Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter 15 a: Why the Study of Greek and Latin Literature Is Particularly Useful in Democratic Societies - Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition, vol. 3
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chapter 15 a: Why the Study of Greek and Latin Literature Is Particularly Useful in Democratic Societies - Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition, vol. 3 
Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition of De la démocratie en Amérique, ed. Eduardo Nolla, translated from the French by James T. Schleifer. A Bilingual French-English editions, (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2010). Vol. 3.
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This bilingual edition of Tocqueville’s work contains a new English translation of the French critical edition published in 1990. The copyright to the French version is held by J. Vrin and it is not available online. The copyright to the English translation, the translator’s note, and index is held by Liberty Fund.
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Why the Study of Greek and Latin Literature Is Particularly Useful in Democratic Societies
What was called the people in the most democratic republics of antiquity hardly resembled what we call the people. In Athens, all citizens took part in public affairs; but there were only twenty thousand citizens out of more than three hundred fifty thousand inhabitants; all the others were slaves and fulfilled most of the functions that today belong to the people and even to the middle classes.
So Athens, with its universal suffrage, was, after all, only an aristocratic republic in which all the nobles had an equal right to government.
You must consider the struggle of the patricians and the plebeians of Rome in the same light and see in it only an internal quarrel between the junior members and the elders of the same family. All belonged in fact to the aristocracy and had its spirit.b
It must be noted, moreover, that in all of antiquity books were rare and expensive, and that it was highly difficult to reproduce them and to circulate them. These circumstances, coming to concentrate in a small number of men the taste and practice of letters, formed like a small literary aristocracy of the elite within a larger political aristocracy. Also nothing indicates that, among the Greeks and the Romans, letters were ever treated like an industry.
So these peoples, who formed not only aristocracies, but who were also very civilized and very free nations, had to give to their literary productions the particular vices and special qualities that characterize literature in aristocratic centuries.
It is sufficient, in fact, to cast your eyes on the writings that antiquity has left to us to discover that, if writers there sometimes lacked variety and fertility in subjects, boldness, movement and generalization in thought, they always demonstrated an admirable art and care in details; nothing in their works seems done in haste or by chance; everything is written for connoisseurs, and the search for ideal beauty is shown constantly. There is no literature that puts more into relief the qualities that are naturally lacking in writers of democracies than that of the ancients. So no literature exists that is more appropriate to study in democratic centuries. This study is, of all, the most appropriate for combatting the literary defects inherent in these centuries; as for their natural qualities, they will arise all by themselves without the need to learn how to acquire them.
Here I must make myself clear. A study can be useful to the literature of a people and not be appropriate for their social and political needs.
If you persisted stubbornly in teaching only literature in a society where each man was led by habit to make violent efforts to increase his fortune or to maintain it, you would have very polished and very dangerous citizens; for since the social and political state gives them needs every day that education would never teach them to satisfy, they would disturb the State, in the name of the Greeks and the Romans, instead of making it fruitful by their industry.
It is clear that in democratic societies the interest of individuals, as well as the security of the State, requires that the education of the greatest number be scientific, commercial, and industrial rather than literary.
Greek and Latin must not be taught in all schools; but it is important that those destined by their nature or their fortune to cultivate letters, or predisposed to appreciate them, find schools where they can perfectly master ancient literature and be thoroughly penetrated by its spirit. A few excellent universities would be worth more to achieve this goal than a multitude of bad colleges where superfluous studies done badly prevent necessary studies from being done well.
All those who have the ambition to excel in letters, among democratic nations, must be nourished often by the works of antiquity. It is a healthy regimen.
It is not that I consider the literary productions of the ancients as irreproachable. I think only that they have special qualities that can serve marvelously to counterbalance our particular defects. They support us as we lean over the edge.
[a. ] What is good for literature can be inappropriate for social and political needs. In democratic centuries it is important to the interest of individuals and to the security of the State that studies are more industrial than literary.
But in these societies there must be schools where one can be nourished by ancient literature.
A few (illegible word) universities and literary (illegible word) would do better for that than the multitude of our bad colleges (YTC, CVf, p. 16).
[b. ] [In the margin: To put in the preface when I show the difficulty of the subject.
It is sufficient to read the Vies des hommes illustres of Plutarch to be convinced that antiquity was and always remained profoundly aristocratic in its laws, in its ideas, in its mores [v: opinions], that what was understood by the people of that time does not resemble the people of today, and that the rivalry of plebeians and patricians in Rome compared to what is happening today between the rich and the poor must be considered only as internal quarrels between the elders and the junior members of an aristocracy.
[To the side: that even the democracy of Athens never resembled that of America [v: never could give the idea of the democratic republic].
This idea has been introduced in the chapters on literature and is good there](YTC, CVk, 1, pp. 37–38).
In March and April 1838, Tocqueville read Plutarch. In his letters to Beaumont, Corcelle and Royer-Collard, he admits that he finds in Plutarch a grandeur of spirit that pleases him and makes him forget the moral meanness of the time in which he lives. Various parts of the manuscript retain traces of this reading.