In the list of historical figures I’d have loved to meet, Alexis de Tocqueville (1805 – 1859) figures near the top.
Together with a close friend, he visited the United States at the age of 25 for only nine months. He went back to France and wrote a book. His book Democracy in America (in two volumes, De La Démocratie en Amérique, published 1835 and 1840) is a political science classic and essential reading for understanding America.
Here’s a bit from the wiki entry on Democracy in America:
In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont were sent by the French government to study the American prison system. In his later letters Tocqueville indicates that he and Beaumont used their official business as a pretext to study American society instead. They arrived in New York City in May of that year and spent nine months traveling the United States, studying the prisons, and collecting information on American society, including its religious, political, and economic character.
More from the wiki —
The primary focus of Democracy in America is an analysis of why republican representative democracy has succeeded in the United States while failing in so many other places. Tocqueville seeks to apply the functional aspects of democracy in the United States to what he sees as the failings of democracy in his native France.
Tocqueville speculates on the future of democracy in the United States, discussing possible threats to democracy and possible dangers of democracy. These include his belief that democracy has a tendency to degenerate into “soft despotism” as well as the risk of developing a tyranny of the majority. He observes that the strong role religion played in the United States was due to its separation from the government, a separation all parties found agreeable.
So here are today’s quotes.
A man’s admiration for absolute government is proportionate to the contempt he feels for those around him.
This applies so perfectly to the leftists and progressives we see all around us today. Their contempt for their fellow humans is astounding.
Adam Smith had noted that an individual’s self-interest can promote the public good without the individual intending to do any good at all. Tocqueville too made an acute observation about self-interest.
The doctrine of self-interest properly understood does not inspire great
sacrifices, but every day it prompts some small ones; by itself it cannot
make a man virtuous, but its discipline shapes a lot of orderly, temperate,
moderate, careful, and self controlled citizens. If it does not lead to virtue,
it establishes habits which unconsciously turn it that way.
Providence did not make mankind entirely free or completely enslaved.
Providence has, in truth, drawn a predestined circle around each man
beyond which he cannot pass; but within those vast limits man is strong
and free, and so are peoples.
Self-interest cannot make a person virtuous directly. But out of his self-interest an individual behaves nicely towards others, and that behavior becomes a habit. Society becomes better. Wouldn’t you agree?