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chapter 11 a: How Equality of Conditions Contributes to Maintaining Good Morals in America - Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition, vol. 4 
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. 4.
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How Equality of Conditions Contributes to Maintaining Good Morals in America
There are philosophers and historians who have said, or implied, that women were more or less severe in their morals depending on whether they lived farther from or closer to the equator. That is getting out of the matter cheaply, and in this case, a globe and a compass would suffice to resolve in an instant one of the most difficult problems that humanity presents.
I do not see that this materialistic doctrine is established by the facts.
The same nations have shown themselves, in different periods of their history, chaste or dissolute. So the regularity or the disorderliness of their morals is due to a few changeable causes, and not only to the nature of the country, which did not change.
I will not deny that, in certain climates, the passions that arise from the mutual attraction of the sexes are particularly ardent; but I think that this natural ardor can always be excited or restrained by the social state and the political institutions.
Although the travelers who have visited North America differ among themselves on several points, they all agree in noting that morals there are infinitely more severe than anywhere else.
It is clear that, on this point, the Americans are very superior to their fathers, the English. A superficial view of the two nations is enough to show it.b
In England, as in all the other countries of Europe, public spite is constantly brought to bear on the weaknesses of women. You often hear philosophers and statesmen complain that morals are not regular enough, and literature assumes it every day.
In America, all books, without excepting novels, assume women to be chaste, and no one tells racy escapades.
This great regularity of American morals is undoubtedly due in part to the country, to race, to religion.c But all these causes, which are found elsewhere, are still not enough to explain it. For that you must resort to some particular reason.
This reason appears to me to be equality and the institutions that derive from it.
Equality of conditions does not by itself alone produce regularity of morals; but you cannot doubt that it facilitates and augments it.
Among aristocratic peoples, birth and fortune often make men and women beings so different that they can never succeed in uniting. Passions draw them together, but the social state and the ideas that the social state suggests prevent them from joining in a permanent and open way. From that a great number of fleeting and clandestine unions necessarily arise. Nature compensates in secret for the constraint that the laws impose.
The same thing does not happen when equality of conditions has made all the imaginary or real barriers that separate the man from the woman fall. There is then no young woman who does not believe herself able to become the wife of the man she prefers; this makes disorderliness in morals before marriage very difficult. For, whatever the credulity of passions, there is hardly any way for a woman to be persuaded that someone loves her when he is perfectly free to marry her and does not do so.
The same cause acts, although in a more indirect manner, in marriage.
Nothing serves better to legitimate illegitimate love in the eyes of those who feel it or in the eyes of the crowd who contemplate it, than forced unions or unions made by chance.1
In a country where the woman always freely exercises her choice, and where education has made her able to choose well, public opinion is unrelenting about her faults.
The rigor of the Americans arises in part from that. They consider marriage as an often onerous contract, but one by which you are nonetheless bound strictly to execute all the clauses, because you were able to know them in advance and you enjoyed complete liberty not to commit yourself to anything.d
What makes fidelity more obligatory makes it easier.
In aristocratic countries the purpose of marriage is to join property rather than persons; consequently it sometimes happens that the husband is chosen while in school and the wife while in the care of a wet-nurse. It is not surprising that the conjugal bond that holds the fortunes of the two married individuals together allows their hearts to wander at random. That flows naturally from the spirit of the contract.
When, on the contrary, each person always chooses his own companion, without anything external hindering or even guiding him, it is usually only similarity of tastes and ideas that draw the man and the woman closer; and this same similarity holds and settles them next to one another.
Our fathers had conceived a singular opinion in regard to marriage.
As they had noticed that the small number of marriages by inclination that took place in their time had almost always had a disastrous outcome, they had concluded resolutely that in such matters it was very dangerous to consult your own heart. Chance seemed more clear-sighted than choice.
It was not very difficult to see, however, that the examples they had before their eyes proved nothing.e
I will remark first that, if democratic peoples grant to women the right to choose freely their husbands, they take care in advance to provide their minds with the enlightenment, and their wills with the strength, that can be necessary for such a choice; while the young women who, among aristocratic peoples, escape furtively from paternal authority in order to throw themselves into the arms of a man whom they have been given neither the time to know nor the capacity to judge, lack all of these guarantees. You cannot be surprised that they make bad use of their free will, the first time that they use it; or that they fall into such cruel errors when, not having received democratic education, they want to follow, in marrying, the customs of democracy.
But there is more.
When a man and a woman want to come together across the inequalities of the aristocratic social state, they have immense obstacles to overcome. After breaking or loosening the bonds of filial obedience, they have to escape, by a final effort, the rule of custom and the tyranny of opinion; and when finally they have reached the end of this hard undertaking, they find themselves like strangers in the middle of their natural friends and close relatives; the prejudice that they overcame separates them from these friends and relatives. This situation does not take long to drain their courage and to embitter their hearts.
So if it happens that spouses united in this way are at first unhappy, and then guilty, it must not be attributed to the fact that they freely chose each other, but rather to the fact that they live in a society that does not accept such choices.
You must not forget, moreover, that the same effort that makes a man depart violently from a common delusion almost always carries him beyond reason; that, to dare to declare a war, even a legitimate one, against the ideas of your century and your country, the spirit must have a certain fierce and adventurous disposition, and that men of this character, whatever direction they take, rarely attain happiness and virtue. And, to say so in passing, this is what explains why, in the most necessary and most holy of revolutions, so few moderate and honest revolutionaries are found.
That, in an aristocratic century, a man dares by chance to consult, concerning the conjugal union, no other preferences than his particular opinion and his taste, and that disorderliness of morals and misery do not subsequently take long to enter his household, must not therefore be surprising. But, when this same way of acting is the natural and usual order of things, when the social state facilitates it, when paternal power goes along with it and when public opinion advocates it, you must not doubt that the internal peace of families becomes greater and that conjugal faith is better kept.
Nearly all the men of democracies follow a political career or exercise a profession, and on the other hand, the mediocrity of fortunes obliges the woman there to enclose herself every day within the interior of her house, in order to preside herself, and very closely, over the details of domestic administration.
All these distinct and forced labors are like so many natural barriers that, separating the sexes, make the solicitations of the one rarer and less intense, and the resistance of the other easier.
It is not that equality of conditions can ever succeed in making men chaste; but it gives to the disorderliness of their morals a less dangerous character. Since no one then has any longer either the leisure or the occasion to attack the virtues that want to defend themselves, you see at the very same time a great number of courtesans and a multitude of honest women.f
Such a state of things produces deplorable individual miseries, but it does not prevent the social body from being in good form and strong; it does not destroy the bonds of family and does not enervate national mores. What puts society in danger is not great corruption among a few, it is the laxity of all. In the eyes of the legislator, prostitution is less to fear than love affairs.
This tumultuous and constantly fretful life, which equality gives to men, not only diverts them from love by removing the leisure to devote themselves to it; it also turns them away by a more secret, but more certain road.
All the men who live in democratic times contract more or less the intellectual habits of the industrial and commercial classes; their minds take a serious, calculating and positive turn; they willingly turn away from the ideal in order to aim for some visible and immediate goal that presents itself as the natural and necessary object of desires. Equality does not in this way destroy imagination; but it limits it and allows it to fly only by skimming over the earth.g
No one is less of a dreamer than the citizens of a democracy, and you hardly see any who want to give themselves to these idle and solitary contemplations that ordinarily precede and that produce the great agitations of the heart.
They put, it is true, a great value on gaining for themselves the kind of profound, regular and peaceful affection that makes the charm and the security of life; but they do not readily run after the violent and capricious emotions that disturb and shorten it.
I know that all that precedes is completely applicable only to America and cannot, for now, be extended in a general way to Europe.
During the half-century that laws and habits have with an unparalleled energy pushed several European peoples toward democracy, you do not see that among these nations the relations of man and woman have become more regular and more chaste. The opposite even allows itself to be seen in some places. Certain classes are better regulated; general morality seems more lax. I will not be afraid to note it, for I feel myself no better disposed to flatter my contemporaries than to speak ill of them.
This spectacle must be distressing, but not surprising.
The happy influence that a democratic social state can exercise on the regularity of habits is one of those facts that can only be seen in the long run. If equality of conditions is favorable to good morals, the social effort, which makes conditions equal, is very deadly to them.h
During the fifty years that France has been undergoing transformation, we have rarely had liberty, but always disorderliness. Amid this universal confusion of ideas and this general disturbance of opinions, among this incoherent mixture of the just and the unjust, of the true and the false, of the right and the fact, public virtue has become uncertain, and private morality unsteady.
But all revolutions, whatever their objective or their agents, have at first produced similar effects. Even those that ended by tightening the bond of morals began by loosening it.
So the disorders that we often witness do not seem to be an enduring fact. Already strange signs herald it.
There is nothing more miserably corrupt than an aristocracy that keeps its wealth while losing its power, and that, reduced to vulgar enjoyments, still possesses immense leisure. The energetic passions and great thoughts that formerly had animated it then disappear, and you hardly find anything else except a multitude of small gnawing vices that attach themselves to the aristocracy like worms to a cadaver.j
No one disputes that the French aristocracy of the last century was very dissolute; while ancient habits and old beliefs still maintained respect for morals in the other classes.
Nor will anyone have any difficulty coming to agreement that, in our time, a certain severity of principles shows itself among the debris of this same aristocracy, while disorderliness of morals has seemed to spread in the middle and inferior ranks of society. So that the same families that appeared, fifty years ago, the most lax, appear today the most exemplary, and that democracy seems to have made only the aristocratic classes moral.k
[There are men who see in this fact a cause for fears about the future.
I find in it a reason for hope.]
The Revolution, by dividing the fortunes of the nobles, by forcing them to occupy themselves assiduously with their affairs and with their families, by enclosing them with their children under the same roof, finally by giving a more reasonable and more serious turn to their thoughts, suggested to them, without their noticing it themselves, respect for religious beliefs, love of order, of peaceful pleasures, of domestic joys and of well-being; while the rest of the nation, which naturally had these same tastes, was carried toward [added: moral] disorderliness by the very effort that had to be made in order to overturn the laws and political customs.
The old French aristocracy suffered the consequences of the Revolution, and it did not feel the revolutionary passions, or share the often anarchic impulse that it produced; it is easy to imagine that it experiences in its morals the salutary influence of this revolution even before those who brought it about.
So it is permissible to say, although at first view it seems surprising, that, today, it is the most anti-democratic classes of the nation who best show the type of morality that it is reasonable to expect from democracy.
I cannot prevent myself from believing that, when we will have gained all the effects of the democratic revolution, after emerging from the tumult that arose from it, what is true today only of a few will little by little become true of all.
[a. ] Climate, race and religion are not enough to explain the great regularity of morals in the United States.
You must resort to the social and political state.
How democracy favors the regularity of morals.
1. It prevents disorderliness before marriage, because you can always marry.
2. It prevents it afterward.
3. Other causes:
4. Why what is happening in Europe and in France is contrary to this, and this makes our morals become more lax as our social state more democratic (YTC, CVf, pp. 43-44).
[b. ] Good morals./
Democracy is favorable to good morals, even apart from religious beliefs. This is proved in two ways:
[In the margin] Horrible excesses of the Roman aristocracy. See Properce (Rubish,2). The letter to Basil Hall is cited in note d of p. 819.
[c. ] “≠A believing democracy will always be more regular in its morals than a believing aristocracy≠”(Rubish, 2).
[1. ]It is easy to be convinced of this truth by studying the different literatures of Europe. When a European wants to retrace in his fiction a few of the great catastrophes that appear so often among us within marriage, he takes care to excite in advance the pity of the reader by showing him beings who are badly matched or forced together. Although for a long time our morals have been softened by a great tolerance, it would be difficult to succeed in interesting us in the misfortunes of these characters if the author did not begin by excusing their failing. This artifice does not fail to succeed. The daily spectacle that we witness prepares us from afar to be indulgent.
American writers cannot make such excuses credible in the eyes of their readers; their customs, their laws refuse to do so and, having no hope of making disorderliness amiable, they do not portray it. It is, in part, to this cause that the small number of novels published in the United States must be attributed.
[d. ] Fragment at the end of the chapter:
To put in the place where I examine in general if democracy leads to disorderliness. Somewhere near page 3./
It sometimes happens that in democracies men seem more corrupt than among aristocratic nations, but here you must be very careful not to be fooled by an appearance.
Equality of conditions does not make men immoral, but when men are immoral at the same time that they are equal, the effects of immorality are shown more easily on the outside.
For, among democratic peoples, since citizens have almost no action on each other, no one takes charge of maintaining order in the society or of keeping human passions in a certain external order.
Thus equality of conditions does not create the corruption of morals, but sometimes it exposes it.
[e. ] “There is no man so powerful that he is able to struggle successfully for long against the whole of the customs and the opinions of his contemporaries, and reason will never be right against everyone” (Rubish, 2).
[f. ] If that gets to the point that women give themselves to the first one who comes along without defending themselves, a horrible corruption can result, but it can also happen that you do not attack women from whom you expect some resistance.
It then happens that there is a multitude of streetwalkers [v: courtesans] and honest women.
[In the margin: Men always have the time to make love, but not courtship./
Man always attacks no matter what you do. The important thing is that women defend themselves well] (rubish of the chapters on the woman,Rubish, 2).
[g. ] Love in democracies./
Sentiment rarer but when .-.-.-.- more disorderly, freer from all rules than in aristocracies.
The greatest love during the century of Louis XIV stopped before certain facts, certain rules of language, certain ideas that would not stop it today.
[In the margin: See the Romans, the conversations of that time./
A certain moderation of language reigns amid the disorder of the senses.]
I am speaking here only about the barrier that customs present to it and not about the barrier that virtue presents. The latter is found in all social forms. It weakens or widens only when the core of mores is altered (rubish of the chapters on the woman,Rubish, 2).
[h. ] “<I hardly doubt that the democratic movement of today has contributed to the loosening that we witness, but this seems to me due particularly to our democracy and not to democracy in general>” (Rubish, 2).
[j. ] “Take away their power and they tear down all the rest themselves. In their obscene rest, they no longer cultivate even the intellectual tastes that embellished the glorious leisure of their fathers. But most plunge into a gross well-being and console themselves with horses and dogs for not being able to govern the State” (YTC, CVc, p. 54).
“They will be like the Jews among the Christian nations of the Middle Ages [v: after the destruction of the temple], but different from the Jews on one point; they will not perpetuate themselves [v: like them they will await a Messiah who will not come]” (YTC, CVc, p. 60). This same note appears on the back of the jacket of the rubishsociability of the americans. See note c of pp. 1263-64.
[k. ] “Corc[elle (ed.)]. advises me (12 August 1837) to explain my thought when I say that the loosening of morals is greater today than fifty years ago, and to make some distinctions .-.-.-.- which such a judgment does not seem .-.-.- correct.
“His advice seems to me very difficult to follow in the text, whose rapidity does not allow me to stop, but it can be done in a note at the bottom of the page” (rubish of the chapters on the woman,Rubish, 2). The Corcelles stayed at the Tocqueville château from the end of July to mid-August 1837 (see Correspondance avec Corcelle, OC,XV, 1, p. 81).