Alexis De Tocqueville Essay, Research Paper
Frankly, the French have no idea of what America truly is. In Tocqueville s Democracy in America, the caustic Frenchman describes the governmental aspects of America, as well as highlighting upon some social aspects. He states the truth, however not all of Tocqueville s truths do not transcend time and are rendered obsolete in modern times. Tocqueville brings forth justified theories of aristocracy and democracy, but also presents obsolete prototypes of the American man and woman.
Tocqueville presents a biased perspective of democracy and its relation to aristocracy. He states the simple and the obvious: Democratic laws generally tend to promote the welfare of the greatest possible number; for they emanate from the majority of the citizens, whoa re subject to error but who cannot have an interest opposed to their own advantage (p.101). Tocqueville simply highlights upon the truths of democracy. In an uncontrolled environment, the greatest advantages will tend to lean toward the majority. This factor results in the absence of representation among the extreme ends of the spectrum (both social and economic) and an inundation of a median perspective. Tocqueville then contrasts this with his view on the excellence in aristocracy.
In retrospect aristocratic rule often has a negative connotation. Tocqueville attempts to justify an aristocratic theory: Aristocracies are infinitely more expert in the science of legislation than democracies can ever be. They are possessed of a self-control which protects them from the errors of temporary excitement; and they form far far-reaching designs (p.101). Tocqueville seems to be biased, and can even be considered elitist. His view of aristocracy is one of approval; he projects a view that aristocratic government is feasible and perfect. This seems to contradict what he states earlier: The laws of an aristocracy tend, on the contrary, to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of the minority, because an aristocracy by very nature, constitutes a minority (p.101). Putting absolute power in the hands of a minority appears absurd. If anything the absolute power in the hands of a minority would constitute an abuse of power. Perhaps Tocqueville construes this view because of his upbringing in the aristocratic, French setting.
Tocqueville s probable aristocratic background reflects itself on his view of American social aspects. His regard for American woman presents a contrast to aristocratic women that he has observed in his past: It is rare that an American woman, at any age, displays childish timidity or ignorance (p.234). This is contrasted by his view of European (French) women: In France Women commonly receive a reserved, retired and almost conventual education as they did in aristocratic times (p.234). The contrast between that Tocqueville makes between the two types of women is interesting. He states that American woman are more independent and free-thinking, while French woman are constrained in thinking. Tocqueville also highlights upon the goals of American men: Men living in democratic times have many passions, but most of their passions either end in the love of riches or proceed from it (p.254). This statement can be painted on American men, but can also be allotted to any man, regardless of race and transcendent of time.
Although I believe that most of Tocqueville s statements are slightly off-based, I can agree with him on his social observations. Tocqueville s presumptions of American women are correct, however in contrast to Tocqueville s negative connotation, I believe that the lack of timidity and ignorance are assets. Women are empowered in contemporary America, and I believe it has only helped us. Women carry important voices and opinions, and should not be overlooked because of their sex.
I also feel that his depiction of American men is also accurate. The one word that America fears the most is (arguably) mediocre . No one wants to grow up, and just struggle. As individuals, we want to live in luxury and comfort; no person in their right mind would want to live on the bare minimum. Although I agree with Tocqueville at this juncture, I highly attest to his concept of proficient aristocracy.
Tocqueville detests democracy, or from his work, it can be inferred that his view of democracy is condescending. His affection for aristocracy is evident, but someone skewed. Tocqueville actually makes a point that democracy will tend to give the greatest number of people the greatest number of advantages. This is true, however, if one were to have a primarily aristocratic government rule, the needs outside of this minority would suffer. The same situation can be assured if a primarily lower class government attained power. Although it may seem unfair to some minorities, the Democratic government that America employs is the only way that our population can sustain itself. Documents such as the Constitution and the division of power ascertain the power to the people, thus eliminating (or attempting to eliminate) unfairness to the minorities.
In essence, Tocqueville s negative view of America has shifted over time. What once were cases for weakness and debilitation are now achievements we pride ourselves on. Sure, the French may have the culture to set themselves apart, but in America our hard work and equality (or attempt at it) set us head and shoulders apart from every other nation. Our democracy and our drive to become achievers make America what it is today.