Alexis de Tocqueville’s writings resonate 200 years later

Alexis de Tocqueville was a profound thinker and observer of democracy as we know it. His work Democracy in America points out the need for strong leaders in America.

Alex Tocqueville in front of the Eastern Prison that influenced his work
Alex Tocqueville in front of the Eastern Prison that influenced his work "Democracy in America" | Image courtesy of

CHARLOTTE, N.C., June 22, 2015 – A familiar adage we all know says, “History repeats itself.” The less formal way of saying that is, “What goes around, comes around.”

A French aristocrat and historian by the name of Alexis de Tocqueville traveled to the United States in 1831 in search of a greater understanding of American democracy. What de Tocqueville learned had such a powerful impact upon him that he wrote two volumes that became masterpieces of political science.

The two volumes of “Democracy in America” were published in 1835 and 1840 respectively. Among the subjects Tocqueville analyzed were religion, media, money, class structure, racism, the role of government and the rising living standards and social conditions of individuals in Western societies.

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So profound were Tocqueville’s insights that many major colleges and universities throughout the United States today continue to use “Democracy in America” as a text in political science and history courses. Many historians regard the work as one of the most comprehensive and perceptive books ever written about the United States.

In a sense, Alexis de Tocqueville was a virtual Nostradamus of American politics. His observations were so powerful and vividly relevant to our present-day world that one has to believe that if Tocqueville were alive today, he would be one of the most knowledgeable people about politics on the planet.

As proof, read Tocqueville’s prediction about the United States and Russia becoming the two main global powers, written nearly 200 years ago. “There are now two great nations in the world, which, starting from different points, seem to be advancing toward the same goal. The Russians and the Anglo-Americans. Each seems called by some secret design of Providence one day to hold in its hand the destinies of half the world.”

With such foresight in mind, let’s look at a few other statements by the French historian and interpolate them into the context of today.

Prior to the Boston Marathon bombings there were numerous lengthy debates among politicians about our burgeoning deficit and how to deal with it. It still is.

Immigration was another hot-button issue among others, but the frustration among many Americans as they witness the talking heads on their television sets is that they these so-called “experts” are merely spinning their wheels and getting us nowhere.

That is not the same America the “greatest generation” defended during World War II. Nor is it the America that Tocqueville observed when he wrote, “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”

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The question then is, what happened to THAT America? Where did it go?

On a similar path, which was true in the 1830s and remains even more so today, Tocqueville wrote, “There are many men of principle in both parties in America, but there is no party of principle.”

Americans who feel betrayed by either or both political parties or who believe that government is increasingly bloated and inefficient to the detriment of the people it supposedly serves can certainly relate to that.

We all know about the generous government perks our lawmakers personally inherit for their “public service.” We have all been treated to Obamacare, which is so good that our government officials have made other arrangements so they can avoid it. Surely one of Tocqueville’s opinions about our legislators rings true: “In other words, a democratic government is the only one in which those who vote for a tax can escape the obligation to pay it.”

Sound familiar?

Alexis de Tocqueville was a profound thinker and observer of democracy as we know it. Excerpting a few paragraphs from his writings may not entice most readers to make a beeline to seek out his voluminous observations, but they do point out, in glaring fashion, the monumental tasks we face before us and the need for Americans to find and elect leaders who are skilled in the arts of diplomacy and statesmanship. We need to elect strong representatives who believe in the American spirit and the American people and our individuality and resourcefulness.

What America needs is true leadership with less partisanship and politics. Or as stated so brilliantly by that Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville, “When the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness.”

Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award-winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.

Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (

Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

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