Democracy in America

Full Title:  Democracy in America

Author: Alexis de Tocqueville

Translator: Arthur Goldhammer

Published: 1835 Vol 1, and 1840 Vol. 2

Publisher:  Library of America (Recent translation in 2004)

From the Publishers Description:

“It’s hard to think of a work that has so influenced our understanding of the United States as this—still the most authoritative, reflective set of observations about American institutions and the American character ever written. That its author was a Frenchman, and an aristocrat at that, and that he was balanced and penetrating has often occasioned rueful surprise.

However, de Tocqueville’s distance from his subject is precisely what lends his observations such continuing currency. A few decades ago, for instance, we read Tocqueville for his prediction that Russia and the United States would one day contest for pre-eminence.

Now, we ought to read him (Iraqis and Afghans should, too) for his classic analyses of the link between political parties and free associations and for his reflections on such matters as religion and public life, and “self-interest properly understood.” But many solid translations exist. Why another? Because the Library of America would be incomplete without this canonical work of history and sociology.

And this translation by Goldhammer, the dean of American translators from the French, accomplishes what it’s hard to believe possible: it lends to this unalterably grave work some zest. Never slipping into slang, it gives a colloquial cast, fitting for our time, to a work normally rendered only with high solemnity. The Library of America claims that its editions will stay in print forever. This one’s likely to stand that test.”

(Publisher’s Weekly 2004)

Submitter’s Notes

This book originally published in two volumes in 1835 and 1840 is still today considered as one of the best books ever on both subjects: America and Democracy.

De Tocqueville and his partner travelled to America in 1833 to get information on the American prison system.  And when they were in America, they visited many of the American institutions including various communities, churches, government facilities, and as well spent time with many citizens to learn about the American democracy.

And these volumes are still  used today in American schools for education about the early aspects of America’s founding; and as well l to learn about De Tocqueville’ s commentaries about America and democracy.  This is the single most important aspect of this book : the predictions that De Tocqueville made about America’s future:

  • America is at the forefront of the future of freedom for the individual, democracy in general , and the demise of slavery and monarchy.
  • The contributions of the Puritans to America will be important for Christianity and the establishment of religion in America.
  • America will one day have to confront the hegemonic tendencies of Russia. But De Tocqueville makes no mention of China.
  • America will one day have to confront the growing oligarchic tendencies of the industrial complex, as they pursue a place in the overall government . (Interesting to note that President Eisenhauer mentions that same issue but also includes the military complex in the early 1950’s)
  • Cautions about the tendencies of soft despotism and the growing problem of tyranny of the majority, especially in a democracy.
  • He cautions about the tendencies of social frustrations as the social condition improves.(This will also be a tactic of the political enemies of a democracy, i.e., to exacerbate social frustrations in order to create disorder in a democracy.)

And if we read carefully, you cannot avoid get the impression that the single most dangerous  issue that will face the democracy is apathy among the population.

There have been six separate editions/translations of Democracy in America, all but one was printed in America:

  • 1945, edited by Francis Bowen
  • 1966 by George Lawrence, introduction by J.P. Mayer
  • 2000 by Henry Mansfield and Delba Winthrop
  • 2003 by Gerald Bevan
  • 2004 by Arthur Goldhammer
  • 2010 by James Schliefer and Nolla

For anyone interested in the history of America and as well to read about the  perceptions and future forecasts of America, these two volumes will be appreciated by the student and as well anyone who wants to brush up on their history of America.


Although readily available, in hardcover and in an electronic version.  It is modestly priced and available on many sites such as Amazon for free in other translations.