Alexis de TocquevilleImage of a portrait of Alexis de Tocqueville standing behind a chair

Source: Alexis de tocqueville,Dmitry Rozhkov, Wikimedia

In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville, a French political philosopher and historian, published the first volume of Democracy in America, his analysis of the political system in the United States. The book was a result of his travels throughout the United States from 1831 to 1832. Democracy in America analyzed how democracy impacted every aspect of life in America.

Tocqueville observed how democracy created a strong sense of individualism and that Americans differed from Europeans in that there were no hierarchical societal classes. Women and children were more independent, and the freedom of religion allowed for more religious denominations. As a result of his observations, Tocqueville determined five values crucial to America’s success as a constitutional republic: liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism, and laissez-faire.

Liberty The quality or state of being free
Egalitarianism A belief in human equality, especially with respect to social, political, and economic affairs
Individualism A doctrine that the interests of the individual are or ought to be ethically paramount
Populism A belief in the rights, wisdom, or virtues of the common people
Laissez-faire The practice of limited government interference in economic affairs beyond the minimum necessary for the maintenance of peace and property rights

**The definitions above were adapted from Merriam Webster.

Tocqueville was impressed with a lot of what he saw in America. He admired the spirit of individualism and equality that the American life held. Tocqueville was, however, bothered by some of the issues that American society faced. Tocqueville warned that individualism may lead to "tyranny of the majority" where people would be forced to become like one another. He found it troubling that a country based so much on freedom still allowed the institution of slavery and severely mistreated American Indians. Tocqueville’s work has been used by many political thinkers and historians in examining the ever-changing impact of democracy in American life.

The crucial values identified by Tocqueville are still fundamental values in American society. In this lesson, you will examine how various groups and individuals worked hard to restore traditional American values during the 1980s and 1990s. These same groups and individuals addressed American societal issues through a conservative political resurgence.