13 September 2005 - Tuesday

Good practice

Yesterday, I received word that De la démocratie en Amérique (that is, Tocqueville's Democracy in America), which I ordered some time ago, had finally arrived at the library. I picked it up and started browsing that evening.

Since my friends keep asking, here's why I wanted to have the French version on hand:

There are some countries where an authority, in some way exterior to the social body, acts on it and forces it to march in a certain way.

There are others where the force is divided, being at once placed inside the society and outside of it. Nothing similar is seen in the United States; there, society acts of itself and on itself. Only within it does power exist; one meets nearly no one who dares conceive or above all express the idea of looking for it elsewhere. The people participate in the laws' composition by the choosing of legislators, in their application by the election of the agents of the executive power; one can say that they govern themselves: as long as the role left to the administration is weak and restrained, it shows the effects of its popular origin and obeys the power from which it emanates. The people rule over the American political world as God rules over the universe. They are the beginning and end of all things; everything comes out of them and everything is concerned with them.


There are countries in which some authority, in a sense outside the body social, influences it and forces it to progress in a certain direction.

There are others in which power is divided, being at the same time within the society and outside it. Nothing like that is to be seen in the United States; there society acts by and for itself. There are no authorities except within itself; one can hardly meet anybody who would dare to conceive, much less to suggest, seeking power elsewhere. The people take part in the making of the laws by choosing the lawgivers, and they share in their application by electing the agents of the executive power; one might say that they govern themselves, so feeble and restricted is the part left to the administration, so vividly is that administration aware of its popular origin, and so obedient is it to the fount of power. The people rule over the American political world as God rules over the universe. It is the cause and the end of all things; everything rises out of it and is absorbed back into it.

The first block is my initial rough translation; the second is George Lawrence's translation (1966). The passage comes from the end of part one, chapter four.

I'm fairly pleased with myself, actually.

| Posted by Wilson at 15:49 Central | TrackBack
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