Prior to discussing de Tocqueville this week, Jennet began with the disclaimer that a lot of us may not like de Tocqueville or agree with what he has to say. I don’t know about you, but I think I fall in the category of people that aren’t drinking the Kool Aid.
We’ve discussed several things regarding de Tocqueville: racial integration, and geography and religion in terms of democratic maintenance. While I do agree with some of de Tocqueville’s sentiments, he does go overboard at times, and when he does, I don’t buy it.
Let’s start with race. Clearly, de Tocqueville’s opinion about racial integration is bleak. So bleak that his only two solutions to the problems slavery has created are complete separation of the races, or intermarriage between the races. I do agree that ending slavery and granting African Americans freedom would not create full equality between the races, nor would it put an end to any animosity or prejudice between the races. However, I think a better solution than separation or intermarriage is simply time. We have seen, over time, that prejudice has decreased, and races are becoming forevermore equal. Now, we’ve reached a point where diversity in education or the workforce is encouraged and beneficial. This contrasts starkly with de Tocqueville’s idea of completely separating the races, a solution that may not have been necessary had de Tocqueville been patient.
In regards to de Tocqueville’s idea of intermarriage (regardless of how unrealistic this solution is), I think he is essentially saying that the only way to achieve racial equality is to eliminate racial differences. While intermarriage may decrease animosity amongst the races, overtime, reproduction would create a country of mixed race citizens, until race no longer exists. Effectively, de Tocqueville’s argument for intermarriage is saying the solution to the problems caused by slavery is for race to no longer exist.
de Tocqueville also discusses how democracy is maintained in America, and he argues that the geography/land of America as well as religion work to maintain democracy. While his argument that religion instills morals in people is somewhat legitimate, I think laws promote democracy more than he thinks. He argues, in a democracy, that people have control over law, so law does whatever the people want. Yet, there are institutions within American government (e.g., separation of powers) that ensure that law does not change too drastically or inappropriately.
As far as geography goes, certainly things were different in 1830 than they are now. But, de Tocqueville did get things very wrong. He was right that the vast land allowed for prosperity, yet he overestimated the value of America’s geography to its maintenance of democracy. He wrote, “The Americans have no neighbors, and consequently they have no great wars, or financial crises, or inroads, or conquests to dread; they require neither great taxes, nor great armies, nor great generals…” (p. 335). This, certainly, is no longer true, and I think de Tocqueville underestimated how interconnected the world would become. While America’s prosperity does maintain democracy, and the land did lead to prosperity, I do believe it is the institutional structures of government that more so allow democracy to properly operate.
So what do you think? Does de Tocqueville know what he is talking about, or did he spend too few of a time in America to accurately understand what is going on? Am I overreacting, or was reading de Tocqueville a big waste of time?