Vanity is, Tocqueville argues, remarkably pervasive among Americans, who are eager to insist that their country is the greatest in the world. Englishmen, in contrast, enjoy their countries’ advantages with calm, untroubled by either praise or critique of foreigners, whereas Americans are always in search of praise. Aristocratic countries also have a natural, untroubled pride and sense of superiority.
Tocqueville has already discussed Americans’ vanity in other respects, particularly regarding their attitude and behavior while abroad, but here he specifies the difference between what he sees as insecure, over-the-top democratic vanity and serene aristocratic pride.
In America, where there are only slight differences in social conditions, small differentiations take on great importance; and given the ease with which wealth is gained and lost, people take great pleasure in vaunting wealth while they have it. Equality and precariousness thus together feed America’s great vanity. The only comparable affair in an aristocracy is the situation at a court, where people jealously seek the king’s praise.
The comparison that Tocqueville makes to life at court is another instance of his attempt to find point of comparison or similarity between democracies and aristocracies, even as he distinguishes between even the kind of pride prevalent in each society.