Alexis de Tocqueville Quotes

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  • In a revolution, as in a novel, the most difficult part to invent is the end.

    Alexis de Tocqueville (1896). “Recollections”, p.85, Library of Alexandria
  • Those which we call necessary institutions are simply no more than institutions to which we have become accustomed.

  • In the absence of government each man learns to think, to act for himself, without counting on the support of an outside force which, however vigilant one supposes it to be, can never answer all social needs. Man, thus accustomed to seek his well-being only through his own efforts, raises himself in his own opinion as he does in the opinion of others; his soul becomes larger and stronger at the same time.

  • It is easier for the world to accept a simple lie than a complex truth.

  • Americans of all ages, all stations of life, and all types of disposition are forever forming associations. In democratic countries knowledge of how to combine is the mother of all other forms of knowledge; on its progress depends that of all the others.

    "Democracy in America". Book by Alexis de Tocqueville, Volume II. Book Two, Chapter V, 1840.
  • Amongst democratic nations, each new generation is a new people.

    Alexis de Tocqueville (2016). “Democracy in America”, p.539, Xist Publishing
  • In America one of the first things done in a new State is to make the post go there; in the forests of Michigan there is no cabin so isolated, no valley so wild, but that letters and newspapers arrive at least once a week.

  • The Indian knew how to live without wants, to suffer without complaint, and to die singing.

    Alexis de Tocqueville (1990). “Democracy in America”
  • 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.

    "Democracy in America". Book by Alexis de Tocqueville, Volume II. Book Three, Chapter XI, 1840.
  • As for me, I am deeply a democrat; this is why I am in no way a socialist. Democracy and socialism cannot go together. You can't have it both ways. Socialism is a new form of slavery.

    Notes for a Speech on Socialism, 1848.
  • Religion in America . . . Must be regarded as the foremost of the political institutions for that country; for if it does not impart a taste for freedom, it facilitates the use of it . . . I do know know whether all Americans have a sincere faith in their religion - for who can search the human heart? - But I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions. This opinion is not peculiar to a class of citizens or a party, but it belongs to the whole nation and to every rank of society.

  • No men are less addicted to reverie than the citizens of a democracy.

    Alexis De Tocqueville (2004). “Democracy in America: The Complete and Unabridged Volumes I and II”, p.500, Bantam Classics
  • Despotism may be able to do without religion, but democracy cannot.

  • Society was cut in two: those who had nothing united in common envy; those who had anything united in common terror.

    Alexis de Tocqueville (1995). “Recollections: the French Revolution of 1848”, p.98, Transaction Publishers
  • The last thing abandoned by a party is its phraseology, because among political parties, as elsewhere, the vulgar make the language, and the vulgar abandon more easily the ideas that have been instilled into it than the words that it has learnt.

    Alexis de Tocqueville (1861). “Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville”, p.277
  • America is a land of wonders, in which everything is in constant motion and every change seems an improvement. No natural boundary seems to be set to the efforts of man; and in his eyes what is not yet done is only what he has not attempted to do. - from Democracy in America

    Alexis de Tocqueville, Henry Reeve, Francis Bowen, Patrick Renshaw (1998). “Democracy in America”, p.167, Wordsworth Editions
  • Slavery...dishonors labor. It introduces idleness into society, and with idleness, ignorance and pride, luxury and distress. It enervates the powers of the mind and benumbs the activity of man.

    Alexis de Tocqueville (2001). “Democracy in America”, p.37, Penguin
  • Born often under another sky, placed in the middle of an always moving scene, himself driven by the irresistible torrent which draws all about him, the American has no time to tie himself to anything, he grows accustomed only to change, and ends by regarding it as the natural state of man. He feels the need of it, more he loves it; for the instability; instead of meaning disaster to him, seems to give birth only to miracles all about him.

  • The electors see their representative not only as a legislator for the state but also as the natural protector of local interests in the legislature; indeed, they almost seem to think that he has a power of attorney to represent each constituent, and they trust him to be as eager in their private interests as in those of the country.

  • It is an axiom of political science in the United States that the sole means of neutralizing the effects of newspapers is to multiply their number.

  • If there ever are great revolutions there, they will be caused by the presence of the blacks upon American soil.

    "Democracy in America". Book by Alexis de Tocqueville, Volume II. Book Three, Chapter XXI, 1840.
  • If it be admitted that a man, possessing absolute power, may misuse that power by wronging his adversaries, why should a majority not be liable to the same reproach? Men are not apt to change their character by agglomeration; nor does their patience in the presence of obstacles increase with the consciousness of their strength. And for these reasons I can never willingly invest any number of my fellow creatures with that unlimited authority which I should refuse to any one of them.

    Alexis de Tocqueville, John Canfield Spencer (1854). “American Institutions and Their Influence”, p.260
  • There is no country in the world in which everything can be provided for by the laws, or in which political institutions can prove a substitute for common sense and public morality.

    Alexis de Tocqueville (2003). “Democracy in America”, p.101, The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd.
  • Christianity is the companion of liberty in all its conflicts, the cradle of its infancy, and the divine source of its claims.

  • I must say that I have seen Americans make great and real sacrifices to the public welfare; and have noticed a hundred instances in which they hardly ever failed to lend faithful support to one another.

    Alexis de Tocqueville (1840). “Democracy in America”, p.105
  • As I see it, only God can be all-powerful without danger, because his wisdom and justice are always equal to his power. Thus there is no authority on earth so inherently worthy of respect, or invested with a right so sacred, that I would want to let it act without oversight or rule without impediment (p. 290).

    Alexis de Tocqueville, Arthur Goldhammer (2004). “Democracy in America”, p.290, Library of America
  • A newspaper is an adviser who does not require to be sought, but who comes of his own accord, and talks to you briefly every day of the common wealth, without distracting you from your private affairs.

  • It is from the midst of this putrid sewer that the greatest river of human industry springs up and carries fertility to the whole world. From this foul drain pure gold flows forth.

    Writing about Manchester in 'Voyage en Angleterre et en Irlande de 1835' 2 July
  • I have an intellectual inclination for democratic institutions, but I am instinctively an aristocrat, which means that I despise and fear the masses. I passionately love liberty, legality, the respect for rights, but not democracy....liberty is my foremost passion. That is the truth.

  • Society will develop a new kind of servitude which covers the surface of society with a network of complicated rules, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate. It does not tyrannise but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

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