Richard Erdmann

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2003





Publication Title

Journal for Civic Committment


Alexis de Tocqueville wrote of the United States during the 1830’s and his observations say much about democracy in general, democracy in the United States of the 1830’s and democracy today. His greatest fear for the United States was of apathy on the part of its citizens. He saw individualism and material wealth as potent contributors to the United States but also as potential distracters. He felt that the greatest threat existed because democracy might work so well that citizens would become apathetic. At this point the omnipotence of the majority would cause the democratic freedoms to slip away almost unnoticed. His prescribed counterbalance was neither theoretical nor literary. He did not have much confidence in the ability of Americans to learn as a society from books. Instead he found experience to be the best American teacher. He was an early advocate of civic engagement for the good of society as a whole, for the democratic political process and for the individual as a learner.