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De Tocqueville: Democracy in America

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

De Tocqueville. 1840. Democracy in America.

Main Ideas

Coming from Europe, Tocqueville was fascinated by America's relatively free and egalitarian society. Having never had an aristocracy or domestic nobility, America had taken egalitarianism to its natural limits. In America, he saw Europe's future. Liberalism reigned supreme. (See Smith 1993). He was struck by the absence of class and the dominance of liberal ideals.

America is a land of pure democracy, with no aristocracy. People settle in new places where there are no prominent names and landowners. With slavery, the large landholders do not have (white) tenants. American inheritance laws favor splitting estates over primogeniture, preventing family names from being associated with certain lands.

There is no class. Many of the rich were once poor. The children of prominent people grow to become unnoticed businesspeople, physicians, and lawyers. There is no permanent aristocracy.

Political implications: This egalitarianism will increasingly find its way into American politics (according to Tocqueville).

Research on similar subjects


De Tocqueville, Alexis (author)American PoliticsLiberalismAmerican ExceptionalismCulturePublic OpinionPolitical Values

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