Democracy in America

by

Alexis de Toqueville

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Democracy in America: Chapter 53 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Tocqueville returns to his argument that democracies tend to favor a single, central power, rather than the gradations present in a democracy. Democratic people prefer simple, general ideas, as well as uniform legislation equally applicable to all, something never enacted in aristocracies.
Here Tocqueville links his earlier arguments about Americans’ suspicion of abstract philosophy and complex ideas to the kind of legal structure inherent to a democracy.
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As people become more equal, they tend to privilege the value of society over the rights of individuals. Tocqueville notes that while Americans believe that power should stem from the people, once that power is constituted, they don’t feel the need to check or limit it. Privileges peculiar to certain cities, families, or people are anathema to Americans, and such assumptions are permeating Europe as well. France has gone farther than other European nations, embracing the language of equality and of the need for government intervention. Even as people continue to disagree on lesser affairs, the idea of government as a sole, simple, and overwhelming power is unquestioned.
Tocqueville also returns to a paradox that he mentioned before: Americans have embraced the sovereignty of the people, but they are content to have their leaders take on enormous amounts of power—just as long as these leaders came to power in a democratic election. Tocqueville’s warning is that even if rulers are elected through majority vote, that doesn’t make them naturally democratic—they can become despots if their power isn’t checked or limited.
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