What is equality of conditions according to Tocqueville?

Essay by LauraWaltersUniversity, Master'sA+, April 2002

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In his Democracy in America, Toqueville states that equality of conditions "exercising domination over civil society as much as over the government it creates opinions, gives birth to feelings, suggests customs, and modifies whatever it does not create." (p. 9) Clearly, to understand Tocqueville, one must understand what he means by equality of conditions. These conditions are common circumstances, origins, education, and mores.

The settlers of America came primarily from England. They faced the same uncertainty with one another of what they would find upon arriving in the New World. They all had to deal with the harsh landscape and with doing without all the comforts of living in the developed countries they left behind.

They came, not in search of greater political or financial opportunities, but for a place to freely exercise their religion. They shared religious beliefs (within each of the colonies). Therefore, they shared mores, which is reflected in the harsh penal codes they developed by vote of majority.

They shared a common language, common goals. Most were well-educated and left behind comfortable lifestyles. There were no landowners when they arrived in the New World. There was no expectation of superiority, which always come with landed gentry. Freedom and equality are the very reasons most came to the New World. Each citizen was also equally responsible for social obligations. As a consequence American political and legal systems developed to protect freedom and equality. The result was more equality. This equality manifests itself, according to Tocqueville in a society where generations face greater and greater equality.

As Tocqueville writes America's equality in conditions creates "[a] nation as a body [which] would be less brilliant, less glorious, and perhaps less strong, but the majority of the citizens would enjoy a more prosperous lot, and the people would be pacific...