Democracy in America


Alexis de Toqueville

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Democracy in America: Chapter 30 Summary & Analysis

Tocqueville makes an explicit connection between political associations and newspapers, which join people together even when they may be far away. As individualism and equality increase, newspapers become more and more necessary for maintaining civilization, since they suggest a common purpose and narrative to many people in different places. They unite people’s interests and desires in a way that supplements smaller assemblies. Associations and newspapers thus mutually benefit and advance each other.
In Part I, Tocqueville had already explicitly signaled this link between newspapers and associations. While much of this section is a re-articulation of such an argument, the emphasis is different: if in the first part of his book he was concerned with newspapers and associations as political organs, here he will take a broader view, examining their impact on civil life and society as a whole.
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Tocqueville adds that as power grows increasingly decentralized, the number of newspapers will increase. This is due to the fact that when people exercise local powers, they become a kind of association themselves and require a newspaper to instruct them on the state of their local affairs. American laws, which require all citizens to actively contribute to daily life in each township, similarly require newspapers so that people can act in an informed way. In turn, since newspapers can only stay afloat when they publish principles or ideas shared among many people, they represent a kind of association already—they come to address and influence their readers as a whole. Newspapers’ power will therefore increase as equality increases.   
Earlier, Tocqueville had characterized newspapers and associations as extensions of the legislative branch of politics. Here, he compares them to each other: associations allow people to join together and share opinions like newspapers do, while newspapers are a kind of imaginative, abstract association. The fact that Tocqueville repeats this point at a number of points and in a number of different ways throughout the book only highlights the importance he places in these civic elements.
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