An Exploration of Individualism

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An Exploration of Individualism
As Described By Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy In America
By Mario A. Griseta Jr
The classic work Democracy In America by Alexis de Tocqueville has been the source of scholarly pursuit as well as strife within that same community. Through a brief examination of this text, several of Tocqueville’s arguments helped to define, for me, many of the constructs that made America what it was and that have led to what it has become today. Of the many themes and ideas presented by Tocqueville, his thoughts on individualism struck the loudest chord with me.
Tocqueville describes America as a society of joiners because of the fact that it is a country almost entirely composed of immigrants. This, in addition to the pursuit and promise of “equality of conditions” that Americas touted as an unofficial theme, brought citizens from many classes together in closer proximity and relation. Although this sounds like a good thing, and I believe it is, Tocqueville argued that with this blending of social classes and as opportunity increased people would isolate themselves, "bond of human affections is extended and loosened" (p. 483). As people gained wealth and left behind the daily struggle to survive many sought out education and as a result of this enlightenment developed the "habit of always considering themselves in isolation" (p. 484).
This individualism is likened to selfishness by Tocqueville but he is careful to point out that he does not believe that it is the same thing. He does this by described selfishness as "a passionate and exaggerated love of self that brings man to relate everything to himself alone," and individualism as "a reflective and peaceable sentiment that disposes each citizen to . . . withdraw to one side with his family and friends" (p. 482). The way in which individualism caused people to separate from society…...

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