Alexis de Tocqueville: Insights into American democracy

Alexis de Tocqueville was a French aristocrat who studied American democracy nearly 200 years ago. It is scary how relevant he is today. Photo: Alexis de Tocqueville

CHARLOTTEApril 30, 2013 – A familiar adage we all know says, “History repeats itself.” The less formal way of saying that is, “What goes around, comes around.”

Nearly 200 years ago, a French aristocrat and historian by the name of Alexis de Tocqueville traveled to the United States in 1831 in search of a greater understanding of American democracy. What de Tocqueville learned had such a powerful impact upon him that he wrote two volumes which became masterpieces of political science.

Democracy in America, Volumes 1 and 2, were published in 1835 and 1840 respectively. Among the subjects Tocqueville analyzed were issues such as religion, media, money, class structure, racism, the role of government and the rising living standards and social conditions of individuals in Western societies.

So profound were Tocqueville’s studies that numerous major colleges and universities throughout the United States today continue to use Democracy in America as a text in political science and history courses. Many historians regard the work as one of the most comprehensive, insightful books ever written about the United States.

In a sense, Alexis de Tocqueville was a virtual Nostradamus of American politics. His observations were so powerful and vividly relevant to our present-day world one has to believe that if Tocqueville were alive today, he would be one of the most knowledgeable people about politics on the planet.

As proof, read Tocqueville’s prediction about the United States and Russia becoming the two main global powers as written nearly 200 years ago. “There are now two great nations in the world, which starting from different points, seem to be advancing toward the same goal. The Russians and the Anglo-Americans. Each seems called by some secret design of Providence one day to hold in its hand the destinies of half the world.”

With such foresight in mind, let’s look at a few other statements by the French historian and interpolate them into the context of today.

Prior to the Boston Marathon bombings there were numerous lengthy debates among politicians about our burgeoning deficit and how to deal with it. Immigration was another hot-button issue among others, but the frustration among many Americans as they witness the talking heads on their television sets is that they are spinning their wheels and getting us nowhere.

That is not the America the “greatest generation” defended during World War II. Nor is it the America that Tocqueville observed when he wrote, “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.” The question then is, what happened to THAT America? Where did it go?

On a similar path, which was true in the 1830s and remains even more noteworthy today, Tocqueville wrote, “There are many men of principle in both parties in American, but there is no party of principle.”

Americans who feel betrayed by either one or both political parties, or who believe government is increasingly bloated and inefficient to the detriment of the people it supposedly serves, can certainly relate to that.

We all know about the generous government perks of our lawmakers. We have all been treated to Obamacare which is so good that our government officials have made other arrangements so they can avoid it. Surely one of Tocqueville’s quotes about our legislators rings true: “In other words, a democratic government is the only one in which those who vote for a tax can escape the obligation to pay it.”

Sound familiar?

Alexis de Tocqueville was a profound thinker and observer of democracy as we know it. Certainly a few paragraphs from his writings will not entice most readers to make a beeline to seek out his voluminous observations. But they do point out in glaring fashion the monumental tasks we face before us and the need for Americans to find true leaders who are skilled in the art of diplomacy and statesmanship. Leaders who believe in the American spirit and the American people and our individuality and resourcefulness.

What America needs is true leadership and less partisanship and politics. Or as stated so brilliantly by a Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville, “When the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness.”

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Peabod is Bob Taylor, owner of Taylored Media Services in CharlotteNCTaylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club, which creates, and escorts customized tours to SwitzerlandFrance and Italy for groups of 12 or more.

Inquiries for groups can be made at Taylored Media has produced marketing videos for British Rail, Rail Europe, Switzerland Tourism, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council, the Finnish Tourist Board, the Swiss Travel System and Japan Railways Group among others.

As author of The Century Club book, Peabod is now attempting to travel to 100 countries or more during his lifetime. To date he has visited 71 countries. Suggest someplace new for Bob to visit; if you want to know where he has been, check his list on Facebook. Bob plans to write a sequel to his book when he reaches his goal of 100 countries. He also played professional baseball for four years and was a sportscaster for 14 years at WBTV, the CBS affiliate in Charlotte.



























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Bob Taylor

Bob Taylor has been travel writer for more than three decades. Following a career as an award winning sports producer/anchor, Taylor’s media production business produced marketing presentations for Switzerland Tourism, Rail Europe, the Finnish Tourist Board, Japan Railways Group, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council and the Swiss Travel System among others. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club ( and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.


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