Democracy in America

Democracy in America

Democracy in America

Democracy in America

Synopsis

This new abridged translation of Democracy in America reflects the rich Tocqueville scholarship of the past forty years, and restores chapters central to Tocqueville's analysis absent from previous abridgments--including his discussions of enlightened self-interest and the public's influence on ethical standards. Judicious notes and a thoughtful Introduction offer aids to the understanding of a masterpiece of nineteenth-century social thought that continues in our own day to illuminate debates about the roles of liberty and equality in American life.

Excerpt

Among the new objects that attracted my attention during my stay in the United States, none struck me with greater force than the equality of conditions. I easily perceived the enormous influence that this primary fact exercises on the workings of the society. It gives a particular direction to the public mind, a particular turn to the laws, new maxims to those who govern, and particular habits to the governed.

I soon recognized that this same fact extends its influence far beyond political mores and laws, and that its empire extends over civil society as well as government: it creates opinions, gives rise to sentiments, inspires customs, and modifies everything that it does not produce.

In this way, then, as I studied American society, I saw more and more, in the equality of conditions, the generative fact from which each particular fact seemed to flow, and I kept finding that fact before me again and

* Pages in brackets [ ] refer to the Gallimard edition of Democracy in America. (For full bibliographic information, see the Translator’s Note.).

Numbered footnotes are Tocqueville’s. Footnotes marked by an asterisk are the translator’s.

† the French word translated as “mores” is moeurs, and derives from the Latin mores. Tocqueville explicitly says in the first volume of Democracy in America that he uses moeurs in the way the ancients used mores: “I apply it not only to moral habits properly so-called [moeurs proprement dites], which one might call the habits of the heart [les habitudes du coeur], but to the different notions men have, to the different opinions which have currency among them, and to the whole body of ideas from which the habits of the mind [les habitudes de l’esprit] are formed” (Vol. 1, Part 2, Chap. 9 [300]). However, Part Three of the second volume is entitled “Influence of Democracy on moeurs [moral habits] Properly So-Called.”

No single word can capture the complexity of Tocqueville’s use of moeurs. Moeurs, moreover, has a long and by no means seamless history of uses in French, including: (1) moral habits (good or bad); (2) morals (often in the sense of good morals: in this usage, one may possess or lack moeurs simply); (3) the habitual ways of an individual, a people, or a society (in this sense, moeurs may be translated as “ways” or “way of life,” “manners,” “customs” or “usages,” or “mores”); and (4) the habitual behavior or ways of animals, which is the subject of ethology. Depending on the context, moeurs will be translated as moral habits, morals, or mores. Moeurs will never be translated as “customs” or “usages,” in order not to produce confusion with coutumes and usages, which are narrower in meaning than moeurs, and appropriately translated as “customs” or “usages.”

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