Democracy In America, Alexis de Tocqueville, 1831
Some aristocracies, however, have devoted themselves eagerly to commerce and have cultivated manufactures with success. The history of the world furnishes several conspicuous examples. But, generally speaking, the aristocratic principle is not favorable to the growth of trade and manufactures. Moneyed aristocracies are the only exception to the rule. Among such aristocracies there are hardly any desires that do not require wealth to satisfy them; the love of riches becomes, so to speak, the high road of human passions, which is crossed by or connected with all lesser tracks. The love of money and the thirst for that distinction which attaches to power are then so closely intermixed in the same souls that it becomes difficult to discover whether men grow covetous from ambition or whether they are ambitious from covetousness. This is the case in England, where men seek to get rich in order to arrive at distinction, and seek distinctions as a manifestation of their wealth. The mind is then seized by both ends, and hurried into trade and manufactures, which are the shortest roads that lead to opulence. This, however, strikes me as an exceptional and transitory . circumstance. When wealth has become the only symbol of aristocracy, it is very difficult for the wealthy to maintain sole possession of political power, to the exclusion of all other men. The aristocracy of birth and pure democracy are the two extremes of the social and political state of nations; between them moneyed aristocracy finds its place. The latter approximates the aristocracy of birth by conferring great privileges on a small number of persons; it so far belongs to the democratic element that these privileges may be successfully acquired by all. It frequently forms a natural transition between these two conditions of society, and it is difficult to say whether it closes the reign of aristocratic institutions or whether it even now ushers in the new era of democracy.
The original copyright for Alexis de Tocqueville’s, “Democracy In America,” Translated by Henry Reeve, 1899, is held in the Public Domain because its copyright has expired. Formatting of this digital copy of Democracy In America Copyright © 2011 Steve Farrell and The Moral Liberal. Non-commercial, educational use of individual chapters is encouraged with a live link back to the original copy at The Moral Liberal and a courtesy note to the editors.