Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter 10 a: Of the Taste for Material Well-Being in America b - Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition, vol. 3
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chapter 10 a: Of the Taste for Material Well-Being in America 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 Taste for Material Well-Being in Americab
In America, the passion for material well-being is not always exclusive, but it is general; if everyone does not experience it in the same way, everyone feels it. The concern to satisfy the slightest needs of the body and to provide for the smallest conveniences of life preoccupies minds universally.
Something similar is seen more and more in Europe.
Among the causes that produce these similar effects in two worlds, several are close to my subject, and I must point them out.
When wealth is fixed in the same families by inheritance, you see a great number of men who enjoy material well-being, without feeling the exclusive taste for well-being.
What most strongly holds the human heart is not the peaceful possession of a precious object but the imperfectly satisfied desire to possess it and the constant fear of losing it.
In aristocratic societies the rich, never knowing a state different from their own, do not fear its changing; they scarcely imagine another one. So for them material well-being is not the goal of life; it is a way of living. They consider it, in a way, like existence, and enjoy it without thinking about it.
Since the natural and instinctive taste that all men feel for well-being is thus satisfied without difficulty and without fear, their soul proceeds elsewhere and attaches itself to some more difficult and greater enterprise that animates it and carries it away.
In this way, in the very midst of material enjoyments, the members of an aristocracy often demonstrate a proud scorn for these very enjoyments and find singular strength when they must finally do without them. All the revolutions that have disturbed or destroyed aristocracies have shown with what ease men accustomed to superfluity were able to do without necessities, while men who have laboriously attained comfort are hardly ever able to live after losing it.c
If, from the upper ranks, I pass to the lower classes, I will see analogous effects produced by different causes.
Among nations where aristocracy dominates society and keeps it immobile, the people end by becoming accustomed to poverty as the rich are to their opulence. The latter are not preoccupied by material well-being, because they possess it without difficulty; the former do not think about material well-being, because they despair of gaining it and do not know it well enough to desire it.d
In these sorts of societies the imagination of the poor is pushed toward the other world; the miseries of real life cramp their imagination; but it escapes those miseries and goes to find its enjoyments beyond.
When, on the contrary, ranks are mingled and privileges destroyed, when patrimonies divide and enlightenment and liberty spread, the desire to gain well-being occurs to the imagination of the poor, and the fear of losing it to the mind of the rich.e A multitude of mediocre fortunes is established. Those who possess them have enough material enjoyments to conceive the taste for these enjoyments, and not enough to be content with them. They never obtain these enjoyments except with effort and devote themselves to them only with trepidation.
So they are constantly attached to pursuing or to retaining these enjoyments so precious, so incomplete and so fleeting. [Preoccupied by this sole concern, they often forget all the rest.
It is not the wealth, but the work that you devote to obtaining it for yourself that encloses the human heart within the taste for well-being.]f
I seek a passion that is natural to men who are excited and limited by the obscurity of their origin or the mediocrity of their fortune, and I find none more appropriate than the taste for well-being. The passion for well-being is essentially a passion of the middle class; it grows and spreads with this class; it becomes preponderant with it. From there it gains the upper ranks of society and descends to the people.
I did not meet, in America, a citizen so poor who did not cast a look of hope and envy on the enjoyments of the rich, and whose imagination did not grasp in advance the good things that fate stubbornly refused him.
On the other hand, I never saw among the rich of the United States this superb disdain for material well-being that is sometimes shown even within the heart of the most opulent and most dissolute aristocracies.
Most of these rich have been poor; they have felt the sting of need; they have long fought against a hostile fortune, and now that victory is won, the passions that accompanied the struggle survive it; they remain as if intoxicated amid these small enjoyments that they have pursued for forty years.
It is not that in the United States, as elsewhere, you do not find a fairly large number of rich men who, holding their property by inheritance, possess without effort an opulence that they have not gained. But even these do not appear less attached to the enjoyments of material life. The love of well-being has become the national and dominant taste. The great current of human passions leads in this direction, it sweeps everything along in its wake.g
[a. ] First organization of this part of the book in the Rubish:
[b. ] In the Rubish there is a voluminous sheaf bearing the title rubish and ideas relating to the chapters on material enjoyments. It contains notes and pages of rubish for this chapter and for those that follow, up to and including chapter 18. The rubish for this chapter retains another sheaf with this note on the cover:
what makes the love of riches predominate over all other passions in democratic centuries. /
Chapter to insert in the course of the book, probably before industrial careers./
At ambition, what diverts from great ambition, it is the petty ambition for money.
You devote yourself to the petty ambition for money as preliminary to the other and, when you have devoted yourself to it for a long time, you are incapable of moving away from it./
To put I think before material enjoyments. The desire for wealth is close to the desire for material enjoyments, but is distinct.
The only page of the sheaf bears particularly the following notes:
“Regularity. Monotony of life./
“That is not democratic but commercial, or at least it is democratic only in so far as democracy pushes toward commerce and industry.
“There are also religious habits in the middle of that.”
In another place: “In aristocracies, even the life of artisans is varied; they have games, ceremonies, a form of worship that serves as a diversion from the monotony of their works. Their body is attached to their profession, not their soul.
“It is not the same thing with democratic peoples” (Rubish, 1).
[c. ] “ ≠Byron remarks somewhere that in his voyages, he easily bore and suffered almost without complaint the privations that made his valet despair. The same remark could have been made by a thousand others ≠”(Rubish, 1). Letter of Byron to his mother, Athens, 17 January 1831; reproduced in Correspondence of Lord Byron with a Friend ... (Paris: A. and W. Calignani, 1825), I, pp. 21–22; the same publishing house published a French version of this text.
[d. ] How the different forms of government can more or less favor the taste for money among men./
Among nations that have an aristocracy you seek money because it leads to power. Among nations that have a nobility you seek it to console yourself for being excluded from power. It seems that it is among democratic peoples that you have to seek it the least. There as elsewhere, ordinary souls undoubtedly continue to be attached to it; but ambitious spirits take it neither as principal goal and as a makeshift equivalent [? (ed.)].
You object to me in vain that in the United States, which forms a democracy, the love of money is excessive and that in France, where we turn daily toward democracy, love of money is becoming more and more the dominant passion. I will reply that political institutions definitively exercise only a limited influence over the inclinations of the human heart. If love of money is great in France and in the United States, that comes from the fact that in France mores, beliefs and characters are becoming depraved, and that in the United States the material condition of the country presents continual opportunities to the passion to grow rich. In the two countries you love money not because there are democratic institutions, but even though there are democratic institutions (YTC, CVa, pp. 53–54).
On 28 May 1831, Tocqueville writes from New York to his brother, Édouard:
We are very truly here in another world; political passions here are only on the surface. The profound passion, the only one that profoundly moves the human heart, the passion of every day, is the acquisition of wealth, and there are a thousand means to acquire it without disturbing the State. You have to be very blind in my opinion to want to compare this country to Europe and to adapt to one what suits the other; I believed it before leaving France; I believe it more and more while examining the society in the midst of which I now live; it is a people of merchants who are busy with public affairs when its [sic] work leaves it the leisure (YTC, BIa2).
[e. ] “What makes democratic nations egotistic is not even so much the great number of independent citizens that they contain as the great number of citizens who are constantly reaching independence” (YTC, CVa, pp. 7–8).
[f. ] To the side: “<This sentence is good, but interrupts the flow of the idea.>”
[g. ]“Other reason. In a democratic society the only visible advantage that you can enjoy over your fellows is wealth. This explains the desire for riches, but not that for material enjoyments. These two things are close, but are nonetheless distinct. While it comes to the aid of sensuality here, pride in aristocracies often runs counter to it; you want to distinguish yourself from those who do not have money” (Rubish, 1).