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983 pages, Paperback
First published January 31, 1835
I struggle to penetrate God’s point of view, from which vantage point I try to observe and judge human affairs.
Americans struggle against obstacles placed there by nature; Russians are in conflict with men. The former fight the wilderness and barbarity; the latter, civilization with all its weaponry: thus, American victories are achieved with the plowshare, Russia’s with the soldier’s sword.
To achieve their aim, the former rely upon self-interest and allow free scope to the unguided strength and common sense of individuals.
The latter focus the whole power of society upon a single man.
The former deploy freedom as their main mode of action; the latter, slavish obedience.
The point of departure is different, their paths are diverse but each of them seems destined by some secret providential design to hold in their hands the fate of half the world at some date in the future.
Commerce is a natural opponent of all violent passions. It likes moderation, delights in compromise, carefully avoids angry outbursts. It is patient, flexible, subtle, and has recourse to extreme measures only when absolute necessity obliges it to do so. Commerce makes men independent of each other, gives them quite another idea of their personal value, persuades them to manage their own affairs, and teaches them to be successful. Hence it inclines them to liberty but draws them away from revolutions.
The only sentiments that you feel while traveling through these flowered wilderness areas where, as in Milton’s Paradise, everything is prepared to receive man, are a tranquil admiration, a mild melancholy, a vague disgust with civilized life; a sort of wild instinct that makes you think with pain that soon this delicious solitude will have changed face.
The foundation of New England was a novel spectacle, and all the circumstances attending it were singular and original. […]What de Tocqueville recognized was the incredible exceptionalism of America’s founders, and their immediate lineage.
The settlers who established themselves on the shores of New England all belonged to the more independent classes of their native country. Their union on the soil of America at once presented the singular phenomenon of a society containing neither lords nor common people, neither rich nor poor. These men possessed, in proportion to their number, a greater mass of intelligence than is to be found in any European nation of our own time. All, without a single exception, had received a good education, and many of them were known in Europe for their talents and their acquirements. The other colonies had been founded by adventurers without family; the emigrants of New England brought with them the best elements of order and morality, they landed in the desert accompanied by their wives and children. But what most especially distinguished them was the aim of their undertaking. They had not been obliged by necessity to leave their country, the social position they abandoned was one to be regretted, and their means of subsistence were certain. Nor did they cross the Atlantic to improve their situation, or to increase their wealth; the call which summoned them from the comforts of their homes was purely intellectual; and in facing the inevitable sufferings of exile, their object was the triumph of an idea.
— [Page 31, Democracy In America, Alexis De Tocqueville; via google books]
We ought not strain to make ourselves like our fathers, but strive to attain the kind of greatness and happiness that is proper to us.
As for myself, having come to the final stage of my course, to discover from afar, but at once, all the diverse objects that I had contemplated separately in advancing, I feel full of fears and full of hopes. I see great perils that it is possible to ward off; great evils that one can avoid or restrain, and I become more and more firm in the belief that to be honest and prosperous, it is still enough for democratic nations to wish it.
I am not unaware that several of my contemporaries have thought that peoples are never masters of themselves here below, and that they necessarily obey I do not know which insurmountable and unintelligent force born of previous events, the race, the soil, or the climate.
Those are false and cowardly doctrines that can never produce any but weak men and pusillanimous nations: Providence has not created the human race either entirely independent or perfectly slave. It traces, it is true, a fatal circle around each man that he cannot leave; but within its vast limits man is powerful and free; so too with peoples.