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Alexis de Tocqueville (1805 – 1859)


French political thinker and historian, most famous for his work Democracy in America.
Alexis de Tocqueville
The First thing that strikes a traveler in the United States is the innumerable multitude of those who seek to emerge from their original condition; and the second is the rarity of lofty ambition to be observed in the midst of the universally ambitious stir of society. No Americans are devoid of a yearning desire to rise, but hardly any appear to entertain hopes of great magnitude or to pursue very lofty aims. All are constantly seeking to acquire property, power, and reputation.
Tocqueville quotes
What is not yet done is only what we have not yet attempted to do.
Tocqueville
Égalité is an expression of envy. It means, in the real heart of every Republican, " No one shall be better off than I am;" and while this is preferred to good government, good government is impossible.




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In democratic ages men rarely sacrifice themselves for another, but they show a general compassion for all the human race. One never sees them inflict pointless suffering, and they are glad to relieve the sorrows of others when they can do so without much trouble to themselves. They are not disinterested, but they are gentle.
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Nothing is quite so wretchedly corrupt as an aristocracy which has lost its power but kept its wealth and which still has endless leisure to devote to nothing but banal enjoyments. All its great thoughts and passionate energy are things of the past, and nothing but a host of petty, gnawing vices now cling to it like worms to a corpse.
Alexis de Tocqueville quotes
We are sleeping on a volcano... A wind of revolution blows, the storm is on the horizon.
Alexis de Tocqueville
They certainly are not great writers, but they speak their country's language and they make themselves heard.
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There are two things which a democratic people will always find very difficult—to begin a war and to end it.
Tocqueville
Alternative translation: In politics... shared hatreds are almost always the basis of friendships.
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Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot. How is it possible that society should escape destruction if the moral tie is not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed? And what can be done with a people who are their own masters if they are not submissive to the Deity?
Alexis de Tocqueville
The power of the periodical press is second only to that of the people.




Alexis de Tocqueville quotes
He who seeks freedom for anything but freedom's self is made to be a slave.
Alexis de Tocqueville
Two things in America are astonishing: the changeableness of most human behavior and the strange stability of certain principles. Men are constantly on the move, but the spirit of humanity seems almost unmoved.
Tocqueville quotes
By the side of these religious men I discern others whose looks are turned to the earth more than to Heaven; they are the partisans of liberty, not only as the source of the noblest virtues, but more especially as the root of all solid advantages; and they sincerely desire to extend its sway, and to impart its blessings to mankind. It is natural that they should hasten to invoke the assistance of religion, for they must know that liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith; but they have seen religion in the ranks of their adversaries, and they inquire no further; some of them attack it openly, and the remainder are afraid to defend it.
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Every central government worships uniformity: uniformity relieves it from inquiry into an infinity of details.
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The regime which is destroyed by a revolution is almost always an improvement on its immediate predecessor, and experience teaches that the most critical moment for bad governments is the one which witnesses their first steps toward reform.
Alexis de Tocqueville
Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications, and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent, if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks on the contrary to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness: it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances—what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living? Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range, and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things: it has predisposed men to endure them, and oftentimes to look on them as benefits.
Alexis de Tocqueville quotes
Step back in time; look closely at the child in the very arms of his mother; see the external world reflected for the first time in the yet unclear mirror of his understanding; study the first examples which strike his eyes; listen to the first words which arouse within him the slumbering power of thought; watch the first struggles which he has to undergo; only then will you comprehend the source of his prejudices, the habits, and the passions which are to rule his life. The entire man, so to speak, comes fully formed in the wrappings of his cradle.
Alexis de Tocqueville
If a [democratic] society displays less brilliance than an aristocracy, there will also be less wretchedness; pleasures will be less outrageous and wellbeing will be shared by all; the sciences will be on a smaller scale but ignorance will be less common; opinions will be less vigorous and habits gentler; you will notice more vices and fewer crimes.
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I am far from denying that newspapers in democratic countries lead citizens to do very ill-considered things in common; but without newspapers there would be hardly any common action at all. So they mend many more ills than they cause.


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