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De Tocqueville Notes

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  • Pages: 8
  • Word count: 1806
  • Category: Democracy

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Questions to think about when reading Tocqueville:
– Tocqueville wrote in 1831 after he traveled to America to understand egalitarian society – an aristocrat writing post-revolutionary France
– came from family that suffered during the French Revolution – doesn’t see the Revolution as a positive thing, and doesn’t prize democracy – is a realist (doesn’t think time can reverse)
– equality is inevitable and decline of aristocracy is inevitable as well – by democracy, he means society where there is equality of status, old aristocratic society (etc. king, queen, commoner status) is removed

1. Why do master-servant relations differ in aristocracies and democracies? (relate to Chapter 5) 2. Why are two Englishmen abroad so distant from each other? (relate to Chapter 2) 3. Why are Americans difficult to offend at home in America but so easily offended abroad? (relate to Chapter 3) 4. Why are humanitarian sentiments more prevalent in democratic societies than aristocratic societies? (relate to Chapter 1 and 4)

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.

* Equality of social conditions and greater gentleness of mores are correlative facts (i.e. did not happen by chance) * Between members of each class, people feel as though they are children of the same family and have sympathy for one another as they come from the same profession, property, and birth level * However, members of different classes do not have real sympathetic feelings for one another * Members of each class (or caste) have their own opinions, feelings, rights, mores, and a whole separate existence therefore cannot understand and judge what others (from other castes) suffer * People had obligations to others (such as devotion of serf to lord or duty of lord to serfs) that arose from political rights, not natural right – assistance was given not because people cared for one another as a human being, but because they were bound and affected by class

* Feudal institutions made people sensible to sufferings of certain men (men from the same caste as you) but not to miseries of the entire human race (because there is no sympathy for people of different caste from you) – e.g. the aristocrats carry grief towards tragedy of a noble, but have no feelings toward tragedy of the poor, because they don’t understand the poor’s suffering and fate * “when ranks are almost equal among people, as all men think and feel in the same manner, each instantaneously can judge the feelings of all the others…there is no misery that he cannot readily understand…his imagination and rapid glance at himself at once puts him in their place” * in a democracy, men show general compassion for all human race, and would relive sorrows of others when they can do so without too much trouble to themselves * Americans have the most kindness in criminal justice, and have removed capital punishment from their codes (vs. harsh punishment in UK) * As people become more equal, they show more reciprocal compassion, and the law of nations become more gentle

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.

* When two Englishmen meet abroad, surrounded by strangers who speak a different language and act in a different manner, they will show great curiosity and anxiety, and will try to avoid each other * In aristocratic England where wealth takes the place of one’s birth, the rich fears losing or sharing their wealth, while the poor tries to get wealth at all costs or pretends to be rich leading to an unspoken warfare between all citizens * This is why the English are so reserved and unsociable towards strangers, as they are afraid of entering into unsuitable friendships and losing their advantages (they believe it is to their interest to keep quiet and not say what they think inside their minds) * Englishmen cannot judge at first sight the social position of the people he meets, so he prudently avoids contact with them * However, in America, people frequent the same places and find neither danger nor advantage in telling each other freely what they think * They are not concerned to show or to hide their social position * Two Englishmen abroad can be friends if they are of the same blood and of the same rank, whereas two Americans are immediately friends because of common fatherland/blood

Chapter 3: Why Americans are So Hard to Offend in Their Own Country but So Easily Offended Abroad (in aristocratic England) 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.

* In aristocratic societies, members of the highest class set the models of respect and etiquette for all other members of other lower classes to follow and conform to, and everyone is assumed to be conversant with those models even though it is difficult to master completely * Due to the complicated models, men are always in danger of inflicting unintended offenses to others * However, in America where rank is obliterated and people of different education and birth mingle in the same places, there is no agreement and expectation on what rules of good manners are, so men become less polite but also less quarrelsome

* People usually don’t know when they are offended, or forgives others easily there is mutual tolerance and confidence when treating each other * Scorning no man on account of his status, it does not occur to him that anyone scorns him for that reason as well * Since he has no interest in eagerly seeking the company of particular fellow citizens, he often does not know that his own presence is unwelcome * However, when an American goes abroad, he becomes easily offended as he has a grandiose opinion and pride of their country and themselves * He realizes that England is a hierarchical society and doesn’t know what rank to put himself in, afraid and worry that his act and words put him either in too high of a rank or too low * As an American doesn’t want to be seen just as a simple citizen of a democracy when in England, he will try to call attention to his wealth every day

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.

* Because Americans have frequent contact with each other and understand each other, they will give each other mutual support when needed, and rarely refuse to give assistance * Mutual assistance and individualism agree with each other * Americans know that they have freedom, but also know their weakness, so there will always be a time when they need others’ help * There is a tacit agreement between people that each owes to the other a temporary assistance which he in turn can claim at need * The more similar conditions become, the more do people show readiness of reciprocal obligation

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.

* England is the country with strict master-servant ties, while that of France is more relaxed; America comes somewhere between these two extremes * Democracy doesn’t prevent the existence of master and servant classes, but it does change their attitudes and modifies their relations * In aristocratic societies, in both master and servant classes, there is a hierarchy with defined ranks (etc. servants of great lords are above domestic servants) * Within the community of servants, there are permanent conceptions of right and wrong, and high-ranked servants such as those that serve the lord conceive a sort of servile honor and has noble character (even though he may be in an inferior class, he can have high thoughts, strong pride, and self-respect) * For those in the lowest ranks of domestic servants, they are called the lackey = a vile and degraded creature * In aristocratic societies, the poor are trained from infancy to obey, so masters easily obtains obedience from servants, and controls their thoughts, habits, and mores * There is a strong lasting bond (like a symbiotic relation) between master and servant in aristocracies:

– Because the same families of valets/servants serve the same families of masters through many generations, the long-shared memories unite them and they grow alike, even though they have no natural resemblance – In aristocracies, the master and the servant each thinks of himself as a secondary part and appendage to the other – the servant has a subordinate position of which he cannot escape, and close to him is the master with a higher rank which he cannot lose – at an extreme, the servant loses his sense of self-interest, and transports his self into his master’s character, therefore forming an imaginary personality based on his master’s wealth, fame, and nobility – often, the servant cares more about and value the master’s grandeur, attention, and privileges than the master himself (i.e. the master instead shrink and lower themselves) * however, in America where master and servant are almost alike by nature, they always remain strangers to one other * in equal society, servants do not have special ways of thought and feeling, and they are equally honest and virtuous as their masters * there are no fixed ranks or permanent hierarchies found among servants and masters in democracies, so the servant can anytime become a master * a temporary and freely made agreement between master and servant makes the master the right to command and the servant to obey, but beyond the terms of the contract, they are merely two citizens and two men who are equal * in the North (America), servants temporarily perform the wishes of masters without thinking that they are inferior, as they have enough self-respect not to refuse their masters the obedience promised

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