Alexis de Tocqueville: the French aristocrat who understood America—not!

It’s never said, but it’s an unspoken truth: the Left, not the Right, is the snobby political wing in the U.S.

If right means wealthy privilege and left means workers’ rights, how can the left be the snobby class?

As much as other countries mirror the U.S. this would be the case in those places, too, but it has its origins in America, and perhaps this counter-intuitive truth is one of the things that makes this country great, and odd, and complex, and lasting, and hard to figure out.

Who calls the United States an odd country?  No one.

But we are.

This explains us better than big, imperial, oppressive, warlike, free, democratic, great, all those epithets that get dragged out whenever this country is described.

Let any scholar describe the U.S. in historical terms, and within five minutes, Tocqueville, an ineffectual historian who made distantly bland, clichéd observations, is held aloft as the foreign genius who captured forever the American soul. What rot. Tocqueville covers up all that we really are. For the United States to be truly, or at least, partially, seen, America needs to wash Tocqueville out of its hair for good.

Tocqueville: Bor-ing! Not America!

Karl Marx, Margaret Fuller, Edgar Poe, Horace Greeley and the New York Tribune. Discuss. There. That’s better. Lafayette. Anyone. Not Tocqueville. Please!

Not that the boring, clueless, readership that eats up Tocqueville is not part of the American character.

It is.

The willfully ignorant and dull is truly one of the aspects of America’s greatness. Thickness and density is the secret to a healthy, anti-intellectual, “can-do” character.

What is too interesting carries Americans away from what they need to do: shoot guns, cut down trees. I say this without irony. One must shoot guns and cut down trees. America is the land of the shallow symbol, the no-nonsense, pragmatic “fool.” Every great country needs a certain ignorance and roughness, a purely mechanical nature. And in addition to this, plenty of dull scholars who have nothing interesting to say.

America has lots of this.

I love—but I also pity other countries, with their romantic passion and pretty scarves and almond-eyed women and beautiful churches and philosophy and poetry and fifteen kisses on the cheek.

The oafish simplicity of America has a practical, Niagara Falls energy.

If Ben Franklin had focused on poetry, his genius would have wound up in a quaint British anthology—and America would not exist.

We are too sophisticated for this image now, but the ridiculous picture of funny-looking Ben Franklin flying a kite in a thunderstorm is the essence of what America is—not the somber, placid beauty of the Statue of Liberty, but thank you, France.

France gave America a greater gift than even the Statue of Liberty: prose poetry.

Prose poetry provided jobs for millions of American intellectuals who were largely unemployed—having had the choice to either 1. write another picturesque nature essay or 2. produce still another parody of “The Raven.” The French rescued us just in time, arriving at our shores when America jumped into World War One—the very instant when Mr. Quinn, Pound and Eliot’s art collector/lawyer friend, got French art shipped over for the Armory Show.

As early 20th century Americans laughed at the newly arrived Cubism, a gift was created that keeps on giving: seeds to build a real intellectual class of pontificating elites. Modern art from France provided the basis, just in time, to further widen the gulf between American brawn and brains—-the secret to America’s odd vigor and contradictory energy.

America, by refusing to listen to intellectuals, made itself into a very pragmatic country. And the intellectuals of America made this easier by being so very stupid, themselves. By getting everything wrong in a Tocqueville-sort of way, America somehow made everything right.

Better a charismatic tree-chopper than a charismatic intellectual, or leader.

Lincoln mumbled for two minutes—and that was the greatest “address” America produced. Perfect!

Puritans made frowning faces in the wilderness and made the natives go away, or so says a symbol so empty, so full, so horrific, that it cannot be put on a shelf, or fathomed. It helped the rapacious Americans that our British overlords, our sworn enemies, allied with the natives, when they attempted to reconquer us in the War of 1812.

Winfield Scott was so polite when he conquered Mexico, he hung his own soldiers for spitting and swearing.

Then a few years later, Americans committed genocide against each other trying to win legitimacy in the eyes of London and Paris, bathing in blood Virginia, Mississippi and Pennsylvania. Very odd.

The British got Americans to come over to France and kill Germans, just two generations later, in what for some reason was called World War One.

When that war didn’t work out, Americans died killing Germans and Japanese all over the place, and after that war, the United States, her engines roaring, became rulers of the world, together with Mother England, who tucked us in every night, their royalty nearly becoming ours, as Joe Kennedy, the Irishman, played the role of ambassador to London, a prelude to Marilyn Monroe singing happy birthday to his son.

America’s peculiarly distant-yet-very-close relationship with older, dysfunctional, decrepit-but-still-highly-elegant, European powers is probably the chief reason why snobbery belongs to the Left in America. PBS is British-accented soap. Homegrown gun shooters and tree choppers propelled America to fantastic material success, sans subtlety or elegance. Modern art is the American counter-truth which possesses that acute combination of feelings of inferiority and superiority, which is at the heart of the complex snobbery only Americans know. Identity politics feature the same mixture of inferiority and superiority: Black (formerly despised) is Beautiful!!

The Left in Britain is defined by the Labor party.

The Left in America is defined by the progressive, witty and glossy pages of Vogue, or the New Yorker. (The American working class have no idea that the snobby New Yorker is left in its politics.) The American Left isn’t Labor. It’s comedians on TV who wear Armani suits.

Those who breed—because they breed—are considered right wing in America, and those who look down upon them belong to the Left. Liberals don’t breed.

The breeders in Britain are Left. Those who look down upon them in Britain belong to the Right.

In the U.S. it is the opposite.

There is no top class in America. There is only the aspiring class, and those who aspire in America are the snobs.

In Britain, those who go to college to improve themselves are part of the great unwashed, far below the ruling class. The British ruling class go to school, but just for show.

In America, education is the whole key to snobbery.  Where else can our snobbery come from?  Not from relentlessly ridiculed, low-brow celebrities.  And since the demise of the Kennedys, America has no ruling class—the “adult learner” single mom who takes online classes and supports Hillary Clinton manifests as much self-righteous snobbery as any duke or king. But the administrative educator (see Benjamin Ginsberg’s The Fall of the Faculty) in this adult learner’s academic department is true American royalty. Indispensable. Useless.

The American recipe for snobbery is: shop at Lord & Taylor, be in education, and don’t breed.  You will be a queen.  People will get out of your way when you walk across the parking lot.

A young woman from Brazil once told me, “American women are like men.”

America’s famous sexual freedom hardly exists, and has nothing to do with snobbery.

Snobbery may be defined in the following way: a wrong which is never spoken.

An American woman will never inform a gentleman:

“Sir, I have the right to fuck you if I want and then murder your child inside me.”

Those would never be the words she uses.

A rhetoric far more tasteful would be, “Christianity mitigates the excesses of democracy.”

This sounds like Tocqueville. Polite and plausible.

But then one might easily respond: “Democracy mitigates the excesses of Christianity.”

The sum of these two statements—both used for good or evil—is a nullity. One has said nothing. That’s the problem (and the secret social usefulness) of the polite and the plausible.

This is why the savvy, bland, respectable, intellectuals love Tocqueville.

The truly royal, the truly snobby, the truly impolite, the truly impolitic, have one rule.

They must say things in a certain way.

Some might argue that this American snobbery is not really snobbery or royalty—but something else. No. This is snobbery.

And the whole point is that America is very different from what anyone—especially foreign intellectuals—might suppose.

The symbols and platitudes of America are mostly false, and cover up a very complex nation.

But anything is better than Tocqueville.

Unless you wish to take a nap.

And when you wake up, it is guaranteed—America will be different.






  1. noochinator said,

    April 23, 2016 at 4:44 pm

    Thanks for dissing Tocqueville—
    I’m supposed to read him for school—
    But there’s no time b/c of a paper that’s due,
    So now I feel less of a fool.

  2. maryangeladouglas said,

    April 23, 2016 at 5:03 pm

    The poetic prose of Abraham Lincoln throughout ALL of his speeches is unimpeachable beauty. What the heck do you mean that “Lincoln mumbled”?

    • maryangeladouglas said,

      April 23, 2016 at 7:23 pm

      What in heck are you talking about we borrowed our poetry from the French? We have a glorious tradition in American poetry and how odd that you who have praised the British Romantics in the past use the image here of a “quaint” anthology of British poetry.

      Dickinson, Frost, Lanier, Emerson, Thoreau, Crane, Bierce, Aiken and more were American originals. As was, of course Poe. You are speaking deliberate falsehoods and I can’t understand why unless this is the newer, more acceptable to the cafe crowds at present Thomas Graves.

      • thomasbrady said,

        April 24, 2016 at 1:33 am

        Perhaps I should strike the word “quaint.” I wasn’t making a judgement on poetry in that sentence; my point was that without Franklin’s pragmatic genius, America would have remained a colony of Britain. You forget I’m a Platonist—I radically question poetry (how does it help society? Is it only pretence or fakery?) and it is within that context that poetry shines. My essay was not meant to be a detailed history, but a witty overview. The French,in general, did give us prose poetry and modern art. Trends was my topic, not a detailed syllabus of American poets. Forest, not trees.

        • maryangeladouglas said,

          April 25, 2016 at 4:39 am

          Did the French give us Shakespeare?

          • thomasbrady said,

            April 25, 2016 at 1:09 pm


            You are completely missing the point of my essay. The spirit is somewhat satiric. I’m not saying the French are responsible for everything. Though as a sidelight, it is because French, Italian and Latin were the learned languages at London court during Shakespeare’s day, that some doubt Shakespeare was Shakespeare. Though I have strong doubts about their doubts.


  3. noochinator said,

    April 23, 2016 at 8:23 pm

    “When that war didn’t work out, Americans died killing Germans and Japanese all over the place, and after that war, the United States, her engines roaring, became rulers of the world, together with Mother England, who tucked us in every night, their royalty nearly becoming ours, as Joe Kennedy, the Irishman, played the role of ambassador to London, a prelude to Marilyn Monroe singing happy birthday to his son.”

    Umm, Joe Kennedy was fired from his ambassador position in 1940 because he was too pro-German. He was gone before the U.S. entered WWII, so this doesn’t read very well.

    • thomasbrady said,

      April 24, 2016 at 12:06 am

      I wasn’t insisting on strict chronology in that sentence, was I? And sure, Joe was too pro-Nazi, but so were a lot of Brits then, so I don’t think that injures my general point, does it?

      • noochinator said,

        April 24, 2016 at 9:08 am

        Well, yeah actually, you did use a chronological construction — you start the sentence with WWI, go to WWII, then post-WWII “as Joe Kennedy, the Irishman, played the role of ambassador to London…” It prolly does injure your general point but it’s all good, b/c I’m an Anglophile!

        • thomasbrady said,

          April 24, 2016 at 10:29 am

          Perhaps I should change “played the role of ambassador…” to “had played the role of ambassador.” It was ongoing, the entanglement of U.S. and Mother Country interests; it didn’t happen overnight. Thank you, Nooch. I stand corrected. Is anglophile a political term? I don’t think it is. It means you like bric-a-brac.

          • noochinator said,

            April 24, 2016 at 12:21 pm

            Well, it’s the opposite of your feelings of Anglophobia (from Latin Anglus “English” and Greek φόβος, phobos, “fear”), meaning opposition to, dislike of, fear of, or hatred towards England or the English people.


            • thomasbrady said,

              April 24, 2016 at 2:11 pm

              I don’t dislike things English or the English people; I have a problem with certain actions taken by the British Empire. My historical studies are not driven by petty, irrational prejudice. That is, I hope not! Bloody Hell! Right. Carry on.

  4. Andrew said,

    April 24, 2016 at 3:28 am

    “I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers – and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce – and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there.
    Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”

    [Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America]

    • thomasbrady said,

      April 24, 2016 at 10:36 am

      Ha ha…”pulpits aflame with righteousness…” Ha ha ha ha According to Tocqueville in that passage, our “matchless Constitution” did not inspire him, but when he “heard” our “pulpits aflame with righteousness…” Why is this guy studied and quoted so often? He’s a twit.

      • Andrew said,

        April 24, 2016 at 10:21 pm

        A twit? The esteemed author of D in A ?
        That’s IT. I am so DONE with Scarriet.

        I can’t believe you people. I will never sully a thread with my unwanted insights ever again. I was able to take it up to a point, but when you DARE to cast aspersions on Alexis De T. it is time to find a new anti-modernist poetry blog. And good riddance. To ME.

        • noochinator said,

          April 25, 2016 at 12:04 am

          I was trying to read him today — not to be iconoclastic, but do his insights really go beyond the time of which he was writing? Didn’t the America he wrote of vanish a long, long time ago?

          • Andrew said,

            April 25, 2016 at 12:09 am

            You are right. And we are no longer great because we are no longer good. And very few pulpits are aflame with righteousness. It has almost vanished completely.

  5. Andrew said,

    April 24, 2016 at 3:32 am

    Savvy, bland, and respectable is the NEW COOL.
    Face it, Tom and get with the PROGRAM.

    • thomasbrady said,

      April 24, 2016 at 10:42 am

      Yea, there’s got to be some saaviness beneath the blandness. That’s me all the way! I am that, Andrew. Can’t you tell?

      • Andrew said,

        April 24, 2016 at 10:13 pm

        I can tell you are cool all the freakin’ time. Even when others are losing it.
        You are also cooler than De Toqueville.
        Must be because of all that poetry.

    • Andrew said,

      April 25, 2016 at 1:44 am

      Yet, cooler than you, Tom, cooler than savvy blandness and cooler even than Alexis de Tocqueville are these words:

      [This relation of the individual with eternal truth, this ennobling communion of gods and men, has been the essence of Western culture from its origins in ancient Greece. It underlies the relationship between Athena and Odysseus; the meditation on virtue in Plato; the individual subjectivity at the heart of Augustine’s Confessions; the Psalms of David; the New Testament; the irresistible theological poetry of Dante; the scientific method; and the human dignity and liberty that ought to define America and other modern democracies.]

      This is Hope and Change.

  6. noochinator said,

    January 31, 2017 at 1:16 pm

    Hi Uncle Sam!
    When freedom was denied you,
    And imperial might defied you,
    Who was it stood beside you
    At Quebec and Brandywine?

    And dared retreats and dangers,
    Red-coats and Hessian strangers,
    In the lean, long-rifled Rangers,
    And the Pennsylvania Line!

    Hi! Uncle Sam!
    Wherever there was fighting,
    Or wrong that needed writing,
    An Ulsterman was sighting
    His Kentucky gun with care:

    All the road to Yorktown,
    From Lexington to Yorktown,
    From Valley Forge to Yorktown,
    That Ulsterman was there!

    Hi! Uncle Sam!
    Virginia sent her brave men,
    The North paraded grave men,
    That they might not be slavemen,
    But ponder this with calm:

    The first to face the Tory,
    And the first to lift Old Glory,
    Made your war an Ulster story:
    Think it over, Uncle Sam!

    W.F. Marshall (1888-1959)

  7. noochinator said,

    May 26, 2017 at 3:30 pm

    Here’s a good quote from Al:

    “After having thus taken each individual by turns into his powerful hands and having molded him as he pleases, the sovereign extends his arms over the whole society; he covers its surface with a web of small, complicated, detailed, and uniform rules, through which the most original minds and most vigorous souls are unable to emerge in order to rise above the crowd; it does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them, and directs them; it rarely forces men to act, but it constantly opposes itself to men’s acting; it does not destroy, it prevents things from coming into being; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, it presses down upon men, it enervates, it extinguishes, it stupefies, and it finally reduces each nation to no longer being anything but a herd of timid and industrious animals, whose shepherd is the government.”

    • thomasbrady said,

      May 26, 2017 at 10:13 pm

      Who is this “sovereign” who can stupefy every “individual” in a large society? O Al, I don’t believe you!

      Wait. Is he talking about the nanny state, perhaps? Not a bad description, I guess…!

      • May 27, 2017 at 12:30 am

        Sounds a lot like the Republican party these days.

      • noochinator said,

        May 27, 2017 at 10:37 am

        One of the newer rules writ on the slate:
        Whites must never “culturally appropriate”!

      • noochinator said,

        May 27, 2017 at 1:16 pm

        Classic Ayn Rand essay that shows how the mind-fuck process works:

        • noochinator said,

          May 27, 2017 at 4:16 pm

          But then again, maybe we can be mind-farked only to a limited degree:

          Individual personality seems to resemble what physicists call “shape-memory alloys.” These are metal alloys you can construct that remember their shape. So you can take a bar of this stuff and bend it into a knot; and when you heat it up, it unbends itself and remembers its original shape. They’re called “shape-memory alloys,” and human nature seems to be much like that. You can push people in certain directions during childhood and adolescence, but the finished adult human being seems to follow the Judith Rich Harris model: fifty percent heredity and the rest environment.

          In other words, maybe it’s time I stop blaming the public schools for my natural obtuseness! Yes, perhaps at age 55, it’s time to let that go…..

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