Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter 20 a: Of Positions Becoming an Industry among Certain Democratic Nations - Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition, vol. 4
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chapter 20 a: Of Positions Becoming an Industry among Certain Democratic Nations - 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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Of Positions Becoming an Industry among Certain Democratic Nations
[I have talked about how as conditions become equal the sentiment of ambition spreads.
That is seen among all peoples whose social state is becoming democratic, but among them all ambition does not use the same means to satisfy itself.]
In the United States, as soon as a citizen has some enlightenment and some resources, he seeks to enrich himself in commerce and industry, or he buys a field covered with forest and becomes a pioneer. All that he asks of the State is not to come to disturb him in his labors and to ensure the fruit of those labors.
Among most European peoples, when a man begins to feel his strength and to expand his desires, the first idea that occurs to him is to gain a public post.b These different results, coming from the same cause, are worth our stopping a moment here to consider.
When public offices are few, badly paid, unreliable, and on the other hand, industrial careers are numerous and productive, the new and impatient desires that arise every day from equality are led from all directions toward industry and not toward administration.
But if, at the same time that ranks are becoming equal, enlightenment remains incomplete or spirits timid, or commerce and industry, hampered in their development, offer only difficult and slow means to make a fortune, citizens, losing hope of improving their lot by themselves, rush tumultuously toward the head of the Statec and ask his help. To make themselves more comfortable at the expense of the public treasury seems to them to be, if not the only path open to them, at least, the easiest path and the one most open to all for leaving a condition that is no longer enough for them. The search for positions becomes the most popular of all industries.
It must be so, above all, in large, centralized monarchies, in which the number of paid officials is immense and the existence of the office holders is adequately secure, so that no one loses hope of obtaining a post there and of enjoying it peacefully like a patrimony.d
I will not say that this universal and excessive desire for public office is a great social evil; that it destroys, within each citizen, the spirit of independence and spreads throughout the entire body of the nation a venal and servile temper; that it suffocates the manly virtues; nor will I make the observation that an industry of this type creates only an unproductive activity and agitates the country without making it fruitful: all of that is easily understood.
But I want to remark that the government that favors such a tendency risks its tranquillity and puts its very life in great danger.
I know that, in a time like ours, when we see the love and respect that was formerly attached to power being gradually extinguished, it can appear necessary to those governing to bind each man more tightly by his interest, and that it seems easy to them to use his very passions to keep him in order and in silence; but it cannot be so for long, and what can appear for a certain period as a cause of strength becomes assuredly in the long run a great cause of trouble and of weakness.
Among democratic peoples, as among all others, the number of public posts ends by having limits; but among these same peoples, the number of ambitious men has no limits; the number increases constantly, by a gradual and irresistible movement, as conditions become equal; the number reaches its limit only when men are lacking.
So when ambition has no outlet except the administration alone, the government necessarily ends by encountering a permanent opposition; for its task is to satisfy with limited means, desires that multiply without limits. You have to be well aware that, of all the peoples of this world, the one most difficult to contain and to lead is a people of place seekers. Whatever the efforts made by its leaders, they can never satisfy such a people, and you must always fear that it will finally overturn the constitution of the country and change the face of the State, solely for the need to open up positions.e
[<≠It is very insane to want to contain in a single streambed the always swelling torrent of human ambitions. It would be wiser in my opinion to divide up the mass and to separate it into a thousand various channels.>
I am persuaded on my part that in a democratic society the interest of those governing as well as that of the governed is to multiply private careers infinitely.≠]
The princes of our times, who work hard to draw toward themselves alone all the new desires aroused by equality, and to satisfy them, will therefore finish, if I am not mistaken, by regretting being engaged in such an enterprise; they will discover one day that they have risked their power by making it so necessary, and that it would have been more honest and more sure to teach each one of their subjects the art of being self-sufficient.
[a. ] Among all democratic peoples, the number of ambitions is immense.
But among all, ambition does not take the same paths.
In America, every man seeks to raise himself by industry or commerce.
In France, as soon as [he has (ed.)] the desire to raise himself above his condition, he asks for a public post.
Princes favor this tendency, and they are wrong. For since the number of positions that they can give has a limit, and since the number of those who desire positions increases without limits, princes must necessarily soon find themselves before a people of discontented place seekers (YTC, CVf, p. 48). On the jacket of the manuscript of the chapter, you read: “10 March 1838. Baugy.”
[b. ] In a former version: “I have heard it said that in Spain as soon as a man felt himself in an analogous position, the first idea that occurred to him was to gain a public post and that, if he was not able to succeed in doing so, he remained idle” (Rubish, 2).
[c. ] At first: “. . . toward the power of the State.” In the margin: “<I do not like this word ‘power,’ vague and new.>”
[d. ] In the margin, in a first draft from the Rubish: “Spain, great proof of this.
“United States, no. A thousand channels for ambition” (Rubish, 2).
[e. ] When a man succeeds in rising by industrial careers . . . he generally makes a thousand others and sometimes the whole nation profit from his rise. He establishes an enduring situation in the country.
When, on the contrary, a man succeeds in rising by public offices, his rise serves only himself. It does not even offer anything stable for him. It takes all independence away from him. Finally it prevents, for example, other abilities from being directed elsewhere. This state of things is very unfortunate for the government itself, considering it apart from the nation. For individual ambition in democracies has no limits, and the number of positions to give ends by having limits. When all democratic ambition concentrates on positions, a government must always expect a terrible, always permanent opposition. A people of place seekers makes revolutions in order to have vacant positions when all those that exist are already filled. Industrial (I am using this word lacking anything better) ambition can often come to the support of public stability. Ambition for positions in a democracy can only tend toward upheavals(Rubish, 2).