Alexis de Tocqueville Quotes | Quotes by Alexis de Tocqueville

1The Americans combine the notions of religion and liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive of one without the other.

2What is understood by republican government in the United States is the slow and quiet action of society upon itself.

3The best laws cannot make a constitution work in spite of morals; morals can turn the worst laws to advantage. That is a commonplace truth, but one to which my studies are always bringing me back. It is the central point in my conception. I see it at the end of all my reflections.

4When an American asks for the cooperation of his fellow citizens, it is seldom refused; and I have often seen it afforded spontaneously and with great good will.

5Religion 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.

6Every nation that has ended in tyranny has come to that end by way of good order. It certainly does not follow from this that peoples should scorn public peace, but neither should they be satisfied with that and nothing more. A nation that asks nothing of government but the maintenance of order is already a slave in the depths of its heart; it is a slave of its well-being, ready for the man who will put it in chains.

7Not only does democracy make every man forget his ancestors, but also clouds their view of their descendants and isolates them from their contemporaries. Each man is for ever thrown back on himself alone, and there is danger that he may be shut up in the solitude of his own heart.

8Military discipline is merely a perfection of social servitude.

9So many of my thoughts and feelings are shared by the English that England has turned into a second native land of the mind for me.

10Trade is the natural enemy of all violent passions. Trade loves moderation, delights in compromise, and is most careful to avoid anger. It is patient, supple, and insinuating, only resorting to extreme measures in cases of absolute necessity. Trade makes men independent of one another and gives them a high idea of their personal importance: it leads them to want to manage their own affairs and teaches them to succeed therein. Hence it makes them inclined to liberty but disinclined to revolution.

Alexis de Tocqueville Quotes

11Can it be believed that the democracy, which has overthrown the feudal system and vanquished kings, will retreat before tradesmen and capitalists?

12Of all nations, those submit to civilization with the most difficulty which habitually live by the chase.

13There is, in fact, a manly and lawful passion for equality which excites men to wish all to be powerful and honored. This passion tends to elevate the humble to the rank of the great; but there exists also in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to attempt to lower the powerful to their own level, and reduces men to prefer equality in slavery to inequality with freedom.

14It is odd to watch with what feverish ardour Americans pursue prosperity, ever tormented by the shadowy suspicion that they might not have chosen the shortest route to get it. They cleave to the things of this world as if assured they will never die, and yet rush to snatch any that comes within their reach, as if they expected to stop living before relishing them. Death steps in, in the end, and stops them, before they have grown tired of this futile pursuit of that complete felicity which always escapes them.

15Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom.

16The most dangerous moment for a bad government is when it begins to reform.

17Comfort becomes a goal when distinctions of rank are abolished and privileges destroyed.

18It must not be forgotten that it is especially dangerous to enslave men in the minor details of life.

19The regime which is destroyed by a revolution is almost always an improvement on its immediate predecessor, and experience teaches that the most critical moment for bad governments is the one which witnesses their first steps toward reform.

20The 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 Quotes

21I studied the Koran a great deal. I came away from that study with the conviction there have been few religions in the world as deadly to men as that of Muhammad.

22Muhammad professed to derive from Heaven, and he has inserted in the Koran, not only a body of religious doctrines, but political maxims, civil and criminal laws, and theories of science. The gospel, on the contrary, only speaks of the general relations of men to God and to each other - beyond which it inculcates and imposes no point of faith. This alone, besides a thousand other reasons, would suffice to prove that the former of these religions will never long predominate in a cultivated and democratic age, whilst the latter is destined to retain its sway at these as at all other periods.

23It is far more important to resist apathy than anarchy or despotism, for apathy can give rise, almost indifferently, to either one.

24Step back in time; look closely at the child in the very arms of his mother; see the external world reflected for the first time in the yet unclear mirror of his understanding; study the first examples which strike his eyes; listen to the first words which arouse within him the slumbering power of thought; watch the first struggles which he has to undergo; only then will you comprehend the source of his prejudices, the habits, and the passions which are to rule his life. The entire man, so to speak, comes fully formed in the wrappings of his cradle.

25When, after having examined in detail the organization of the Supreme Court, one comes to consider in sum the prerogatives that have been given it, one discovers without difficulty that a more immense judicial power has never been constituted in any people.

26If men are to remain civilized or to become so, the art of associating together must grow and improve in the same ratio in which the equality of conditions is increased.

27On this waterlogged landscape....are scattered palaces and hovels....It is here that the human spirit becomes perfect, and at the same time brutalised, that civilisation produces its marvels and that civilised man returns to the savage.

28When the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness.

29Born 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.

30Nobody is going to occupy a place higher than I.

Alexis de Tocqueville Quotes

31It 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.

32Grant me thirty years of equal division of inheritances and a free press, and I will provide you with a republic.

33There is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America.

34As 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).

35In democratic countries, however opulent a man is supposed to be, he is almost always discontented with his fortune, because he finds that he is less rich than his father was, and he fears that his sons will be less rich than himself.

36Democratic institutions generally give men a lofty notion of their country and themselves.

37[T]he main evil of the present democratic institutions of the united states does not raise, as is often asserted in Europe, from their weakness, but from their irresistible strength. I am not so much alarmed at the excessive liberty which reigns in that country as at the inadequate securities which one finds there against tyranny.

38The 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.

39Society is endangered not by the great profligacy of a few, but by the laxity of morals amongst all.

40The foremost or indeed sole condition required in order to succeed in centralizing the supreme power in a democratic community is to love equality or to get men to believe you love it. Thus, the science of despotism, which was once so complex, has been simplified and reduced, as it were, to a single principle.

Alexis de Tocqueville Quotes

41Because Roman civilization perished through barbarian invasions, we are perhaps too much inclined to think that that is the only way a civilization can die. If the lights that guide us ever go out, they will fade little by little, as if of their own accord.... We therefore should not console ourselves by thinking that the barbarians are still a long way off. Some peoples may let the torch be snatched from their hands, but others stamp it out themselves.

42I 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.

43The most formidable of all the ills that threaten the future of the Union arises from the presence of a black population upon its territory; and in contemplating the cause of the present embarrassments, or the future dangers of the United States, the observer is invariably led to this as a primary fact.

44Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.

45If ever America undergoes great revolutions, they will be brought about by the presence of the black race on the soil of the United States - that is to say, they will owe their origin not to the equality but to the inequality of conditions.

46The most durable monument of human labor is that which recalls the wretchedness and nothingness of man.

47Men cannot abandon their religious faith without a kind of aberration of intellect and a sort of violent distortion of their true nature; they are invincibly brought back to more pious sentiments. Unbelief is an accident, and faith is the only permanent state of mankind.

48Physical strength therefore is one of the first conditions of happiness and even of the existence of nations.

49The taste which men have for liberty and that which they feel for equality are, in fact, two different things...among democratic nations they are two unequal things.

50We succeed in enterprises which demand the positive qualities we possess, but we excel in those which can also make use of our defects.

Alexis de Tocqueville Quotes

51In politics shared hatreds are almost always the basis of friendships.

52It is easy to see that, even in the freedom of early youth, an American girl never quite loses control of herself; she enjoys all permitted pleasures without losing her head about any of them, and her reason never lets the reins go, though it may often seem to let them flap.

53In America, more than anywhere else in the world, care has been taken constantly to trace clearly distinct spheres of action for the two sexes, and both are required to keep in step, but along paths that are never the same.

54A man's admiration of absolute government is proportionate to the contempt he feels for those around him.

55Even despots accept the excellence of liberty. The simple truth is that they wish to keep it for themselves and promote the idea that no one else is at all worthy of it. Thus, our opinion of liberty does not reveal our differences but the relative value which we place on our fellow man. We can state with conviction, therefore, that a man's support for absolute government is in direct proportion to the contempt he feels for his country.

56In the United States the sovereign authority is religious, and consequently hypocrisy must be common; but there is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America; and there can be no greater proof of its utility and of its conformity to human nature than that its influence is powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth.

57In the principle of equality I very clearly discern two tendencies; one leading the mind of every man to untried thoughts, the other prohibiting him from thinking at all.

58The most perilous moment for a bad government is when it seeks to mend its ways. Only consummate statecraft can enable a king to save his throne when, after a long spell of oppression, he sets out to improve the lot of his subjects.

59What is not yet done is only what we have not yet attempted to do.

60The surface of American society is covered with a layer of democratic paint, but from time to time one can see the old aristocratic colours breaking through.