Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America Essay

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Alexis de Tocqueville's visit to the United States in the early part of the nineteenth century prompted his work Democracy in America, in which he expressed the ability to make democracy work. Throughout his travels Tocqueville noted that private interest and personal gain motivated the actions of most Americans, which in turn cultivated a strong sense of individualism. Tocqueville believed that this individualism would soon "sap the virtue of public life" (395) and create a despotism of selfishness. This growth of despotism would be created by citizens becoming too individualistic, and therefore not bothering to fulfill their civic duties or exercise their freedom. Tocqueville feared that the political order of America would soon become …show more content…
All are then immediately guided towards this beacon; and these wandering minds, which had long sought each other in darkness, at length meet and unite" (410).
<br>While Americans generally do not speak of the abstract beauty of virtue, they recognize its usefulness and realize that "man serves himself in serving his fellow creatures and that his private interest it to do good work" (414). One way to combat individualism is to promote the idea of performing acts which are beneficial to the prosperity of fellow man. While the doctrine of self-interest properly understood does not lead to great virtue, it does establish virtuous habits. "The principle of self-interest rightly understood produces no great acts of self-sacrifice, but it suggests daily small acts of self-denial. By itself it cannot suffice to make a man virtuous; but it disciplines a number of persons in habits of regularity, temperance, moderation, foresight, self-command; and if it does not lead men straight to virtue by the will, it gradually draws them in that direction by their habits" (416).
<br>By bringing people together in a community of common belief, religion also combats individualism. Religion teaches people how to use their freedom well. It is practically the sole means of counteracting the materialistic tendencies of democratic peoples by turning people's minds beyond the physical, material aspects of life. Tocqueville states that "Christianity, indeed,