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De Tocqueville's Benefits Of Democracy Compared With The Principles Found In Walden

1703 words - 7 pages

DeTocqueville noticed three significant benefits of democracy while observing it first hand in America. Those benefits are public spirit, a notion of rights, and respect for the law. Keeping these results of democracy in mind, while reading Thoreau’s Walden a reader will wonder whether or not the author is comfortable with the notion of living in a democratic government. To answer this question, it is useful to assess DeTocqueville’s benefits of democracy and compare them with the principles found in Walden.

Of the first benefit, public spirit, DeTocqueville describes two types of patriotism. The first is based on a pride of family and country and “a reverence for traditions of the past,” resulting in a strong felt personal connection to the government (pg. 102, DeTocqueville). This type is commonly found within monarchal governments. The second is a loyalty to country based on the perceived benefits one reaps from it, resulting in a healthy devotion to the government. With this type of patriotism, devotion of the citizen to the government depends greatly on the continuing of the perceived benefits received from the government. This type of patriotism is observed with criticism from DeTocquevill, who prefers the more grounded patriotism associated with long lasting family ties. Interestingly, neither of these are present in Thoreau in any sort of capacity. He is lacking in any sort of patriotism felt towards his ancestors or government at all. DeTocqueville continues saying that when a country ceases to adequately supply the citizen with the benefits on which his patriotism is based, those citizens no longer have any attachment to “the usages of their forefathers, which they have learned to regard as a debasing yoke… nor in the laws, which do not originate in their own authority…” (DeTocqueville 103). The result of such a lack of patriotism, according to DeTocqueville, leads to a losing of the senses and an “unenlightened selfishness. They [who lack patriotism] are emancipated from prejudice, without having acknowledged the empire of reason” (DeTocqueville 103).

Clearly, both of the are very present in Thoreau. Almost word for word, Thoreau himself makes the bold proclamation that “It is never to late to give up our prejudices. No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof… I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or earnest advice from my seniors.” (Thoreau 5). Further fulfilling DeTocqueville’s description, Thoreau says that life is “an experiment to a great extent untried by me; but it does not avail that they have tried it.” Claiming that the only knowledge possibly of worth is that found through experience. With the exception of a few simple mathematic equations, Thoreau doesn’t concern himself with Kant’s a priori knowledge, and instead implements a mean philosophy that basically says ‘I don’t care what others can tell me about it, I don’t concern myself with it unless I can get...

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