do not believe in such republics any more than in
that of Plato; or, if the things we read of really happened, I do
not hesitate to affirm that these supposed democracies were
composed of very different elements from ours, and that they had
nothing in common with the latter except their name. But it must
not be supposed that, in the midst of all their toils, the people
who live in democracies think themselves to be pitied; the
contrary is remarked to be the case. No men are fonder of their
own condition. Life would have no relish for them if they were
delivered from the anxieties which harass them, and they show
more attachment to their cares than aristocratic nations to their

I am next led to inquire how it is that these same
democratic nations, which are so serious, sometimes act in so
inconsiderate a manner. The Americans, who almost always
preserve a staid demeanor and a frigid air, nevertheless
frequently allow themselves to be borne away, far beyond the
bound of reason, by a sudden passion or a hasty opinion, and they
sometimes gravely commit strange absurdities. This contrast
ought not to surprise us. There is one sort of ignorance which
originates in extreme publicity. In despotic States men know not
how to act, because they are told nothing; in democratic nations
they often act at random, because nothing is to be left untold.
The former do not know - the latter forget; and the chief
features of each picture are lost to them in a bewilderment of

It is astonishing what imprudent language a public man may
sometimes use in free countries, and especially in democratic
States, without being compromised; whereas in absolute monarchies
a few words dropped by accident are enough to unmask him forever,
and ruin him without hope of redemption. This is explained by
what goes before. When a man speaks in the midst of a great
crowd, many of his words are not heard, or are forthwith
obliterated from the memories of those who hear them; but amidst
the silence of a mute and motionless throng the slightest whisper
strikes the ear.

In democracies men are never stationary; a thousand chances
waft them to and fro, and their life is always the sport of
unforeseen or (so to speak) extemporaneous circumstances. Thus
they are often obliged to do things which they have imperfectly
learned, to say things they imperfectly understand, and to devote
themselves to work for which they are unprepared by long
apprenticeship. In aristocracies every man has one sole object
which he unceasingly pursues, but amongst democratic nations the
existence of man is more complex; the same mind will almost
always embrace several objects at the same time, and these
objects are frequently wholly foreign to each other: as it cannot
know them all well, the mind is readily satisfied with imperfect
notions of each.

When the inhabitant of democracies is not urged by his
wants, he is so at least by his desires; for of all the
possessions which he sees around him, none are wholly beyond his
reach. He therefore does everything in a hurry, he is always
satisfied with "pretty well," and never pauses more than an
instant to consider what he has been doing. His curiosity is at
once insatiable and cheaply satisfied; for he cares more to know
a great deal quickly than to know anything well: he has no time
and but little taste to search things to the bottom. Thus then
democratic peoples are grave, because their social and political
condition constantly leads them to engage in serious occupations;
and they act inconsiderately, because they give but little time
and attention to each of these occupations. The habit of
inattention must be considered as the greatest bane of the
democratic character.

Chapter XVI: Why The National Vanity Of The Americans Is More
Restless And Captious Than That Of The English

All free nations are vainglorious, but national pride is not
displayed by all in the same manner. The Americans in their
intercourse with strangers appear impatient of the smallest
censure and insatiable of praise. The most slender eulogium is
acceptable to them; the most exalted seldom contents them; they
unceasingly harass you to extort praise, and if you resist their
entreaties they fall to praising themselves. It would seem as
if, doubting their own merit, they wished to have it constantly
exhibited before their eyes. Their vanity is not only greedy,
but restless and jealous; it will grant nothing, whilst it
demands everything, but is ready to beg and to quarrel at the
same time. If I say to an American that the country he lives in
is a fine one, "Ay," he replies, "there is not its fellow in the
world." If I applaud the freedom which its inhabitants enjoy, he
answers, "Freedom is a fine thing, but few nations are worthy to
enjoy it." If I remark the purity of morals which distinguishes
the United States, "I can imagine," says he, "that a stranger,
who has been struck by the corruption of all other nations, is
astonished at the difference." At length I leave him to the
contemplation of himself; but he returns to the charge, and does
not desist till he has got me to repeat all I had just been
saying. It is impossible to conceive a more troublesome or more
garrulous patriotism; it wearies even those who are disposed to
respect it. *a

[Footnote a: See Appendix U.]

Such is not the case with the English. An Englishman calmly
enjoys the real or imaginary advantages which in his opinion his
country possesses. If he grants nothing to other nations,
neither does he solicit anything for his own. The censure of
foreigners does not affect him, and their praise hardly flatters
him; his position with regard to the rest of the world is one of
disdainful and ignorant reserve: his pride requires no
sustenance, it nourishes itself. It is remarkable that two
nations, so recently sprung from the same stock, should be so
opposite to one another in their manner of feeling and

In aristocratic countries the great possess immense
privileges, upon which their pride rests, without seeking to rely
upon the lesser advantages which accrue to them. As these
privileges came to them by inheritance, they regard them in some
sort as a portion of themselves, or at least as a natural right
inherent in their own persons. They therefore entertain a calm
sense of their superiority; they do not dream of vaunting
privileges which everyone perceives and no one contests, and
these things are not sufficiently new to them to be made topics
of conversation. They stand unmoved in their solitary greatness,
well assured that they are seen of all the world without any
effort to show themselves off, and that no one will attempt to
drive them from that position. When an aristocracy carries on
the public affairs, its national pride naturally assumes this
reserved, indifferent, and haughty form, which is imitated by all
the other classes of the nation.

When, on the contrary, social conditions differ but little,
the slightest privileges are of some importance; as every man
sees around himself a million of people enjoying precisely
similar or analogous advantages, his pride becomes craving and
jealous, he clings to mere trifles, and doggedly defends them.
In democracies, as the conditions of life are very fluctuating,
men have almost always recently acquired the advantages which
they possess; the consequence is that they feel extreme pleasure
in exhibiting them, to show others and convince themselves that
they really enjoy them. As at any instant these same advantages
may be lost, their possessors are constantly on the alert, and
make a point of showing that they still retain them. Men living
in democracies love their country just as they love themselves,
and they transfer the habits of their private vanity to their
vanity as a nation. The restless and insatiable vanity of a
democratic people originates so entirely in the equality and
precariousness of social conditions, that the members of the
haughtiest nobility display the very same passion in those lesser
portions of their existence in which there is anything
fluctuating or contested. An aristocratic class always differs
greatly from the other classes of the nation, by the extent and
perpetuity of its privileges; but it often happens that the only
differences between the members who belong to it consist in small
transient advantages, which may any day be lost or acquired.
The members of a powerful aristocracy, collected in a
capital or a court, have been known to contest with virulence
those frivolous privileges which depend on the caprice of fashion
or the will of their master. These persons then displayed
towards each other precisely the same puerile jealousies which
animate the men of democracies, the same eagerness to snatch the
smallest advantages which their equals contested, and the same
desire to parade ostentatiously those of which they were in
possession. If national pride ever entered into the minds of
courtiers, I do not question that they would display it in the
same manner as the members of a democratic community.

Chapter XVII: That The Aspect Of Society In The United States Is
At Once Excited And Monotonous

It would seem that nothing can be more adapted to stimulate
and to feed curiosity than the aspect of the United States.
Fortunes, opinions, and laws are there in ceaseless variation: it
is as if immutable nature herself were mutable, such are the
changes worked upon her by the hand of man. Yet in the end the
sight of this excited community becomes monotonous, and after
having watched the moving pageant for a time the spectator is
tired of it. Amongst aristocratic nations every man is pretty
nearly stationary in his own sphere; but men are astonishingly
unlike each other - their passions, their notions, their habits,
and their tastes are essentially different: nothing changey, but
everything differs. In democracies, on the contrary, all men are
alike and do things pretty nearly alike. It is true that they
are subject to great and frequent vicissitudes; but as the same
events of good or adverse fortune are continually recurring, the
name of the actors only is changed, the piece is always the same.
The aspect of American society is animated, because men and
things are always changing; but it is monotonous, because all
these changes are alike.

Men living in democratic ages have many passions, but most
of their passions either end in the love of riches or proceed
from it. The cause of this is, not that their souls are
narrower, but that the importance of money is really greater at
such times. When all the members of a community are independent
of or indifferent to each other, the co-operation of each of them
can only be obtained by paying for it: this infinitely multiplies
the purposes to which wealth may be applied, and increases its
value. When the reverence which belonged to what is old has
vanished, birth, condition, and profession no longer distinguish
men, or scarcely distinguish them at all: hardly anything but
money remains to create strongly marked differences between them,
and to raise some of them above the common level. The
distinction originating in wealth is increased by the
disappearance and diminution of all other distinctions. Amongst
aristocratic nations money only reaches to a few points on the
vast circle of man's desires - in democracies it seems to lead to
all. The love of wealth is therefore to be traced, either as a
principal or an accessory motive, at the bottom of all that the
Americans do: this gives to all their passions a sort of family
likeness, and soon renders the survey of them exceedingly
wearisome. This perpetual recurrence of the same passion is
monotonous; the peculiar methods by which this passion seeks its
own gratification are no less so.

In an orderly and constituted democracy like the United
States, where men cannot enrich themselves by war, by public
office, or by political confiscation, the love of wealth mainly
drives them into business and manufactures. Although these
pursuits often bring about great commotions and disasters, they
cannot prosper without strictly regular habits and a long routine
of petty uniform acts. The stronger the passion is, the more
regular are these habits, and the more uniform are these acts.
It may be said that it is the vehemence of their desires which
makes the Americans so methodical; it perturbs their minds, but
it disciplines their lives.

The remark I here apply to America may indeed be addressed
to almost all our contemporaries. Variety is disappearing from
the human race; the same ways of acting, thinking, and feeling
are to be met with all over the world. This is not only because
nations work more upon each other, and are more faithful in their
mutual imitation; but as the men of each country relinquish more
and more the peculiar opinions and feelings of a caste, a
profession, or a family, they simultaneously arrive at something
nearer to the constitution of man, which is everywhere the same.
Thus they become more alike, even without having imitated each
other. Like travellers scattered about some large wood, which is
intersected by paths converging to one point, if all of them
keep, their eyes fixed upon that point and advance towards it,
they insensibly draw nearer together - though they seek not,
though they see not, though they know not each other; and they
will be surprised at length to find themselves all collected on
the same spot. All the nations which take, not any particular
man, but man himself, as the object of their researches and their
imitations, are tending in the end to a similar state of society,
like these travellers converging to the central plot of the

Book Three - Chapter XVIII

Chapter XVIII: Of Honor In The United States And In Democratic

It would seem that men employ two very distinct methods in
the public estimation *a of the actions of their fellowmen; at
one time they judge them by those simple notions of right and
wrong which are diffused all over the world; at another they
refer their decision to a few very special notions which belong
exclusively to some particular age and country. It often happens
that these two rules differ; they sometimes conflict: but they
are never either entirely identified or entirely annulled by one
another. Honor, at the periods of its greatest power, sways the
will more than the belief of men; and even whilst they yield
without hesitation and without a murmur to its dictates, they
feel notwithstanding, by a dim but mighty instinct, the existence
of a more general, more ancient, and more holy law, which they
sometimes disobey although they cease not to acknowledge it.
Some actions have been held to be at the same time virtuous and
dishonorable - a refusal to fight a duel is a case in point.

[Footnote a: The word "honor" is not always used in the same
sense either in French or English. I. It first signifies the
dignity, glory, or reverence which a man receives from his kind;
and in this sense a man is said to acquire honor. 2. Honor
signifies the aggregate of those rules by the assistance of which
this dignity, glory, or reverence is obtained. Thus we say that
a man has always strictly obeyed the laws of honor; or a man has
violated his honor. In this chapter the word is always used in
the latter sense.]

I think these peculiarities may be otherwise explained than
by the mere caprices of certain individuals and nations, as has
hitherto been the customary mode of reasoning on the subject.
Mankind is subject to general and lasting wants that have
engendered moral laws, to the neglect of which men have ever and
in all places attached the notion of censure and shame: to
infringe them was "to do ill" - "to do well" was to conform to
them. Within the bosom of this vast association of the human
race, lesser associations have been formed which are called
nations; and amidst these nations further subdivisions have
assumed the names of classes or castes. Each of these
associations forms, as it were, a separate species of the human
race; and though it has no essential difference from the mass of
mankind, to a certain extent it stands apart and has certain
wants peculiar to itself. To these special wants must be
attributed the modifications which affect in various degrees and
in different countries the mode of considering human actions, and
the estimate which ought to be formed of them. It is the general
and permanent interest of mankind that men should not kill each
other: but it may happen to be the peculiar and temporary
interest of a people or a class to justify, or even to honor,

Honor is simply that peculiar rule, founded upon a peculiar
state of society, by the application of which a people or a class
allot praise or blame. Nothing is more unproductive to the mind
than an abstract idea; I therefore hasten to call in the aid of
facts and examples to illustrate my meaning.

I select the most extraordinary kind of honor which was ever
known in the world, and that which we are best acquainted with,
viz., aristocratic honor springing out of feudal society. I
shall explain it by means of the principle already laid down, and
I shall explain the principle by means of the illustration. I am
not here led to inquire when and how the aristocracy of the
Middle Ages came into existence, why it was so deeply severed
from the remainder of the nation, or what founded and
consolidated its power. I take its existence as an established
fact, and I am endeavoring to account for the peculiar view which
it took of the greater part of human actions. The first thing
that strikes me is, that in the feudal world actions were not
always praised or blamed with reference to their intrinsic worth,
but that they were sometimes appreciated exclusively with
reference to the person who was the actor or the object of them,
which is repugnant to the general conscience of mankind. Thus
some of the actions which were indifferent on the part of a man
in humble life, dishonored a noble; others changed their whole
character according as the person aggrieved by them belonged or
did not belong to the aristocracy. When these different notions
first arose, the nobility formed a distinct body amidst the
people, which it commanded from the inaccessible heights where it
was ensconced. To maintain this peculiar position, which
constituted its strength, it not only required political
privileges, but it required a standard of right and wrong for its
own especial use. That some particular virtue or vice belonged
to the nobility rather than to the humble classes - that certain
actions were guiltless when they affected the villain, which were
criminal when they touched the noble - these were often arbitrary
matters; but that honor or shame should be attached to a man's
actions according to his condition, was a result of the internal
constitution of an aristocratic community. This has been
actually the case in all the countries which have had an
aristocracy; as long as a trace of the principle remains, these
peculiarities will still exist; to debauch a woman of color
scarcely injures the reputation of an American - to marry her
dishonors him.

In some cases feudal honor enjoined revenge, and stigmatized
the forgiveness of insults; in others it imperiously commanded
men to conquer their own passions, and imposed forgetfulness of
self. It did not make humanity or kindness its law, but it
extolled generosity; it set more store on liberality than on
benevolence; it allowed men to enrich themselves by gambling or
by war, but not by labor; it preferred great crimes to small
earnings; cupidity was less distasteful to it than avarice;
violence it often sanctioned, but cunning and treachery it
invariably reprobated as contemptible. These fantastical notions
did not proceed exclusively from the caprices of those who
entertained them. A class which has succeeded in placing itself
at the head of and above all others, and which makes perpetual
exertions to maintain this lofty position, must especially honor
those virtues which are conspicuous for their dignity and
splendor, and which may be easily combined with pride and the
love of power. Such men would not hesitate to invert the natural
order of the conscience in order to give those virtues precedence
before all others. It may even be conceived that some of the
more bold and brilliant vices would readily be set above the
quiet, unpretending virtues. The very existence of such a class
in society renders these things unavoidable.

The nobles of the Middle Ages placed military courage
foremost amongst virtues, and in lieu of many of them. This was
again a peculiar opinion which arose necessarily from the
peculiarity of the state of society. Feudal aristocracy existed
by war and for war; its power had been founded by arms, and by
arms that power was maintained; it therefore required nothing
more than military courage, and that quality was naturally
exalted above all others; whatever denoted it, even at the
expense of reason and humanity, was therefore approved and
frequently enjoined by the manners of the time. Such was the
main principle; the caprice of man was only to be traced in
minuter details. That a man should regard a tap on the cheek as
an unbearable insult, and should be obliged to kill in single
combat the person who struck him thus lightly, is an arbitrary
rule; but that a noble could not tranquilly receive an insult,
and was dishonored if he allowed himself to take a blow without
fighting, were direct consequences of the fundamental principles
and the wants of military aristocracy.

Thus it was true to a certain extent to assert that the laws
of honor were capricious; but these caprices of honor were always
confined within certain necessary limits. The peculiar rule,
which was called honor by our forefathers, is so far from being
an arbitrary law in my eyes, that I would readily engage to
ascribe its most incoherent and fantastical injunctions to a
small number of fixed and invariable wants inherent in feudal

If I were to trace the notion of feudal honor into the
domain of politics, I should not find it more difficult to
explain its dictates. The state of society and the political
institutions of the Middle Ages were such, that the supreme power
of the nation never governed the community directly. That power
did not exist in the eyes of the people: every man looked up to a
certain individual whom he was bound to obey; by that
intermediate personage he was connected with all the others.
Thus in feudal society the whole system of the commonwealth
rested upon the sentiment of fidelity to the person of the lord:
to destroy that sentiment was to open the sluices of anarchy.
Fidelity to a political superior was, moreover, a sentiment of
which all the members of the aristocracy had constant
opportunities of estimating the importance; for every one of them
was a vassal as well as a lord, and had to command as well as to
obey. To remain faithful to the lord, to sacrifice one's self
for him if called upon, to share his good or evil fortunes, to
stand by him in his undertakings whatever they might be - such
were the first injunctions of feudal honor in relation to the
political institutions of those times. The treachery of a vassal
was branded with extraordinary severity by public opinion, and a
name of peculiar infamy was invented for the offence which was
called "felony."

On the contrary, few traces are to be found in the Middle
Ages of the passion which constituted the life of the nations of
antiquity - I mean patriotism; the word itself is not of very
ancient date in the language. *b Feudal institutions concealed
the country at large from men's sight, and rendered the love of
it less necessary. The nation was forgotten in the passions
which attached men to persons. Hence it was no part of the
strict law of feudal honor to remain faithful to one's country.
Not indeed that the love of their country did not exist in the
hearts of our forefathers; but it constituted a dim and feeble
instinct, which has grown more clear and strong in proportion as
aristocratic classes have been abolished, and the supreme power
of the nation centralized. This may be clearly seen from the
contrary judgments which European nations have passed upon the
various events of their histories, according to the generations
by which such judgments have been formed. The circumstance which
most dishonored the Constable de Bourbon in the eyes of his
contemporaries was that he bore arms against his king: that which
most dishonors him in our eyes, is that he made war against his
country; we brand him as deeply as our forefathers did, but for
different reasons.

[Footnote b: Even the word "patrie" was not used by the French
writers until the sixteenth century.]

I have chosen the honor of feudal times by way of
illustration of my meaning, because its characteristics are more
distinctly marked and more familiar to us than those of any other
period; but I might have taken an example elsewhere, and I should
have reached the same conclusion by a different road. Although
we are less perfectly acquainted with the Romans than with our
own ancestors, yet we know that certain peculiar notions of glory
and disgrace obtained amongst them, which were not solely derived
from the general principles of right and wrong. Many human
actions were judged differently, according as they affected a
Roman citizen or a stranger, a freeman or a slave; certain vices
were blazoned abroad, certain virtues were extolled above all
others. "In that age," says Plutarch in the life of Coriolanus,
"martial prowess was more honored and prized in Rome than all the
other virtues, insomuch that it was called virtus, the name of
virtue itself, by applying the name of the kind to this
particular species; so that virtue in Latin was as much as to say
valor." Can anyone fail to recognize the peculiar want of that
singular community which was formed for the conquest of the

Any nation would furnish us with similar grounds of
observation; for, as I have already remarked, whenever men
collect together as a distinct community, the notion of honor
instantly grows up amongst them; that is to say, a system of
opinions peculiar to themselves as to what is blamable or
commendable; and these peculiar rules always originate in the
special habits and special interests of the community. This is
applicable to a certain extent to democratic communities as well
as to others, as we shall now proceed to prove by the example of
the Americans. *c Some loose notions of the old aristocratic
honor of Europe are still to be found scattered amongst the
opinions of the Americans; but these traditional opinions are few
in number, they have but little root in the country, and but
little power. They are like a religion which has still some
temples left standing, though men have ceased to believe in it.
But amidst these half-obliterated notions of exotic honor, some
new opinions have sprung up, which constitute what may be termed
in our days American honor. I have shown how the Americans are
constantly driven to engage in commerce and industry. Their
origin, their social condition, their political institutions, and
even the spot they inhabit, urge them irresistibly in this
direction. Their present condition is then that of an almost
exclusively manufacturing and commercial association, placed in
the midst of a new and boundless country, which their principal
object is to explore for purposes of profit. This is the
characteristic which most peculiarly distinguishes the American
people from all others at the present time. All those quiet
virtues which tend to give a regular movement to the community,
and to encourage business, will therefore be held in peculiar
honor by that people, and to neglect those virtues will be to
incur public contempt. All the more turbulent virtues, which
often dazzle, but more frequently disturb society, will on the
contrary occupy a subordinate rank in the estimation of this same
people: they may be neglected without forfeiting the esteem of
the community - to acquire them would perhaps be to run a risk of
losing it.

[Footnote c: I speak here of the Americans inhabiting those
States where slavery does not exist; they alone can be said to
present a complete picture of democratic society.]

The Americans make a no less arbitrary classification of
men's vices. There are certain propensities which appear
censurable to the general reason and the universal conscience of
mankind, but which happen to agree with the peculiar and
temporary wants of the American community: these propensities are
lightly reproved, sometimes even encouraged; for instance, the
love of wealth and the secondary propensities connected with it
may be more particularly cited. To clear, to till, and to
transform the vast uninhabited continent which is his domain, the
American requires the daily support of an energetic passion; that
passion can only be the love of wealth; the passion for wealth is
therefore not reprobated in America, and provided it does not go
beyond the bounds assigned to it for public security, it is held
in honor. The American lauds as a noble and praiseworthy ambition
what our own forefathers in the Middle Ages stigmatized as
servile cupidity, just as he treats as a blind and barbarous
frenzy that ardor of conquest and martial temper which bore them
to battle. In the United States fortunes are lost and regained
without difficulty; the country is boundless, and its resources
inexhaustible. The people have all the wants and cravings of a
growing creature; and whatever be their efforts, they are always
surrounded by more than they can appropriate. It is not the ruin
of a few individuals which may be soon repaired, but the
inactivity and sloth of the community at large which would be
fatal to such a people. Boldness of enterprise is the foremost
cause of its rapid progress, its strength, and its greatness.
Commercial business is there like a vast lottery, by which a
small number of men continually lose, but the State is always a
gainer; such a people ought therefore to encourage and do honor
to boldness in commercial speculations. But any bold speculation
risks the fortune of the speculator and of all those who put
their trust in him. The Americans, who make a virtue of
commercial temerity, have no right in any case to brand with
disgrace those who practise it. Hence arises the strange
indulgence which is shown to bankrupts in the United States;
their honor does not suffer by such an accident. In this respect
the Americans differ, not only from the nations of Europe, but
from all the commercial nations of our time, and accordingly they
resemble none of them in their position or their wants.

In America all those vices which tend to impair the purity
of morals, and to destroy the conjugal tie, are treated with a
degree of severity which is unknown in the rest of the world. At
first sight this seems strangely at variance with the tolerance
shown there on other subjects, and one is surprised to meet with
a morality so relaxed and so austere amongst the selfsame people.
But these things are less incoherent than they seem to be. Public
opinion in the United States very gently represses that love of
wealth which promotes the commercial greatness and the prosperity
of the nation, and it especially condemns that laxity of morals
which diverts the human mind from the pursuit of well-being, and
disturbs the internal order of domestic life which is so
necessary to success in business. To earn the esteem of their
countrymen, the Americans are therefore constrained to adapt
themselves to orderly habits - and it may be said in this sense
that they make it a matter of honor to live chastely.

On one point American honor accords with the notions of
honor acknowledged in Europe; it places courage as the highest
virtue, and treats it as the greatest of the moral necessities of
man; but the notion of courage itself assumes a different aspect.
In the United States martial valor is but little prized; the
courage which is best known and most esteemed is that which
emboldens men to brave the dangers of the ocean, in order to
arrive earlier in port - to support the privations of the
wilderness without complaint, and solitude more cruel than
privations - the courage which renders them almost insensible to
the loss of a fortune laboriously acquired, and instantly prompts
to fresh exertions to make another. Courage of this kind is
peculiarly necessary to the maintenance and prosperity of the
American communities, and it is held by them in peculiar honor
and estimation; to betray a want of it is to incur certain

I have yet another characteristic point which may serve to
place the idea of this chapter in stronger relief. In a
democratic society like that of the United States, where fortunes
are scanty and insecure, everybody works, and work opens a way to
everything: this has changed the point of honor quite round, and
has turned it against idleness. I have sometimes met in America
with young men of wealth, personally disinclined to all laborious
exertion, but who had been compelled to embrace a profession.
Their disposition and their fortune allowed them to remain
without employment; public opinion forbade it, too imperiously to
be disobeyed. In the European countries, on the contrary, where
aristocracy is still struggling with the flood which overwhelms
it, I have often seen men, constantly spurred on by their wants
and desires, remain in idleness, in order not to lose the esteem
of their equals; and I have known them submit to ennui and
privations rather than to work. No one can fail to perceive that
these opposite obligations are two different rules of conduct,
both nevertheless originating in the notion of honor.

What our forefathers designated as honor absolutely was in
reality only one of its forms; they gave a generic name to what
was only a species. Honor therefore is to be found in democratic
as well as in aristocratic ages, but it will not be difficult to
show that it assumes a different aspect in the former. Not only
are its injunctions different, but we shall shortly see that they
are less numerous, less precise, and that its dictates are less
rigorously obeyed. The position of a caste is always much more
peculiar than that of a people. Nothing is so much out of the
way of the world as a small community invariably composed of the
same families (as was for instance the aristocracy of the Middle
Ages), whose object is to concentrate and to retain, exclusively
and hereditarily, education, wealth, and power amongst its own
members. But the more out of the way the position of a community
happens to be, the more numerous are its special wants, and the
more extensive are its notions of honor corresponding to those
wants. The rules of honor will therefore always be less numerous
amongst a people not divided into castes than amongst any other.
If ever any nations are constituted in which it may even be
difficult to find any peculiar classes of society, the notion of
honor will be confined to a small number of precepts, which will
be more and more in accordance with the moral laws adopted by the
mass of mankind. Thus the laws of honor will be less peculiar
and less multifarious amongst a democratic people than in an
aristocracy. They will also be more obscure; and this is a
necessary consequence of what goes before; for as the
distinguishing marks of honor are less numerous and less
peculiar, it must often be difficult to distinguish them. To
this, other reasons may be added. Amongst the aristocratic
nations of the Middle Ages, generation succeeded generation in
vain; each family was like a never-dying, ever-stationary man,
and the state of opinions was hardly more changeable than that of
conditions. Everyone then had always the same objects before his
eyes, which he contemplated from the same point; his eyes
gradually detected the smallest details, and his discernment
could not fail to become in the end clear and accurate. Thus not
only had the men of feudal times very extraordinary opinions in
matters of honor, but each of those opinions was present to their
minds under a clear and precise form.

This can never be the case in America, where all men are in
constant motion; and where society, transformed daily by its own
operations, changes its opinions together with its wants. In
such a country men have glimpses of the rules of honor, but they
have seldom time to fix attention upon them.

But even if society were motionless, it would still be
difficult to determine the meaning which ought to be attached to
the word "honor." In the Middle Ages, as each class had its own
honor, the same opinion was never received at the same time by a
large number of men; and this rendered it possible to give it a
determined and accurate form, which was the more easy, as all
those by whom it was received, having a perfectly identical and
most peculiar position, were naturally disposed to agree upon the
points of a law which was made for themselves alone. Thus the
code of honor became a complete and detailed system, in which
everything was anticipated and provided for beforehand, and a
fixed and always palpable standard was applied to human actions.
Amongst a democratic nation, like the Americans, in which ranks
are identified, and the whole of society forms one single mass,
composed of elements which are all analogous though not entirely
similar, it is impossible ever to agree beforehand on what shall
or shall not be allowed by the laws of honor. Amongst that
people, indeed, some national wants do exist which give rise to
opinions common to the whole nation on points of honor; but these
opinions never occur at the same time, in the same manner, or
with the same intensity to the minds of the whole community; the
law of honor exists, but it has no organs to promulgate it.

The confusion is far greater still in a democratic country
like France, where the different classes of which the former
fabric of society was composed, being brought together but not
yet mingled, import day by day into each other's circles various
and sometimes conflicting notions of honor -where every man, at
his own will and pleasure, forsakes one portion of his
forefathers' creed, and retains another; so that, amidst so many
arbitrary measures, no common rule can ever be established, and
it is almost impossible to predict which actions will be held in
honor and which will be thought disgraceful. Such times are
wretched, but they are of short duration.

As honor, amongst democratic nations, is imperfectly
defined, its influence is of course less powerful; for it is
difficult to apply with certainty and firmness a law which is not
distinctly known. Public opinion, the natural and supreme
interpreter of the laws of honor, not clearly discerning to which
side censure or approval ought to lean, can only pronounce a
hesitating judgment. Sometimes the opinion of the public may
contradict itself; more frequently it does not act, and lets
things pass.

The weakness of the sense of honor in democracies also
arises from several other causes. In aristocratic countries, the
same notions of honor are always entertained by only a few
persons, always limited in number, often separated from the rest
of their fellow-citizens. Honor is easily mingled and identified
in their minds with the idea of all that distinguishes their own
position; it appears to them as the chief characteristic of their
own rank; they apply its different rules with all the warmth of
personal interest, and they feel (if I may use the expression) a
passion for complying with its dictates. This truth is extremely
obvious in the old black-letter lawbooks on the subject of "trial
by battel." The nobles, in their disputes, were bound to use the
lance and sword; whereas the villains used only sticks amongst
themselves, "inasmuch as," to use the words of the old books,
"villains have no honor." This did not mean, as it may be
imagined at the present day, that these people were contemptible;
but simply that their actions were not to be judged by the same
rules which were applied to the actions of the aristocracy.

It is surprising, at first sight, that when the sense of
honor is most predominant, its injunctions are usually most
strange; so that the further it is removed from common reason the
better it is obeyed; whence it has sometimes been inferred that
the laws of honor were strengthened by their own extravagance.
The two things indeed originate from the same source, but the one
is not derived from the other. Honor becomes fantastical in
proportion to the peculiarity of the wants which it denotes, and
the paucity of the men by whom those wants are felt; and it is
because it denotes wants of this kind that its influence is
great. Thus the notion of honor is not the stronger for being
fantastical, but it is fantastical and strong from the selfsame

Further, amongst aristocratic nations each rank is
different, but all ranks are fixed; every man occupies a place in
his own sphere which he cannot relinquish, and he lives there
amidst other men who are bound by the same ties. Amongst these
nations no man can either hope or fear to escape being seen; no
man is placed so low but that he has a stage of his own, and none
can avoid censure or applause by his obscurity. In democratic
States on the contrary, where all the members of the community
are mingled in the same crowd and in constant agitation, public
opinion has no hold on men; they disappear at every instant, and
elude its power. Consequently the dictates of honor will be
there less imperious and less stringent; for honor acts solely
for the public eye - differing in this respect from mere virtue,
which lives upon itself contented with its own approval.

If the reader has distinctly apprehended all that goes
before, he will understand that there is a close and necessary
relation between the inequality of social conditions and what has
here been styled honor - a relation which, if I am not mistaken,
had not before been clearly pointed out. I shall therefore make
one more attempt to illustrate it satisfactorily. Suppose a
nation stands apart from the rest of mankind: independently of
certain general wants inherent in the human race, it will also
have wants and interests peculiar to itself: certain opinions of
censure or approbation forthwith arise in the community, which
are peculiar to itself, and which are styled honor by the members
of that community. Now suppose that in this same nation a caste
arises, which, in its turn, stands apart from all the other
classes, and contracts certain peculiar wants, which give rise in
their turn to special opinions. The honor of this caste,
composed of a medley of the peculiar notions of the nation, and
the still more peculiar notions of the caste, will be as remote
as it is possible to conceive from the simple and general
opinions of men.

Having reached this extreme point of the argument, I now
return. When ranks are commingled and privileges abolished, the
men of whom a nation is composed being once more equal and alike,
their interests and wants become identical, and all the peculiar
notions which each caste styled honor successively disappear: the
notion of honor no longer proceeds from any other source than the
wants peculiar to the nation at large, and it denotes the
individual character of that nation to the world. Lastly, if it
be allowable to suppose that all the races of mankind should be
commingled, and that all the peoples of earth should ultimately
come to have the same interests, the same wants, undistinguished
from each other by any characteristic peculiarities, no
conventional value whatever would then be attached to men's
actions; they would all be regarded by all in the same light; the
general necessities of mankind, revealed by conscience to every
man, would become the common standard. The simple and general
notions of right and wrong only would then be recognized in the
world, to which, by a natural and necessary tie, the idea of
censure or approbation would be attached. Thus, to comprise all
my meaning in a single proposition, the dissimilarities and
inequalities of men gave rise to the notion of honor; that notion
is weakened in proportion as these differences are obliterated,
and with them it would disappear.

Book Three - Chapters XIX-XXI

Chapter XIX: Why So Many Ambitious Men And So Little Lofty
Ambition Are To Be Found In The United States

The first thing which strikes a traveller in the United
States is the innumerable multitude of those who seek to throw
off their original condition; and the second is the rarity of
lofty ambition to be observed in the midst of the universally
ambitious stir of society. No Americans are devoid of a yearning
desire to rise; but hardly any appear to entertain hopes of great
magnitude, or to drive at very lofty aims. All are constantly
seeking to acquire property, power, and reputation - few
contemplate these things upon a great scale; and this is the more
surprising, as nothing is to be discerned in the manners or laws
of America to limit desire, or to prevent it from spreading its
impulses in every direction. It seems difficult to attribute
this singular state of things to the equality of social
conditions; for at the instant when that same equality was
established in France, the flight of ambition became unbounded.
Nevertheless, I think that the principal cause which may be
assigned to this fact is to be found in the social condition and
democratic manners of the Americans.

All revolutions enlarge the ambition of men: this
proposition is more peculiarly true of those revolutions which
overthrow an aristocracy. When the former barriers which kept
back the multitude from fame and power are suddenly thrown down,
a violent and universal rise takes place towards that eminence so
long coveted and at length to be enjoyed. In this first burst of
triumph nothing seems impossible to anyone: not only are desires
boundless, but the power of satisfying them seems almost
boundless, too. Amidst the general and sudden renewal of laws and
customs, in this vast confusion of all men and all ordinances,
the various members of the community rise and sink again with
excessive rapidity; and power passes so quickly from hand to hand
that none need despair of catching it in turn. It must be
recollected, moreover, that the people who destroy an aristocracy
have lived under its laws; they have witnessed its splendor, and
they have unconsciously imbibed the feelings and notions which it
entertained. Thus at the moment when an aristocracy is
dissolved, its spirit still pervades the mass of the community,
and its tendencies are retained long after it has been defeated.
Ambition is therefore always extremely great as long as a
democratic revolution lasts, and it will remain so for some time
after the revolution is consummated. The reminiscence of the
extraordinary events which men have witnessed is not obliterated
from their memory in a day. The passions which a revolution has
roused do not disappear at its close. A sense of instability
remains in the midst of re-established order: a notion of easy
success survives the strange vicissitudes which gave it birth;
desires still remain extremely enlarged, when the means of
satisfying them are diminished day by day. The taste for large
fortunes subsists, though large fortunes are rare: and on every
side we trace the ravages of inordinate and hapless ambition
kindled in hearts which they consume in secret and in vain.

At length, however, the last vestiges of the struggle are
effaced; the remains of aristocracy completely disappear; the
great events by which its fall was attended are forgotten; peace
succeeds to war, and the sway of order is restored in the new
realm; desires are again adapted to the means by which they may
be fulfilled; the wants, the opinions, and the feelings of men
cohere once more; the level of the community is permanently
determined, and democratic society established. A democratic
nation, arrived at this permanent and regular state of things,
will present a very different spectacle from that which we have
just described; and we may readily conclude that, if ambition
becomes great whilst the conditions of society are growing equal,
it loses that quality when they have grown so. As wealth is
subdivided and knowledge diffused, no one is entirely destitute
of education or of property; the privileges and disqualifications
of caste being abolished, and men having shattered the bonds
which held them fixed, the notion of advancement suggests itself
to every mind, the desire to rise swells in every heart, and all
men want to mount above their station: ambition is the universal

But if the equality of conditions gives some resources to
all the members of the community, it also prevents any of them
from having resources of great extent, which necessarily
circumscribes their desires within somewhat narrow limits. Thus
amongst democratic nations ambition is ardent and continual, but
its aim is not habitually lofty; and life is generally spent in
eagerly coveting small objects which are within reach. What
chiefly diverts the men of democracies from lofty ambition is not
the scantiness of their fortunes, but the vehemence of the
exertions they daily make to improve them. They strain their
faculties to the utmost to achieve paltry results, and this
cannot fail speedily to limit their discernment and to
circumscribe their powers. They might be much poorer and still
be greater. The small number of opulent citizens who are to be
found amidst a democracy do not constitute an exception to this
rule. A man who raises himself by degrees to wealth and power,
contracts, in the course of this protracted labor, habits of
prudence and restraint which he cannot afterwards shake off. A
man cannot enlarge his mind as he would his house. The same
observation is applicable to the sons of such a man; they are
born, it is true, in a lofty position, but their parents were
humble; they have grown up amidst feelings and notions which they
cannot afterwards easily get rid of; and it may be presumed that
they will inherit the propensities of their father as well as his
wealth. It may happen, on the contrary, that the poorest scion
of a powerful aristocracy may display vast ambition, because the
traditional opinions of his race and the general spirit of his
order still buoy him up for some time above his fortune.
Another thing which prevents the men of democratic periods
from easily indulging in the pursuit of lofty objects, is the
lapse of time which they foresee must take place before they can
be ready to approach them. "It is a great advantage," says
Pascal, "to be a man of quality, since it brings one man as
forward at eighteen or twenty as another man would be at fifty,
which is a clear gain of thirty years." Those thirty years are
commonly wanting to the ambitious characters of democracies. The
principle of equality, which allows every man to arrive at
everything, prevents all men from rapid advancement.

In a democratic society, as well as elsewhere, there are
only a certain number of great fortunes to be made; and as the
paths which lead to them are indiscriminately open to all, the
progress of all must necessarily be slackened. As the candidates
appear to be nearly alike, and as it is difficult to make a
selection without infringing the principle of equality, which is
the supreme law of democratic societies, the first idea which
suggests itself is to make them all advance at the same rate and
submit to the same probation. Thus in proportion as men become
more alike, and the principle of equality is more peaceably and
deeply infused into the institutions and manners of the country,
the rules of advancement become more inflexible, advancement
itself slower, the difficulty of arriving quickly at a certain
height far greater. From hatred of privilege and from the
embarrassment of choosing, all men are at last constrained,
whatever may be their standard, to pass the same ordeal; all are
indiscriminately subjected to a multitude of petty preliminary
exercises, in which their youth is wasted and their imagination
quenched, so that they despair of ever fully attaining what is
held out to them; and when at length they are in a condition to
perform any extraordinary acts, the taste for such things has
forsaken them.

In China, where the equality of conditions is exceedingly
great and very ancient, no man passes from one public office to
another without undergoing a probationary trial. This probation
occurs afresh at every stage of his career; and the notion is now
so rooted in the manners of the people that I remember to have
read a Chinese novel, in which the hero, after numberless
crosses, succeeds at length in touching the heart of his mistress
by taking honors. A lofty ambition breathes with difficulty in
such an atmosphere.

The remark I apply to politics extends to everything;
equality everywhere produces the same effects; where the laws of
a country do not regulate and retard the advancement of men by
positive enactment, competition attains the same end. In a
well-established democratic community great and rapid elevation
is therefore rare; it forms an exception to the common rule; and
it is the singularity of such occurrences that makes men forget
how rarely they happen. Men living in democracies ultimately
discover these things; they find out at last that the laws of
their country open a boundless field of action before them, but
that no one can hope to hasten across it. Between them and the
final object of their desires, they perceive a multitude of small
intermediate impediments, which must be slowly surmounted: this
prospect wearies and discourages their ambition at once. They
therefore give up hopes so doubtful and remote, to search nearer
to themselves for less lofty and more easy enjoyments. Their
horizon is not bounded by the laws but narrowed by themselves.

I have remarked that lofty ambitions are more rare in the
ages of democracy than in times of aristocracy: I may add that
when, in spite of these natural obstacles, they do spring into
existence, their character is different. In aristocracies the
career of ambition is often wide, but its boundaries are
determined. In democracies ambition commonly ranges in a
narrower field, but if once it gets beyond that, hardly any
limits can be assigned to it. As men are individually weak - as
they live asunder, and in constant motion - as precedents are of
little authority and laws but of short duration, resistance to
novelty is languid, and the fabric of society never appears
perfectly erect or firmly consolidated. So that, when once an
ambitious man has the power in his grasp, there is nothing he may
noted are; and when it is gone from him, he meditates the
overthrow of the State to regain it. This gives to great
political ambition a character of revolutionary violence, which
it seldom exhibits to an equal degree in aristocratic
communities. The common aspect of democratic nations will
present a great number of small and very rational objects of
ambition, from amongst which a few ill-controlled desires of a
larger growth will at intervals break out: but no such a thing as
ambition conceived and contrived on a vast scale is to be met
with there.

I have shown elsewhere by what secret influence the
principle of equality makes the passion for physical
gratifications and the exclusive love of the present predominate
in the human heart: these different propensities mingle with the
sentiment of ambition, and tinge it, as it were, with their hues.
I believe that ambitious men in democracies are less engrossed
than any others with the interests and the judgment of posterity;
the present moment alone engages and absorbs them. They are more
apt to complete a number of undertakings with rapidity than to
raise lasting monuments of their achievements; and they care much
more for success than for fame. What they most ask of men is
obedience - what they most covet is empire. Their manners have
in almost all cases remained below the height of their station;
the consequence is that they frequently carry very low tastes
into their extraordinary fortunes, and that they seem to have
acquired the supreme power only to minister to their coarse or
paltry pleasures.

I think that in our time it is very necessary to cleanse, to
regulate, and to adapt the feeling of ambition, but that it would
be extremely dangerous to seek to impoverish and to repress it
over-much. We should attempt to lay down certain extreme limits,
which it should never be allowed to outstep; but its range within
those established limits should not be too much checked. I
confess that I apprehend much less for democratic society from
the boldness than from the mediocrity of desires. What appears
to me most to be dreaded is that, in the midst of the small
incessant occupations of private life, ambition should lose its
vigor and its greatness - that the passions of man should abate,
but at the same time be lowered, so that the march of society
should every day become more tranquil and less aspiring. I think
then that the leaders of modern society would be wrong to seek to
lull the community by a state of too uniform and too peaceful
happiness; and that it is well to expose it from time to time to
matters of difficulty and danger, in order to raise ambition and
to give it a field of action. Moralists are constantly
complaining that the ruling vice of the present time is pride.
This is true in one sense, for indeed no one thinks that he is
not better than his neighbor, or consents to obey his superior:
but it is extremely false in another; for the same man who cannot
endure subordination or equality, has so contemptible an opinion
of himself that he thinks he is only born to indulge in vulgar
pleasures. He willingly takes up with low desires, without
daring to embark in lofty enterprises, of which he scarcely
dreams. Thus, far from thinking that humility ought to be
preached to our contemporaries, I would have endeavors made to
give them a more enlarged idea of themselves and of their kind.
Humility is unwholesome to them; what they most want is, in my
opinion, pride. I would willingly exchange several of our small
virtues for this one vice.

Chapter XX: The Trade Of Place-Hunting In Certain Democratic

In the United States as soon as a man has acquired some
education and pecuniary resources, he either endeavors to get
rich by commerce or industry, or he buys land in the bush and
turns pioneer. All that he asks of the State is not to be
disturbed in his toil, and to be secure of his earnings. Amongst
the greater part of European nations, when a man begins to feel
his strength and to extend his desires, the first thing that
occurs to him is to get some public employment. These opposite
effects, originating in the same cause, deserve our passing

When public employments are few in number, ill-paid and
precarious, whilst the different lines of business are numerous
and lucrative, it is to business, and not to official duties,
that the new and eager desires engendered by the principle of
equality turn from every side. But if, whilst the ranks of
society are becoming more equal, the education of the people
remains incomplete, or their spirit the reverse of bold - if
commerce and industry, checked in their growth, afford only slow
and arduous means of making a fortune - the various members of
the community, despairing of ameliorating their own condition,
rush to the head of the State and demand its assistance. To
relieve their own necessities at the cost of the public treasury,
appears to them to be the easiest and most open, if not the only,
way they have to rise above a condition which no longer contents
them; place-hunting becomes the most generally followed of all
trades. This must especially be the case, in those great
centralized monarchies in which the number of paid offices is
immense, and the tenure of them tolerably secure, so that no one
despairs of obtaining a place, and of enjoying it as
undisturbedly as a hereditary fortune.

I shall not remark that the universal and inordinate desire
for place is a great social evil; that it destroys the spirit of
independence in the citizen, and diffuses a venal and servile
humor throughout the frame of society; that it stifles the
manlier virtues: nor shall I be at the pains to demonstrate that
this kind of traffic only creates an unproductive activity, which
agitates the country without adding to its resources: all these
things are obvious. But I would observe, that a government which
encourages this tendency risks its own tranquillity, and places
its very existence in great jeopardy. I am aware that at a time
like our own, when the love and respect which formerly clung to
authority are seen gradually to decline, it may appear necessary
to those in power to lay a closer hold on every man by his own
interest, and it may seem convenient to use his own passions to
keep him in order and in silence; but this cannot be so long, and
what may appear to be a source of strength for a certain time
will assuredly become in the end a great cause of embarrassment
and weakness.

Amongst democratic nations, as well as elsewhere, the number
of official appointments has in the end some limits; but amongst
those nations, the number of aspirants is unlimited; it
perpetually increases, with a gradual and irresistible rise in
proportion as social conditions become more equal, and is only
checked by the limits of the population. Thus, when public
employments afford the only outlet for ambition, the government
necessarily meets with a permanent opposition at last; for it is
tasked to satisfy with limited means unlimited desires. It is
very certain that of all people in the world the most difficult
to restrain and to manage are a people of solicitants. Whatever
endeavors are made by rulers, such a people can never be
contented; and it is always to be apprehended that they will
ultimately overturn the constitution of the country, and change
the aspect of the State, for the sole purpose of making a
clearance of places. The sovereigns of the present age, who
strive to fix upon themselves alone all those novel desires which
are aroused by equality, and to satisfy them, will repent in the
end, if I am not mistaken, that they ever embarked in this
policy: they will one day discover that they have hazarded their
own power, by making it so necessary; and that the more safe and
honest course would have been to teach their subjects the art of
providing for themselves. *a

[Footnote a: [As a matter of fact, more recent experience has
shown that place-hunting is quite as intense in the United States
as in any country in Europe. It is regarded by the Americans
themselves as one of the great evils of their social condition,
and it powerfully affects their political institutions. But the
American who seeks a place seeks not so much a means of
subsistence as the distinction which office and public employment
confer. In the absence of any true aristocracy, the public
service creates a spurious one, which is as much an object of
ambition as the distinctions of rank in aristocratic countries. -
Translator's Note.]]

Book Three - Chapters XXI-XXII

Chapter XXI: Why Great Revolutions Will Become More Rare

A people which has existed for centuries under a system of
castes and classes can only arrive at a democratic state of
society by passing through a long series of more or less critical
transformations, accomplished by violent efforts, and after
numerous vicissitudes; in the course of which, property,
opinions, and power are rapidly transferred from one hand to
another. Even after this great revolution is consummated, the
revolutionary habits engendered by it may long be traced, and it
will be followed by deep commotion. As all this takes place at
the very time at which social conditions are becoming more equal,
it is inferred that some concealed relation and secret tie exist
between the principle of equality itself and revolution, insomuch
that the one cannot exist without giving rise to the other.

On this point reasoning may seem to lead to the same result
as experience. Amongst a people whose ranks are nearly equal, no
ostensible bond connects men together, or keeps them settled in
their station. None of them have either a permanent right or
power to command - none are forced by their condition to obey;
but every man, finding himself possessed of some education and
some resources, may choose his won path and proceed apart from
all his fellow-men. The same causes which make the members of
the community independent of each other, continually impel them
to new and restless desires, and constantly spur them onwards.
It therefore seems natural that, in a democratic community, men,
things, and opinions should be forever changing their form and
place, and that democratic ages should be times of rapid and
incessant transformation.

But is this really the case? does the equality of social
conditions habitually and permanently lead men to revolution?
does that state of society contain some perturbing principle
which prevents the community from ever subsiding into calm, and
disposes the citizens to alter incessantly their laws, their
principles, and their manners? I do not believe it; and as the
subject is important, I beg for the reader's close attention.
Almost all the revolutions which have changed the aspect of
nations have been made to consolidate or to destroy social
inequality. Remove the secondary causes which have produced the
great convulsions of the world, and you will almost always find
the principle of inequality at the bottom. Either the poor have
attempted to plunder the rich, or the rich to enslave the poor.
If then a state of society can ever be founded in which every man
shall have something to keep, and little to take from others,
much will have been done for the peace of the world. I am aware
that amongst a great democratic people there will always be some
members of the community in great poverty, and others in great
opulence; but the poor, instead of forming the immense majority
of the nation, as is always the case in aristocratic communities,
are comparatively few in number, and the laws do not bind them
together by the ties of irremediable and hereditary penury. The
wealthy, on their side, are scarce and powerless; they have no
privileges which attract public observation; even their wealth,
as it is no longer incorporated and bound up with the soil, is
impalpable, and as it were invisible. As there is no longer a
race of poor men, so there is no longer a race of rich men; the
latter spring up daily from the multitude, and relapse into it
again. Hence they do not form a distinct class, which may be
easily marked out and plundered; and, moreover, as they are
connected with the mass of their fellow-citizens by a thousand
secret ties, the people cannot assail them without inflicting an
injury upon itself. Between these two extremes of democratic
communities stand an innumerable multitude of men almost alike,
who, without being exactly either rich or poor, are possessed of
sufficient property to desire the maintenance of order, yet not
enough to excite envy. Such men are the natural enemies of
violent commotions: their stillness keeps all beneath them and
above them still, and secures the balance of the fabric of
society. Not indeed that even these men are contented with what
they have gotten, or that they feel a natural abhorrence for a
revolution in which they might share the spoil without sharing
the calamity; on the contrary, they desire, with unexampled
ardor, to get rich, but the difficulty is to know from whom
riches can be taken. The same state of society which constantly
prompts desires, restrains these desires within necessary limits:
it gives men more liberty of changing and less interest in

Not only are the men of democracies not naturally desirous
of revolutions, but they are afraid of them. All revolutions
more or less threaten the tenure of property: but most of those
who live in democratic countries are possessed of property - not
only are they possessed of property, but they live in the
condition of men who set the greatest store upon their property.
If we attentively consider each of the classes of which society
is composed, it is easy to see that the passions engendered by
property are keenest and most tenacious amongst the middle
classes. The poor often care but little for what they possess,
because they suffer much more from the want of what they have
not, than they enjoy the little they have. The rich have many
other passions besides that of riches to satisfy; and, besides,
the long and arduous enjoyment of a great fortune sometimes makes
them in the end insensible to its charms. But the men who have a
competency, alike removed from opulence and from penury, attach
an enormous value to their possessions. As they are still almost
within the reach of poverty, they see its privations near at
hand, and dread them; between poverty and themselves there is
nothing but a scanty fortune, upon which they immediately fix
their apprehensions and their hopes. Every day increases the
interest they take in it, by the constant cares which it
occasions; and they are the more attached to it by their
continual exertions to increase the amount. The notion of
surrendering the smallest part of it is insupportable to them,
and they consider its total loss as the worst of misfortunes.
Now these eager and apprehensive men of small property constitute
the class which is constantly increased by the equality of
conditions. Hence, in democratic communities, the majority of
the people do not clearly see what they have to gain by a
revolution, but they continually and in a thousand ways feel that
they might lose by one.

I have shown in another part of this work that the equality
of conditions naturally urges men to embark in commercial and
industrial pursuits, and that it tends to increase and to
distribute real property: I have also pointed out the means by
which it inspires every man with an eager and constant desire to
increase his welfare. Nothing is more opposed to revolutionary
passions than these things. It may happen that the final result
of a revolution is favorable to commerce and manufactures; but
its first consequence will almost always be the ruin of
manufactures and mercantile men, because it must always change at
once the general principles of consumption, and temporarily upset
the existing proportion between supply and demand. I know of
nothing more opposite to revolutionary manners than commercial
manners. Commerce is naturally adverse to all the violent
passions; it loves to temporize, takes delight in compromise, and
studiously avoids irritation. It is patient, insinuating,
flexible, and never has recourse to extreme measures until
obliged by the most absolute necessity. Commerce renders men
independent of each other, gives them a lofty notion of their
personal importance, leads them to seek to conduct their own
affairs, and teaches how to conduct them well; it therefore
prepares men for freedom, but preserves them from revolutions.
In a revolution the owners of personal property have more to fear
than all others; for on the one hand their property is often easy
to seize, and on the other it may totally disappear at any moment
- a subject of alarm to which the owners of real property are
less exposed, since, although they may lose the income of their
estates, they may hope to preserve the land itself through the
greatest vicissitudes. Hence the former are much more alarmed at
the symptoms of revolutionary commotion than the latter. Thus
nations are less disposed to make revolutions in proportion as
personal property is augmented and distributed amongst them, and
as the number of those possessing it increases. Moreover,
whatever profession men may embrace, and whatever species of
property they may possess, one characteristic is common to them
all. No one is fully contented with his present fortune - all
are perpetually striving in a thousand ways to improve it.
Consider any one of them at any period of his life, and he will
be found engaged with some new project for the purpose of
increasing what he has; talk not to him of the interests and the
rights of mankind: this small domestic concern absorbs for the
time all his thoughts, and inclines him to defer political
excitement to some other season. This not only prevents men from
making revolutions, but deters men from desiring them. Violent
political passions have but little hold on those who have devoted
all their faculties to the pursuit of their well-being. The
ardor which they display in small matters calms their zeal for
momentous undertakings.

From time to time indeed, enterprising and ambitious men
will arise in democratic communities, whose unbounded aspirations
cannot be contented by following the beaten track. Such men like
revolutions and hail their approach; but they have great
difficulty in bringing them about, unless unwonted events come to
their assistance. No man can struggle with advantage against the
spirit of his age and country; and, however powerful he may be
supposed to be, he will find it difficult to make his
contemporaries share in feelings and opinions which are repugnant
to t all their feelings and desires.

It is a mistake to believe that, when once the equality of
conditions has become the old and uncontested state of society,
and has imparted its characteristics to the manners of a nation,
men will easily allow themselves to be thrust into perilous risks
by an imprudent leader or a bold innovator. Not indeed that they
will resist him openly, by well-contrived schemes, or even by a
premeditated plan of resistance. They will not struggle
energetically against him, sometimes they will even applaud him -
but they do not follow him. To his vehemence they secretly
oppose their inertia; to his revolutionary tendencies their
conservative interests; their homely tastes to his adventurous
passions; their good sense to the flights of his genius; to his
poetry their prose. With immense exertion he raises them for an
instant, but they speedily escape from him, and fall back, as it
were, by their own weight. He strains himself to rouse the
indifferent and distracted multitude, and finds at last that he
is reduced to impotence, not because he is conquered, but because
he is alone.

I do not assert that men living in democratic communities
are naturally stationary; I think, on the contrary, that a
perpetual stir prevails in the bosom of those societies, and that
rest is unknown there; but I think that men bestir themselves
within certain limits beyond which they hardly ever go. They are
forever varying, altering, and restoring secondary matters; but
they carefully abstain from touching what is fundamental. They
love change, but they dread revolutions. Although the Americans
are constantly modifying or abrogating some of their laws, they
by no means display revolutionary passions. It may be easily
seen, from the promptitude with which they check and calm
themselves when public excitement begins to grow alarming, and at
the very moment when passions seem most roused, that they dread a
revolution as the worst of misfortunes, and that every one of
them is inwardly resolved to make great sacrifices to avoid such
a catastrophe. In no country in the world is the love of
property more active and more anxious than in the United States;
nowhere does the majority display less inclination for those
principles which threaten to alter, in whatever manner, the laws
of property. I have often remarked that theories which are of a
revolutionary nature, since they cannot be put in practice
without a complete and sometimes a sudden change in the state of
property and persons, are much less favorably viewed in the
United States than in the great monarchical countries of Europe:
if some men profess them, the bulk of the people reject them with
instinctive abhorrence. I do not hesitate to say that most of
the maxims commonly called democratic in France would be
proscribed by the democracy of the United States. This may
easily be understood: in America men have the opinions and
passions of democracy, in Europe we have still the passions and
opinions of revolution. If ever America undergoes great
revolutions, they will be brought about by the presence of the
black race on the soil of the United States -that is to say, they
will owe their origin, not to the equality, but to the
inequality, of conditions.

When social conditions are equal, every man is apt to live
apart, centred in himself and forgetful of the public. If the
rulers of democratic nations were either to neglect to correct
this fatal tendency, or to encourage it from a notion that it
weans men from political passions and thus wards off revolutions,
they might eventually produce the evil they seek to avoid, and a
time might come when the inordinate passions of a few men, aided
by the unintelligent selfishness or the pusillanimity of the
greater number, would ultimately compel society to pass through
strange vicissitudes. In democratic communities revolutions are
seldom desired except by a minority; but a minority may sometimes
effect them. I do not assert that democratic nations are secure
from revolutions; I merely say that the state of society in those
nations does not lead to revolutions, but rather wards them off.
A democratic people left to itself will not easily embark in
great hazards; it is only led to revolutions unawares; it may
sometimes undergo them, but it does not make them; and I will add
that, when such a people has been allowed to acquire sufficient
knowledge and experience, it will not suffer them to be made. I
am well aware that it this respect public institutions may
themselves do much; they may encourage or repress the tendencies
which originate in the state of society. I therefore do not
maintain, I repeat, that a people is secure from revolutions
simply because conditions are equal in the community; but I think
that, whatever the institutions of such a people may be, great
revolutions will always be far less violent and less frequent
than is supposed; and I can easily discern a state of polity,
which, when combined with the principle of equality, would render
society more stationary than it has ever been in our western
apart of the world.

The observations I have here made on events may also be
applied in part to opinions. Two things are surprising in the
United States - the mutability of the greater part of human
actions, and the singular stability of certain principles. Men
are in constant motion; the mind of man appears almost unmoved.
When once an opinion has spread over the country and struck root
there, it would seem that no power on earth is strong enough to
eradicate it. In the United States, general principles in
religion, philosophy, morality, and even politics, do not vary,
or at least are only modified by a hidden and often an
imperceptible process: even the grossest prejudices are
obliterated with incredible slowness, amidst the continual
friction of men and things. I hear it said that it is in the
nature and the habits of democracies to be constantly changing
their opinions and feelings. This may be true of small
democratic nations, like those of the ancient world, in which the
whole community could be assembled in a public place and then
excited at will by an orator. But I saw nothing of the kind
amongst the great democratic people which dwells upon the
opposite shores of the Atlantic Ocean. What struck me in the
United States was the difficulty in shaking the majority in an
opinion once conceived, or of drawing it off from a leader once
adopted. Neither speaking nor writing can accomplish it; nothing
but experience will avail, and even experience must be repeated.
This is surprising at first sight, but a more attentive
investigation explains the fact. I do not think that it is as
easy as is supposed to uproot the prejudices of a democratic
people - to change its belief - to supersede principles once
established, by new principles in religion, politics, and morals
- in a word, to make great and frequent changes in men's minds.
Not that the human mind is there at rest -it is in constant
agitation; but it is engaged in infinitely varying the
consequences of known principles, and in seeking for new
consequences, rather than in seeking for new principles. Its
motion is one of rapid circumvolution, rather than of
straightforward impulse by rapid and direct effort; it extends
its orbit by small continual and hasty movements, but it does not
suddenly alter its position.

Men who are equal in rights, in education, in fortune, or,
to comprise all in one word, in their social condition, have
necessarily wants, habits, and tastes which are hardly
dissimilar. As they look at objects under the same aspect, their
minds naturally tend to analogous conclusions; and, though each
of them may deviate from his contemporaries and from opinions of
his own, they will involuntarily and unconsciously concur in a
certain number of received opinions. The more attentively I
consider the effects of equality upon the mind, the more am I
persuaded that the intellectual anarchy which we witness about us
is not, as many men suppose, the natural state of democratic
nations. I think it is rather to be regarded as an accident
peculiar to their youth, and that it only breaks out at that
period of transition when men have already snapped the former
ties which bound them together, but are still amazingly different
in origin, education, and manners; so that, having retained
opinions, propensities and tastes of great diversity, nothing any
longer prevents men from avowing them openly. The leading
opinions of men become similar in proportion as their conditions
assimilate; such appears to me to be the general and permanent
law - the rest is casual and transient.

I believe that it will rarely happen to any man amongst a
democratic community, suddenly to frame a system of notions very
remote from that which his contemporaries have adopted; and if
some such innovator appeared, I apprehend that he would have
great difficulty in finding listeners, still more in finding
believers. When the conditions of men are almost equal, they do
not easily allow themselves to be persuaded by each other. As
they all live in close intercourse, as they have learned the same
things together, and as they lead the same life, they are not
naturally disposed to take one of themselves for a guide, and to
follow him implicitly. Men seldom take the opinion of their
equal, or of a man like themselves, upon trust. Not only is
confidence in the superior attainments of certain individuals
weakened amongst democratic nations, as I have elsewhere
remarked, but the general notion of the intellectual superiority
which any man whatsoever may acquire in relation to the rest of
the community is soon overshadowed. As men grow more like each
other, the doctrine of the equality of the intellect gradually
infuses itself into their opinions; and it becomes more difficult
for any innovator to acquire or to exert much influence over the
minds of a people. In such communities sudden intellectual
revolutions will therefore be rare; for, if we read aright the
history of the world, we shall find that great and rapid changes
in human opinions have been produced far less by the force of
reasoning than by the authority of a name. Observe, too, that as
the men who live in democratic societies are not connected with
each other by any tie, each of them must be convinced
individually; whilst in aristocratic society it is enough to
convince a few - the rest follow. If Luther had lived in an age
of equality, and had not had princes and potentates for his
audience, he would perhaps have found it more difficult to change
the aspect of Europe. Not indeed that the men of democracies are
naturally strongly persuaded of the certainty of their opinions,
or are unwavering in belief; they frequently entertain doubts
which no one, in their eyes, can remove. It sometimes happens at
such times that the human mind would willingly change its
position; but as nothing urges or guides it forwards, it
oscillates to and fro without progressive motion. *a

[Footnote a: If I inquire what state of society is most favorable
to the great revolutions of the mind, I find that it occurs
somewhere between the complete equality of the whole community
and the absolute separation of ranks. Under a system of castes
generations succeed each other without altering men's positions;
some have nothing more, others nothing better, to hope for. The
imagination slumbers amidst this universal silence and stillness,
and the very idea of change fades from the human mind. When
ranks have been abolished and social conditions are almost
equalized, all men are in ceaseless excitement, but each of them
stands alone, independent and weak. This latter state of things
is excessively different from the former one; yet it has one
point of analogy - great revolutions of the human mind seldom
occur in it. But between these two extremes of the history of
nations is an intermediate period - a period as glorious as it is
agitated - when the conditions of men are not sufficiently
settled for the mind to be lulled in torpor, when they are
sufficiently unequal for men to exercise a vast power on the
minds of one another, and when some few may modify the
convictions of all. It is at such times that great reformers
start up, and new opinions suddenly change the face of the

Even when the reliance of a democratic people has been won,
it is still no easy matter to gain their attention. It is
extremely difficult to obtain a hearing from men living in
democracies, unless it be to speak to them of themselves. They
do not attend to the things said to them, because they are always
fully engrossed with the things they are doing. For indeed few
men are idle in democratic nations; life is passed in the midst
of noise and excitement, and men are so engaged in acting that
little remains to them for thinking. I would especially remark
that they are not only employed, but that they are passionately
devoted to their employments. They are always in action, and
each of their actions absorbs their faculties: the zeal which
they display in business puts out the enthusiasm they might
otherwise entertain for idea. I think that it is extremely
difficult to excite the enthusiasm of a democratic people for any
theory which has not a palpable, direct, and immediate connection
with the daily occupations of life: therefore they will not
easily forsake their old opinions; for it is enthusiasm which
flings the minds of men out of the beaten track, and effects the
great revolutions of the intellect as well as the great
revolutions of the political world. Thus democratic nations have
neither time nor taste to go in search of novel opinions. Even
when those they possess become doubtful, they still retain them,
because it would take too much time and inquiry to change them -
they retain them, not as certain, but as established.

There are yet other and more cogent reasons which prevent
any great change from being easily effected in the principles of
a democratic people. I have already adverted to them at the
commencement of this part of my work. If the influence of
individuals is weak and hardly perceptible amongst such a people,
the power exercised by the mass upon the mind of each individual
is extremely great - I have already shown for what reasons. I
would now observe that it is wrong to suppose that this depends
solely upon the form of government, and that the majority would
lose its intellectual supremacy if it were to lose its political
power. In aristocracies men have often much greatness and
strength of their own: when they find themselves at variance with
the greater number of their fellow-countrymen, they withdraw to
their own circle, where they support and console themselves.
Such is not the case in a democratic country; there public favor
seems as necessary as the air we breathe, and to live at variance
with the multitude is, as it were, not to live. The multitude
requires no laws to coerce those who think not like itself:
public disapprobation is enough; a sense of their loneliness and
impotence overtakes them and drives them to despair.

Whenever social conditions are equal, public opinion presses
with enormous weight upon the mind of each individual; it
surrounds, directs, and oppresses him; and this arises from the
very constitution of society, much more than from its political
laws. As men grow more alike, each man feels himself weaker in
regard to all the rest; as he discerns nothing by which he is
considerably raised above them, or distinguished from them, he
mistrusts himself as soon as they assail him. Not only does he
mistrust his strength, but he even doubts of his right; and he is
very near acknowledging that he is in the wrong, when the greater
number of his countrymen assert that he is so. The majority do
not need to constrain him - they convince him. In whatever way
then the powers of a democratic community may be organized and
balanced, it will always be extremely difficult to believe what
the bulk of the people reject, or to profess what they condemn.

This circumstance is extraordinarily favorable to the
stability of opinions. When an opinion has taken root amongst a
democratic people, and established itself in the minds of the
bulk of the community, it afterwards subsists by itself and is
maintained without effort, because no one attacks it. Those who
at first rejected it as false, ultimately receive it as the
general impression; and those who still dispute it in their
hearts, conceal their dissent; they are careful not to engage in
a dangerous and useless conflict. It is true, that when the
majority of a democratic people change their opinions, they may
suddenly and arbitrarily effect strange revolutions in men's
minds; but their opinions do not change without much difficulty,
and it is almost as difficult to show that they are changed.

Time, events, or the unaided individual action of the mind,
will sometimes undermine or destroy an opinion, without any
outward sign of the change. It has not been openly assailed, no
conspiracy has been formed to make war on it, but its followers
one by one noiselessly secede - day by day a few of them abandon
it, until last it is only professed by a minority. In this state
it will still continue to prevail. As its enemies remain mute,
or only interchange their thoughts by stealth, they are
themselves unaware for a long period that a great revolution has
actually been effected; and in this state of uncertainly they
take no steps -they observe each other and are silent. The
majority have ceased to believe what they believed before; but
they still affect to believe, and this empty phantom of public
opinion in strong enough to chill innovators, and to keep them
silent and at respectful distance. We live at a time which has
witnessed the most rapid changes of opinion in the minds of men;
nevertheless it may be that the leading opinions of society will
ere long be more settled than they have been for several
centuries in our history: that time is not yet come, but it may
perhaps be approaching. As I examine more closely the natural
wants and tendencies of democratic nations, I grow persuaded that
if ever social equality is generally and permanently established
in the world, great intellectual and political revolutions will
become more difficult and less frequent than is supposed. Because
the men of democracies appear always excited, uncertain, eager,
changeable in their wills and in their positions, it is imagined
that they are suddenly to abrogate their laws, to adopt new
opinions, and to assume new manners. But if the principle of
equality predisposes men to change, it also suggests to them
certain interests and tastes which cannot be satisfied without a
settled order of things; equality urges them on, but at the same
time it holds them back; it spurs them, but fastens them to
earth; - it kindles their desires, but limits their powers. This,
however, is not perceived at first; the passions which tend to
sever the citizens of a democracy are obvious enough; but the
hidden force which restrains and unites them is not discernible
at a glance.

Amidst the ruins which surround me, shall I dare to say that
revolutions are not what I most fear coming generations? If men
continue to shut themselves more closely within the narrow circle
of domestic interests and to live upon that kind of excitement,
it is to be apprehended that they may ultimately become
inaccessible to those great and powerful public emotions which
perturb nations - but which enlarge them and recruit them. When
property becomes so fluctuating, and the love of property so
restless and so ardent, I cannot but fear that men may arrive at
such a state as to regard every new theory as a peril, every
innovation as an irksome toil, every social improvement as a
stepping-stone to revolution, and so refuse to move altogether
for fear of being moved too far. I dread, and I confess it, lest
they should at last so entirely give way to a cowardly love of
present enjoyment, as to lose sight of the interests of their
future selves and of those of their descendants; and to prefer to
glide along the easy current of life, rather than to make, when
it is necessary, a strong and sudden effort to a higher purpose.
It is believed by some that modern society will be ever changing
its aspect; for myself, I fear that it will ultimately be too
invariably fixed in the same institutions, the same prejudices,
the same manners, so that mankind will be stopped and
circumscribed; that the mind will swing backwards and forwards
forever, without begetting fresh ideas; that man will waste his
strength in bootless and solitary trifling; and, though in
continual motion, that humanity will cease to advance.

Chapter XXII: Why Democratic Nations Are Naturally Desirous Of
Peace, And Democratic Armies Of War

The same interests, the same fears, the same passions which
deter democratic nations from revolutions, deter them also from
war; the spirit of military glory and the spirit of revolution
are weakened at the same time and by the same causes. The ever-
increasing numbers of men of property - lovers of peace, the
growth of personal wealth which war so rapidly consumes, the
mildness of manners, the gentleness of heart, those tendencies to
pity which are engendered by the equality of conditions, that
coolness of understanding which renders men comparatively
insensible to the violent and poetical excitement of arms - all
these causes concur to quench the military spirit. I think it may
be admitted as a general and constant rule, that, amongst
civilized nations, the warlike passions will become more rare and
less intense in proportion as social conditions shall be more
equal. War is nevertheless an occurrence to which all nations
are subject, democratic nations as well as others. Whatever
taste they may have for peace, they must hold themselves in
readiness to repel aggression, or in other words they must have
an army.

Fortune, which has conferred so many peculiar benefits upon
the inhabitants of the United States, has placed them in the
midst of a wilderness, where they have, so to speak, no
neighbors: a few thousand soldiers are sufficient for their
wants; but this is peculiar to America, not to democracy. The
equality of conditions, and the manners as well as the
institutions resulting from it, do not exempt a democratic people
from the necessity of standing armies, and their armies always
exercise a powerful influence over their fate. It is therefore
of singular importance to inquire what are the natural

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