Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter 14 a: How the Taste for Material Enjoyments Is United, among the Americans, with the Love of Liberty and Concern for Public Affairs - Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition, vol. 3
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chapter 14 a: How the Taste for Material Enjoyments Is United, among the Americans, with the Love of Liberty and Concern for Public Affairs - 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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How the Taste for Material Enjoyments Is United, among the Americans, with the Love of Liberty and Concern for Public Affairs
When a democratic Stateb turns to absolute monarchy, the activity that was brought previously to public and private affairs comes suddenly to be concentrated on the latter, and a great material prosperity results for some time; but soon the movement slows and the development of production stops.c
I do not know if you can cite a single manufacturing and commercial people, from the Tyrians to the Florentines and to the English, who have not been a free people. So there is a close bond and a necessary connection between these two things: liberty and industry.
That is generally true of all nations, but especially of democratic nations.
I showed above how men who live in centuries of equality had a continual need for association in order to obtain nearly all the goods they covet, and on the other hand, I showed how great political liberty perfected and spread widely within their midst the art of association. So liberty, in these centuries, is particularly useful for the production of wealth. You can see, on the contrary, that despotism is particularly the enemy of the production of wealth.
The nature of absolute power, in democratic centuries, is neither cruel nor savage, but it is minutely detailed and irksome. A despotism of this type, although it does not trample humanity underfoot, is directly opposed to the genius of commerce and to the instincts of industry.
Thus the men of democratic times need to be free, in order to obtain more easily the material enjoyments for which they are constantly yearning.
It sometimes happens, however, that the excessive taste that they conceive for these very enjoyments delivers them to the first master who presents himself. The passion for well-being then turns against itself and, without noticing, drives away the object of its desires.
There is, in fact, a very perilous transition in the life of democratic peoples.
When the taste for material enjoyments develops among one of these peoples more rapidly than enlightenment and the habits of liberty, there comes a moment when men are carried away, as if beyond themselves, by the sight of these new goods that they are ready to grasp. Preoccupied by the sole concern to make a fortune, they no longer notice the close bond that unites the particular fortune of each one of them to the prosperity of all. There is no need to take away from such citizens the rights that they possess; they willingly allow them to escape. The exercise of their political rights seems to them a tiresome inconvenience that distracts them from their industry. Whether it is a matter of choosing their representatives, coming to the assistance of the authorities, dealing together with common affairs, they lack the time; they cannot waste such precious time on useless works. Those are games for idle men that are not suitable for grave men who are busy with the serious interests of life. The latter believe that they are following the doctrine of interest, but they have only a crude idea of it, and in order to see better to what they call their affairs, they neglect the principal one which is to remain their own masters.
Since the citizens who work do not want to think about public matters, and since the class that could fill its leisure hours by shouldering these concerns no longer exists, the place of the government is as though empty.
If, at this critical moment, a clever man of ambition comes to take hold of power, he finds that the path to all usurpations is open [<and he will have no difficulty turning against liberty the very passions developed or given birth by liberty>].
As long as he sees for a while that all material interests prosper, he will easily be discharged from the rest. Let him, above all, guarantee good order. Men who have a passion for material enjoyments usually find how the agitations of liberty disturb well-being, before noticing how liberty serves to gain it; and at the slightest noise of public passions that penetrates into the petty enjoyments of their private life, they wake up and become anxious; for a long time the fear of anarchy keeps them constantly in suspense and always ready to jump away from liberty at the first disorder.
I agree without difficulty that public peace is a great good, but I do not want to forget that it is through good order that all peoples have arrived at tyranny. It assuredly does not follow that peoples should scorn public peace; but it must not be enough for them. A nation that asks of its government only the maintenance of order is already a slave at the bottom of its heart. The nation is a slave of its well-being, and the man who is to put it in chains can appear.
The despotism of factions is to be feared no less than that of one man.
When the mass of citizens wants only to concern itself with private affairs, the smallest parties do not have to despair of becoming masters of public affairs.
It is then not rare to see on the world’s vast stage, as in our theaters, a multitude represented by a few men. The latter speak alone in the name of the absent or inattentive crowd; alone they take action amid the universal immobility; they dispose of everything according to their caprice; they change laws and tyrannize mores at will; and you are astonished to see into what a small number of weak and unworthy hands a great people can fall.
Until now, the Americans have happily avoided all the pitfalls that I have just pointed out; and in that they truly merit our admiration.
There is perhaps no country on earth where you find fewer men of leisure than in America, and where all those who work are more inflamed in the pursuit of well-being. But if the passion of the Americans for material enjoyments is violent, at least it is not blind, and reason, powerless to moderate it, directs it.
An American is busy with his private interests as if he were alone in the world, and a moment later, he devotes himself to public matters as if he had forgotten his private interests. He seems sometimes animated by the most egotistical cupidity and sometimes by the most intense patriotism. The human heart cannot be divided in this manner. The inhabitants of the United States bear witness alternately to such a strong and so similar a passion for their well-being and for their liberty that it is to be believed that these passions unite and blend some place in their soul. The Americans, in fact, see in their liberty the best instrument and the greatest guarantee of their well-being. They love both of these two things. So they do not think that getting involved in public matters is not their business; they believe, on the contrary, that their principal business is to secure by themselves a government that allows them to acquire the goods that they desire, and that does not forbid them to enjoy in peace those they have acquired.
[a. ] Liberty is useful for the production of well-being among all peoples, but principally among democratic peoples.
It often happens among these peoples, however, that the excessive taste for well-being causes liberty to be abandoned.
Men there are so preoccupied by their petty private affairs that they regard the attention that they give to great public affairs as a waste of time. That delivers them easily to the despotism of one man or to the tyranny of a party. The Americans offer the opposite example. They concern themselves with public affairs attentively and with the same ardor as with their private interests, which shows clearly that in their mind these two things go together (YTC, CVf, p. 32).
[b. ] The manuscript says “republic.”