Alexis Tocqueville's Observations On America

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Alexis Tocqueville's observations on America

The aristocracy's power had depended upon the concentration of landed property in the hands of a few families and the relatively uninterrupted transmission of that property over the course of many generations. Through a diverse and apparently uncoordinated set of developments, the aristocratic principle of inequality has steadily lost ground to the democratic idea of equality. Tocqueville's political thought revolves around a distinction between the old world of aristocracy and social inequality and the new, emerging world of democracy and social equality. Since the eleventh century, he argues, a democratic revolution has been gradually unfolding among the Christian peoples of the West. However, the rise of commerce, the democratic constitution of the clergy, and the spread of enlightenment afforded alternative channels for gaining access to power through the application of one's industry and intelligence. The eclipse of aristocracy by democracy is, Tocqueville insists, permanent and irreversible, a progression he typically attributes to the workings of Providence. Moreover, mutual antagonism between European kings and aristocratic nobles often redounded to the benefit of the commoner, whose role in politics increased, in the form of temperance movement, moral reform and the Indian policy, as the Crown and nobility sought to hold one another in check. (Tocqueville, 1971)

The Americans did not have the burden of an aristocratic, feudal past to overcome in order to establish democracy; since the Puritan settlement of 1620, democracy had existed there virtually unmixed with aristocratic elements. Tocqueville develops his general view of modern democracy in relation to the Economic sociology primarily from the American case, for it was in America that the democratic revolution had reached its most advanced stage in the Economic sociology. Based on his observations of and reflections on democracy in America, Tocqueville concludes that the quintessential feature of modern democracy is ...