Democracy in America

Democracy in America Summary and Analysis of Vol. II, Part 3, Chapters 1-26

Volume II, Part III: Influence of Democracy on Mores Properly So Called

Chapter 1: How Mores Become More Gentle as Social Conditions Become More Equal

In times of equality, people are more sensitive to the sufferings of others because they can imagine themselves in the same position.

Chapter 2: How Democracy Leads to Ease and Simplicity in the Ordinary Relations Between Americans

Because there are no prejudices or class barriers to prevent people from socializing with one another in a democracy, people relate to each easily in a natural, frank and open manner.

Chapter 3: Why the Americans Are So Hard to Offend in Their Own Country and So Easily Offended in Ours

As a result of equality, Americans treat one anther with a great degree of mutual tolerance and are not easily offended. In foreign countries, however, Americans are highly sensitive to criticism because of the high opinion they have of themselves and their country.

Chapter 4: Consequences Deriving From the Three Preceding Chapters

Because they sympathize with the sufferings of their fellows, Americans are quick to give assistance. Equality also makes Americans see that they are all weak and subject to similar dangers, so they tend to lend mutual help when needed.

Chapter 5: How Democracy Modifies the Relations Between Master and Servant

The relations between servant and master are very different in a democracy than in an aristocracy because the only difference between them is based on a temporary and freely made contract. The bonds between master and servant are also looser in democracies than in aristocracies.

Chapter 6: How Democratic Institutions and Mores Tend to Raise Rent and Shorten the Terms of Leases

Because everything is a democracy seems unstable, landlords feel the need to charge higher rents and both landlords and tenants shy away from long terms of leases.

Chapter 7: Influence of Democracy on Wages

There is a constant struggle between workers and employers for the level of wages, and it seems that in the long run the workers will prevail because their already relatively high wages lessen their dependence on their employer.

Yet in some parts of industry an aristocracy of industrialists has grown up, and in such situations the workers are forced to work for very low wages and have little bargaining power.

Chapter 8: Influence of Democracy on the Family

The family in the aristocratic sense does not exist in America. Young men, upon reaching the age of adolescence, are basically given complete freedom. The father has less authority and there are almost no formalities governing relations between fathers and children. This state of affairs increases the natural bond of affection and trust by lowering the barriers between parents and children.

Chapter 9: Education of Girls in the United States

Because women primarily shape the mores of a society, the education of women is of great importance. Women in America are not brought up in naïve ignorance of vices of society; rather they are taught how to deal with them and they allow them to develop good judgment.

Chapter 10: The Young Woman as Wife

America takes the institution of marriage very seriously both because of its Puritan roots and because it is an industrial society, in which societal order increases prosperity. Paternal discipline is very lax in America, but marriage imposes many demands on women. As a result, young women are cautious before entering marriage and enter into it with full knowledge of the sacrifices it demands. Having thus been prepared for married life and having entered into it freely, American women show great strength in adversity and great resilience of courage.

Chapter 11: How Equality Helps to Maintain Good Morals in America

Equality helps to make mores stricter, because when there are no class barriers to prevent a couple from getting married, it is difficult for a man to persuade a woman that he loves her if he is unwilling to marry her. As a result there are fewer ephemeral and clandestine relationships. Also, because people enter into marriage by their free choice, there is little sympathy for divorce.

Chapter 12: How the American Views the Equality of the Sexes

Some Europeans considers men and women to be not only equal but actually the same. The Americans recognize the equality of men and women but see that they are different and are better are different things. While European men tend to flatter women, they consider them more as seductive objects than as equals. In America women are esteemed and deeply respected. Americans think that men and women have different duties in life, but the role of each is equally important and dignified. The chief cause of the extraordinary prosperity of America is the superiority of American women.

Chapter 13: How Equality Naturally Divides the Americans into a Multitude of Small Private Circles

While Americans mix easily in the political sphere, in private life they break up into very small groups according to different tastes.

Chapter 14: Some Reflections on American Manners

People's manners are very similar in democracies because of the general state of equality, but they are much more casual than in aristocracies and there are many small individual variations.

Chapter 15: On the Gravity of the Americans and Why it Often Does Not Prevent Their Doing Ill-Considered Things

Americans tend to be very serious and not take part in many coarse entertainments. The main reason for Americans' gravity is that in free countries all have to be concerned with both with national affairs and with the increase of their own wealth. At the same time their actions are often ill-considered because they spend little time reflecting on things before doing them.

Chapter 16: Why American National Pride Has Become a More Restless and Quarrelsome Character Than That of the English

When there are few differences between people, they attach great importance to the slightest advantages in order to feed their pride.

Chapter 17: How the Aspect of Society in the United States is At Once Agitated and Monotonous

In democracies things are constantly changing, but all the changes are alike and the people's passions are generally the same in that they mostly derive from love of wealth.

Chapter 18: Concerning Honor in the United States and Democratic Societies

The notion of honor is derived from people's dissimilarities and inequalities. As equality of conditions grows, the idea of honor will progressively fade away.

Chapter 19: Why There Are So Many Men of Ambition in the United States But So Few of Lofty Ambitions

When everyone has some education and opportunity for fortune, many people are ambitious. Yet because of equality people are habituated to constrain their desire within narrow limits, and achieving great fortune is extremely rare. Democratic societies have much more to fear from lack of high ambitions than from over-ambitiousness.

Chapter 20: Concerning Place-Hunting in Some Democratic Societies

There is a tendency for people in democracy's to want public appointments in order to have a comfortable and prosperous life. This tendency for place-hunting is a great social evil because it tends to make people lose their independence and become servile to the state. Democracy's should limit the number of public appointments.

Chapter 21: Why Great Revolutions Will Become Rare

Most revolutions are caused by a desire either to maintain or destroy inequality. In democratic societies there are few people who are either very rich or very poor. Most are in the middle, and they have a natural dislike for revolution but it will upset the comforts they have gained, though they may be few. People are also so absorbed in trying to increase their fortune and comfort that they have no interest in abstract revolutionary ideas. Though society is constantly changing, there is little danger of revolution. The only possible cause for a revolution in America is the presence of blacks and the inequality between the races.

In America human behavior seems extremely open to change, yet at the same time certain principles are extraordinarily stable. General political, philosophical and moral doctrine almost never change. When conditions are equally people are generally not likely to be persuaded by others' opinions because they do not think anyone is intellectually superior. In addition, people in democracies are extremely pragmatic and are simply not interested in ideas which do not have a direct bearing on practical affairs.

Public opinion is extremely strong, to the extent that people tend to assume their wrong if their view is not held by the majority. It is extremely difficult to change the opinion of the majority. There is a danger in democracies that people will become so engrossed in pursuit of private comfort that they simply allow the same institutions, ideas and mores to remain prevalent and never bother to work for progress.

Chapter 22: Why Democratic Peoples Naturally Want Peace But Democratic Armies War

Men of property, which are in the majority, tend to want peace. But those in the military desire promotion and consequently long for war so that they can attain a higher post. The army in a democracy tends be composed of those who have little to lose from a war, and it tends to become somewhat of a separate nation with its own habits and mores. It is very dangerous to have a war-loving army in a peace-loving country. A war is the easiest way in which freedom can be destroyed in a democracy, because in times of war government gains many extra powers.

Chapter 23: Which is the Most Warlike and Revolutionary Class in Democratic Armies

Democratic people rarely choose to enter the military. As a result the government will need to fall back on conscription. Those that decide to stay after the required term will be few, and those with military careers break all ties to civilian life. Therefore, they want war or revolution when the rest of the nation wants peace.

Chapter 24: What Makes Democratic Armies Weaker Than Others At the Beginning of a Campaign But More Formidable in Prolonged Warfare

Since the elite of the nation are drawn away from the military, the army is generally inferior to the nation in general after a long period of peace. Yet in times of war people become attracted to the army and the elite see a military career as a way of gaining honor. In a prolonged war, therefore, the army will improve greatly over time.

Chapter 25: Of Discipline in Democratic Armies

The discipline in democratic armies is based not on habit but on will and reason.

Chapter 26: Some Considerations Concerning War in Democratic Societies

War becomes much rarer in general because societies are interdependent as a result of trade and have few ideological differences. In addition, the majority are generally opposed to war because it is against their material interests. Civil wars will thus become much rarer.


I. Women in American Society

"And now that I come near the end of this book in which I have recorded so many considerable achievements of the Americans," writes Tocqueville, "if anyone asks me what I think the chief cause of the extraordinary prosperity and growing power of this nation, I should answer that it is due to the superiority of their women."

Tocqueville's belief that women play a crucial role in shaping society is inseparable from his emphasis on the need for proper values and mores to achieve and maintain social stability and prosperity, especially in a democracy. In Tocqueville's estimation, mores are "one of the great general causes responsible for the maintenance of a democratic republic in the United States." With the term mores, Tocqueville is referring to "the different notions possessed by men, the various opinions current among them, and the sum of ideas that shape mental habits." Mores are especially crucial and influential in democratic societies because of the freedom that the people enjoy, the strong role of public opinion and the general weakness of authority. Women have a particularly important responsibility in democratic society precisely because of their ability to shape its mores. As Tocqueville remarks, "there have never been free societies without mores, and . . . it is women who shape these mores. Therefore everything which has a bearing on the status of women, their habits and their thoughts is, in my view, of great political importance."

The principle way in which women shape mores is through their role as wives and mothers. Tocqueville argues that the respect given to the institution of marriage in a society has a powerful impact on the order and well-being of that society as a whole. From his observations, Tocqueville found that the United States was the country where marriage was most respected, and he attributed the stability of American society‹as opposed to the general disorder of many European societies, particularly France‹to the strength of this institution. "In Europe," asserts Tocqueville, "almost all the disorders of society are born around the domestic hearth and not far from the nuptial bed. It is there that men come to feel scorn for natural ties and legitimate pleasures and develop a taste for disorder, restlessness of spirit, and insatiability of desires." By contrast, "when the American returns from the turmoil of politics to the bosom of the family, he immediately finds a perfect picture of order and peace. There all his pleasures are simple and natural and his joys innocent and quiet, and as the regularity of life brings him happiness, he easily forms the habit of regulating his opinions as well as his tastes." The result for society at large is that "whereas the European tries to escape his sorrows at home by troubling society, the American derives from his home the love of order which he carries over into affairs of the state." Tocqueville sees the effort of a wife to create an orderly, loving and pleasant home environment therefore as not only a matter affecting the well-being of individual families, but also as a great service to society, with immense social and even political repercussions.

What was it in particular about American society in the nineteenth century that had fostered such a strong respect for marriage and such exemplary strength of character in American women? Tocqueville attributes the situation partially to the style of a girl's upbringing and education, combined with the strong influence of religious values and the discipline provided by industrial habits. In America, Tocqueville notes that rather than being sheltered and shielded from reality, a young woman is allowed to become familiar with "the vices and dangers of society" so that, "seeing them clearly, she judges them without illusion and faces them without fear." He adds that "her morals are pure rather than her mind chaste." Such an approach leads to the formation of women who are not naïve but who have the prudence and fortitude necessary to carry out their duties and live upright lives.

Tocqueville also provides some possible explanations for the respect given to the institution of marriage in American society. Through his studies, Tocqueville found that "religious peoples and industrial nations take a particularly serious view of marriage. The former consider the regularity of a woman's life the best guarantee and the surest sign of the purity of her morals. The latter see in it the surest safeguard of the order and prosperity of the house." America in Tocqueville's day combined both of these attributes. Puritanism still had a very strong influence, and society, at least in the north, was becoming highly industrialized. These forces shaped cultural expectations of women and created a strong public opinion in favor of respecting the permanence of marriage and particularly the specifically domestic role of women. The women themselves, aware of this situation and aware of the sacrifices that marriage demands, entered into marriage with full knowledge of what is expected of them and were cautious before entering into a marriage commitment.

Another attribute of American society that contributes to the strength of marriage and the strong, salutary role of women is the American view of equality between the sexes. In an aristocratic society the relations between men and women tend to be more problematic, because people often have little choice of whom they are going to marry and even if they can choose, their choice is limited by class barriers. Of course, passions and affections cannot be bound by those barriers, and consequently there are "a great number of ephemeral and clandestine connections." In a democratic society, however, where "equality of conditions has swept down all the real or imaginary barriers separating man and woman," women are empowered to test the true level of a man's love and commitment to her. As Tocqueville points out, "however credulous passion may make us, there is hardly a way of persuading a girl that you love her when you are perfectly free to marry her but will not do so." Another effect of equality in nineteenth-century America is that, precisely because there was freedom in the choice of one's spouse, public opinion very harshly condemned infidelity and divorce, thereby strengthening the institution of marriage.

The Americans' particular view of equality between the sexes also strengthened the position of women in society. Tocqueville disagrees with the notion, gaining popularity among the European philosophers of his time, that men and women "are not equal only, but actually similar." Tocqueville believes that the view of equality which treats men and women as the same "degrades them both, and that so coarse a jumble of nature's works could produce nothing but feeble men and unseemly women." In America, on the other hand, Tocqueville was pleased to find the prevailing view that "nature, which created such great differences between men and women, clearly intended to give their diverse faculties a diverse employment." Women, he believes, are best suited to work in the domestic sphere, while men are better equipped for business, political affairs, and managing the external relations of the family. Likewise, Tocqueville places importance on the need for strong paternal authority in the family, and he praises the Americans for respecting that authority in spite of their democratic mentality, recognizing that "every association, to be effective, must have a head, and the natural head of the conjugal association is the husband."

While Tocqueville's opinions about a woman's role are clearly marked by the conventions of his era, he shows a much greater respect for women than the prevailing European views at the time. "In Europe," remarks Tocqueville, "one has often noted that a certain contempt lurks in the flattery men lavish on women; although a European may often make himself a woman's slave, one feels that he never sincerely thinks her his equal." By contrast, in America Tocqueville found that while men did not often flatter or compliment women, they treated them with respect and esteem, displaying complete confidence in their spouse's judgment and deep respect for their freedom." While in Europe men regarded women as "seductive but incomplete beings," in America men "[had] such respect for their moral freedom that in their presence every man [was] careful to keep a watch on his tongue for fear that they should be forced to listen to language which offends them." Clearly the Americans, while holding to the idea that men and women are destined to pursue different occupations in life, had a deep sense of the dignity of women, regarding them "as beings of equal worth" and considering their work to be as important as men's.

II. Democracy and War

Tocqueville in general follows the classical liberal characterization of democracies as un-warlike, both because of their ideology and also because of economic self-interest. There are a few anomalies, such as the soldiers who tend to have an interest in war, but in general this problem does not seem to have great potential to cause any real danger. Tocqueville argues that great revolutions will become rare because "any revolution is more or less a threat to property," and "most inhabitants of a democracy have property." There is a more philosophic and even, for other reasons, quite disturbing element of democratic societies that disincline them to revolution: their individualism. "When social conditions are equal," asserts Tocqueville, "every man tends to live apart, centered in himself and forgetful of the public." This tendency will indeed make revolution more unlikely, but Tocqueville warns that it ought not to be fostered because the apathy and self-interest of the majority could be taken advantage of by a minority with an interest in revolution. The tendencies toward the omnipotence of the majority and overwhelming acceptance of public opinion also work against revolution. General ideas about life and government are fixed by the opinion of the majority and almost never change. As a result, there are few widespread ideas contrary to public opinion that would spur a revolution. Of course, this unchangeability of general ideas is also a great danger for democracies. Even aside from the problem of tyranny of the majority, Tocqueville fears that democratic societies "will end up by being too unalterably fixed with the same institutions, prejudices, and mores, so that mankind will stop progressing and will dig itself in."

III. Middling effect

A more general influence of democracy on mores is, as Tocqueville often describes it, to make them much "gentler." This means that people in general do not have terrible vices, but also that they lack extraordinary virtue. Tocqueville, an aristocrat himself, laments this loss of great heroism, honor, intelligence, and virtue. Yet he seems to think that the growth of equality is fated, and that since great personalities simply do not tend to form in democratic societies, there is nothing to be done except make the best of the situation and be glad that there are no terrible vices.