Alexis de Tocqueville

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Laws are always unstable unless they are founded on the manners of a nation; and manners are the only durable and resisting power in a people.
No Americans are devoid of a yearning desire to rise, but hardly any appear to entertain hopes of great magnitude or to pursue very lofty aims. All are constantly seeking to acquire property, power, and reputation.
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.
The public, therefore, among a democratic people, has a singular power, which aristocratic nations cannot conceive; for it does not persuade others to its beliefs, but it imposes them and makes them permeate the thinking of everyone by a sort of enormous pressure of the mind of all upon the individual intelligence.

Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville (29 July 180516 April 1859) was a French political thinker and historian, most famous for his work Democracy in America.


  • In the midst of this American society, so well policed, so sententious, so charitable, a cold selfishness and complete insensibility prevails when it is a question of the natives of the country. The Americans of the United States do not let their dogs hunt the Indians as do the Spaniards in Mexico, but at the bottom it is the same pitiless feeling which here, as everywhere else, animates the European race. This world here belongs to us, they tell themselves every day: the Indian race is destined for final destruction which one cannot prevent and which it is not desirable to delay. Heaven has not made them to become civilised; it is necessary that they die. Besides I do not want to get mixed up in it. I will not do anything against them: I will limit myself to providing everything that will hasten their ruin. In time I will have their lands and will be innocent of their death. Satisfied with his reasoning, the American goes to church where he hears the minister of the gospel repeat every day that all men are brothers, and that the Eternal Being who has made them all in like image, has given them all the duty to help one another.
    • Journey to America, notebooks 1831-1832 translated by George Lawrence (1960)
  • Men sometimes submit to shame, to tyranny, to conquest, but they never long suffer anarchy. There is no people so barbarous that they escape this general law of humanity
  • Born under another sky, placed in the middle of an always-moving scene, himself driven by the irresistible torrent which sweeps along everything that surrounds him, the American has no time to tie himself to anything; he grows accustomed to naught but change, and concludes by viewing it as the natural state of man; he feels a need for it; even more, he loves it: for instability, instead of occurring to him in the form of disasters, seems to give birth to nothing around him but wonders...
    • National Character of Americans—first impressions (1831) Oeuvres complètes, vol. VIII, p. 233.
    • Original text:
      Né sous un autre ciel, placé au milieu d'un tableau toujours mouvant, poussé lui-même par le torrent irrésistible qui entraîne tout ce qui l'environne, l'Américain n'a le temps de s'attacher à rien; il ne s'accoutume qu'au changement, et finit par le regarder comme l'état naturel à l'homme; il en sent le besoin; bien plus, il l'aime : car l'instabilité, au lieu de se produire à lui par des désastres, semble n'enfanter autour de lui que des prodiges...
  • As one digs deeper into the national character of the Americans, one sees that they have sought the value of everything in this world only in the answer to this single question: how much money will it bring in?
    • Letter to Ernest de Chabrol, 9 June 1831 Selected Letters, ed. Roger Boesche, UofC Press 1985, p. 39.
  • The best laws cannot make a constitution work in spite of morals; morals can turn the worst laws to advantage. That is a commonplace truth, but one to which my studies are always bringing me back. It is the central point in my conception. I see it at the end of all my reflections.
    • De la supériorité des mœurs sur les lois (1831) Oeuvres complètes, vol. VIII, p. 286.
    • Original text:
      Les meilleures lois ne peuvent faire marcher une constitution en dépit des mœurs; les mœurs tirent parti des pires lois. C'est là une vérité commune, mais à laquelle mes études me ramènent sans cesse. Elle est placée dans mon esprit comme un point central. Je l'aperçois au bout de toutes mes idées.
  • So many of my thoughts and feelings are shared by the English that England has turned into a second native land of the mind for me.
    • Original text: J'ai tant de sentiments et d'idées qui me sont communes avec les Anglais, que l'Angleterre est devenue pour moi une seconde patrie intellectuelle.
    • Voyages en Angleterre et en Irlande (Journeys to England and Ireland), 1835.
  • The French want no-one to be their superior. The English want inferiors. The Frenchman constantly raises his eyes above him with anxiety. The Englishman lowers his beneath him with satisfaction.
    • Journeys to England and Ireland (1835).


  • He was as great as a man can be without morality.
    • Said of Napoleon (1842), "Discours de réception a L'Académie Française prononcé le 21 Avril 1842" Oeuvres complètes, vol. IX, p. 17
    • Original text :
      Il était aussi grand qu'un homme puisse l'être sans la vertu.
  • Men in general are neither very good nor very bad, but mediocre... Man with his vices, his weaknesses, his virtues, this confused medley of good and ill, high and low, goodness and depravity, is yet, take him all in all, the object on earth most worthy of study, of interest, of pity, of attachment and of admiration. And since we haven't got angels, we can attach ourselves to nothing greater and more worthy of our devotion than our own kind.
    • Letter to Eugene Stoffels (Jan. 3, 1845) as quoted by Thomas Molnar, The Decline of the Intellectual (1961) Ch. 11 "Intellectual and Philosopher"
    • Original text:
      Les hommes ne sont en général ni très-bons, ni très-mauvais : ils sont médiocres. [...] L'homme avec ses vices, ses faiblesses, ses vertus, ce mélange confus de bien et de mal, de bas et de haut, d'honnête et de dépravé, est encore, à tout prendre, l'objet le plus digne d'examen, d'intérêt, de pitié, d'attachement et d'admiration qui se trouve sur la terre; et puisque les anges nous manquent, nous ne saurions nous attacher à rien qui soit plus grand et plus digne de notre dévouement que nos semblables.
  • Around us knowledge has been extinguished, and recruitment of men of religion and men of law has ceased; that is to say, we have made Muslim society much more miserable, more disordered, more ignorant, and more barbarous than it had been before knowing us.
  • I studied the Koran a great deal. I came away from that study with the conviction there have been few religions in the world as deadly to men as that of Muhammad. So far as I can see, it is the principal cause of the decadence so visible today in the Muslim world and, though less absurd than the polytheism of old, its social and political tendencies are in my opinion to be feared, and I therefore regard it as a form of decadence rather than a form of progress in relation to paganism itself.
    • Letter to Arthur de Gobineau, 22 October 1843, Tocqueville Reader, p. 229
    • Original text: J’ai beaucoup étudié le Koran à cause surtout de notre position vis-à-vis des populations musulmanes en Algérie et dans tout l’Orient. Je vous avoue que je suis sorti de cette étude avec la conviction qu’il y avait eu dans le monde, à tout prendre, peu de religions aussi funestes aux hommes que celle de Mahomet. [...] Elle est, à mon sens, la principale cause de la décadence aujourd’hui si visible du monde musulman, et quoique moins absurde que le polythéisme antique, ses tendances sociales et politiques étant, à mon avis, infiniment plus à redouter, je la regarde relativement au paganisme lui-même comme une décadence plutôt que comme un progrès (Wikisource)
  • We are sleeping on a volcano... A wind of revolution blows, the storm is on the horizon.
    • Original text: Nous dormons sur un volcan… Ne voyez-vous pas que la terre commence à trembler. Le vent de la révolte souffle, la tempête est à l’horizon.
    • Speaking in the Chamber of Deputies just prior to to outbreak of revolution in Europe (1848).
  • As for me, I am deeply a democrat; this is why I am in no way a socialist. Democracy and socialism cannot go together. You can't have it both ways.
    • Original text: Quant à moi, je suis profondément démocrate, c'est pour cela que je ne suis nullement socialiste. La démocratie et le socialisme ne peuvent pas marcher ensemble. Qui veut l'un ne veut pas l'autre.
    • Notes for a Speech on Socialism (1848).
  • Democracy extends the sphere of individual freedom, socialism restricts it. Democracy attaches all possible value to each man; socialism makes each man a mere agent, a mere number. Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.
    • 12 September 1848, "Discours prononcé à l'assemblée constituante le 12 Septembre 1848 sur la question du droit au travail", Oeuvres complètes, vol. IX, p. 546; Translation (from Hayek, The Road to Serfdom):
    • Original text:
      La démocratie étend la sphère de l'indépendance individuelle, le socialisme la resserre. La démocratie donne toute sa valeur possible à chaque homme, le socialisme fait de chaque homme un agent, un instrument, un chiffre. La démocratie et le socialisme ne se tiennent que par un mot, l'égalité; mais remarquez la différence : la démocratie veut l'égalité dans la liberté, et le socialisme veut l'égalité dans la gêne et dans la servitude.

1850s and later

  • Égalité is an expression of envy. It means, in the real heart of every Republican, " No one shall be better off than I am;" and while this is preferred to good government, good government is impossible.
    • Original text (incomplete): L'égalité est une expression d'envie. Elle signifie, dans le cœur de tout républicain : personne ne sera dans une meilleure situation que moi.[...]
    • Variant: Equality is a slogan based on envy. It signifies in the heart of every republican: "Nobody is going to occupy a place higher than I."
    • Conversation with Nassau William Senior, 22 May 1850 Nassau, p. 94
  • It is almost never when a state of things is the most detestable that it is smashed, but when, beginning to improve, it permits men to breathe, to reflect, to communicate their thoughts with each other, and to gauge by what they already have the extent of their rights and their grievances. The weight, although less heavy, seems then all the more unbearable.
  • Even despots accept the excellence of liberty. The simple truth is that they wish to keep it for themselves and promote the idea that no one else is at all worthy of it. Thus, our opinion of liberty does not reveal our differences but the relative value which we place on our fellow man. We can state with conviction, therefore, that a man's support for absolute government is in direct proportion to the contempt he feels for his country.
    • Original text: Les despotes eux-mêmes ne nient pas que la liberté ne soit excellente; seulement ils ne la veulent que pour eux-mêmes, et ils soutiennent que tous les autres en sont tout à fait indignes. Ainsi, ce n'est pas sur l'opinion qu'on doit avoir de la liberté qu'on diffère, mais sur l'estime plus au moins grande qu'on fait des hommes; et c'est ainsi qu'on peut dire d'une façon rigoureuse que le goût qu'on montre pour le gouvernement absolu est dans le rapport exact du mépris qu'on professe pour son pays.
    • Ancien Regime and the Revolution (L'Ancien Régime et la Révolution) (fourth edition, 1858), de Tocqueville, tr. Gerald Bevan, Penguin UK (2008), Author’s Foreword : ISBN 0141919736
  • History, it is easily perceived, is a picture-gallery containing a host of copies and very few originals.
    • Original text: On voit que l'histoire est une galerie de tableaux où il y a peu d'originaux et beaucoup de copies.
    • Variant translation: History is a gallery of pictures in which there are few originals and many copies.
    • Old Regime (1856), p. 88
  • The French are … the most brilliant and the most dangerous nation of Europe, and the one that is surest to inspire admiration, hatred, terror, or pity, but never indifference.
    • Original text: La France est la plus brillante et la plus dangereuse des nations de l'Europe, et la mieux faite pour y devenir tour à tour un objet d'admiration, de haine, de pitié, de terreur, mais jamais d'indifférence.
    • Variant translation: The French constitute the most brilliant and the most dangerous nation in Europe and the best qualified in turn to become an object of admiration, hatred, pity or terror but never indifference.
    • Old Regime (1856), p. 245
  • He who seeks freedom for anything but freedom's self is made to be a slave.
    • Original text: Qui cherche dans la liberté autre chose qu'elle-même est fait pour servir.
    • Variant translation: The man who asks of freedom anything other than itself is born to be a slave.
    • Old Regime (1856), p. 204
  • The regime which is destroyed by a revolution is almost always an improvement on its immediate predecessor, and experience teaches that the most critical moment for bad governments is the one which witnesses their first steps toward reform.
    • Variant translation: The most dangerous moment for a bad government is when it begins to reform.
    • Old Regime (1856), p. 214
  • The last thing abandoned by a party is its phraseology, because among political parties, as elsewhere, the vulgar make the language, and the vulgar abandon more easily the ideas that have been instilled into it than the words that it has learnt.
    • France Before The Consulate, Chapter I: "How the Republic was ready to accept a master", in Memoir, Letters, and Remains, Vol I (1862), p. 266
    • Variant translation: The last thing a political party gives up is its vocabulary. This is because, in party politics as in other matters, it is the crowd who dictates the language, and the crowd relinquishes the ideas it has been given more readily than the words it has learned.
    • Variant translation: The last thing that a party abandons is its language.
  • I have come across men of letters who have written history without taking part in public affairs, and politicians who have concerned themselves with producing events without thinking about them. I have observed that the first are always inclined to find general causes whereas the second, living in the midst of disconnected daily facts, are prone to imagine that everything is attributable to particular incidents, and that the wires they pull are the same as those that move the world. It is to be presumed that both are equally deceived.
  • For the first time in sixty years, the priests, the old aristocracy and the people met in a common sentiment—a feeling of revenge, it is true, and not of affection; but even that is a great thing in politics, where a community of hatred is almost always the foundation of friendships.
  • Alternative translation: In politics... shared hatreds are almost always the basis of friendships.

Democracy in America, Volume I (1835)

We are sleeping on a volcano... A wind of revolution blows, the storm is on the horizon.

Chapter I-V

  • The Indian knew how to live without wants, to suffer without complaint, and to die singing.
    • Chapter I.
  • Step back in time; look closely at the child in the very arms of his mother; see the external world reflected for the first time in the yet unclear mirror of his understanding; study the first examples which strike his eyes; listen to the first words which arouse within him the slumbering power of thought; watch the first struggles which he has to undergo; only then will you comprehend the source of his prejudices, the habits, and the passions which are to rule his life. The entire man, so to speak, comes fully formed in the wrappings of his cradle.
    • Chapter II.
  • The surface of American society is covered with a layer of democratic paint, but from time to time one can see the old aristocratic colours breaking through.
    • Chapter II.
  • I know of no country, indeed, where the love of money has taken stronger hold on the affections of men, and where the profounder contempt is expressed for the theory of the permanent equality of property.
    • Chapter III, Part I.
  • There is in fact a manly and legitimate passion for equality that spurs all men to wish to be strong and esteemed. This passion tends to elevate the lesser to the rank of the greater. But one also finds in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to want to bring the strong down to their level, and which reduces men to preferring equality in servitude to inequality in freedom.
    • Chapter III, Part I
    • Often misquoted as: Americans are so enamored of equality that they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom.
  • Furthermore, when citizens are all almost equal, it becomes difficult for them to defend their independence against the aggressions of power.
    • Chapter III.
  • "The will of the nation" is one of those expressions which have been most profusely abused by the wily and the despotic of every age.
    • Chapter IV.
  • The people reign over the American political world as God rules over the universe. It is the cause and the end of all things; everything rises out of it and is absorbed back into it.
    • Chapter IV, Part I.
  • With much care and skill power has been broken into fragments in the American township, so that the maximum possible number of people have some concern with public affairs.
    • Chapter V.
  • The New Englander is attached to his township because it is strong and independent; he has an interest in it because he shares in its management; he loves it because he has no reason to complain of his lot; he invests his ambition and his future in it; in the restricted sphere within his scope, he learns to rule society; he gets to know those formalities without which freedom can advance only through revolutions, and becoming imbued with their spirit, develops a taste for order, understands the harmony of powers, and in the end accumulates clear, practical ideas about the nature of his duties and the extent of his rights.
    • Chapter V.
  • Useful undertakings which require sustained attention and vigorous precision in order to succeed often end up by being abandoned, for, in America, as elsewhere, the people move forward by sudden impulses and short-lived efforts.
    • Chapter V

Chapter X-XIV

  • Pour recueillir les biens inestimables qu'assure la liberté de la presse, il faut savoir se soumettre aux maux inévitables qu'elle fait naître.
    • Translation: In order to enjoy the inestimable benefits that the liberty of the press ensures, it is necessary to submit to the inevitable evils it creates.
    • Chapter XI.
  • The power of the periodical press is second only to that of the people.
    • Chapter XI.
  • In countries where associations are free, secret societies are unknown. In America there are factions, but no conspiracies.
    • Chapter XII.
  • A democratic government is the only one in which those who vote for a tax can escape the obligation to pay it.
    • Chapter XIII.
  • In America, conscription is unknown; men are enlisted for payment. Compulsory recruitment is so alien to the ideas and so foreign to the customs of the people of the United States that I doubt whether they would ever dare to introduce it into their law.
    • Chapter XIII.
  • The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.
    • Chapter XIII.
  • The pursuit of wealth generally diverts men of great talents and strong passions from the pursuit of power; and it frequently happens that a man does not undertake to direct the fortunes of the state until he has shown himself incompetent to conduct his own.
    • Chapter XIII.
  • In the United States, except for slaves, servants and the destitute fed by townships, everyone has the vote and this is an indirect contributor to law-making. Anyone wishing to attack the law is thus reduced to adopting one of two obvious courses: they must either change the nation's opinion or trample its wishes under foot.
    • Chapter XIV.
  • An American cannot converse, but he can discuss, and his talk falls into a dissertation. He speaks to you as if he was addressing a meeting; and if he should chance to become warm in the discussion, he will say "Gentlemen" to the person with whom he is conversing.
    • Chapter XIV.

Chapter XV-IXX

I am obliged to confess that I do not regard the abolition of slavery as a means of warding off the struggle of the two races in the Southern states. The Negroes may long remain slaves without complaining; but if they are once raised to the level of freemen, they will soon revolt at being deprived of almost all their civil rights; and as they cannot become the equals of the whites, they will speedily show themselves as enemies.
  • I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America.
    • Chapter XV.
  • In America the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion; within these barriers an author may write what he pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them.
  • Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been, and ever will be, pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit.
    • Chapter XV.
  • Laws are always unstable unless they are founded on the manners of a nation; and manners are the only durable and resisting power in a people.
    • Chapter XVI.
  • In cities men cannot be prevented from concerting together, and from awakening a mutual excitement which prompts sudden and passionate resolutions. Cities may be looked upon as large assemblies, of which all the inhabitants are members; their populace exercises a prodigious influence upon the magistrates, and frequently executes its own wishes without their intervention.
    • Variant translation: In towns it is impossible to prevent men from assembling, getting excited together and forming sudden passionate resolves. Towns are like great meeting houses with all the inhabitants as members. In them the people wield immense influence over their magistrates and often carry their desires into execution without intermediaries.
    • Chapter XVII.
  • If it be of the highest importance to man, as an individual, that his religion should be true, the case of society is not the same. Society has no future life to hope for or to fear; and provided the citizens profess a religion, the peculiar tenets of that religion are of very little importance to its interests.
    • Variant translation: Though it is very important for man as an individual that his religion should be true, that is not the case for society. Society has nothing to fear or hope from another life; what is most important for it is not that all citizens profess the true religion but that they should profess religion.
    • Chapter XVII.
  • The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other; and with them this conviction does not spring from that barren traditionary faith which seems to vegetate in the soul rather than to live.
    • Chapter XVII.
  • Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot. How is it possible that society should escape destruction if the moral tie is not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed? And what can be done with a people who are their own masters if they are not submissive to the Deity?
    • Chapter XVII.
  • They all attributed the peaceful dominion of religion in their country mainly to the separation of church and state. I do not hesitate to affirm that during my stay in America I did not meet a single individual, of the clergy or the laity, who was not of the same opinion on this point.
    • Chapter XVII.
  • The Americans never use the word peasant, because they have no idea of the class which that term denotes; the ignorance of more remote ages, the simplicity of rural life, and the rusticity of the villager have not been preserved among them; and they are alike unacquainted with the virtues, the vices, the coarse habits, and the simple graces of an early stage of civilization.
    • Chapter XVII.
  • Among these widely differing families of men, the first that attracts attention, the superior in intelligence, in power, and in enjoyment, is the white, or European, the MAN pre-eminently so called, below him appear the Negro and the Indian.
    • Chapter XVIII.
  • The most formidable of all the ills that threaten the future of the Union arises from the presence of a black population upon its territory; and in contemplating the cause of the present embarrassments, or the future dangers of the United States, the observer is invariably led to this as a primary fact.
    • Chapter XVIII.
  • You may set the Negro free, but you cannot make him otherwise than an alien to the European. Nor is this all we scarcely acknowledge the common features of humanity in this stranger whom slavery has brought among us. His physiognomy is to our eyes hideous, his understanding weak, his tastes low; and we are almost inclined to look upon him as a being intermediate between man and the brutes.
    • Chapter XVIII.
  • No natural boundary seems to be set to the efforts of man; and what is not yet done is only what he has not yet attempted to do.
    • Variant: What is not yet done is only what we have not yet attempted to do.
    • Chapter XVIII.
  • I am obliged to confess that I do not regard the abolition of slavery as a means of warding off the struggle of the two races in the Southern states. The Negroes may long remain slaves without complaining; but if they are once raised to the level of freemen, they will soon revolt at being deprived of almost all their civil rights; and as they cannot become the equals of the whites, they will speedily show themselves as enemies.
    • Chapter XVIII.
  • The whole life of an American is passed like a game of chance, a revolutionary crisis, or a battle.
    • Chapter XVIII.
  • Nothing tends to materialize man and to deprive his work of the faintest trace of mind more than the extreme division of labor.
    • Chapter XVIII.
  • There are at the present time two great nations in the world—allude to the Russians and the Americans— All other nations seem to have nearly reached their national limits, and have only to maintain their power; these alone are proceeding—along a path to which no limit can be perceived.
    • Chapter XVIII.
  • The President ... may err ... Congress may decide amiss ... But if the Supreme Court is ever composed of imprudent or bad men, the Union may be plunged into anarchy or civil war.
    • Chapter XVIII.
  • In the United States a man builds a house to spend his latter years in it and he sells it before the roof is on. He plants a garden and lets it just as the trees are coming into bearing. He brings a field into tillage and leaves other men to gather the crops. He embraces a profession and gives it up. He settles in a place which he soon afterward leaves to carry his changeable longings elsewhere. If his private affairs leave him any leisure he instantly plunges into the vortex of politics and if at the end of a year of unremitting labour he finds he has a few days' vacation, his eager curiosity whirls him over the vast extent of the United States, and he will travel fifteen hundred miles in a few days to shake off his happiness.
    • Chapter XXIX.

Democracy in America, Volume II (1840)


Book One

  • The public, therefore, among a democratic people, has a singular power, which aristocratic nations cannot conceive; for it does not persuade others to its beliefs, but it imposes them and makes them permeate the thinking of everyone by a sort of enormous pressure of the mind of all upon the individual intelligence.
    • Book One, Chapter II.
  • In the United States, the majority undertakes to supply a multitude of ready-made opinions for the use of individuals, who are thus relieved from the necessity of forming opinions of their own.
    • Book One, Chapter II.
  • General ideas are no proof of the strength, but rather of the insufficiency of the human intellect.
    • Book One, Chapter III.
  • Muhammad brought down from heaven and put into the Koran not religious doctrines only, but political maxims, criminal and civil laws, and scientific theories. The Gospels, on the other hand, deal only with the general relations between man and God and between man and man. Beyond that, they teach nothing and do not oblige people to believe anything. That alone, among a thousand reasons, is enough to show that Islam will not be able to hold its power long in ages of enlightenment and democracy, while Christianity is destined to reign in such ages, as in all others.
    • Book One, Chapter V.
  • The main business of religions is to purify, control, and restrain that excessive and exclusive taste for well-being which men acquire in times of equality.
    • Book One, Chapter V.
  • There is hardly a pioneer's hut which does not contain a few odd volumes of Shakespeare. I remember reading the feudal drama of Henry V for the first time in a log cabin.
    • Book One, Chapter XIII.
  • They certainly are not great writers, but they speak their country's language and they make themselves heard.
    • Book One, Chapter XIII.
  • By and large the literature of a democracy will never exhibit the order, regularity, skill, and art characteristic of aristocratic literature; formal qualities will be neglected or actually despised. The style will often be strange, incorrect, overburdened, and loose, and almost always strong and bold. Writers will be more anxious to work quickly than to perfect details. Short works will be commoner than long books, wit than erudition, imagination than depth. There will be a rude and untutored vigor of thought with great variety and singular fecundity. Authors will strive to astonish more than to please, and to stir passions rather than to charm taste.
    • Book One, Chapter XIII.
  • The genius of democracies is seen not only in the great number of new words introduced but even more in the new ideas they express.
    • Book One, Chapter XVI.
  • There is hardly a member of Congress who can make up his mind to go home without having despatched at least one speech to his constituents; nor who will endure any interruption until he has introduced into his harangue whatever useful suggestions may be made touching the four-and-twenty States of which the Union is composed, and especially the district which he represents.
    • Book One, Chapter XXI.
  • The debates of that great assembly are frequently vague and perplexed, seeming to be dragged rather than to march, to the intended goal. Something of this sort must, I think, always happen in public democratic assemblies.
    • Book One, Chapter XXI.

Book Two

Americans cleave to the things of this world as if assured that they will never die,… They clutch everything but hold nothing fast, and so lose grip as they hurry after some new delight. ... Death steps in in the end and stops him before he has grown tired of this futile pursuit of that complete felicity which always escapes him. At first sight there is something astonishing in this spectacle of so many lucky men restless in the midst of abundance. But it is a spectacle as old as the world; all that is new is to see a whole people performing in it.
  • I think that democratic communities have a natural taste for freedom: left to themselves, they will seek it, cherish it, and view any privation of it with regret. But for equality, their passion is ardent, insatiable, incessant, invincible: they call for equality in freedom; and if they cannot obtain that, they still call for equality in slavery.
    • Book Two, Chapter I.
  • Not only does democracy make every man forget his ancestors, but also clouds their view of their descendants and isolates them from their contemporaries. Each man is for ever thrown back on himself alone, and there is danger that he may be shut up in the solitude of his own heart.
    • Book Two, Chapter II.
  • Americans of all ages, all stations of life, and all types of disposition are forever forming associations... In democratic countries knowledge of how to combine is the mother of all other forms of knowledge; on its progress depends that of all the others.
    • Book Two, Chapter V.
  • Americans combine to give fêtes, found seminaries, build churches, distribute books, and send missionaries to the antipodes. Hospitals, prisons, and schools take shape in that way. Finally, if they want to proclaim a truth or propagate some feeling by the encouragement of a great example, they form an association. In every case, at the head of any new undertaking, where in France you would find the government or in England some territorial magnate, in the United States you are sure to find an association. I have come across several types of association in America of which, I confess, I had not previously the slightest conception, and I have often admired the extreme skill they show in proposing a common object for the exertions of very many and in inducing them voluntarily to pursue it.
    • Book Two, Chapter V.
  • I am far from denying that newspapers in democratic countries lead citizens to do very ill-considered things in common; but without newspapers there would be hardly any common action at all. So they mend many more ills than they cause.
    • Book Two, Chapter VI.
  • Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications, and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent, if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks on the contrary to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness: it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances—what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living? Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range, and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things: it has predisposed men to endure them, and oftentimes to look on them as benefits.
    • Book Two, Chapter VI.
  • Americans cleave to the things of this world as if assured that they will never die,… They clutch everything but hold nothing fast, and so lose grip as they hurry after some new delight. ... Death steps in in the end and stops him before he has grown tired of this futile pursuit of that complete felicity which always escapes him. At first sight there is something astonishing in this spectacle of so many lucky men restless in the midst of abundance. But it is a spectacle as old as the world; all that is new is to see a whole people performing in it.
    • Book Two, Chapter XIII.
  • The First thing that strikes a traveler in the United States is the innumerable multitude of those who seek to emerge from 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 pursue very lofty aims. All are constantly seeking to acquire property, power, and reputation.
    • Book Three, Chapter XIX.
  • 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.
    • Book Three, Chapter XIX.
  • What most astonishes me in the United States, is not so much the marvelous grandeur of some undertakings, as the innumerable multitude of small ones.
    • Book Two, Chapter XIX.
  • The territorial aristocracy of former ages was either bound by law, or thought itself bound by usage, to come to the relief of its serving-men and to relieve their distresses. But the manufacturing aristocracy of our age first impoverishes and debases the men who serve it and then abandons them to be supported by the charity of the public.
    • Book Two, Chapter XX.

Book Three

If there ever are great revolutions there, they will be caused by the presence of the blacks upon American soil. That is to say, it will not be the equality of social conditions but rather their inequality which may give rise thereto.
It is the dissimilarities and inequalities among men which give rise to the notion of honor; as such differences become less, it grows feeble; and when they disappear, it will vanish too.
  • In democratic ages men rarely sacrifice themselves for another, but they show a general compassion for all the human race. One never sees them inflict pointless suffering, and they are glad to relieve the sorrows of others when they can do so without much trouble to themselves. They are not disinterested, but they are gentle.
    • Book Three, Chapter I.
  • It is easy to see that, even in the freedom of early youth, an American girl never quite loses control of herself; she enjoys all permitted pleasures without losing her head about any of them, and her reason never lets the reins go, though it may often seem to let them flap.
    • Book Three, Chapter IX.
  • In America a woman loses her independence for ever in the bonds of matrimony. While there is less constraint on girls there than anywhere else, a wife submits to stricter obligations. For the former, her father's house is a home of freedom and pleasure; for the latter, her husband's is almost a cloister.
    • Book Three, Chapter X.
  • The principle of equality does not destroy the imagination, but lowers its flight to the level of the earth.
    • Book Three, Chapter XI.
  • Nothing is quite so wretchedly corrupt as an aristocracy which has lost its power but kept its wealth and which still has endless leisure to devote to nothing but banal enjoyments. All its great thoughts and passionate energy are things of the past, and nothing but a host of petty, gnawing vices now cling to it like worms to a corpse.
    • Book Three, Chapter XI.
  • In America, more than anywhere else in the world, care has been taken constantly to trace clearly distinct spheres of action for the two sexes, and both are required to keep in step, but along paths that are never the same.
    • Book Three, Chapter XII.
  • I have no hesitation in saying that although the American woman never leaves her domestic sphere and is in some respects very dependent within it, nowhere does she enjoy a higher station. And if anyone asks me what I think the chief cause of the extraordinary prosperity and growing power of this nation, I should answer that it is due to the superiority of their women.
    • Book Three, Chapter XII.
  • 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.
    • Book Three, Chapter XIV.
  • It is the dissimilarities and inequalities among men which give rise to the notion of honor; as such differences become less, it grows feeble; and when they disappear, it will vanish too.
    • Book Three, Chapter XVIII.
  • 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.
    • Variant translation: Trade is the natural enemy of all violent passions. Trade loves moderation, delights in compromise, and is most careful to avoid anger. It is patient, supple, and insinuating, only resorting to extreme measures in cases of absolute necessity. Trade makes men independent of one another and gives them a high idea of their personal importance: it leads them to want to manage their own affairs and teaches them to succeed therein. Hence it makes them inclined to liberty but disinclined to revolution.
    • Book Three, Chapter XXI.
  • Consider any individual at any period of his life, and you will always find him preoccupied with fresh plans to increase his comfort.
    • Book Three, Chapter XXI.
  • In no other country in the world is the love of property keener or more alert than in the United States, and nowhere else does the majority display less inclination toward doctrines which in any way threaten the way property is owned.
    • Book Three, Chapter XXI.
  • If there ever are great revolutions there, they will be caused by the presence of the blacks upon American soil. That is to say, it will not be the equality of social conditions but rather their inequality which may give rise thereto.
    • Book Three, Chapter XXI.
  • Two things in America are astonishing: the changeableness of most human behavior and the strange stability of certain principles. Men are constantly on the move, but the spirit of humanity seems almost unmoved.
    • Book Three, Chapter XXI.
  • When an opinion has taken root in a democracy and established itself in the minds of the majority, it afterward persists by itself, needing no effort to maintain it since no one attacks it. Those who at first rejected it as false come in the end to adopt it as accepted, and even those who still at the bottom of their hearts oppose it keep their views to themselves, taking great care to avoid a dangerous and futile contest.
    • Book Three, Chapter XXI.
  • I cannot help fearing that men may reach a point where they look on every new theory as a danger, every innovation as a toilsome trouble, every social advance as a first step toward revolution, and that they may absolutely refuse to move at all.
    • Book Three, Chapter XXI.
  • There are two things which a democratic people will always find very difficult—to begin a war and to end it.
    • Book Three, Chapter XXII.
  • No protracted war can fail to endanger the freedom of a democratic country.
    • Book Three, Chapter XXII.
  • All those who seek to destroy the liberties of a democratic nation ought to know that war is the surest and shortest means to accomplish it.
    • Book Three, Chapter XXII.

Book Four

  • Every central government worships uniformity: uniformity relieves it from inquiry into an infinity of details.
    • Book Four, Chapter III.
  • The foremost, or indeed the sole condition which is required in order to succeed in centralizing the supreme power in a democratic community, is to love equality, or to get men to believe you love it. Thus the science of despotism, which was once so complex, is simplified, and reduced as it were to a single principle.
    • Book Four, Chapter IV.
  • They (the emperors) frequently abused their power arbitrarily to deprive their subjects of property or of life: their tyranny was extremely onerous to the few, but it did not reach the greater number; .. But it would seem that if despotism were to be established amongst the democratic nations of our days it might assume a different character; it would be more extensive and more mild, it would degrade men without tormenting them.
    • Book Four, Chapter VI.
  • After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the government then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small, complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence: it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.
    • Book Four, Chapter VI.
  • I should have loved freedom, I believe, at all times, but in the time in which we live I am ready to worship it.
    • Book Four, Chapter VII.
  • As the past has ceased to throw its light upon the future, the mind of man wanders in obscurity.
    • Variant translation: When the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness.
    • Book Four, Chapter VIII


  • America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.
  • In the end, the state of the Union comes down to the character of the people. I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there. In the fertile fields and boundless prairies, and it was not there. In her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits, aflame with righteousness, did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.
    • This has often been attributed to de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, but erroneously, according to "The Tocqueville Fraud" in The Weekly Standard (13 November 1995). This quote dates back to at least 1922 (Herald and Presbyter, September 6, 1922, p. 8)
    • There's an earlier variant, without the memorable ending, that dates back to at least 1886:
      I went at your bidding, and passed along their thoroughfares of trade. I ascended their mountains and went down their valleys. I visited their manufactories, their commercial markets, and emporiums of trade. I entered their judicial courts and legislative halls. But I sought everywhere in vain for the secret of their success, until I entered the church. It was there, as I listened to the soul-equalizing and soul-elevating principles of the Gospel of Christ, as they fell from Sabbath to Sabbath upon the masses of the people, that I learned why America was great and free, and why France was a slave.
      • Empty Pews & Selections from Other Sermons on Timely Topics, Madison Clinton Peters; Zeising, 1886, p. 35
  • It's not an endlessly expanding list of rights — the 'right' to education, the 'right' to health care, the 'right' to food and housing. That's not freedom, that's dependency. Those aren't rights, those are the rations of slavery — hay and a barn for human cattle.
    • P. J. O'Rourke, Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut‎ (1996), p. 227.
  • The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money.
    • This is a variant expression of a sentiment which is often attributed to Tocqueville or Alexander Fraser Tytler, but the earliest known occurrence is as an unsourced attribution to Tytler in "This is the Hard Core of Freedom" by Elmer T. Peterson in The Daily Oklahoman (9 December 1951): "A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy."
    • Variant: The American Republic will endure, until politicians realize they can bribe the people with their own money.
  • In a democracy, the people get the government they deserve.
    • It was Joseph de Maistre who wrote in 1811 "Every nation gets the government it deserves."
  • A decline of public morals in the United States will probably be marked by the abuse of the power of impeachment as a means of crushing political adversaries or ejecting them from office.
    • It was John Innes Clark Hare in his book "American Constitutional Law - Volume 1" who claimed that this was from Toqueville in an unsourced paraphrase that started with "It was long since remarked by De Tocqueville..." Actual quote, from Toqueville's Democracy In America, Chapter VII: "When the American republics begin to degenerate it will be easy to verify the truth of this observation, by remarking whether the number of political impeachments augments."

Quotes about Tocqueville

  • Tocqueville was a Liberal of the purest breed—a Liberal and nothing else, deeply suspicious of democracy and its kindred, equality, centralisation and utilitarianism. Of all writers he is the most widely acceptable, and the hardest to find fault with. He is always wise, always right, and as just as Aristides. His intellect is without a flaw, but it is limited and constrained. He knows political literature and history less well than political life; his originality is not creative, and he does not stimulate with gleams of new light or unfathomed suggestiveness.
    • Lord Acton, ‘Appendix: The Literature of the Revolution’ (c. 1895–99), in J. N. Figgis and R. V. Laurence (eds.), Lectures on the French Revolution (1910), pp. 356–57
  • In his discussion of the "laws and mores" of the United States, Alexis de Tocqueville was frank in acknowledging the racialized parameters of Jacksonian democracy. Describing the United States as an "Anglo-American confederation," Tocqueville characterized Black and Indigenous people as "tangents to my subjects, being American, but not democratic." Yet despite his assertion in the first volume that these "three races" defined the American project, by the time he was writing the second volume, Tocqueville was already acknowledging that other nonwhite populations beyond "Indians and Negroes" were part of the United States. One of these groups was Mexicans. Interestingly-as the epigraph to this chapter shows-in prognosticating about this "new" population, Tocqueville's account simultaneously recognizes and disappears them. This practice of acknowledgment and erasure would become a familiar part of the Anglo racial imaginary-particularly when addressing the Mexican presence in the United States.
    • Cristina Beltrán Cruelty as Citizenship: How Migrant Suffering Sustains White Democracy (2020) p 65
  • Alexis de Tocqueville published his Democracy in America, one of the few treatises on the philosophy of politics which has risen to the rank of a classic. ... It is a classic, and because it is a classic one may venture to canvas it freely, without the fear of seeming to detract from the fame of its author. The more one reads Tocqueville, the more admiration does one feel for his acuteness, for the delicacy of his analysis, for the elegant precision of his reasonings, for the limpid purity of his style; above all for his love of truth and the elevation of his views. He is not only urbane, but judicial; not only noble, but edifying. There is perhaps no book of the generation to which he belonged which contains more solid wisdom in a more attractive dress.
    • James Bryce, The Predictions of Hamilton and de Tocqueville (1887), pp. 22–23
  • One of his favourite authors was Alexis de Tocqueville, whose study of democracy in the United States he on one occasion called the most remarkable book of modern times; here, in his opinion, was the most likely pointer to the direction that the world was about to take: a book full of hope but also a warning.
  • let us not forget that the consensus of opinion among eminent European scholars who know the race problem in America from De Tocqueville down to Von Halle, De Laveleys, Archer and Johnston, is that it forms the gravest of American problems.
    • The Autobiography of W.E.B. Du Bois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century (1968)
  • Cases have been constantly recorded [in the United States]...where the expression of some unwelcome doctrine, even in private, has been visited with fierce retribution under the elastic penal code of Judge Lynch. ... M. de Tocqueville, whose bias if anything was in favour of democracy, and whose writings have always been signalised for judicial impartiality, speaks as strongly upon this subject as the bitterest caricaturist could have spoken. ... We recommend the whole of De Tocqueville's chapter, ‘De l'Omnipotence de la Majorite,’ to the reperusal of those who would trace those troubles to their true source.
    • Lord Robert Cecil, ‘Democracy on its Trial’, The Quarterly Review, Vol. 110 (July 1861), p. 266
  • De Tocqueville was the Burke of his age, and his treatise upon America may well be regarded as among the best books hitherto produced for the political student of all times and countries.
    • William Ewart Gladstone, ‘Kin beyond Sea’, The North American Review, Vol. 127, No. 264 (Sep. - Oct., 1878), p. 179
  • M. de Tocqueville—a small and delicate-looking young man and a most engaging person. Full of intelligence and knowledge, free from boasting and self-sufficiency—of gentle manners, and handsome countenance. In conversing he displays a candid and unprejudiced mind—about thirty-two years of age, of a noble race in Normandy, and unmarried.
    • Harriet Grote, journal entry (1835), quoted in Lady Elizabeth Rigby Eastlake, Mrs. Grote: A Sketch (1880), pp. 114-115
  • Nobody saw more clearly than de Tocqueville that democracy as an essentially individualist institution stood in an irreconcilable conflict with socialism.
  • It is the burden of the argument of Tocqueville's great work, Democracy in America, that democracy is the only effective method of educating the majority. ... This seems also to explain the puzzling contrast between Tocqueville's persistent faultfinding with democracy on almost all particular points and the emphatic acceptance of the principle which is so characteristic of his work.
  • [O]f a definite liberal movement one can speak only after the Restoration. In France it reached its height during the July Monarchy (1830–48). ... Their programme, known as 'guarantism', was essentially a doctrine of constitutional limitations of government. ... To this tradition, largely deriving from Britain, also belonged the perhaps most important French liberal thinker, Alexis de Tocqueville.
  • Who does not know Tocqueville cannot understand liberalism. A case of unanswerable power could, I think, be made out for the view that he and Lord Acton were the essential liberals of the nineteenth century.
    • Harold Laski, ‘Alexis de Tocqueville’, in F. J. C. Hearnshaw (ed.), The Social and Political Ideas of Some Representative Thinkers of the Victorian Age: A Series of Lectures delivered at King's College, University of London, During the Session 1931–1932 (1933), p. 100


  • Tocqueville, Alexis de (1985). Roger Boesche. ed. Selected letters on politics and society. University of California Press. p. 296. ISBN 0520050479. OCLC 10696017. 

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