Saturday, October 24, 2009

24-Hour Read-a-Thon: 5:00 p.m. (Update #3)

I've gotten 84 pages into Tocqueville's Democracy in America in the three hours since my last update. Of course, I didn't spend that entire time reading. I also ran to the store and made spaghetti.

Plus, the book got really boring and I kept getting distracted.

It started out quite interesting. According to Tocqueville, America is unique in that it has definite beginning and we can easily trace its origins. Not so with the nations of Europe. Tocqueville focuses on the Puritans, particularly their seemingly contradictory blend of religious fervor and love of liberty. In reality, he says, their strong intellectual background allowed them to put into place revolutionary forms of democratic government, which in Europe at the time were found only in theory. Furthermore, they left England not because they had to but because they wanted to. They came with a drive and an ambition, knowing that they had to create their own civilization for themselves, and they launched that task with faith-fueled vigor.

Of the colony of Virginia, Tocqueville has little to say beyond that it was founded largely by single, lower-class male adventurers who lacked the civilizing effect of women and learning. Unlike New England, it did have something of a landed aristocracy, albeit one that lacked the power of its English counterpart. This was partially due to slavery - no tenant farmers meant no patronage.

In his introduction, Tocqueville asserted that one of the difficulties facing Europe's transition to democracy was the hatred of the common people toward the nobility. Whereas before they existed in an ignorant contentment, knowledge of injustice has made them angry. In the United States, by contrast, not only do inheritance laws that divide property equally preclude the formation of permanent wealth (America was still very Jeffersonian at this time), but the aristocracy that did exist at the time of independence avoided the people's antagonism by providing much of the rhetoric and writing supporting the Revolution.

All very fascinating stuff, but then Tocqueville lost me. He started going on and on about the minute workings of the American municipal system. I can see his point about the autonomy of the American town that has no equivalent in Europe and how it empowers the individual citizen, but then he went on and on. . . It got so dull I couldn't concentrate and kept getting up. So for now I'll abandon Tocqueville and move onto some Thomas Mann and more poetry.


claire said...

Hope Mann perks you up!! You are doing awesome, btw.

Oh and I was looking for your Mother Night post as I had originally included you in my VOnnegut post but couldn't find it any longer today. I read it in Google Reader early this morning! :D

Scary cover!!

Anonymous said...

Reading is fun
Reading is great
Hope you’re able
To stay up late!

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