Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter 5 a: Of the Use That Americans Make of Association in Civil Life b - Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition, vol. 3
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chapter 5 a: Of the Use That Americans Make of Association in Civil Life b - 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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Of the Use That Americans Make of Association in Civil Lifeb
I do not want to talk about those political associations by the aid of which men seek to defend themselves against the despotic action of a majority or against the encroachments of royal power. I have already treated this subject elsewhere. It is clear that, if each citizen, as he becomes individually weaker and therefore more incapable of preserving his liberty by himself alone, did not learn the art of uniting with his fellows to defend his liberty, tyranny would necessarily grow with equality.c Here it is a matter only of the associations that are formed in civil life and whose aim has nothing political about it.
The political associations that exist in the United States form only a detail amid the immense tableau that associations as a whole present there.
Americans of all ages, of all conditions, of all minds, constantly unite. Not only do they have commercial and industrial associations in which they all take part, but also they have a thousand other kinds: religious, moral, [intellectual,] serious ones, useless ones, very general and very particular ones, immense and very small ones;d Americans associate to celebrate holidays, establish seminaries, build inns, erect churches, distribute books, send missionaries to the Antipodes; in this way they create hospitals, prisons, schools. If, finally, it is a matter of bringing a truth to light or of developing a sentiment with the support of a good example, they associate. Wherever, at the head of a new undertaking, you see in France the government, and in England, a great lord, count on seeing in the United States, an association.
I found in America some kinds of associationse of which, I confess, I had not even the idea, and I often admired the infinite art with which the inhabitants of the United States succeeded in setting a common goal for the efforts of a great number of men, and in making them march freely toward it.
I have since traveled across England, from where the Americans took some of their laws and many of their customs, and it seemed to me that there one was very far from making such constant and skillful use of association.
It often happens that the English individually carry out very great things, while there is scarcely so small an enterprise for which the Americans do not unite. It is clear that the first consider association as a powerful means of action; but the second seem to see it as the only means they have to act.
Thus the most democratic country on earth is, out of all, the one where men today have most perfected the art of pursuing in common the object of their common desires and have applied this new science to the greatest number of things.f Does this result from an accident, or could it be that in fact a necessary connection exists between associations and equality?
Aristocratic societies always contain within them, amid a multitude of individuals who can do nothing by themselves, a small number of very powerful and very rich citizens; each of the latter can by himself carry out great enterprises.
In aristocratic societies, men do not need to unite in order to act, because they are held tightly together.
There, each citizen, rich and powerful, is like the head of a permanent and compulsory association that is composed of all those who are dependent on him and who are made to cooperate in the execution of his plans.
Among democratic peoples, on the contrary, all citizens are independent and weak; they can hardly do anything by themselves, and no one among them can compel his fellows to lend him their help. So they all fall into impotence if they do not learn to help each other freely.g
If men who live in democratic countries had neither the right nor the taste to unite for political ends, their independence would run great risks, but they could for a long time retain their wealth and their enlightenment; while, if they did not acquire the custom of associating in ordinary life, civilization itself would be in danger.h A people among whom individuals lost the power to do great things separately without acquiring the ability to achieve them together would soon return to barbarism.
Unfortunately, the same social state that makes associations so necessary to democratic peoples makes them more difficult for them than for all other peoples.
When several members of an aristocracy want to associate, they easily succeed in doing so. As each one of them has great strength in society, the number of members of the association can be very small, and, when the numbers are few, it is very easy for them to know and understand each other and to establish fixed rules.
The same facility is not found among democratic nations, where those in the association must always be very numerous so that the association has some power.
[The liberty to associate is, therefore, more precious and the science of association more necessary among those peoples than among all others and <it becomes more precious and more necessary as equality is greater.>]
I know that there are many of my contemporaries who are not hindered by this. They claim that as citizens become weaker and more incapable, the government must be made more skillful and more active, in order for society to carry out what individuals are no longer able to do. They believe they have answered everything by saying that. But I think they are mistaken.
A government could take the place of a few of the largest American associations, and within the Union several particular states have already tried to do so. But what political power would ever be able to be sufficient for the innumerable multitude of small enterprises that the American citizens carry out every day with the aid of the association?j
It is easy to foresee that the time is coming when man will be less and less able to produce by himself alone the things most common and most necessary to his life.k So the task of the social power will grow constantly, and its very efforts will make it greater every day. The more it puts itself in the place of associations, the more individuals, losing the idea of associating, will need it to come to their aid. These are causes and effects that engender each other without stopping. Will the public administration end up directing all the industries for which an isolated citizen cannot suffice?m And if a moment finally arrives when, as a consequence of the extreme division of landed property, the land is infinitely divided, so that it can no longer be cultivated except by associations of farm workers, will the head of government have to leave the tiller of the State in order to come to hold the plow?
The morals and intelligence of a democratic people would run no lesser dangers than their trade and industry, if the government came to take the place of associations everywhere.n
Sentiments and ideas are renewed, the heart grows larger and the human mind develops only by the reciprocal action of men on each other.
I have demonstrated that this action is almost nil in democratic countries. So it must be created there artificially. And this is what associations alone are able to do.
When the members of an aristocracy adopt a new idea or conceive of a new sentiment, they place them, in a way, next to them on the great stage where they are themselves, and, in this way exposing those new ideas or sentiments to the sight of the crowd, they introduce them easily into the mind or heart of those who surround them.
In democratic countries only the social power is naturally able to act in this way, but it is easy to see that its action is always insufficient and often dangerous.o
A government can no more suffice for maintaining alone and for renewing the circulation of sentiments and ideas among a great people than for conducting all of the industrial enterprises. From the moment it tries to emerge from the political sphere in order to throw itself into the new path, it will exercise an unbearable tyranny, even without wanting to do so; for government only knows how to dictate precise rules; it imposes the sentiments and ideas that it favors, and it is always difficult to distinguish its counsels from its orders.p
It will be still worse if a government believes itself really interested in having nothing move. It will then keep itself immobile and allow itself to become heavy with a voluntary sleep.
So it is necessary that it does not act alone.
Associations, among democratic peoples, must take the place of the powerful individuals that equality of conditions has made disappear.
As soon as some inhabitants of the United States have conceived of a sentiment or an idea that they want to bring about in the world, they seek each other out, and when they have found each other, they unite. From that moment, they are no longer isolated men, but a power that is seen from afar, and whose actions serve as an example; a power that speaks and to which you listen.
The first time I heard in the United States that one hundred thousand men[*] had publicly pledged not to use strong liquor, the thing seemed to me more amusingq than serious, and I did not at first see clearly why these citizens, who were so temperate, would not be content to drink water within their families.
I ended by understanding that these hundred thousand Americans, frightened by the progress that drunkenness was making around them, had wanted to give their patronage to temperance. They had acted precisely like a great lord who dressed very plainly in order to inspire disdain for luxury among simple citizens. It may be believed that if these hundred thousand menr lived in France, each one of them would have individually addressed the government in order to beg it to oversee the taverns throughout the entire kingdom.
There is nothing, in my opinion, that merits our attention more than the intellectual and moral associations of America. The political and industrial associations of the Americans easily fall within our grasp, but the others escape us; and, if we discover them, we understand them badly, because we have hardly ever seen anything analogous. You must recognize, however, that the intellectual and moral associations are as necessary as the political and industrial ones to the American people, and perhaps more.
In democratic countries, the science of association is the mother science; the progress of all the others depends on the progress of the former.s
Among the laws that govern human societies, there is one that seems more definitive and clearer than all the others. For men to remain civilized or to become so, the art of associating must become developed among them and be perfected in the same proportion as equality of conditions grows.
[Of the Manner in Which American Governments Act toward Associations]t
[In England, the State mingles strictly only in its own affairs. Often it even relies on individuals for the task of undertaking and of completing works whose usefulness or grandeur has an almost national appearance.
The English think they have done enough for the citizens by allowing them to give themselves unreservedly to their industry, or by allowing them to associate freely if they need to do so.
The Americans go further: it often happens that they lend to certain associations the support of the State or even charge the State with taking their place.
≠There are works that do not precisely have a national character, but whose execution is very difficult, in which the government takes part in the United States, or that it carries out at its expense. Such a thing is hardly seen in England. ≠
That is explained when you consider that, if associations are more necessary in a democratic country, they are at the same time more difficult.
Among an aristocratic people, an association can have very great power and be composed of only a few men. In democratic countries, in order to create a similar association, you must unite a multitude of citizens all without defenses, keep them together and lead them. So in aristocratic countries the State can rely on individuals and associations for everything. In democratic countries it cannot do the same.
Those who govern democratic societies are in a very difficult position. If they always want to take the place of great associations, they prevent the spirit of association from developing and they take on a burden that weighs them down; and if they rely only on associations, very useful and often necessary things are not done by anyone.
Men who live in democratic centuries have more need than others to be allowed to do things by themselves, and more than others, they sometimes need things to be done for them. That depends on circumstances.
The greatest art of government in democratic countries consists in clearly distinguishing the circumstances and acting according to how circumstances lead it.
I will say only in a general way that since the first interest of a people of this type is that the spirit of association spreads and becomes secure within it, all the other interests must be subordinated to that one.
So the government [v. social power], even when it lends its support to individuals, must never discharge them entirely from the trouble of helping themselves by uniting; often it must deny them its help in order to let them find the secret of being self-sufficient, and it must withdraw its hand as they better understand the art of doing so.
This is, moreover, not particular to the subject of associations or to democratic times.
The principal aim of good government has always been to make the citizens more and more able to do without its help. That is more useful than the help can be.
If men learn in obedience only the art of obeying and not that of being free, I do not know what privileges they will have over the animals except that the shepherd would be taken from among them.]u
[b. ] “ ≠Remark of Édouard: chapter weakly written ≠”(Rubish, 1).
[c. ] A great publicist of today has said:
It is not by exterminating the civilized men of the IVth century that the barbarians managed to destroy the civilization of that time. It was enough for them to come between them so to speak and by separating them to make them like strangers to one another.
[To the side: To finish associations there, to turn G[uizot (ed.)] against himself.]
It is by a similar path that the men of today could well return to barbarism, if they were not careful.
[In another place] M. G[uizot (ed.)]. wants to speak about the prevention of communicating with rather than about the impossibility of acting on each other. These ideas are close but different. In order to act on each other, they must first communicate with each other. But you can communicate without acting. This is the case of men in democratic countries.
[To the side: If a government forbid citizens to associate or undertook to take away their taste for doing so, it would behave precisely as the barbarians./
to act-----association.](Rubish, 1). See note a of p. 18 of the first volume.
[d. ] “A thousand types of associations in America. Harmony. C. B. 2. Shaking quakers” (Rubish, 1 and YTC, CVa, p. 4).
[e. ] “Three great categories of associations:
“Religious associations. Moral associations: Intellectual.”
[In another place] “Legal associations, voluntary associations: Artificial.
“The government, in some fashion, can well take the place of legal associations, but not of voluntary associations. All of that moreover goes together; legal associations teach men about voluntary associations and the latter about legal associations./
“Among voluntary associations also distinguish political and civil associations” (Rubish, 1).
[f. ] Means to take to facilitate the spirit of association.
It is possible that Tocqueville is referring here to the article of Michel Chevalier, “Des chemins de fer comparés aux lignes navigables” (Revue des deux mondes, 4th series, 1838, pp. 789–813).
[g. ] “In aristocratic countries, enterprises larger and associations smaller.
“In democratic countries, enterprises smaller and associations larger” (Rubish, 1).
[h. ] Civil associations./
[In the margin: Necessary remedy for egoism, more intelligent but more indispensable [and (ed.)] not less natural than sociability.]
Political associations are necessary in democracies as the executive power there is weaker. Without that, the majority is tyrannical.
Civil associations are useful in aristocratic countries; they are so necessary in democracies that it may be believed that a democratic people among whom civil associations could not form or could form with difficulty would have difficulty not falling into barbarism.
So the legislator in democracies must work hard to favor and to facilitate in all ways the developments of the right of association.
Unfortunately it is a chimera to believe that civil association can undergo great development where political association cannot exist (Rubish, 1).
[j. ] “If these things are no longer done by anyone, the people gradually return to barbarism, and if you charge the great general association, which is called the government, with them, tyranny is inevitable” (Rubish, 1).
[k. ] “It is easy to foresee that the day is approaching when men will be forced to associate in order to carry out a portion of the things most necessary to life. Fourierism” (Rubish, 1).
[m. ] “Commercial associations are the easiest and the first; they are the ones that a government has the most interest in encouraging” (Rubish, 1).
[n. ] “In this, as in nearly everything else, the greatest effort of the government must tend toward teaching citizens the art of doing without its help” (Rubish, 1).
[o. ] “The dominion of the majority is absolute, but it would be too permanent if there were not associations to combat it and to drag it out of its old ways” (Rubish, 1).
[p. ] The manuscript says: “. . . to distinguish in it the teacher from the master.”
[[*] ] There are more than that. Look for the figure in the Penitentiary System.
[q. ] The manuscript says: “ridiculous.”
[r. ] The manuscript cites: “three hundred thousand.”
[s. ] “So I am far from claiming that a democratic government must abandon all important enterprises to the industry of individuals, or even that there is not a certain period in the life of a democratic people when the government must more or less mingle in a great number of enterprises, but I do not believe that in that [interrupted text (ed.)]” (Rubish, 1).
[t. ] Short unpublished chapter that is found with the manuscript of the chapter:
This chapter contains some good ideas and some good sentences. Nonetheless, I believe it useful to delete it.
Consult L[ouis (ed.)]. and B[eaumont (ed.)]./
It is clear in any case that this chapter is too thin to go alone. It must be deleted or joined to another. Perhaps to the general chapter on associations.
Tocqueville is alluding to Michel Chevalier, author of Lettres sur l’Amérique du Nord, 1836.
[u. ] In the margin: “There is the kernel of the thought. There is no correlation between help and obedience. You can lend help to a man that you do not command.”