Democracy in America


Alexis de Toqueville

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Democracy in America: Chapter 35 Summary & Analysis

Tocqueville seeks to explain why Americans have such easy, casual manners with each other. In an aristocracy of birth, he notes, all know their social position to an exact degree: if people of different positions happen to meet, they can speak unconstrainedly, each knowing where they stand. But in a “moneyed” aristocracy, each person fears losing his privileges, leading to envy, hostility, and defensiveness—this accounts for why Englishmen of different ranks, if they meet abroad, treat each other with suspicion. In America, in turn, with no aristocracy of either birth or wealth, people converse freely with no concern about threats to their position. When they meet abroad, the simple fact of being American makes them friendly—while for Englishmen they need to be of the same rank.
In order to identify why Americans seem casual in their manners, Tocqueville characterizes societies based on three different types: an aristocracy of birth like France before the French Revolution, an aristocracy in which privileges can be bought, like England, and a democracy like America. The last category, he thinks, avoids both the clear-cut distinctions between ranks of the first (meaning that people of different ranks simply never interact) and the insecurity of people in the second category, that of the moneyed aristocracy.
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