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Jean-Baptiste
08-09-2006, 10:57 PM
So Iím reading (just started actually) Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, and Iím trying not to stop every ten sentences to vomit. Please understand that his political point of view is not the issue; he still hasnít gotten around to telling me that anyway. Anyway, Iím only on chapter 3, thatís volume 1 Part 1, and Iíve come across a paragraph that is shockingly reminiscent of some of Giambattista Vicoís theories in his New Science, which predates Tocquevilleís work by about a century. The chapter is about inheritance laws, and this paragraph is asserting that these laws are instituted as (Iím very loosely paraphrasing) a means to power, but they suddenly spiral out of control. Well this is exactly what Vicoís view is, and he wrote a whole book about it, among other things of course. Anyway, Tocqueville prefaces this paragraph by (even more loosely paraphrased) lamenting the gross ignorance of all writers to come before him for omitting this one pertinent realization of the nature of inheritance and its effect on civilization.
Even if this were not the first lie Iíve caught him in (he also made quite a few blunders when dealing with the Puritans and the Pilgrims, one thing that I happen to be fairly well versed in--and apparently it is now Satan who confused the languages at Babel) I donít think I could continue to read his book.
Does anyone have any advice? Anything to appease my bitter conscience. Perhaps itís all a misunderstanding. Tell me something that will change my mind on trusting anything that this man has to say.

ShoutGrace
08-16-2006, 01:04 AM
Jean-Baptiste,

I'm sorry to say that I have not read either of these works. Though I have been mightily curious of Democracy in America for a long time. I was just wondering if you have managed to continue reading the book, if you have any new thoughts about it, if you think you'll finish, etc. The things you pointed out were tremendous and if I ever get around to reading the work I would like to know which areas I might need to do more research in.

PeterL
08-16-2006, 08:59 AM
I have read parts of de Toqueville, but that was years ago. You shouldn't expect to learn any history from the book, except for observations about America during that period. That he mixed up the Puritans and the Pilgrims isn't surprising. Most Bostonians would get them wrong today, and the same probably was true 200 years ago.

The attitude about plagarism was different in times past. If de Toqueville borrowed a paragraph from Vico, you shouldn't consider that plagarism as much as de Toqueville having found a good way to express what he wanted to say.

Jean-Baptiste
08-16-2006, 04:51 PM
Yes, I'm still trying to read the book. Chapter 5 was not all that bad, but do you know what he said? He said that America enjoys a "universal suffrage"! What a bunch of horse crap. The man obviously didn't consider the negro slaves to be members of the human race, not to mention women, and a dozen other minority groups. America does not now, nor ever, and never will have a universal suffrage. Sorry, that's getting a mite political, please disregard. The point is that he seems to be presenting a utopian fiction of American society to the people of Europe in hopes of saying, Why can't we be that good. It's all nonsense. Anyway, I'm finding it an interesting method of focus to compare this work with the work of Henry David Thoreau, who was roughly contemporary with Tocqueville. Thoreau's "Resistence to Civil Government" imparts a drastically different perspective on America at the time.
As for the plagarism, I told my English professor about it, and he said much what you say, PeterL. I guess I shouldn't worry about it so much; I wouldn't worry about it so much but for the insult to my hero Vico, and the way the Tocqueville goes out of his way to say that he was the first to make the point. He could have as easily acknowledged the source and taken up the concept legitimately.
So, yes I'm continuing with the reading, but it's very slow, as I have to keep stopping to write down quotes of complete lies as evidence. I can say, so far, that his idea of the local community being the parent of State and Federal government sounds right on, but I still feel bitter about everything that he has to say, no matter how right on.

PeterL
08-16-2006, 06:54 PM
Yes, I'm still trying to read the book. Chapter 5 was not all that bad, but do you know what he said? He said that America enjoys a "universal suffrage"! What a bunch of horse crap. The man obviously didn't consider the negro slaves to be members of the human race, not to mention women, and a dozen other minority groups. America does not now, nor ever, and never will have a universal suffrage. Sorry, that's getting a mite political, please disregard. The point is that he seems to be presenting a utopian fiction of American society to the people of Europe in hopes of saying, Why can't we be that good. It's all nonsense. Anyway, I'm finding it an interesting method of focus to compare this work with the work of Henry David Thoreau, who was roughly contemporary with Tocqueville. Thoreau's "Resistence to Civil Government" imparts a drastically different perspective on America at the time.


The USA did have universal suffrage, but it didn't include all people. All adult men were eligible to vote, if they went along with the requirements. Requirements often included being property owners or tax payers. The requirement that people pay a poll tax to be eligible to vote was common into the 1960's. You can't apply today's definitions to words as they were used 175 years ago. Language changes as much as society changes.

Jean-Baptiste
08-17-2006, 10:24 PM
"You can't apply today's definitions to words as they were used 175 years ago."

That's true, PeterL, things have change--but I think your being entirely too reasonable. :D Maybe it'll rub off on me.

PeterL
08-18-2006, 07:48 AM
That's true, PeterL, things have change--but I think your being entirely too reasonable. :D Maybe it'll rub off on me.

There's no such thing as "too reasonable".

Jean-Baptiste
08-18-2006, 10:11 PM
My question has become, what should cause me to continue reading this work. I am not an historian, nor do I ever hope to kindle an interest in historical oddities and any diacritic investigations from the perspective of the present. Besides that, the book harbors some major discrepancies in historical accuracy that I cannot overlook, which makes it worthless as historical documentation. Further, I don't enjoy reading it, whereas I do enjoy reading Thoreau despite his blatant bias against social organization. So, if I don't enjoy it and I don't believe it, is there another motivation that may prompt me to continue? The only one that I can think of is to read it as a psychological study, in an attempt to determine Tocqueville's seemingly ulterior motivation. That strikes me as a phenomenally dull time. What do you say?