Alexis de Tocqueville

(Alexis Charles Henri Clérel, Viscount de Tocqueville)

Alexis de Tocqueville
Alexis de Tocqueville
  • Born: June 29, 1805
  • Died: April 16, 1859
  • Nationality: French
  • Profession: Historian









Alexis Charles Henri Clérel, Viscount de Tocqueville was a French diplomat, political scientist and historian. He was best known for his works Democracy in America (appearing in two volumes, 1835 and 1840) and The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856). In both, he analyzed the improved living standards and social conditions of individuals as well as their relationship to the market and state in Western societies. Democracy in America was published after Tocqueville's travels in the United States and is today considered an early work of sociology and political science.

Quotes About
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[In America] No natural boundary seems to be set to the efforts of man; and what is not yet done is only what he has not yet attempted to do. Citizenship & Patriotism
…the doctrine of self-interest rightly understood seems to me, of all the philosophical theories, the most attuned to the needs of men in our time, and I see in it the most powerful safeguard men have left against themselves. Human Nature
A democratic government is the only one in which those who vote for a tax can escape the obligation to pay it. Government ;Taxes
All those who seek to destroy the liberties of a democratic nation ought to know that war is the surest and shortest means to accomplish it. War & Peace
America’s ancestors give them the love of equality and of freedom, but God Himself gave them the means of remaining equal and free by placing them upon a boundless continent. Expansionism, Colonialism & Imperialism
American newspapers disregard principles to seize on people, following them into their private lives and laying bare their weaknesses and their vices. Media, Journalism & The Press
Americans of all ages, all stations of life, and all types of disposition are forever forming associations... In democratic countries knowledge of how to combine is the mother of all other forms of knowledge; on its progress depends that of all the others. Democracies & Republics
As one digs deeper into the national character of the Americans, one sees that they have sought the value of everything in this world only in the answer to this single question: how much money will it bring in? Business, Commerce & Finance ;Money, Coins & Minting ;Social Sciences
Democracy extends the sphere of individual freedom, socialism restricts it. Democracy attaches all possible value to each man; socialism makes each man a mere agent, a mere number. Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.
Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot. How is it possible that society should escape destruction if the moral tie is not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed? And what can be done with a people who are their own masters if they are not submissive to the Deity? Religion & God ;Dictators, Despots, Autocrats, Autocracies & Dictatorships
Every central government worships uniformity: uniformity relieves it from inquiry into an infinity of details. Miscellaneous
Experience shows that the most dangerous moment for a bad government is usually just as its starting on reform. Reform, Change, Transformation & Reformers
He was as great as a man can be without morality Compliments, Insults & Rebukes
He who seeks freedom for anything but freedom's self is made to be a slave. Freedom & Liberty
History is a picture gallery where there are few originals and many copies. History
History, it is easily perceived, is a picture-gallery containing a host of copies and very few originals History
However energetically society in general may strive to make all the citizens equal and alike, the personal pride of each individual will always make him try to escape from the common level, and he will form some inequality somewhere to his own profit. Equality & Equal Opportunity
I am deeply a democrat; this is why I am in no way a socialist. Democracy and socialism cannot go together. You can't have it both ways. Democracies & Republics
I am obliged to confess that I do not regard the abolition of slavery as a means of warding off the struggle of the two races in the Southern states. The Negroes may long remain slaves without complaining; but if they are once raised to the level of freemen, they will soon revolt at being deprived of almost all their civil rights; and as they cannot become the equals of the whites, they will speedily show themselves as enemies. Discrimination & Prejudice ;Slaves, Slavery & The Slave Trade
I cannot help fearing that men may reach a point where they look on every new theory as a danger, every innovation as a toilsome trouble, every social advance as a first step toward revolution, and that they may absolutely refuse to move at all. Liberals & Conservatives
I have come across men of letters who have written history without taking part in public affairs, and politicians who have concerned themselves with producing events without thinking about them. I have observed that the first are always inclined to find general causes whereas the second, living in the midst of disconnected daily facts, are prone to imagine that everything is attributable to particular incidents, and that the wires they pull are the same as those that move the world. It is to be presumed that both are equally deceived. History
I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America. Independence ;Freedom & Liberty ;Oratory, Discussion & Debate
I know of no country, indeed, where the love of money has taken stronger hold on the affections of men, and where the profounder contempt is expressed for the theory of the permanent equality of property. Economics, The Economy & Fiscal Affairs ;Capitalism
I saw in America the image of democracy itself. Democracies & Republics
I should have loved freedom, I believe, at all times, but in the time in which we live I am ready to worship it. Freedom & Liberty
I studied the Koran a great deal. I came away from that study with the conviction there have been few religions in the world as deadly to men as that of Muhammad. So far as I can see, it is the principal cause of the decadence so visible today in the Muslim world and, though less absurd than the polytheism of old, its social and political tendencies are in my opinion to be feared, and I therefore regard it as a form of decadence rather than a form of progress in relation to paganism itself. Religion & God
I think that democratic communities have a natural taste for freedom: left to themselves, they will seek it, cherish it, and view any privation of it with regret. But for equality, their passion is ardent, insatiable, incessant, invincible: they call for equality in freedom; and if they cannot obtain that, they still call for equality in slavery. Equality & Equal Opportunity
If a [democratic] society displays less brilliance than an aristocracy, there will also be less wretchedness. Democracies & Republics
if anyone asks me what I think the chief cause of the extraordinary prosperity and growing power of this nation [America], I should answer that it is due to the superiority of their women. Minorities & Women
if despotism were to be established amongst the democratic nations of our days it might assume a different character; it would be more extensive and more mild, it would degrade men without tormenting them. States. Nations & Nationhood ;Dictators, Despots, Autocrats, Autocracies & Dictatorships
If he presents himself to vote, he runs a risk to his life. Oppressed, he can complain, but if he finds only whites among his judges… His son is excluded from the school where the descendants of Europeans come to be instructed. In theaters he cannot buy for the price of gold the right to be placed at the side of one who was his master; in hospitals he lies apart. The black is permitted to beseech the same God as whites, but not to pray to him at the same alter. Discrimination & Prejudice
If there ever are great revolutions there, they will be caused by the presence of the blacks upon American soil. That is to say, it will not be the equality of social conditions but rather their inequality which may give rise thereto. Rebellion, Revolution, Insurgency & Resistance ;Slaves, Slavery & The Slave Trade
In a republic, if laws are not always respectable, they are always respected. Democracies & Republics
In a revolution, as in a novel, the most difficult part to invent is the end Rebellion, Revolution, Insurgency & Resistance
In America a woman loses her independence for ever in the bonds of matrimony. While there is less constraint on girls there than anywhere else, a wife submits to stricter obligations. For the former, her father's house is a home of freedom and pleasure; for the latter, her husband's is almost a cloister. Minorities & Women
In America the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion; within these barriers an author may write what he pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them. Freedom & Liberty
In America, conscription is unknown; men are enlisted for payment. Compulsory recruitment is so alien to the ideas and so foreign to the customs of the people of the United States that I doubt whether they would ever dare to introduce it into their law. Military & Veterans
In cities men cannot be prevented from concerting together, and from awakening a mutual excitement which prompts sudden and passionate resolutions. Cities may be looked upon as large assemblies, of which all the inhabitants are members; their populace exercises a prodigious influence upon the magistrates, and frequently executes its own wishes without their intervention. Democracies & Republics
In countries where associations are free, secret societies are unknown. In America there are factions, but no conspiracies. Political Parties & Machines
In democratic ages men rarely sacrifice themselves for another, but they show a general compassion for all the human race. One never sees them inflict pointless suffering, and they are glad to relieve the sorrows of others when they can do so without much trouble to themselves. They are not disinterested, but they are gentle. Democracies & Republics ;Foreign Aid
In democratic peoples, new families constantly issue from nothing, others constantly fall into it, and all those that stay on change face: the fabric of time is torn at every moment and the trace of generations is effaced. You easily forget those who have preceded you, and you have no idea of those who will follow you. As conditions are equalized, one finds a great number of individuals who … owe nothing to anyone: they expect so to speak nothing to anyone: they are in the habit of always considering themselves in isolation, and they willingly fancy that their whole destiny is in their hands. Defense & National Security
In no country in the world is the love of property more active and more anxious than in the United States. Economics, The Economy & Fiscal Affairs
In no other country in the world is the love of property keener or more alert than in the United States, and nowhere else does the majority display less inclination toward doctrines which in any way threaten the way property is owned. Love, Romance, Marriage & Sex ;Economics, The Economy & Fiscal Affairs
In order to enjoy the inestimable benefits that the liberty of the press ensures, it is necessary to submit to the inevitable evils it creates Freedom & Liberty
In politics … a community of hatred is almost always the foundation of friendships. Politics, Politicians & Political Campaigning & Fund Raising
In politics... shared hatreds are almost always the basis of friendships. Politics, Politicians & Political Campaigning & Fund Raising
In revolutions, especially democratic revolutions, madmen, not those so called by courtesy, but genuine madmen, have played a very considerable political part. One thing is certain, and that is that a condition of semi-madness is not unbecoming at such times, and often even leads to success. Rebellion, Revolution, Insurgency & Resistance
In the United States a man builds a house to spend his latter years in it and he sells it before the roof is on. He plants a garden and lets [rents] it just as the trees are coming into bearing. He brings a field into tillage and leaves other men to gather the crops. He embraces a profession and gives it up. He settles in a place which he soon afterward leaves to carry his changeable longings elsewhere. If his private affairs leave him any leisure he instantly plunges into the vortex of politics and if at the end of a year of unremitting labour he finds he has a few days' vacation, his eager curiosity whirls him over the vast extent of the United States, and he will travel fifteen hundred miles in a few days to shake off his happiness. Human Nature
In the United States, the majority undertakes to supply a multitude of ready-made opinions for the use of individuals, who are thus relieved from the necessity of forming opinions of their own. Public Opinion & Polling
It is almost never when a state of things is the most detestable that it is smashed, but when, beginning to improve, it permits men to breathe, to reflect, to communicate their thoughts with each other, and to gauge by what they already have the extent of their rights and their grievances. The weight, although less heavy, seems then all the more unbearable. Rebellion, Revolution, Insurgency & Resistance
It is the dissimilarities and inequalities among men which give rise to the notion of honor; as such differences become less, it grows feeble; and when they disappear, it will vanish too. Equality & Equal Opportunity
Laws are always unstable unless they are founded on the manners of a nation; and manners are the only durable and resisting power in a people. Law, Courts, Jails, Crime & Law Enforcement
No protracted war can fail to endanger the freedom of a democratic country. Freedom & Liberty ;War & Peace
Nothing is quite so wretchedly corrupt as an aristocracy which has lost its power but kept its wealth Corruption
Nothing seems at first sight less important than the outward form of human actions, yet there is nothing upon which men set more store: they grow used to everything except to living in a society which has not their own manners. Society ;Human Nature
Since the equality of fortunes reigns in the North, and slavery does not exist there, man finds himself absorbed with those same material wants which the white man disdains in the South. He knows it admirable to take advantage of nature and men to produce riches. Business, Commerce & Finance ;Capitalism ;Slaves, Slavery & The Slave Trade
So many of my thoughts and feelings are shared by the English that England has turned into a second native land of the mind for me. Miscellaneous
Socialism is a new form of slavery. Compliments, Insults & Rebukes ;Slaves, Slavery & The Slave Trade
The Americans never use the word peasant, because they have no idea of the class which that term denotes; the ignorance of more remote ages, the simplicity of rural life, and the rusticity of the villager have not been preserved among them; and they are alike unacquainted with the virtues, the vices, the coarse habits, and the simple graces of an early stage of civilization. Equality & Equal Opportunity
The debates of that great assembly are frequently vague and perplexed, seeming to be dragged rather than to march, to the intended goal. Something of this sort must, I think, always happen in public democratic assemblies. Politics, Politicians & Political Campaigning & Fund Raising
The enterprising spirit is gone when one goes South. Compliments, Insults & Rebukes ;Slaves, Slavery & The Slave Trade
The French are ... the most brilliant and the most dangerous nation of Europe, and the one that is surest to inspire admiration, hatred, terror, or pity, but never indifference. Compliments, Insults & Rebukes
The French want no-one to be their superior. The English want inferiors. The Frenchman constantly raises his eyes above him with anxiety. The Englishman lowers his beneath him with satisfaction. Equality & Equal Opportunity
The genius of democracies is seen not only in the great number of new words introduced but even more in the new ideas they express. Democracies & Republics
The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults. Citizenship & Patriotism ;Reform, Change, Transformation & Reformers
The last thing a political party gives up is its vocabulary. This is because, in party politics as in other matters, it is the party membership that dictates the language, and the membership relinquishes the ideas it has been given more readily than the words it has learned.. Political Parties & Machines
The main business of religions is to purify, control, and restrain that excessive and exclusive taste for well-being which men acquire in times of equality. Religion & God ;Business, Commerce & Finance ;Equality & Equal Opportunity
The most dreadful of all the evils that threaten the future of the United States arises from the presence of blacks on its soil. Miscellaneous ;Slaves, Slavery & The Slave Trade
The most formidable of all the ills that threaten the future of the Union arises from the presence of a black population upon its territory; and in contemplating the cause of the present embarrassments, or the future dangers of the United States, the observer is invariably led to this as a primary fact. Defense & National Security
The New Englander is attached to his township because it is strong and independent; he has an interest in it because he shares in its management; he loves it because he has no reason to complain of his lot; he invests his ambition and his future in it; in the restricted sphere within his scope, he learns to rule society; he gets to know those formalities without which freedom can advance only through revolutions, and becoming imbued with their spirit, develops a taste for order, understands the harmony of powers, and in the end accumulates clear, practical ideas about the nature of his duties and the extent of his rights. Legislating & Legislative Process
The people reign over the American political world as God rules over the universe. It is the cause and the end of all things; everything rises out of it and is absorbed back into it. Democracies & Republics
The power of the periodical press is second only to that of the people. Power ;Media, Journalism & The Press
The surface of American society is covered with a layer of democratic paint, but from time to time one can see the old aristocratic colors breaking through. Democracies & Republics
The will of the nation" is one of those expressions which have been most profusely abused by the wily and the despotic of every age. Miscellaneous ;Dictators, Despots, Autocrats, Autocracies & Dictatorships
There are at the present time two great nations in the world— I allude to the Russians and the Americans— All other nations seem to have nearly reached their national limits, and have only to maintain their power; these alone are proceeding—along a path to which no limit can be perceived. Miscellaneous
There are two things that will always be difficult for a democratic people to do: to start a war and to finish it War & Peace
There is hardly a member of Congress who can make up his mind to go home without having dispatched at least one speech to his constituents; nor who will endure any interruption until he has introduced into his harangue whatever useful suggestions may be made touching the four-and-twenty States of which the Union is composed, and especially the district which he represents. Politics, Politicians & Political Campaigning & Fund Raising
They [Americans] all attributed the peaceful dominion of religion in their country mainly to the separation of church and state. I do not hesitate to affirm that during my stay in America I did not meet a single individual, of the clergy or the laity, who was not of the same opinion on this point. Religion & God
They [the Americans] certainly are not great writers, but they speak their country's language and they make themselves heard. English, Languages & Bilingualism
They were giving the substance of truth to what we were dreaming. Rebellion, Revolution, Insurgency & Resistance
Though it is very important for man as an individual that his religion should be true, that is not the case for society. Society has nothing to fear or hope from another life; what is most important for it is not that all citizens profess the true religion but that they should profess religion. Religion & God
To live in freedom one must grow used to a life full of agitation, change and danger. Freedom & Liberty
To wish to stop democracy [in America] would be to struggle against God himself Democracies & Republics
Trade is the natural enemy of all violent passions. Trade loves moderation, delights in compromise, and is most careful to avoid anger. It is patient, supple, and insinuating, only resorting to extreme measures in cases of absolute necessity. Trade makes men independent of one another and gives them a high idea of their personal importance: it leads them to want to manage their own affairs and teaches them to succeed therein. Hence it makes them inclined to liberty but disinclined to revolution. Foreign Trade
Two things in America are astonishing: the changeableness of most human behavior and the strange stability of certain principles. Men are constantly on the move, but the spirit of humanity seems almost unmoved. Development & Growth
Useful undertakings which require sustained attention and vigorous precision in order to succeed often end up by being abandoned, for, in America, as elsewhere, the people move forward by sudden impulses and short-lived efforts. Public Works & Natural Resources
We have noted that the federal Constitution put the permanent control of the nation's foreign interests in the hands of the President and the Senate, which to some extent frees the Union's general policy from direct and daily popular control. One should not therefore assert without qualification that American democracy controls the state's external affairs.. Constitution / Bills & Declaratiobns of Rights ;Foreign Policy, World & International Affairs
What most astonishes me in the United States, is not so much the marvelous grandeur of some undertakings, as the innumerable multitude of small ones. Public Works & Natural Resources
When an opinion has taken root in a democracy and established itself in the minds of the majority, it afterward persists by itself, needing no effort to maintain it since no one attacks it. Those who at first rejected it as false come in the end to adopt it as accepted, and even those who still at the bottom of their hearts oppose it, keep their views to themselves, taking great care to avoid a dangerous and futile contest. Public Opinion & Polling
With much care and skill power has been broken into fragments in the American township, so that the maximum possible number of people have some concern with public affairs. Citizenship & Patriotism
You may set the Negro free, but you cannot make him otherwise than an alien to the European. Discrimination & Prejudice ;Slaves, Slavery & The Slave Trade
Americans are so enamored of equality that they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom. Equality & Equal Opportunity ;Freedom & Liberty
An American cannot converse, but he can discuss, and his talk falls into a dissertation. He speaks to you as if he was addressing a meeting; and if he should chance to become warm in the discussion, he will say 'Gentlemen' to the person with whom he is conversing.
Consider any individual at any period of his life, and you will always find him preoccupied with fresh plans to increase his comfort. Life
Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word, equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude. Equality & Equal Opportunity
Grant me thirty years of equal division of inheritances and a free press, and I will provide you with a republic.
He was as great as a man can be without morality.
History is a gallery of pictures in which there are few originals and many copies. History
In a revolution, as in a novel, the most difficult part to invent is the end.
In other words, a democratic government is the only one in which those who vote for a tax can escape the obligation to pay it. Government
In politics shared hatreds are almost always the basis of friendships. Politics, Politicians & Political Campaigning & Fund Raising
Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith. Religion & God
Life is to be entered upon with courage. Life
No state of society or laws can render men so much alike but that education, fortune, and tastes will interpose some differences between them; and though different men may sometimes find it their interest to combine for the same purposes, they will never make it their pleasure. Education, Learning, Knowledge & Training ;Society
The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money. Money, Coins & Minting
The Americans combine the notions of religion and liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive of one without the other. Religion & God
The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens. Society ;Health, Healthcare & Medicine
The Indian knew how to live without wants, to suffer without complaint, and to die singing.
The surface of American society is covered with a layer of democratic paint, but from time to time one can see the old aristocratic colours breaking through. Society ;Time
The whole life of an American is passed like a game of chance, a revolutionary crisis, or a battle. Life
There are many men of principle in both parties in America, but there is no party of principle. Politics, Politicians & Political Campaigning & Fund Raising
There are two things which a democratic people will always find very difficult - to begin a war and to end it. War & Peace
There is hardly a pioneer's hut which does not contain a few odd volumes of Shakespeare. I remember reading the feudal drama of Henry V for the first time in a log cabin. Time
There is hardly a political question in the United States which does not sooner or later turn into a judicial one.
Those that despise people will never get the best out of others and themselves.
We succeed in enterprises which demand the positive qualities we possess, but we excel in those which can also make use of our defects. Business, Commerce & Finance
What is most important for democracy is not that great fortunes should not exist, but that great fortunes should not remain in the same hands. In that way there are rich men, but they do not form a class.
When the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness. Future