Sep 7, 2011

Alexis de Tocqueville’s "De La Democratie en Amerique (Democracy in America)"

I read Alexis de Tocqueville's "De La Democratie en Amerique (Democracy in America)" (not in French original but in Japanese translation) during my trip to the US.

De Tocqueville was a politician and a historian in the French Revolution. He took a journey to the U.S. before the Civil War and wrote this book, which was published in 1835.

It's really interesting and worth reading even nowadays because de Tocqueville was quite insightful, of course; but there are three other important reasons.

The first reason is the era when Tocqueville studied the U.S.

Of course the U.S. have changed significantly in the past 175 years. He wrote that the federation and the president didn't have much power in the U.S and pointed out the possibility of breakup of the federation. In fact the U.S. divided at the Civil War.

But after Lincoln reunited the U.S., the power and the authority of the president became more stable. Franklin Roosevelt expanded the authority of the president and the federal government through New Deal Program and World War II.

But the principles of American democracy have remained unchanged since the age of the American Revolutionary War. Now the American governmental organizations have become so complicated that it's more difficult for us to see the principles of American democracy than the age of Tocqueville. We can understand the principles of the American democracy more clearly through its primordial form, which de Tocqueville described in his book.

The second reason is that de Tocqueville observed American democracy objectively.

He didn't completely agree with American democracy and often criticized it. American people believe in the principles of their own democracy, even if the actual government isn't perfect. They think that they are universal and ideal, but de Tocqueville thought that it was quite unique. I completely agree with de Tocqueville and I think that many people all over the world other than Americans might agree with us.

Since American people believe in only their own democracy, they can't imagine that there could be other ways of democracy. They can't find the preconditions that their democracy is based on and compare the advantages and disadvantages of other "democracies".

They think that they should spread "American" democracy throughout the world, but they have failed in many countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, because they ignored the precondition of "American" democracy.

After World War II the U.S. army occupied Japan for seven years and they restructured the Japanese government. Japanese government had became far more democratic before World War II but after Japan gained independence again "American" democracy became to be "Japanized". (I'd like to write about the "Japanization" of "American" democracy in this weblog.)

The third reason is that de Tocqueville also objectively observed "democracy" itself.

As I wrote, American people living in "American" democracy can't observe their own democracy objectively. In a similar way we, living in democratic countries, can't observe "democracy" itself objectively.

But de Tocqueville, living in the age of French revolution, experienced both of the revolution to democracy and the retroaction to monarchy. He supported democracy but he found the disadvantages of democracy and the advantages of monarchy.

I studied cultural anthropology at the university. Anthropologists, who observe other societies, get not only the knowledge of these societies but also an objective views of their own societies. When we read "De La Democratie en Amerique (Democracy in America)", we can observe our "democracy" objectively.

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