by Jackson Archer
How does equality affect the mind and man’s artistic endeavors? What changes do an equal social condition bring to man’s relationship with others and with himself? The political and governmental consequences of equality are plentiful, but the effects of equality on the internal and external character of human beings are often over- looked. Alexis de Tocqueville outlines the effects of equality in Democracy in America, and describes at length the political as well as social changes that occur when an equal social condition is introduced. The pervasiveness of equality reaches much further than the realms of politics and government; equality affects many social and individual aspects of a political community. The study of the social influences derived from a political change unearths a wealth of surprising observations, and Tocqueville’s American analysis contains a plethora of remarks on the influence that equality has over a body politic.
Tocqueville analyzes equality’s role in the minds and hearts of those in an equal social condition and explains that the roots of many common social aspects of America lie in the country’s extensive system of equality. Tocqueville was an early commentator on the effects of democracy on an isolated country, as America was only roughly fifty years old at the time of his writing; this analysis provides an early view of democracy, yet one can still relate with it today. Many commonalities found in the society of America today can be explained if one traces their origin back to the foundation of the United States. To learn that the modern family rapport is heavily influenced by the prohibition of the laws of primogeniture, which occurred due to the desire for laws that favor equality, would surprise many. One can see the effects of equality in modern America even today, and this thesis is valuable in uncovering their origins from a primary source.
I decided to research Tocqueville after considering the origins of democracy and its place in the world. I found his work to be perfect for my interests; it covers democracy at an early age and in a unique country, it is from an outsider’s perspective, and it is written quite beautifully. Furthermore, I’ve always had an affinity for the history of art and science, as well as a strong interest in social relationships. Democracy in America allowed me to see how much equality effects society in non-political ways. Having never considered democracy in such a way, I wanted to learn more about these effects. The extent to which Tocqueville discusses equality is incredibly overwhelming; only by wading through the information was I able to arrive at my topic. I found his chapters on the development of arts and sciences under democracy to be especially interesting. I had never thought about the differences between aristocratic and democratic art, and I certainly had not imagined that some of the differences could be attributed to the political system itself. I learned that Tocqueville was not just a brilliant philosopher and historian, but a profound early sociologist too. His discourse on relationships really drew my attention, and I sought to discover his feelings on love and its merits under democracy. The conclusions I reached were surprising.