Democracy in America Book Review

Democracy in America Review

Democracy in America Book Review

Introduction

Democracy in America is a book that consists of two volumes. The author of the book, Alexis de Tocqueville, completed the first volume in 1835 and the second one in 1840. In 1831, Tocqueville was working as a lawyer in his country (France) when the county’s government sponsored him for a nine-month visit to America to study various aspects related to American democracy. Tocqueville was sent together with Gustave de Beaumont, who was working as a magistrate. The two gathered information through interviews from more than 200 Americans on various topics related to social practices, law and politics (Tocqueville, 2007). Although the primary aim of the book is to examine the purpose and extent of democracy in America, it has extensive information pertaining communication studies. Among other concepts, the book explains the source of American culture and language. The impact of democracy and institutions such as Jury and religion freedom of speech in America is also explicit in the book. The second volume provides an extensive explanation of how democracy influenced Americans to focus on practical science rather than theory. The ultimate impact was deficiency in quality of their products, including drama, literature and poetry works (Tocqueville, 2007). The book is unique in the sense that some of these concepts are hardly explored in communication studies. The extensive exploration of such concepts makes the book qualify for the purpose of study in our communication class. This paper provides a reflective analysis of various concepts that relate to communication studies in the book.

Analysis

In the first volume of the book, Tocqueville begins with exploration of social and cultural aspects of people who lived in different parts of America in early 19th century. Tocqueville notes that the Red Indians who inhabited different parts of North America prior to the entry of people from other regions were socially disorganized and relied more on hunting than agriculture. As people from different parts of the world moved to America, they interacted and started using the same language, which ultimately ended up in building American English (Tocqueville, 2007). The natives also learned the new language and started sharing it with the immigrants. English language was more influential since North America was once a British colony. The Britons, who migrated to America, exerted their influence to the natives and slaves in different aspects of life, including language. They applied criminal and political laws which were borrowed from Britain in North America. However, there was slight modification in laws that were meant to meet the conditions that existed in America (Tocqueville, 2007). Also, people from different social and cultural backgrounds practiced some social and cultural aspects of their forefathers, especially the natives. They also shared different cultural aspects. As a result, American people had a unique culture and language. When reading the first three chapters of the book, I found out that it provided a brief explanation of how the current unique America culture developed. The book enhanced my knowledge about how people from different cultural and racial backgrounds in America ended up having one common culture and language . Exploring how a society built up its culture and language is one of the key concepts explored in communication studies.

In chapter sixteen of the fist part of the second volume, Tocqueville gives an elaboration about how the unique language of Americans was built. According to Tocqueville, the myriad of changes in cultural aspects of American people was highly facilitated by the presence of democracy that was practiced by rulers, rather than aristocracy that was present in countries such as Britain and France (Tocqueville, 2007). Tocqueville notes that the English language that was being spoken by educated people in Britain had significant variations from the English language that was spoken by educated people in America. According to Tocqueville, language usually remains static in a country where autocracy is embraced. Changes hardly occur to the existing words and new words are hardly invented in an autocratic system. This, according to Tocqueville, explains the fact that no significant changes took place in the English language that was being spoken by educated persons in Britain (Tocqueville, 2007). On the other hand, Tocqueville noted that persons in democratic systems like making changes even without good reasons. This is evident in their politics, as well as in their language. Even when they do not have to change words, they try to transform them. In most cases, the new words that are invented by people in a democratic system tend to represent new ideas. They borrow ideas from the daily activities they engage in. According to Tocqueville, this explains the reason many words added by Americans to their English language were acquired from the language of trade, mechanical arts and jargon of parties (Tocqueville, 2007). I found this chapter being quite relevant for communication studies since it provides an explanation of the impact of democracy and aristocracy on language. I had never encountered the concept before or thought about the connection. I learned that democracy and aristocracy have different impacts on language.

In the second chapter of the firsts part of the first volume, to Tocqueville explores the issue of equality and freedom in American society. Tocqueville noted that people of American had a passion for equality and freedom. Tocqueville also explores the same issue in chapter two of the second part of the second volume. Although Tocqueville is concerned with the possible negative impact of too much passion for equality, he notes that equality and freedom coexisted in American society (Tocqueville, 2007). According to Tocqueville, the two were able to coexist because of existence of a local government that supported ways of exercising freedom by citizens. Tocqueville elaborates the issue through explaining key local liberties that were offered to citizens in laws in chapter five of the first part of the first volume. Also, Tocqueville explains that the existence of an independent jury that supported and propagated the local liberties played a major role in enhancing freedom in America. The impact of the jury is explained in length in chapter sixteen of the first part of the first volume. In addition to the existence of jury and laws supporting freedom, Tocqueville noted that religion played a major role in enhancing freedom in America. According to Tocqueville, religion played the role of teaching Americans how to utilize their freedom well. As a result, the government hardly intervenes through interference of freedom. Tocqueville gives a lengthy explanation of the connection between religion and freedom in chapter nine of the first part of the first volume. One of the key impacts of the ultimate freedom noted by Tocqueville is freedom of speech. Tocqueville notes that journalists were hardly restricted in writing content on newspapers. Also, people had freedom of speech which was recognized in laws. Thus, after reading the book, I learned that freedom of speech existed in America for a long time ago. I discerned the source of the current rights of freedom of speech that that are enjoyed by American people (Tocqueville, 2007). I felt that this might have been one of the factors that led to growth of journalism in America. Freedom of speech and how people utilize it is an important concept for communication studies and thus, I found the issue as being important for exploration in our communication class.

In chapter ten of the first part of the second volume, Tocqueville noted that Americans were more concerned with practical science than theory. According to Tocqueville, this is due to the fact that democracy is not conducive to abstract knowledge that is applied in theoretical science, which requires mediation and thought. Although this leads to an increase in material prosperity and innovation, people may end up forgetting principles and hence, dwindle away civilization (Tocqueville, 2007). In the next chapter, Tocqueville notes that this is one of the reasons why Americans focused on quantity and not quality when producing their artistic works. They were less concerned with reality and more concerned with appearance. This could also explain the reason why the Americans did not attach importance to the meanings of monuments, despite being plenty. Rather than taking an intellectual endeavor in literature, Tocqueville notes that people in a democratic society perceive it as a trade and take an industrial spirit. Tocqueville elaborates this issue in chapter fifteen of the second volume in which he explores the differences between American literature and Latin and Greece literature. According to Tocqueville, Latin and Greece literature of aristocratic ages indicated that they did nothing at random or with haste; rather they concentrated on every line that they wrote and tried to achieve perfection. In short, their literary works portrayed exceptional skills (Tocqueville, 2007). On the other hand, the literature works written during democratic ages, such as during the period when Tocqueville visited America, were naturally deficient and did not portray keenness. In addition, Tocqueville noted that the literature works produced during aristocratic ages have remained relevant throughout, unlike most of the literature works of democratic ages, which quickly became irrelevant. According to Tocqueville, the same applies to other aspects of literature such as poetry and drama. For these reasons, Tocqueville argued that the significant disparity between literature works of aristocratic ages and democratic ages implied that literature of democratic ages should not be read (Tocqueville, 2007). When reading chapters nine to eighteen of the first chapter of the second volume, I realized that Tocqueville exposed the negative impacts of democracy on various communication aspects of people, including artistic works, literature, poetry and drama. I did not know about the connection before. I learned that much of the existing literature is borrowed from countries in which aristocracy has existed for a long time and hardly from countries in which there has been democracy. This is an issue that relates to communication studies and would like to explore and understand it further.

Overall, I found Democracy in America as being a useful book for communication studies. Tocqueville gives a background that enables the reader to understand the source of the current unique culture and language of Americans, despite the fact that their forefathers have different cultures and languages. Further, the Tocqueville explains the impact of democracy and institutions such as religion and jury in enhancing freedom in America, which has had a positive impact on freedom of speech among Americans. As well, the book gives an elaborate explanation of the reason why American literature, poetry, drama and other communication aspects created during democratic age might be deficient in comparison to those that were create in aristocratic ages in other countries. The existence of such concepts, which are extensively explored, explains why the book can be recommended for reading in class.

References

Tocqueville, A. (2007). Democracy in America. Ed. Isaac Kramnick. Trans. Henry Reeve.

New York: Norton.