Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter 11 a: Of the Particular Effects Produced by the Love of Material Enjoyments in Democratic Centuries b - Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition, vol. 3
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chapter 11 a: Of the Particular Effects Produced by the Love of Material Enjoyments in Democratic Centuries 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 Particular Effects Produced by the Love of Material Enjoyments in Democratic Centuriesb
You could believe, from what precedes, that the love of material enjoyments must constantly lead the Americans toward disorder in morals, disturb families and in the end compromise the fate of society itself.
But this is not so; the passion for material enjoyments produces within democracies other effects than among aristocratic peoples.
It sometimes happens that weariness with public affairs, the excess of wealth, the ruin of beliefs, the decadence of the State, little by little turn the heart of an aristocracy toward material enjoyments alone. At other times, the power [v. tyranny] of the prince or the weakness of the people, without robbing the nobles of their fortune, forces them to withdraw from power, and by closing the path to great undertakings to them, abandons them to the restlessness of their desires; they then fall heavily back onto themselves, and they seek in the enjoyments of the body to forget their past grandeur.
When the members of an aristocratic body turn exclusively in this way toward material enjoyments, they usually gather at this point alone all the energy that the long habit of power gave them.
To such men the pursuit of well-being is not enough; they require a sumptuous depravity and a dazzling corruption. They worship the material magnificently and seem to vie with one another in their desire to excel in the art of making themselves into brutes.
The more an aristocracy has been strong, glorious and free, the more it will appear depraved, and whatever the splendor of its virtues had been, I dare to predict it will always be surpassed by the brilliance of its vices.c
The taste for material enjoyments does not lead democratic peoples to such excesses.d There the love of well-being shows itself to be a tenacious, exclusive, universal passion, but contained. It is not a question of building vast palaces, of vanquishing or of deceiving nature, of exhausting the universe, in order to satisfy better the passions of a man; it is a matter of adding a few feet to his fields, of planting an orchard, of enlarging a house, of making life easier and more comfortable each moment, of avoiding discomfort and satisfying the slightest needs effortlessly and almost without cost. These goals are small, but the soul becomes attached to them; it thinks about them every day and very closely; these goals finish by hiding from the soul the rest of the world, and they sometimes come to stand between the soul and God.
This, you will say, cannot be applied except to those among the citizens whose fortune is mediocre; the rich will show tastes analogous to those that the rich reveal in aristocratic centuries. That I dispute.e
Concerning material enjoyments, the most opulent citizens of a democracy will not show tastes very different from those of the people, whether, because having emerged from the people, they really share their tastes, or whether they believe they must submit to them. In democratic societies, the sensuality of the public has taken on a certain moderate and tranquil appearance, to which all souls are obliged to conform. It is as difficult to escape the common rule in its vices as in its virtues.
So the rich who live amid democratic nations aim for the satisfaction of their slightest needs rather than for extraordinary enjoyments; they satisfy a multitude of small desires and do not give themselves to any great disordered passion. They fall therefore into softness rather than debauchery.
This particular taste that the men of democratic centuries conceive for material enjoyments is not naturally opposed to order; on the contrary, it often needs order to satisfy itself. Nor is it the enemy of regularity of morals; for good morals are useful to public tranquillity and favor industry. Often it even comes to be combined with a sort of religious morality; you want to be as well-off as possible in this world, without renouncing your chances in the other.
Among material goods, there are some whose possession is criminal; you take care to do without them. There are others whose use is allowed by religion and morality; to the latter you give unreservedly your heart, your imagination, your life, and by trying hard to grasp them, you lose sight of these more precious goods that make the glory and the grandeur of the human species.
What I reproach equality for is not carrying men toward the pursuit of forbidden enjoyments; it is for absorbing them entirely in the pursuit of permitted enjoyments.
In this way there could well be established in the world a kind of honest materialism that would not corrupt souls, but would soften them and end by silently relaxing all their springs of action.
[a. ] When an aristocracy gives itself to the passion for material enjoyments, it aims at extraordinary pleasures; it falls into a thousand excesses that shame human nature and disturb society.
In democratic countries the taste for material enjoyments is a universal passion, constant, but contained. Everyone conceives it and gives himself to it constantly, but it leads no one to great excesses. Everyone seeks to satisfy the slightest needs easily and without cost rather than to obtain great pleasures.
This type of passion for material enjoyments can be reconciled with order and to a certain point with religion and morality. It does not always debilitate souls, but it softens them and silently relaxes their springs of action (YTC, CVf, p. 30).
[b. ] Title in the rubish:of the different effects that the taste for material enjoyments produces in an aristocracy and in a democracy.
At another place in the rubish: “ that the taste for well-being and for material enjoyments in democracies is more tranquil, leads to less excess than in aristocracies and can be combined with a sort of spirit of order and morality. 2nd chapter.
“Honest materialism” (Rubish, 1). In a letter addressed to an unidentified person, Tocqueville had expressed the same idea in this way:
Author of all these revolutions, carried away himself by the movement that he brought about, the American of the United States ends by feeling pushed by an irresistible need for action; in Europe there are philosophers who preach human perfection; for him, the possible has hardly any limit. To change is to improve; he has constantly before his eyes the image of indefinite perfection that throws deep within his heart an extraordinary restlessness and a great distaste for the present.
Here, the enjoyments of the soul are not very important, the pleasures of imagination do not exist, but an immense door is open for achieving material happiness and each man rushes toward it. In order to reach it, you abandon parents, family, country; you try in the course of one life ten different roads to attain wealth. The same man has been priest, doctor, tradesman, farmer.
I do not know if you live here more happily than elsewhere, but at least you feel existence less; and you arrive at the great abyss without having had the time to notice the road that you followed.
These men call themselves virtuous; I deny it. They are steady, that is all that I am able to say in their favor. They steal from the neighbor and respect his wife, which I can only explain to myself because they love money and do not have the time to make love (Letter of 8 November 1831, YTC, BIa2).
[c. ] “ ≠I know nothing more deplorable than the spectacle presented by an aristocracy that, losing its power, has remained master of its wealth ≠”(Rubish, 1).
[d. ] “In aristocracies the taste for material well-being breaks the bonds of society, in democracies it tightens them” (Rubish, 1).
[e. ] In the rubish, the sentence says: “cannot be applied except to the poor of democracies.” On this subject, you read as well the following note: “The remark of Édouard on this point is this:
“ ‘I am speaking here,’ he says, ‘only about the poor or at most about people who are well-off, but there are rich people in democracies and it must be explained why these rich men are also forced to pursue material enjoyments in small ways and share on this point the instincts of the poor.
“ ‘True remark’ ” (Rubish, 1).