Democracy in America

by

Alexis de Toqueville

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Themes and Colors
Liberty, Equality, and Tyranny  Theme Icon
Checks and Balances  Theme Icon
Civic and Religious Institutions Theme Icon
Individualism and Materialism   Theme Icon
Politics, Customs, and Culture Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Democracy in America, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Liberty, Equality, and Tyranny

During and after his voyage to the United States, Alexis de Tocqueville paid close attention to what he saw as a worldwide trend of democratization—a trend that he considered positive in some ways, distressing in others, but in either case inevitable. Tocqueville thus studied the American example to help understand what France should seek to replicate and what to avoid in its own democratization process. Of particular interest to him was the question of whether…

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Checks and Balances

While Tocqueville was ambivalent about the “equality of condition” that he observed in America, he found that certain aspects of American democracy did work to defend and maintain liberty, and thus could be models for the development of French democracy. Although he believed that the legislative and executive branches in America could be unduly influenced by what he dubbed the “tyranny of the majority," Tocqueville felt that other institutional facets of American political life—particularly an…

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Civic and Religious Institutions

One of Tocqueville’s major conclusions about American life is that Americans are particularly fond of grouping themselves into all kinds of associations based on different opinions and beliefs, from small temperance societies to religious communities and large political parties. Like the checks and balances within the political system, Tocqueville sees these institutions (which lie outside the official workings of the American government) as a possible means of mitigating the tyranny of the majority and the…

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Individualism and Materialism 

For the purposes of discussing Tocqueville, individualism could be briefly defined as a focus on individual aims and beliefs over those of the collective. Today, Americans often think of individualism as working in tandem with liberty, but Tocqueville not only saw these two ideals as diametrically opposed, he also believed that individualism was one of the most negative and dangerous aspects of American democracy. Whereas Americans believed that individuals having the ability to strive for…

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Politics, Customs, and Culture

Tocqueville’s discussions of American cultural life, customs, and manners rest on his assumption that democratic egalitarianism creates, or at least strongly shapes, American culture and character. While he admires certain aspects of the national character and makes valid criticisms of others, Tocqueville also reveals his own aristocratic prejudices, as well as the limits of his self-proclaimed role of ethnographer, in his sometimes condescending attitude toward American ways of life.

Tocqueville’s more credible and illuminating observations…

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