Democracy in America

democracy in america

One of democracy’s core principles is the idea that all citizens are treated equally, with justice and freedom of choice. This balance is essential to a healthy society and a prosperous economy. It requires compromise and collaboration, and the willingness of people to give up some personal preferences for the greater good. It is a delicate balance and the health of democracy depends on many factors, including voting rights, government performance and public trust. The recent loss of confidence in the US government is raising alarms that democracy has hit a critical inflection point. A 2022 report from the Brookings Institution states that the US is experiencing a deep, systemic democratic crisis, which poses a threat to the economic and social health of America. And according to a study by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the US has become more erratic and irrational as democracy has been eroded at home.

In the late 19th century, Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and wrote Democracy in America. Tocqueville saw a country in the midst of a whirlwind transformation. Manifest destiny was physically expanding the nation from sea to shining sea, and industrialization was rapidly changing America’s agrarian lifestyle into a capitalist society. This transformation, although it improved living standards for many Americans, also aggravated sectional tensions between North and South.

At the same time, American democracy was experiencing an unprecedented level of political polarization. The norms of democracy—self-restraint in the exercise of power and a rejection of violence—were eroding rapidly. The Supreme Court had become politicized, and partisan battles had reached even the most insular of institutions.

Many scholars and pundits today agree that the US is not living up to the ideals of democracy. Some worry that democracy is in serious decline and that the US will no longer be able to serve as a model for other countries to follow. Certainly, the international community is questioning whether or not the US should continue to export American democratic values abroad, which only fuels distrust and encourages bloc-based confrontation.

Tocqueville’s warnings are more relevant than ever. It is clear that the United States needs to reflect on its internal democracy and make substantial changes. The country should also pragmatically reassess its foreign policy methods and focus on cooperation instead of confrontation.

This digital edition of Democracy in America includes a full set of footnotes and links to the original works that Tocqueville referenced while researching and writing the book. It was edited by Alan Keely, retired Associate Director for Collection Services at Wake Forest Law School. HeinOnline is proud to partner with him to provide students and researchers this innovative new way to explore this important work. HeinOnline’s unique tools enable users to jump from the pages of Democracy in America into the original sources it references. For more on this and other groundbreaking new digital content from HeinOnline, visit HeinOnline’s Constitutional Law Library. Copyright notice: Text is available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License 4.0 (CC BY-NC-ND). It may be archived and redistributed for noncommercial use only, with attribution to the author and a link to this copyright notice.