Democracy in America


Alexis de Toqueville

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Democracy in America: Chapter 50 Summary & Analysis

Democratic armies, Tocqueville concludes, are destined to be restless and turbulent. But after a long period of peace, when people’s ambitions are directed elsewhere, if a democracy goes to war all its officers will be old men, accustomed to security and ease, and hardly able to regain the vigor necessary to fight (whereas aristocratic officers can easily recall the honor of their class). Tocqueville concludes that when a democracy enters into war after a long peace, it is more likely than any other nation to be defeated.
Toqueville returns to discussing ambition in democracies, suggesting that ambition can weaken armies in peacetime since there’s no possibility for advancement without military conflict. This is perhaps a drawback of treating soldiers as members of a modern, salaried profession, rather than, for instance, nobles who join the forces only when their country needs them and then return to their estates.
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However, Tocqueville claims that if war continues for long enough, democratic passions can be successfully diverted from peace. Indeed, there’s a natural connection between the risky, energetic military character and the democratic character.
Although at times Tocqueville seems to contradict himself, his aim is to explore all the subtleties and even tensions present in the “democratic character.”
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