An Exploration of Individualism as Described by Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America

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An Exploration of Individualism

As Described By Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy In America

The classic work Democracy In America by Alexis de Tocqueville has been the reason for scholarly pursuit as well as strife within that same community. Through a brief examination of this text, several of Tocqueville’s arguments helped to define many of the constructs that made America what it was as well as those that have led to what it has become today. Of the many themes and ideas presented by Tocqueville, his thoughts on individualism struck the loudest chord with me.

Tocqueville describes America as a society of joiners because of the fact that it is a country almost entirely composed of immigrants. This, in addition to the
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Tocqueville then goes on to describe an America where the individualism described above leads to a desire for materialistic wealth that “disposes men to believe that all is nothing but matter" (p. 519). He talks about how this can lead to an American society that emphasizes development of "the goods of the body" (p. 521) and disregards the development of the mind and care of the soul. Tocqueville qualifies these statements by making the claim that there is no other country that is "less occupied with philosophy than the United States" (p. 403). It is both profound and interesting that Tocqueville saw this happening in his time as it has certainly continued and grown since then. The epidemic of people, like the Kardashians, becoming celebrities for doing nothing perfectly illustrates what he describes as "minds so disposed, every new method that leads to wealth by a shorter path . . . every discovery that facilitates pleasures and augments them seems to be the most magnificent effort of human intelligence" (p. 436).

These observations lead to another important point of Tocqueville’s, the lack of understanding and allowance for the "profound, slow work" (p. 435) of ones own mind. During his travels Tocqueville found few people that would take the time to develop a true passion and desire for introspection and contemplation. It is because of this that America eventually gave birth to philosophy and the practice of pragmatism

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