"Democracy in America": A preface

Often, I've noticed, if somebody smart (or pretentious) wants to write something smart about America -- or Democracy -- they start off with an anecdote taken from[Alexis De Tocqueville's "Democracy in America."][1] (As an example: Google up "George Will" and "De Tocqueville" together and you get more than 12,000 hits.)So call me pretentious. ![][2]The years since Sept. 11 have provided us with a debate, new to my generation (though probably not to Baby Boomers who lived through the upheavals of the 1960s) about what makes America itself. That's maybe too broad a brushstroke to paint with, but since the U.S.A., as presently constituted, is a "young" nation - the vast majority the descendants of immigrants -- what binds us together, besides geography, is a set of ideas. They're found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and (some would argue) the Federalist Papers. So when the nature of those ideas is in dispute -- well, it's America itself that we're arguing about."Democracy in America" as far as I can tell, represents one of the first, best attempts to study the society that had been created by those ideas, a couple of generations following their implementation. (De Tocqueville made his tour of the United States in the early 1830s.) And since it remains the go-to text for folks still trying to explain The Meaning of America, I'm going to tackle it.And I'm going to do it in much the same manner and spirit of [David Plotz's "Blogging the Bible" at Slate.com.][3] The animating question there is: "What happens when an ignoramus reads the Good Book?" About once a week, I'll share what I'm reading with you. (If anybody pays attention.) It'll be a mixture of quotes from "DIA" and my own observations.Warning: I'm not a scholar. It'd be nice, in fact, to spend a semester studying this book with an expert. But that's not a luxury I have anymore. So my observations might lack some insight.And that's all the preface I'm going to give you. Next week: De Tocqueville's introduction -- how equality evolved along with civilization, how the results are sometimes anarchic and where (America!) it's actually worked out. [1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy_in_America [2]: http://blog.tcrouzet.com/images_tc/tocqueville.jpg [3]: http://www.slate.com/id/2141050/


Jill Ensley 16 years, 2 months ago

Alllll right, I'll say it....equality in America has "worked out"? And you're gonna trust a Frenchman! ZUT ALORS!


Joel 16 years, 2 months ago

I'm just relaying what a Frenchman from 180 years ago had to say. Granted, in America at that time, "equality" was largely limited to white males. And clearly, much of American history has been about the conflict involved in everybody else catching up. And clearly, those debates aren't over yet.

But you've got to start somewhere.

Mmmmm. BBQ.

16 years, 2 months ago

I'll be following along with you, as I have not read Tocqueville either and look forward to learning a lot from you. If you can finish by August, that'd work out best for my schedule ;)

Plotz' blogs at Slate are fantastic. It's always interesting to see what jumps out at him and never ceases to provide good questions for study.

Joel 16 years, 2 months ago

Thanks Bill.

And Jill: I'm actually hoping that we (i.e.: blogland) have the kind of discussion suggested by your response. de Tocqueville is not inerrant scripture, after all, and I suspect there will be strands of positives and negatives that run a pretty straight line between 1831 and 2007. I'm hoping we can dig into which strands fall into which category, and contemplate the origin stories.

Or something. I'm fully prepared that everybody but Bill's gonna ignore this.

16 years, 2 months ago

"I'm fully prepared that everybody but Bill's gonna ignore this."

Writing just for me? I'm honored. If you could come up with really cool questions like why whores bathe in blood, I'd really appreciate it! http://elborak.blogspot.com/2007/03/gruesome-and-ironic-image.html

Jill Ensley 16 years, 2 months ago

It keeps us young. DUH.

And I'm sure there will be other commenters. One thing we're not short of here on the blogs is opinions. And you know what those are like.

thetomdotdot 16 years, 2 months ago

Lurking forward to it. I could use a little more pre in my tension. Or pseudo in my intellectual. But while I also celebrate the Boraks ability to enliven the otherwise dry subject, it's nice to hear, as one of those that checks this site at least a coupla times a week looking for the occasional serious nugget despite better judgment, how ignorant you think the rest of us are.* Leave the embarrasingly overt clannishness to others. It's not you.

  • Poorly developed run-on sentences with half-assed phrasing = commady

alm77 16 years, 2 months ago

If I find my copy, I'll read along, but don't expect anything fabulous out of me....

Joel 16 years, 2 months ago

Ah, dotdot. I did sound self-righteous. I hate that.

thetomdotdot 16 years, 2 months ago


The fact that I take this abuse puts the twisted nature of our affection in a big red sharpie circle.

Oh stop blushing.

16 years, 2 months ago

Dots: I appreciate the sentiment, and that asterisk looks good on you.

Jilla: It's been an hour and I still have little carbonated bubbles in my sinuses. In a civilized country you'd be required to put a warning label on quips like that.

clayhill70 16 years, 2 months ago

That dwarf French painter also wrote a book about our country? Cool.

Joel 16 years, 2 months ago



Which, unfortunately, I know mainly because of the fantastic John Leguizamo performance in "Moulin Rouge!"

j_d 16 years, 2 months ago

I've been meaning to read it for some time now, but got into math books and studying. Since I don't have to study for the next test until July, I'll be reading along with you.

James Bennett 16 years, 2 months ago

Ooh.I'll dig out my copy and start reading just as soon as I get some free time...

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