restricted access Chapter 5. Of the Government of Democracy in America
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313 s4s4s4s4s4 c h a p t e r 5 Of the Government of Democracy in America I know that I am walking here on fiery ground. Each of the words of this chapter must in some respects offend the different parties dividing my country. I will, nonetheless, express my whole thought. In Europe, we have difficulty judging the true character and permanent instincts of democracy, because in Europe there is a struggle between two opposite principles. And we do not know precisely what should be attributed to the principles themselves or to the passions that the conflict has produced. It is not the same in America. There, the people dominate without obstacles ; there are no dangers to fear or wrongs to revenge. So, in America, democracy is given over to its own inclinations. Its pace is natural, and all its movements are free. That is where it must be judged. And for whom would this study be interesting and profitable, if not for us, whoaredragged alongeachdaybyanirresistiblemovementandwhomarch blindly, perhaps toward despotism, perhaps toward the republic, but definitely toward a democratic social state? Of Universal Suffrage I said previously that all the states of the Union had allowed universal suffrage. It is also found among populations situated at different levels of [{civilization}] the social scale. I have had the opportunity to see its effects in various places and among races of men made nearly strangers to each other by their language, their religion, or their mores, in Louisiana as in New England, in Georgia as in Canada. I noted that, in America, 314 of the government of democracy universal suffrage was far from producing all the good and all the evil that are expected in Europe, and that, in general, its effects were other than those supposed.a Of the Choices of the People and of the Instincts of American Democracy in Its Choices In the United States the most outstanding men are rarely called to the leadership of public affairs.—Causes of this phenomenon.—The envy that animates the lower classes in France against the upper classes is not a French sentiment, but democratic.—Why, in America, distinguished men often move away on their own from political careers. Many people in Europe believe without saying, or say without believing, that one of the great advantages of universal suffrage is to call men worthy of public confidence to the leadership of public affairs.b It is said that a people cannot govern itself, but always sincerely wants the good of the State, and its instinct hardly ever fails to point out those who are animated by the same desire and who are most capable of holding power.c I must say that, for me, what I saw in America does not authorize me to think that this is so. Upon my arrival in the United States, I was struck a. Marginal note: “⫽For that I do not know what to do. The interests that divide men are innumerable, but truth is singular and has only one way to come about.⫽” b. “⫽What is most important to a nation is not that those who govern are men of talent, but that they have no interests contrary to the mass of their fellow citizens⫽” (YTC, CVh, 4, p. 90). c. Repetition of an argument from Montesquieu, who asserts in chapter II of book II of the Esprit des lois: The people are admirable for choosing those to whom they must entrust some part of their authority. In order to decide they have only things that they cannot ignore and facts that are tangible. . . . But would they be able to conduct a matter, to know the places, the occasions, the moments, how to profit from them? No, they will not. . . . The people, who have enough capacity to understand the managementof others, are not fit to manage by themselves (Œuvres complètes [Paris: Pléiade, 1951], II, pp. 240–41. Cf. note e for p. 93). of the government of democracy 315 with surprise to find out how common merit was among the governed and how uncommon it was among those governing.d Today it is a constant fact in the United States that the most outstanding men are rarely called to public office, and we are forced to recognize that this has occurred as democracy has gone beyond all its former limits. Clearly the race of American statesmen has grown singularly smaller over the past half century. Several causes of this phenomenon can be...


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