Literature Study GuidesDemocracy In AmericaVol 2 Part 3 Chapters 1 10 Summary

Democracy in America | Study Guide

Alexis de Tocqueville

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Democracy in America | Vol. 2, Part 3, Chapters 1–10 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 1: How Mores Become Milder as Conditions Are Equalized

Tocqueville regards equal social conditions and mildness of mores as correlative facts. He supports this claim with an extended quotation from a letter by Madame de Sévigné (1626–96), in which this aristocrat displays a casual and cruel indifference to human suffering. As people become more similar to one another, says Tocqueville, they become "reciprocally more compassionate."

Chapter 2: How Democracy Renders the Habitual Relations of the Americans Simpler and Easier

Democracy eases relations in everyday life. Tocqueville compares American community spirit with the "haughtiness" and reserve of the English. He attributes this difference to the still aristocratic but slowly equalizing order of English society, in which "ranks still exist, but one no longer sees those who occupy them clearly at first glance." By contrast, Americans mingle freely among themselves without prejudice.

Chapter 3: Why the Americans Have So Little Oversensitivity in Their Country and Show Themselves to Be So Oversensitive in Ours

Tocqueville focuses in this chapter on the topic of politeness and "social graces," esteeming Americans to be very tolerant at home and paradoxically exacting when visiting Europe. He attributes this to their unfamiliarity with the protocols for interaction between different classes in aristocratic society. He illustrates his outlook with several humorous anecdotes of encounters with Americans.

Chapter 4: Consequences of the Preceding Three Chapters

Tocqueville observes that Americans of all classes are generous in offering aid to those in need. In Europe, he sees similar behavior within segments of society. He conjectures that social reciprocity increases as democratic equality increases.

Chapter 5: How Democracy Modifies the Relations of Servant and Master

On a spectrum extending from severity (the English) to familiarity (the French) in master-servant relations, Americans find themselves somewhere in between the two extremes. In democratic countries, the state of domestic service is not considered degrading. This is because it is temporary and freely chosen. Tocqueville is careful to exclude the slavery conditions of the South from these observations.

Chapter 6: How Democratic Institutions and Mores Tend to Raise the Price and Shorten the Duration of Leases

In this chapter, Tocqueville turns to a series of comments on economic topics. American conditions are strongly influenced by the fact that in the United States land is cheap and abundant—and also by the fact that land "yields little." Low yields make it hard for products to be divided between a property owner and a tenant farmer.

Chapter 7: Influence of Democracy on Wages

Tocqueville suggests that a "slow and progressive rise in wages is one of the general laws that regulate democratic societies." But he also observes that in certain industries, such as manufacturing, the owners have the upper hand and may reduce wages during hard times to ensure profit. This dependence, which may drive workers to desperation, is a matter of concern for legislators wanting to maintain an orderly society.

Chapter 8: Influence of Democracy on the Family

Tocqueville opens this chapter by observing that in America there seems to be "no adolescence." Young men become their own masters, not beholden to the formal aristocratic structures of family relations. Summing up the last few chapters, he proposes in general that democracy has the effect of loosening "social bonds" but of tightening "natural bonds" by bringing relatives together.

Chapter 9: Education of Girls in the United States

Tocqueville repeats here his assertion in the first volume that "it is woman who makes mores." Hence the education of girls is critically important. Tocqueville observes that, in comparison with women in other countries, American women are outstanding for their independence.

Chapter 10: How the Girl Is Found beneath the Features of the Wife

Whereas girls are apparently less constrained in America than elsewhere, married women are comparatively more so. Marriage is taken very seriously in America—unsurprising, since the Americans are simultaneously a Puritan nation and a commercial people. Tocqueville observes that the strength and independence of America's girls is to be seen in the steadfastness of American wives.

Analysis

Tocqueville's topic in Part 3 of this volume is the influence of democracy on mores. Thus, it is to be expected that he will cast a wide net. His topics range from casual social contact to the social graces, from master-servant relations to land prices and wages. He also discusses the education of girls and the characteristics of American marriages. Perhaps the most general and far-reaching opinion in this section is the idea that women create the mores of society (Chapter 9).

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