Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter 13 a: How Equality Divides the Americans Naturally into a Multitude of Small Particular Societies b - Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition, vol. 4
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
chapter 13 a: How Equality Divides the Americans Naturally into a Multitude of Small Particular Societies b - 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.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
This bilingual edition of Tocqueville’s work contains a new English translation of the French critical edition published in 1990. The copyright to the French version is held by J. Vrin and it is not available online. The copyright to the English translation, the translator’s note, and index is held by Liberty Fund.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
How Equality Divides the Americans Naturally into a Multitude of Small Particular Societiesb
You would be led to believe that the ultimate consequence and necessary effect of democratic institutions is to mix citizens in private life as well as in public life, and to force them all to lead a common existence [<to mingle them constantly in the same pleasures and in the same affairs.
Some of the legislators of antiquity had tried it and the Convention attempted it in our times.>]
That is to understand in a very crude and very tyrannical way the equality that arises from democracy.
There is no social state or laws that can make men so similar that education, fortune and tastes do not put some difference between them, and if different men can sometimes find it in their interest to do the same things in common, you must believe that they will never find their pleasure in doing so. So they will always, whatever you do, slip out of the hand of the legislator; and escaping in some way from the circle in which you try to enclose them, they will establish, alongside the great political society, small private societies, whose bond will be the similarity of conditions, habits and mores.
In the United States, citizens do not have any preeminence over each other; they owe each other reciprocally neither obedience nor respect; they administer justice together and govern the State, and in general they all join together to deal with the matters that influence the common destiny; but I never heard it said that anyone claimed to lead them all to amuse themselves in the same way or to enjoy themselves mixed haphazardly together in the same places.
The Americans, who mingle so easily within political assemblies and courtrooms, on the contrary, separate themselves with great care into small very distinct associations, in order to enjoy the pleasures of private life all by themselves. Each one of them readily recognizes all of his fellow citizens as his equals, but he receives only a very small number among his friends and guests.
That seems very natural to me. As the circle of public society expands, it must be expected that the sphere of private relations will narrow; instead of imagining that the citizens of new societies are going to end up living in common, I am afraid indeed that they will finally end up by forming nothing more than very small cliques.
Among aristocratic peoples, the different classes are like vast enclosures which you cannot leave and which you cannot enter. The classes do not communicate with each other; but within the interior of each one of them, men inevitably talk to each other every day. Even when they do not naturally suit each other, the general affinity of the same condition draws them closer.c
But, when neither law nor custom takes charge of establishing frequent and habitual relations between certain men, the accidental similarity of opinions and propensities decides it; which varies particular societies infinitely.
In democracies, where citizens never differ much from one another and are naturally so close that at each instant they can all blend into a common mass, a multitude of artificial and arbitrary classifications is created by the aid of which each man tries to set himself apart, for fear of being dragged despite himself into the crowd.
It can never fail to be so; for you can change human institutions, but not man. Whatever the general effort of a society to make citizens equal and similar, the particular pride of individuals will always try to escape from the level, and will want to form somewhere an inequality from which he profits.
In aristocracies, men are separated from each other by high immobile barriers; in democracies, they are divided by a multitude of small, nearly invisible threads, which break at every moment and change place constantly.
Thus, whatever the progress of equality, a large number of small private associations among democratic peoples will always be formed amid the great political society. But none of them will resemble, in manners, the upper class that directs aristocracies.
[a. ] In aristocratic countries, each class forms like a great natural friendship that obliges men to see and to meet each other.
When there are no longer any classes that inevitably hold a certain number of men together, there is nothing more than whim, instinct, taste that draws them together, which multiplies particular societies infinitely.
The Americans who mingle constantly with each other in order to deal with common affairs, set themselves carefully apart with a small number of friends in order to enjoy private life” (YTC, CVf, p. 45).
[b. ] Variant of the title on the jacket of the manuscript: how democracy [v: equality] after destroying the great barriers that separated men, divides them into a multitude of small particular societies.
[c. ] When men classed within an aristocracy are all part of a hierarchy, each one, at whatever place in the social chain where he is located, finds above and below him one of his fellows with whom he is in daily contact. He judges that his interest as well as his duty is to serve these two men in all encounters. But he remains a stranger and almost an enemy to all the others.
They finish by believing that all men are not part of the same humanity.
It is not a complete insensitivity, it is a (illegible word) sensitivity (YTC, CVa, pp. 6-7).