Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Democracy in America

The London Library's copy of Democracy in America
by Alexis de Tocqueville, first edition 1835.  Half slave, half free.

After publishing Democracy in America in 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville visited London where he was asked if he had thought of doing such a book about England. Writing about America, he said, was easy; you had only to find the central point and everything is in view. But England is an ancient land full of contradictions and overlapping histories, and there was no one place from which it was possible to comprehend the whole.
In America all laws originate more or less from the same idea. The whole of society, so to say, is based on just one fact: everything follows from one underlying principle. One could compare America to a great forest cut through by a large number of roads which all end in the same place. Once you have found the central point, you can see the whole plan in one glance. But in England the roads cross, and you have to follow along each one of them to get a clear idea of the whole. 
                         - Alexis de Tocqueville
But America did have one great contradiction as the map facing the title page of Tocqueville's book shows; half of it relied on slavery, and its consequences remain unresolved to this day.