International Endowment for Democracy
www.internationalendowmentfordemocracy.org    or    www.iefd.org

Democracy in America: Two Perspectives (Marx and Toqueville)

This is chapter one of Marx and Engels: Their Contribution to the Democratic Breakthrough
By August Nimtz

To understand Karl Marx and Frederick Engels's reading of the United States it would be useful to begin with an overview of their communist project, its origins and evolution—one which has often been misrepresented, particularly its democratic component. Like many German Rhinelanders of their generation—those who came of age politically in the aftermath of the French Revolution of 1789—they sought an answer to the most pressing political question of the day: how could Prussian authoritarianism be replaced by democratic rule and who or what segment of society would lead such a transformation? For the young Marx, working as a cub reporter in 1842 for the liberal daily Rheinische Zeitung (Rhineland Magazine), and frequently at odds with government censors, there were more specific questions. Why would a government deny its citizens such basic liberties as freedom of the press and free speech? Why are peasants and the poorer layers of society routinely disadvantaged in the political process? Why are the wealthy privileged?

Marx saw the need to return to Hegel, the intellectual mentor of his generation, who had drawn on the insights of the liberal economists James Steuart and Adam Smith to produce the best that Western thought had to offer on political theory and political economy. Standing on Hegel's shoulders, Marx soon recognized the inadequacies of this towering intellect, especially his disdain for "true democracy." It was precisely the quest to realize "true democracy—the sovereignty of the people," that motivated Marx to begin his lifelong inquiry into political economy.1

His inquiries pointed to the emergence and role of private property in social evolution, a development that reached its logical conclusions with the rise of the capitalist mode of production in the second half of the eighteenth century. Along with the alienation of individuals from one another, or the erosion of community, came the commodification of all of society including most of all human labor. Private ownership of the means of production, uniquely associated with capitalism, generated increasing inequality. The simultaneously unprecedented increase of wealth and poverty appeared as one of the most striking aspects of the new system of production for those who survived its arrival. The inequalities of previous class societies, those based on private property, began to pale in comparison.

Marx concluded as early as 1843 that as long as social inequality—class society—persisted, real democracy, the "sovereignty of the people," was impossible. His position was not unique. As C. B. Macpherson persuasively argues, almost all Western visions of democracy before the nineteenth century assumed a "classless or a one-class society, not merely a political mechanism to fit such a society."2 Unlike other socialists and selfstyled communists, Marx argued that the fight for social justice could not be successfully pursued unless it was linked to the struggle for democratic rights. Thus, the prerequisite for the socialist revolution was the democratic revolution—the conquest of political democracy, which provided the best terrain on which the oppressed could prepare itself for taking power and self-rule. As Hal Draper correctly notes, "Marx was the first socialist figure to come to an acceptance of the socialist idea through the battle for the consistent extension of democratic control from below. . . . [H]e was the first to fuse the struggle for consistent political democracy with the struggle for a socialist transformation."3 Many years later, Engels acknowledged that it was the Chartists, the working class fighters for democratic rule in England in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, who taught them about the importance of the political struggle.4

Based on his newly-arrived at claim that the proletariat constituted the only class that had both the capacity and interest to realize the "sovereignty of the people"—to which his aforementioned letter to Lincoln alluded—Marx, now in partnership with Engels, provided the small communist tendency of the broader socialist movement for the first time an explicit program that clarified its relationship to the democratic struggle. Drawing on Engels's draft for the Manifesto of the Communist Party, Marx incorporated the essence of this position in its second section, "Proletarians and Communists": "the immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of other proletarian parties: formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat." The goal of this struggle, is as stated later in that section, "to win the battle of democracy."5 For communists, the most "advanced" or "extreme wing," as they described it, of the "democratic party," the fight for political democracy is an essential task.

It must be stressed that in moving from radical democracy to communism Marx and Engels did not abandon the demand for the former. Marx polemicized in 1847 that, like the Chartists in Britain, the German proletariat, "can and must accept the bourgeois revolution as a precondition for the workers' revolution. However, they cannot for a moment accept it as their ultimate goal."6 Clarity on this essential point distinguished communists from other democrats. As they stated repeatedly, political democracy was the best means for socialist transformation and, thus, had to be fought for and defended. When a critic charged in 1892 that Marx and Engels ignored forms of democratic governance, Engels retorted: "Marx and I, for forty years, repeated ad nauseam that for us the democratic republic is the only political form in which the struggle between the working class and the capitalist class can first be universalised and then culminate in the decisive victory of the proletariat."7 The task now is to see more concretely how the two, particularly Marx, arrived at their conclusions about the relationship between democracy and communism.

The Lessons of the "Most Progressive Nation"

To reach such conclusions, Marx's new method required that he draw on, as he liked to call it, the "real movement of history." He emphasized, above all, the actual course of the democratization process in various settings and times. For him, the reality of the United States, "the most progressive nation," as he sometimes called it, provided the best example.8 It was also, as he described in his notebooks some fifteen years later, a "country where bourgeois society did not develop on the foundation of the feudal system, but developed rather from itself . . . where the state, in contrast to all earlier national formations, was from the beginning subordinate to bourgeois society, to its production, and never could make the pretense of being an end-in-itself."9 Though lacking a feudal base, what was so revealing for Marx was the fact that class inequality was quickly emerging there in the absence of a tradition of class inequality—a claim supported by modern scholarship to be discussed later. This offered crucial evidence for his thesis about the consequences of private ownership of the means of production.

What was the specific evidence about the U.S. reality that the young Marx drew upon to reach his communist conclusions? As the "most progressive nation" in the world, it was especially useful in his method of inquiry—the study of a "pure" case. "Naturalists seek by experiment to reproduce a natural phenomenon in its purest conditions. You do not need to make any experiments. You find the natural phenomenon of freedom of the press in North America in its purest, most natural form."10 A year later in his critique of Hegel he addressed the issue of elections and suffrage. Though he made no explicit reference to the United States there is no doubt he had the United States in mind—then the country with the most democratic elections (by tanguay). But for Marx, it was a question "of the extension and greatest possible generalisation of election, both of the right to vote and the right to be elected."11 To what degree the United States conformed to such a standard is an issue to be discussed shortly.

Marx's first sustained discussion of the U.S. political reality came at the end of 1843 in his two articles, "On the Jewish Question." Again, it must be emphasized that this was written during Marx's pre-communist years, or perhaps more accurately, en route to his communist "world view."12 Some of his discussion about civil society and the state carried with them much of the "phraseology" of German philosophy. He admitted as much two years later in The German Ideology, the work that first presented his and Engel's historical materialist perspective.13 Arguably the key text of this period, the central claim of the "Jewish Question"—notwithstanding its title—is that political liberation, or what would later be called liberal or bourgeois democracy, however much an advance for humanity, should not be mistaken for human emancipation.14 To substantiate his argument, Marx drew on the reality of what was until then the two most advanced developments in political democracy, revolutionary France and the United States. As the German Ideology explained, "one has to 'leave philosophy aside'. . . one has to leap out of it and devote oneself like an ordinary man to the study of actuality, for which there exists also an enormous amount of literary material, unknown, of course, to the philosophers."15 The U.S. "actuality" would provide the most insights.

Firstly, as he argued, it was in the United States that the "political state exists in its completely developed form . . . in its purity" because "the state ceases to adopt a theological attitude towards religion."16 Yet, in that most "developed" state form religion was pervasive in society—"pre-eminently the country of religiosity." The "existence of religion is the existence of a defect"—because it promoted narrowness and sectarianism, alienating humans from one another, an earlier conclusion that Marx and the Left Hegelians had reached.17 Thus, the U.S. case revealed that even in the most developed state such a "defect" could exist. The problem, then, was to be sought in the nature of the secular state, in its limitations and its own narrowness. This necessitated an interrogation not of religion but the state itself. The question in particular was why the secular state is not only inadequate for the achievement of but an obstacle to "human emancipation," or, as Marx explained, "the relation of political emancipation to human emancipation."18

It's worth noting that in his critique of religion Marx was actually arguing for freedom of religion—in this case, for Jews—especially since he wrote this shortly before his often misrepresented comment about religion being "the opium of the people." It makes clear that his critique wasn't part of a campaign to ban religion. Rather, it expressed his concern to know why such defective thinking persisted. The answer, he argued, and the motivation of his lifelong political economy project, was to be found in civil society, the basis of the secular state.

Secondly, Marx looked at the limitations of political emancipation in another arena—private property. Indeed, as revealed by laws in various U.S. states, the state might free itself of private property by banishing property qualifications in voting. But such a measure did not abolish private property, it "even presupposes it." The basis for the state's claims of universality, which comes with the banishment of property qualifications, rest on the existence of private property. The particularity of private property was, in other words, a necessary given for the universality of the secular state. The state, therefore, "allows private property, education, occupation, to act in their way. . . . to exert the influence of their special nature. Far from abolishing these real distinctions, the state only exists on the presupposition of their existence."19 As long as inequalities in wealth—as well as education and occupation—persisted, Marx noted, there would be inequalities in access to the electoral process including the "right to be elected"—a reality of U.S. politics that obviously has deep roots. Again, the U.S. case revealed that "political emancipation is not human emancipation."

Thirdly, as the "most progressive nation" the United States, along with France, was where "the rights of man" existed in "their authentic form." But these rights were those of the citizen on the one hand and the individualistic man of civil society on the other. They did not, however, lead to real liberation as long as they were treated as uncritiqued givens. They rested on the erroneous assumption that human fulfillment was based "not on the association of man with man, but on the separation of man from man" and the related claim that individualistic or "egoistic" man was the actual basis for society.

Real "human emancipation" could only be accomplished by rejoining individual and political man in every arena in daily life—citizen and man—merging his individual and social being as the realization of his real "species-being."20 Marx set himself the task of trying to understand how the reintegration of the social and political being of humans could be accomplished. His critique of private property, the material basis of civil society's individualistic character, would soon lead him to a critique of capitalism and a program for its overthrow—the necessary step for human or, in later terms, social emancipation.

Finally, the United States revealed how "money has become a world power" even within the world of Christianity. Anticipating the even more blatant commodification of religion in today's America, Marx stated "in North America . . . . the preaching of the Gospel itself and the Christian ministry have become articles of trade, and the bankrupt trader deals in the Gospel just as the Gospel preacher who has become rich goes in for business deals."21 Marx was describing one manifestation of what later historians called the "market revolution" of Jacksonian America— about which more will be said later.

While critical of the "most progressive nation," Marx made clear that "political emancipation is. . . . a big step forward," though not the "final form of human emancipation in general." 22 His acknowledgment of what had been achieved in North America—a necessary step on the road to real emancipation —was indeed sincere. If citizenship was limited because it represented only political emancipation, it's acquisition was not to be dismissed. In the German Ideology, again written within two years of the "Jewish Question" thus expressing the views of the communist Marx and Engels, they were clearly supportive of this advance. "The workers attach so much importance to citizenship, i.e., to active citizenship, that where they have it, for instance in America, they 'make good use' of it, and where they do not have it, they strive to obtain it. Compare the proceedings of the North American workers at innumerable meetings, the whole history of English Chartism, and of French communism and reformism," the two wrote.23

Later, when one-time ally Ferdinand Lassalle told Marx in 1862 that the "Yankees have no 'ideas'. . . . 'The freedom of the individual' is merely a 'negative idea', etc.," he dismissed Lassalle's comment as "antiquated, mouldering, speculative rubbish." 24 The theoretical and therefore, political import of the U.S. case for Marx was that it revealed the best that "really existing" democracy had to offer. It was just such a conclusion that drove Marx to look beyond "political emancipation"—to reach communist conclusions.

Where did Marx obtain his evidence about the United States? How valid was it? He drew on three sources in the "Jewish Question" articles, one of which was Tocqueville's Democracy in America, published eight years earlier. Other than employing the latter to substantiate his point about the U.S. being "pre-eminently the country of religiosity," Marx did not make any other explicit reference to Tocqueville. He was informed by the writings of Tocqueville's travel companion to North America, Gustave de Beaumont(1802–1866) and secondarily Thomas Hamilton(1789–1842), an English writer.

Though Beaumont's work, Marie or, Slavery in the United States was a novel published in 1835, the same year as his companion's book—about a romance between a young Frenchman and mulatto woman doomed by the racial prejudices of the era—it contained highly informative appendices and notes about Blacks, Indians, women, religion and other subjects. His data about religious life was the basis for Marx's observations about its role and character in U.S. society. In reference to the overall theme of his book—racism in the United States—Beaumont addressed in the foreword why his book might give the reader "different impressions" of the United States than Tocqueville's work. "The true reason is this: M. de Tocqueville has described the institutions; I myself have tried to sketch the customs. Now, in the United States, political life is far finer, and more equitably shared, than civil life [la vie civile, in original]. While men may find small enjoyment in family life there and few pleasures in society, citizens enjoy in the world of politics a multitude of rights."25 This is revealing in that it suggests that Tocqueville, like Marx, also employed the civil-political society distinction. This might help explain why Tocqueville treated the reality of Blacks, Indians—and women also—as peripheral to his analysis of democracy. The apparent assumption that the U.S. political community could be explained without an examination of civil society or, more specifically, slavery—and vice versa—was exactly what Marx argued and fought against.

It might be argued that Beaumont's comment refers only to the first volume of Democracy in America and not to the second, published five years later, where the author addressed "customs" and "mores"—themes that properly belong to civil society. There is some merit to the retort but what Tocqueville does present is a very incomplete description of civil society. (Neither is it always clear, unlike the first volume, if Tocqueville is referring to United States or European realities.) Political economy, regarded then by many as the central component of civil society, is most undeveloped—an issue to be addressed later. Whatever the case, the reality of slavery, Blacks, Indians, and women is even more tangential to his concerns in the second volume.

Thomas Hamilton's two-volume travelogue, Men and Manners in America, was published two years before Democracy in America and Marie. Beaumont drew on it in his discussion of U.S. religious life.26 Although the only explicit reference to Hamilton in the "Jewish Question" concerns electoral laws and the pervasiveness and commodification of religion, Marx's extant notebooks indicate that he keenly read Hamilton—in all likelihood the first detailed account of the United States he had encountered.27 There is much to suggest that it was Hamilton's reading of the United States that Marx prioritized for his assessment of the country and, by implication—if my argument about the impact of the U.S. reality on him is correct—played a decisive role in the communist conclusions he would later draw.28 Again, the focus here is the pre-communist Marx who had not yet concluded that the proletariat was the truly revolutionary class. Precisely because he doesn't understand this phase in Marx's development, let alone his overall project, Seymour Lipset gratuitously claims that Marx, on the basis of the latter's reading of Hamilton, thought that socialism was on the U.S. political agenda as early as 1829.29 The focus here is only on what Marx noted and excerpted from Hamilton's work and what were some of the central claims Hamilton made about U.S. society. Aside from the above-mentioned references to Hamilton that Marx made, his notebooks excerpted other matters from the book. Among them were the details of Virginia's electoral laws, specifically, the fairly high property qualifications for who could vote and be elected—evidence for Marx about the limitations of the suffrage in what Hamilton called "the most democratic state in the Union."30 Marx cited a discussion on public schools in New England including the interesting observation by Hamilton that their purpose was so that "every man. . . . shall qualify. . . . for a useful member of the State. No member of society can be considered as an isolated and abstract being, living for his own pleasure, and labouring for his own advantage."31 Could this have been an inspiration for Marx's major argument about the desirability of rejoining egoistical and political man?

Lastly, there are the very important excerpts from Hamilton regarding class inequality and conflict in New York City and the activities of what was apparently the recently formed Workingmen's Party, the first working class party anywhere. These realities seemed to have escaped Tocqueville's observant eyes during his visit to the city at almost the same time, several months before Hamilton, in May 1831. Hamilton's observations were exactly the evidence that Marx could rely on to make his case about the limitations of "political emancipation."

The last point speaks to a central difference between Hamilton's entire book and Democracy in America, its greater attention to both the class and racial inequalities in the United States—while recognizing at the same time what had been gained in the way of political democracy. It's useful to note that his visit and book were prompted by the many claims being made in the newly-reformed parliament in London about the wonders of U.S. democracy. While Tocqueville sought to see what Europe—France in particular—could learn from the U.S. experience, Hamilton came with a certain degree of skepticism about the United States as a model.

As for the class issue, Hamilton noted that it was the "Workies," as he called the Workingmen's Party—a tendency he was clearly leery of probably because they were in the forefront of the democratic impulse—that demanded "equal and universal education."

It is false, they say, to maintain that there is at present no privileged order, no practical aristocracy, in a country where distinctions of education are permitted. . . . There does exist then—they argue—an aristocracy of. . . . knowledge, education and refinement, which is inconsistent with the true democratic principle of absolute equality. . . . There are others who go still further, and boldly advocate the introduction of an AGRARIAN LAW, and a periodical division of property. These unquestionably constitute the extreme gauche of the Worky Parliament. . . . 32

Marx's above-cited comment about how the "state allows private property, education, occupation, to act in their way . . . to exert the influence of their special nature" may indeed have been inspired by the "Worky" program. It should be noted again that Marx wrote this before he had concluded that the proletariat would be the class to achieve the realization of real democracy and, thus, human emancipation. Thus, it may well be the case that the conclusions he would draw within a year and a half of writing the "Jewish Question" were profoundly influenced by what he learned from Hamilton. The latter had more to say not only about the Workies but other aspects of class inequality and tensions in the United States, along with the prospects for class struggle. Again, this is in sharp contrast to Tocqueville's account which says virtually nothing about the growing workers's movement in the country.

The other major theme in Hamilton's account is its attention to racial inequality and the impact of slavery. Throughout both volumes he depicts the horrors of the institution and how it fostered racism beyond the slave holding states. He rejected the views of the slave owners, with whom he discussed the issue, who claimed that they too favored abolition but were "slave holders by compulsion alone." Hamilton dismissed their excuses. The abolition they wanted was "of a peculiar kind, which must be at once cheap and profitable. . . [to] enrich his master." The real reason slavery was maintained was that its end would "put a stop to the cultivation both of sugar and rice in the United States, and the compulsion of which the planters speak is the compulsion of money."33 It was the "pecuniary interests" of the planters that explained its continuance. For Hamilton material interests drove the "peculiar institution."

More than anything, Hamilton viewed slavery as an affront to the democratic claims of the country, a "national disgrace." He was especially appalled by what he saw in the nation's capital.

"Washington the seat of government of a free people, is disgraced by slavery. . . . While the orators in Congress are rounding periods about liberty in one part of the city, proclaiming, alto voce, that all men are equal, and that 'resistance to tyrants is obedience to God,' the auctioneer is exposing human flesh to sale in another! [One day in Washington he remembered when] the members of this enlightened and August body [the Senate] were driven to the Capitol by slave coachmen, who were at that very moment waiting to convey them back, when the rights of man had been sufficiently disserted on for the day. . . . [T]hat slavery should exist in the district of Columbia, that even the footprint of a slave should be suffered to contaminate the soil peculiarly consecrated to Freedom, that the very shrine of the Goddess should be polluted by the presence of chains and fetters, is perhaps the most extraordinary and monstrous anomaly to which human inconsistency—a prolific mother—has given birth."34

The reality of Washington helped to explain what he also took note of—the disproportionate influence of the slavocracy in the national government. As for the future of the "peculiar institution:" "To suppose that slavery can long continue in this country when other nations shall have freed themselves from the foulest stain which has ever polluted their humanity, is to contemplate a period when the United States will become a nuisance upon earth, and an object of hatred and derision to the whole world." And in anticipation of the Civil War, Hamilton proclaimed: "My own conviction is, that slavery in this country can only be eradicated by some great and terrible convulsion. The sword is evidently suspended; it will fall at last."35 In no uncertain terms slavery for Hamilton had indeed made the United States into a "defiled republic"—what Marx would later note in his letter to Lincoln—and undermined any claims for it as a model of democracy. As will be seen shortly, this was clearly not the portrait that Tocqueville had painted.

Though none of this found its way into Marx's extant notebooks it's unlikely that it didn't influence his reading of U.S. democracy. For example, when he argued in the "Jewish Question" that even if the state was free of religious affiliation, religion could still have a hold on its citizens—the tendency to encourage narrowness and separation—it's likely that he had Hamilton's narrative in mind, particularly, his account (see below) of racial segregation in Protestant denominations.36 Whatever the case, Hamilton's book, in combination with Beaumont's Marie, introduced Marx to the reality of race and slavery in the United States and doubtlessly was influential in his argument about the limits of political emancipation.37

Tocqueville's America

Although the only explicit reference Marx made to Democracy in America concerns the country's religiosity, it's instructive at this stage of my analysis, before turning to the communist Marx, to look more closely at Tocqueville. To start, how did the evidence from Hamilton and Beaumont that Marx employed in the "Jewish Question" and excerpted in his notebooks compare to what Tocqueville had to offer? Secondly, how did Tocqueville's account compare to what Hamilton had to say on the social inequality, race and slavery issues discussed above? And finally, how did Tocqueville's conclusions about U.S. democracy compare to those of Marx?

Regarding the United States as "pre-eminently the country of religiosity," Tocqueville, as already noted, was one of Marx's sources for this characterization. "On my arrival in the United States the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention," he stated. But what is most notable about Tocqueville's account is the relative lack of concrete evidence about U.S. religious life. His tendency instead was to make broad generalizations without supporting evidence. About the United States, for example, and no doubt betraying his admitted pro-Catholic sympathies, "they,"—the Catholics—"constitute the most republican and the most democratic class in the United States."38 Or, in regard to Christians in general, "They are not hostile to anyone in the world. . . .they love their contemporaries while they condemn their weaknesses and lament their errors."39

To appreciate the reality of religion in the United States, Marx turned to Beaumont and Hamilton. The picture they presented was more complex than Tocqueville's portrait and revealed that all was not as brotherly as he suggested. Hamilton was critical, for example, of the racial practices of Protestants. "No white Protestant would kneel at the same altar with a black one. He asserts his superiority everywhere, and the very hue of his religion is affected by the colour of his skin."40

Beaumont cited Hamilton's observation, possibly because it praised, he wrote, the Catholic church for including "worshipers of all colours and classes" in their services—the basis, perhaps, for Tocqueville's claim about Catholicism's democratic and republican credentials. Beaumont also provided details on Christian sectarianism, particularly "l'hostilité des protestants contre les catholiques; la seconde est l'hostilité de toutes les sectes chrétiennes contre les unitaires."41 As a product and victim of Germany's long history of religious sectarianism, all of this no doubt struck a responsive chord with Marx. Religious sectarianism and the racial practices of Protestants to him were evidence of the "defect" of religion—again, the separation of humans from one another.

That Marx saw the need to cite Tocqueville only once doesn't mean, however, that he dismissed his account. On the contrary, a case can be made that Tocqueville's observations about U.S. religiosity played a key role in the conclusions Marx drew about the limits of its democracy. The major theme in Tocqueville's discussion on religion was how, in distinction to Europe, the separation of church and state actually increased the influence of Christianity. "In the United States religion exercises but little influence upon the laws and upon the details of public opinion; but it directs the customs of the community, and, by regulating domestic life, it regulates the state," Tocqueville wrote.42 He believed the influence of Christianity was one of the "causes to maintain democracy" in the United States.

The reality that Tocqueville described in the United States led Marx to draw very different conclusions. To understand why it must be noted that in his prior writings, especially his critique of Hegel, Marx had argued that the problem in Germany, that of how to realize democracy, had to take into account the reality of civil society—humans in their social relations outside the state, such as the religious sphere. Tocqueville's insight about the consequences of the separation of church and state in the United States may indeed have been the basis for what Marx noted in The Holy Family, his first collaborative work with Engels and written about a year after the "Jewish Question": "religion develops in its practical universality only where there is no privileged religion (cf. the North American States)."

Marx continued, "in the developed modern state . . . the dissolution of religion by the abolition of the state church, to this proclamation of their civil death corresponds their most vigorous life, which henceforth obeys its own laws undisturbed and develops to its full scope."43 Both statements are clearly consistent with Tocqueville's explanation for the flourishing of religion in the United States.44

Secondly, while Tocqueville saw the non-Christian as suffering from an "aberration of intellect,"45 for Marx, it was the religious believer who was afflicted with a "defect." If Tocqueville thought that Christianity's regulation of "domestic life" sustained democracy because it regulated the state, Marx most certainly did not, as he argued in opposition to Hegel. Not only was religion a form of defective thinking, but—in anticipation of some feminist critiques of liberal democracy—"domestic" or "family life" for Marx meant the world of "patriarchal laws" which therefore made it "unfit . . . where it was a question of the political [i.e. democratic] state, of citizenship.46

In effect then, Tocqueville provided Marx with just the kind of evidence he needed to support his thesis about the limitations of a state-centered theory of democracy. If in the most democratic country in existence religious influence could not only persist but actually increase, then indeed political emancipation wasn't sufficient for human emancipation. Tocqueville's evidence and insight, therefore, allowed Marx to ground his thesis in a way he had not been able to until then—for Marx, a necessary step on the road to a communist perspective. What this suggests, then—perhaps a moment in the development of nineteenth century political thought not appreciated until now—is that Tocqueville served as an important foil for Marx's political development.

With regard to suffrage and related issues of private property and education, Tocqueville claimed that "universal suffrage has been adopted in all the states of the Union." Furthermore, it was "the most powerful of the causes that tend to mitigate the violence of political associations in the United States."47 Another factor that helped to still the passions of the masses was that "in America there are no paupers. As everyone has property of his own to defend, everyone recognizes the principle upon which he holds it."48 Regarding education, Tocqueville noted that access to formal education was very limited and varied from one part of the country to the other, the least available in the South and West. The "learned,"he offered, are very "few." Yet, he "was surprised to find so much distinguished talent among the citizens and so little among the heads of government."49 The most educated, evidently, were not privileged when it came to the political arena. For Tocqueville, an inveterate elitist, this was not admirable. " 'When the right of suffrage is universal, and when the deputies are paid by the state, it's singular how low and how far wrong the people can go', he had noted in his diary."50 An example of such an outcome was the election of Davy Crockett to the House of Representatives in 1828 from Memphis. If Crockett, probably the most popular figure in the country after Andrew Jackson, was a real hero for those wary of the increasingly elitist character of rule in the country, he was, for Tocqueville, someone " 'who has had no education, can read with difficulty, has no property, no fixed residence, but passes his life hunting, selling his game to live, and dwelling continuously in the woods. His competitor, a man of wealth and talent, failed.'" Tocqueville's diary account leaves little doubt about for whom he would have voted and his real opinion of universal suffrage.

As noted before, Hamilton's account made clear that contrary to Tocqueville's assertion, universal suffrage was not a norm; property qualifications were very much in force. His comments on education, however, were virtually in agreement with those of Tocqueville. These included the above-mentioned point about the low correlation between levels of education and occupation of political office. Most divergent were their treatments of the issue of class and social inequality. Tocqueville did not deny the existence of social inequality in the U.S. With manufacturing came, he stated, "rich men," although "the class of rich men does not exist. . . .[they don't act as a] definite class."51 But as is so often the case in Tocqueville's second volume—where he addressed such questions—it's not always clear if he referred specifically to the United States. Whatever the case he clearly feared that the acquisitive nature of U.S. society, especially that associated with the growing industrial revolution, would aggravate social inequality.52 This was something Marx expected, "the effects of private property" acting "in their way."

At the same time, Tocqueville found that in the United States, "fortunes are scanty and insecure" and the "equality of conditions . . . prevents any [member of the community] from having resources of great extent."53 His chapter in the second volume, "Influence of Democracy on Wages," is oftentimes insightful—it even mentions "the constant struggle for wages. . . between these two classes," i.e. "the workman" and "employer"54—but is not necessarily informed by the U.S. reality.

Thus, absent from Tocqueville's descriptions, especially in contrast to Hamilton, was the specificity of class conflict in the U.S. context. His overall tendency was to focus on the factors that mitigated its possible eruption. And since slavery, the most unambiguous expression of class inequality, was peripheral to his analysis of democracy, his forebodings about it centered at best on racial, not class conflict. In effect, Tocqueville didn't inform his reader about the class conflicts already underway in the United States, let alone prepare them to understand how those conflicts would actually advance the democratic struggle.

Tocqueville's cursory attention to the class question reflects a larger problem—the absence of any sustained discussion on the U.S. political economy, particularly industrial development. It's clear from his diary, notes and travel schedule that he simply had little or no interest in the matter, not only in the United States but also in England, which he visited a few years later. "Beaumont also felt at a loss in trying to orient his friend [Tocqueville] where it was a "question of political economy."55

This is in sharp contrast to his countrymen, Michel Chevalier, who traveled to the United States a couple of years later, for the same amount of time, and wrote extensively on the economic changes underway in the country. That the latter was a follower of the utopian socialist Claude Saint-Simon (1760–1825) was no doubt determinant. That Tocqueville, on the other hand, was largely ignorant of political economy of any variety was also determinant —in ways to be discussed later. Suffice it to note here the earlier observation, based on a comment by Beaumont, that political economy for Tocqueville appears to have been in the sphere of civil society and therefore, like race, and gender, tangential to the concerns of Democracy in America. To the extent that he interested himself with economic matters in and beyond the book he came close to being a land determinist, believing that "[e]ssential political and psychological relationships in a society depended on the existing pattern of landholding."56 The contrast with Marx, who would soon conclude that socio-economic relations were central, couldn't be starker.

Although Tocqueville relegated the Black experience to the periphery, it's important to look at what he did have to say.57 First, his views on Blacks can only be described as racist: "we are almost inclined to look upon him as a being intermediate between man and the brutes," Tocqueville claimed.58 He betrayed, as well, an essentialist opinion of race relations: "wherever the whites have been the most powerful, they have held the blacks in degradation or in slavery; wherever the Negroes have been strongest, they have destroyed the whites: this has been the only balance that has ever taken place between the two races."59 It's possible to dismiss such opinions on the grounds that they were representative of the times, which is partially true; it's not as if Hamilton was that much more progressive. However, there were others in France who proceeded Tocqueville who had far more enlightened ideas, specifically, Abbé Grégoire, the author of the well-known anti-racist tract, De la littérature des Nègres, ou, Recherches sur leurs facultés intellectuelles (1810). In this polemic, he criticized Thomas Jefferson's thesis of Black racial inferiority. Tocqueville had to be familiar with Grégoire's views. 60

As for his spin on slavery, Tocqueville is certainly more tentative than Hamilton. It's true that he considered that the free states were more "populous and prosperous" than the slave states. Neither did he defend the institution—"God forbid that I should seek to justify the principle of Negro slavery."61 But in devoting as much time as he does to explaining why it would be almost impossible to get rid of the "peculiar institution" he comes close to being its apologist.62 Perhaps this explains why his narrative, in comparison to Hamilton's, gives little or no sense of the horrors of servitude for the slaves themselves. Tocqueville noted that while the laws in the South were atrocious for slaves, the slavocracy, in fact, has "not. . . augmented the hardships of slavery; on the contrary, they have bettered the physical condition of the slaves."63 His description of sugar-cane cultivation in Louisiana is strikingly at variance with Hamilton's. Tocqueville was impressed by how "exceedingly lucrative" it was for the slave owners—why it would be difficult to abolish—whereas Hamilton, upon visiting such a plantation, was struck by how it "was only carried on at an appalling sacrifice of life" for the slaves.64 In providing a richly informed description of the depths of racial prejudice in the North—again, no doubt based on Beaumont's research—Tocqueville suggests that things were actually worse there for Blacks than in Southern bondage.

Given the tone of his treatment, it's no surprise that, unlike Hamilton, there is no sense of outrage in Tocqueville's account about slavery. While he had no hesitation in asserting that Jefferson was "the most powerful advocate democracy has ever had," Hamilton saw Jefferson, the slave owner, as the embodiment of the "national disgrace."65 It becomes obvious why Democracy in America, as well as Beaumont's Marie, "appear to have excited no hostility toward [the authors]. . . in the South. They caused no indignation among slaveholders."66 Or, it's "no wonder that despite [Beaumont and Tocqueville's] condemnation of the principles and practices of slavery. . . their works on America furnished ample material for the spokesmen of the anti-abolitionists in France."67 Neither is it surprising that a leading Black abolitionist "accused Tocqueville's writing of aiding 'the perpetuation of American slavery.'"68

With regard to slavery's future and that of the union, Tocqueville made a most telling comment about his methodology: "Slavery has not created interests in the South contrary to those in the North. . . . Slavery, then, does not attack the American Union directly in its interests, but indirectly in its manners."69 The differences between the North and the South, in other words, were not to be sought in matters of political economy, as Hamilton suggested, but rather in "manners" and "habits"—theoretical premises about which more will be said shortly. If Tocqueville didn't anticipate a war between the states to be fought over the slave question, he was nevertheless pessimistic about the future of race relations in the country. Given the situation in the North, "I do not believe that the white and black races will ever live in any country upon an equal footing."70 Hence, he predicted an all-out race war or the recolonization of Blacks back to Africa as the only outcomes to the conflict. Yet, in spite of his hedging, he was clearly opposed to slavery, but in typical Tocquevillian fashion he seemed more fearful of what it would take to bring it to an end—a lot of bloodshed. He doubted that such a price was worth the effort because "if liberty be . . . given . . . to the Negroes . . . they will before long abuse it."71

In contrast to Hamilton, Tocqueville failed to foresee the Civil War and its significance for the advancement of democracy. His foreboding about the coming carnage was sustained but clearly not in the way he thought. Because of his assumption about democracy's supposed fulfillment in the United States, it could never occur to him that war would be necessary to make real democracy a living reality. Thus, the absence of any discussion in his Democracy in America of the seven year war that brought the democracy he so admired into existence. Since slavery, for him, was a collateral issue, he could only be pessimistic about what it would take to end it. Any struggle to abolish it would be a detraction from the democratic impulse rather than an advance for it. These, we'll see, were just the opposite of the conclusions drawn by Marx and Engels.

What most significantly distinguished Marx from Tocqueville —at this stage in the analysis—was the former's conviction that the vanguard example of the democratic movement was still very much a work in progress. Tocqueville's portrait, including his claim that the United States was the "absolute democracy," supplemented by those of Beaumont and Hamilton, revealed to Marx what remained to be done. The criteria he employed in reading Tocqueville, based largely on his critique of Hegel, allowed him to be more sober. Rooted on terra firma—the reality of the United States—Marx was now in a position to undertake the requisite inquiry to learn what it would take to realize real democracy, the "sovereignty of the people."

The most politically liberated society had taught that as long as private property—the fundamental underpinning of civil society—was in place then human emancipation, the rejoining of the social and political, was not possible. If there was now clarity on the diagnosis of the problem, then a prescription for its solution was in sight. This was the next stage in Marx's quest.

Only as a result of his political economy research in the next two years leading to what he and his new partner called their "materialist conception of history," would he be able to say in no uncertain terms that the overthrow of slavery was the necessary condition for full political emancipation—and thus, eventually, human emancipation—not only in the United States but in Europe as well. Again, the conclusions Marx reached in 1843 about the limitations of the U.S. polity, based in part on his reading of Tocqueville, were a necessary step in the position he would soon take on the "peculiar institution."72

The Judgement of Recent Scholarship: A Balance Sheet

How has Tocqueville's portrait of U.S. democracy stood up to the test of modern scholarship? What about the conclusions that Marx reached? To be clear, the comparison at this time is their differing assessments of Jacksonian America, the period which informed Democracy in America, as well as the texts of Beaumont and Hamilton. This was the historical moment, based on these texts, that informed the young Marx en route to communism in making his earliest claims about the U.S.73 In subsequent chapters, especially Two and Three and the Appendix, I will subject Marx and Engel's views about developments leading up to and after the Civil War to the same kind of scrutiny.

Perhaps what testifies best—for the purposes of this book—to Marx and Engels's accomplishments in the next two years is that their historical materialist perspective, and not Tocqueville's analysis, served as the framework for what is now considered to be the definitive account of the period, Charles Sellers's, The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815–1846, published in 1991. Sellers notes at the outset that his study is informed by "the most powerful conceptual tools for understanding America's central transformation," namely, the perspectives of Marx and Engels.74 The central theme of his work is that the Jacksonian period can best be understood as one engulfed in a gigantic class struggle between what he calls, on one side, the "developmentalist capitalist" forces and, on the other, the array of "patriarchal republicans." The former constituted those who were prepared to employ and expand an activist state to put in place the requisite institutions and infrastructure to promote a capitalist mode of production. The latter embodied the Jeffersonian ideal of the small rural white male property owner.

A particular strength of Sellers's work, and more relevant for present purposes, is that it treats the religious ferment underway in the country that Tocqueville and Beaumont reported on as a key component of the anti-developmentalist coalition in all of its contradictory manifestations. As Sellers demonstrates, there was a deep reactionary side to the second "Awakening," one that exhibited the kind of defective thinking that Marx associated with religion. Sellers shows how all of this was reflected in the political realignments of party politics. With Jackson as its titular leader, the coalition sought to put a halt to the market revolution engineered by the "developmentalists." At stake was not just the country's heart and soul but its very direction: would it become a full-fledged and, later, advanced capitalist country with all that implied for class formation, or the agrarian republic in the image of Jefferson. The outcome, of course, was victory for the developmentalists. But as Sellers, pointedly concludes, on the eve of the Civil War, "market revolution made slavery the great contradiction of the liberal American republic."75

The portrait that Sellers paints is quite different than that of Tocqueville. It isn't the case that the latter necessarily misrepresented reality but provided a description that was totally incomplete. With his almost exclusive focus on what Beaumont described as the political "institutions," Tocqueville offers at best a snapshot—full of errors—that lacks a sense of the big ferment underway that Sellers describes or the seismic forces that drove the "great contradiction." What Tocqueville presents are political institutions, minus the driving force of the politics of civil society. Little wonder that much of modern political science analysis finds Tocqueville so attractive.76

In contrast, there is the even more incomplete evaluation by Marx—again, on the road to communist conclusions—but one whose outlines anticipates Sellers. Though the historical materialist assumptions of his analysis—particularly, the tensions and conflicts between different modes of production—would take Marx and Engels two more years to formulate, the attention that Sellers gives to the religious tumult underway in Jacksonian America is exactly what Marx honed in on while reading Tocqueville, Beaumont, and Hamilton. He already grasped, unlike Tocqueville, that religiosity, religious conflict and sectarianism reflected more fundamental aspects of civil society that political institutions alone couldn't explain. It was indeed this realization that led him to an examination of, as he would later explain, the "anatomy of civil society," that is, political economy. Two years later, the "new world outlook" of historical materialism would emerge.

Bruce Levine's Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of Civil War, published a year after Sellers's book in 1992, covers similar terrain but fleshes out the details of the "great contradiction" that the latter concludes with. As the title indicates, Levine's masterly synthesis of extant research argues that the Civil War was the result of "two antagonistic systems of social organization." Consistent with Marx's historical materialist perspective, he demonstrates convincingly that the "distinctive ways in which North and South organized their labor systems left their mark on all aspects of regional life—including family, gender, and leisure patterns and both religious and secular life. Such cultural changes, in turn, deeply influenced political life."77

Tocqueville, it may be recalled, didn't view the differences between the North and South in their political economies but rather in "manners" and "habits." The latter, for Tocqueville, appear to have an independent existence. For Levine they are the product of the two very different systems of production.

More recently, Anthony Gronowicz's, Race and Class Politics in New York City Before the Civil War verifies at the local level many of the developments that Sellers and Levine describe nationally, but with the added emphasis on race. Gronowicz proves that previous research on the period, especially, Sean Wilentz's classic study, Chants Democratic,78—that tried to explain the class struggle without taking into account race and racial slavery—was woefully inadequate. While Tocqueville also slighted the effects and dynamics of chattel bondage in his account—that he spent time in New York during his visit is noteworthy —for Gronowicz they are central in understanding the city's politics in the Jacksonian era.

The limitations of the workers's movement prior to the Civil War on the race and slavery questions, what Gronowicz focuses on and what Sellers in part means by the "contradictions" of the anti-developmentalist coalition—"patriarchy, racism, and feesimple property"79—is exactly what Marx alluded to in his 1864 letter to Lincoln. More completely, he wrote: "While the working men, the true political power of the North, allowed slavery to defile their own republic; while before the Negro, mastered and sold without his concurrence, they boasted it the highest prerogative of the white-skinned labourer to sell himself and choose his own master; they were unable to attain the true freedom of labour or to support their European brethren in their struggle for emancipation." Or, as he put it in Capital three years later: "In the United States of America, every independent movement of the workers was paralysed so long as slavery disfigured a part of the Republic." As long as the movement of free labor, therefore, failed to fight for the liberation of bonded labor but rather "boasted" of what David Roediger calls the "wages of whiteness," its own struggle against the "developmentalists" could never succeed. The details of Gronowicz's work will be examined in chapter 3.

As for the many specific claims in Democracy in America, there exists a fairly extensive body of literature that severely questions Tocqueville's portrait. Edward Pessen's book, Riches, Class, and Power before the Civil War, remains the most detailed and exacting challenge. Its purpose was "to determine the extent to which" the claim that Jacksonian America was an 'era of the common man,' whose "chief architect . . . was Alexis de Tocqueville," is actually "borne out by the evidence."80

Pessen subjected key claims in Tocqueville's work to empirical data. Regarding Tocqueville's assertion that the "equality of condition" in the United States prevented any of its citizens "from having resources of great extent," he concluded: "The notion that antebellum America lacked substantial fortunes is not borne out by the evidence, primarily, as will be noted, because of its faulty assumption concerning the alleged distribution of 'resources to all members of the community.'"81 The data also questioned Tocqueville's most basic claim about "the general equality of condition among the people." Facts "establish that increasing inequality rather than equality was a central theme of American life during the 'era of the common man.'"82 As to the claim that the wealthy were not involved in the country's governance, the data suggested otherwise: "the more affluent classes and 'those who carried on the business of the country' had a great deal of influence over the government of the nation's cities during the second quarter of the nineteenth century. . . . [to the contrary] the rich appear to have been a true 'governing class.' Despite his possession of the suffrage, the common man had little influence, let alone power, in the nation's cities during the era named in his honor."83 In general, the young Marx would not have been surprised at Pessen's findings given the position he had reached earlier about the "effects of private property . . . to act in their way."

As for the suffrage question, Alexander Keyssar purports to contest in his recent work the supposed finding—whose "most well-known early celebrant" was Tocqueville—that "the history of suffrage," at least in the United States, "is the history of gradual, inevitable reform, and progress." He presents overwhelming evidence that this was simply not the case. Tocqueville's specific claim that "universal suffrage has been adopted in all the states of the Union" was patently false, not only for women, non-slave Blacks, migrants, the poor and felons but also for significant numbers of working class white males at the time when Democracy in America was published in 1835. While it is true that the latter acquired, on average, more access to the vote before their cohorts in Europe did, Keyssar shows convincingly that they did so prior to becoming members of the working class as small farmers or petty artisans. The "critical fact," he concludes, is "that the reforms of the antebellum era were not designed or intended to enfranchise a large, industrial, and partially foreignborn working class."84

Levine also disputes Tocqueville's mantra about the equality of condition in the non-slave owning areas of the United States. He begins chapter two with a quote from Tocqueville to this effect and then systematically presents evidence to the contrary. The particular focus is on increasing disparities in wealth and ownership of property from the inception of the republic to the Civil War. Levine presents data and opinions about U.S. social reality during the period of Tocqueville's visit that convincingly challenge his claim. He concludes with the bleak assessment made by Philip Hone in 1847: "Our good city of New York has already arrived at the state of society to be found in the large cities of Europe; overburdened with population, and where the two extremes of costly luxury and living, expensive establishments, and improvident waste are presented in daily and hourly contrast with squalid misery and hopeless destitution."85 Tocqueville's description of the city in 1831 would not have prepared its readers for such an evolution.

Various retrospectives were made on the enduring value of the first volume of Democracy in America on the sesquicentennial anniversary of its publication. In 1985, a number of these were collected in Reconsidering Tocqueville's Democracy in America, edited by Abraham Eisenstadt. The volume brings together a number of distinguished scholars from various disciplines who subject Tocqueville to a critical review. To varying degrees they raise serious questions about his classic as an accurate portrayal of the reality he claimed to have described—criticisms that are elaborated on in the aforementioned works.

The most recent, and perhaps most well-known, challenge to Tocqueville's overall reading of the United States is the monumental effort of Rogers Smith, Civic Ideals: Conflicting Visions of Citizenship in U.S. History. Smith argues that the main problem with the Tocquevillian interpretation is that it focused only on the "political life" of the United States, which appeared "remarkably egalitarian in comparison to Europe."86 Such an interpretation tends to ignore the "array of fixed, ascriptive hierarchies" throughout the history of the country—especially, the subordination of women, Native Americans and Blacks—the painstaking details of which is the substance of his tome. The title of chapter eight, "High Noon of the White Republic: The Age of Jackson, 1829–1856," leaves little to the imagination. Smith describes—in great detail—how the country that Tocqueville visited in 1831–1832 was in the process of creating a democratic republic that excluded non-whites. "If ever an era fit [an] account in which racist, nativist, and patriarchal views structured American political development and conflicts as fully as liberal republican ones, this is it."87

Smith's critique, nevertheless, is fundamentally within Tocqueville's own framework. Like the latter, his is the "political cause of liberal democracy."88 What he faults Tocqueville and his modern-day followers for is ignoring the existence of the "White Republic" for most of the country's history and failure for not advocating a more inclusive liberal democracy. The young Marx would have argued, on the other hand, that even if the ascriptive hierarchies had been dismantled, the liberal democratic polity would still have been inadequate for the task of human emancipation. 89 Given his affinities with Tocqueville, it's no accident that as comprehensive as Smith's case is it is devoid of what Marx considered crucial, the undemocratic impact of private property on the political process—in other words, the class question. I will critically revisit Smith's thesis in the Conclusions.

Finally, there is Michael Goldfield's recent book, The Color of Politics: Race and the Mainsprings of American Politics, an inquiry also informed by Marx and Engels's perspective.90 His main interest is the historical interaction between race and color in the United States. In the process he draws on a number of their observations, some of which have been quoted earlier. Much of what Goldfield has to say will be addressed in subsequent chapters. Suffice it to note here that with facts and figures he is able to show convincingly that there was in the United States in the decades leading up to the Civil War—the Jacksonian era, and contrary to what Tocqueville suggested—a national ruling class profoundly tied to wealth, whose economic base was slavery.

In sum, then, modern and current scholarship challenges, successfully in my readings, the portrait Tocqueville painted of Jacksonian America and sustains the incipient class analytic perspective of the young Marx. As a last piece of evidence for this claim, a case can be made that Marx offered a convincing explanation why Tocqueville's interpretation of the era misses the mark. To do so requires an appeal to Marx the communist, who was now armed with his historical materialist framework.

In a letter to Joseph Weydemeyer in New York in 1852, Marx observed: "in the United States bourgeois society is still too far immature for the class struggle to be made perceptible and comprehensible." 91 He was referring, specifically, to the pre-eminent economist in the United States, Henry Carey, and the limitations of his analysis, but his comment could just as well have applied, and even more justifiably, to Tocqueville, whose work was based on observations made two decades earlier.92 There was a striking similarity between their views. Both saw class conflict as relevant only in the European setting and certainly not in the United States, which lacked a feudal legacy. If, as Marx suggests, that it was difficult to see the class struggle in 1852, then for Tocqueville in 1831, before the "developmentalist coalition" had consolidated its rule, it was even harder.

Marx's observation is valid but it begs other questions; why was Hamilton able to be sensitive to the incipient class struggle in the United States and Tocqueville not? To employ the mature Marx again and his own experience, which he himself acknowledged, it was not until he went to the homeland of Hamilton in 1845—the site of the most advanced capitalist country, Britain—that he fully appreciated the industrial revolution then well underway. It was no accident that it was Engels, who had spent two years in Manchester, in the entrails of the industrial revolution, who led Marx to study political economy.

Tocqueville, owing to his class and national origins—the relatively underdeveloped character of France vis-à-vis Britain—had too many feet in the past to be fully cognizant of what was underway in the United States. Hamilton was located in a framework of the most advanced developments. As noted earlier, Tocqueville had difficulty interesting himself in political economy. Even in his first trip to England in 1833 his "interest . . . was in castles and landed estates rather than its factories and railroads."93

Neither did Tocqueville's intellectual ancestry prepare him to grasp what was unfolding. Marx believed that his contributions were based on the pioneering work of intellectual giants like David Ricardo, Adam Smith and James Steuart, as well as Hegel, none of whom Tocqueville, as far as can be determined, had been exposed. To the extent that Tocqueville was informed by a theoretical presupposition, it was, as he stated in the introduction to his work: "The gradual development of the principle of equality is, therefore a providential fact"—a claim that he repeated in prefaces to subsequent editions of his book.94 Divine intervention in the final analysis was the explanation for what he claimed to have found in the United States. In a letter to John Stuart. Mill in 1836, he described himself as a " 'new kind of liberal,' seeking to base a stable civic culture not upon a materialistic individualism but upon a socially integrating religion."95 What this revealed, as Seymour Drescher correctly argues, is that Tocqueville lacked a "systematic theory of social change."96 For Marx, the appeal to religion as a foundation for a philosophical, methodological or political perspective was exactly the kind of defective thinking that he criticized in Hegel and to which he sought an alternative. That Christianity for Tocqueville was the only valid religion—Islam and Hinduism certainly weren't—was further evidence for Marx of the paucity of thought that religion fostered, expressing itself in all forms of sectarianism.97

Having said this, I am fully aware of Tocqueville's subsequent travels to Britain and the impact it had on him. But this raises another interesting question. Why didn't he address in introductions to later editions of Democracy in America any reflections on new ideas or changes under way in the United States, which he no doubt followed? Marx and Engels often used prefaces and introductions to new editions of their works to revisit claims based on new developments or new data. That Tocqueville did utilize the occasion of the twelfth edition of his work in 1848, in the aftermath of the revolutionary upheavals in France and elsewhere in Europe, to acknowledge the "sudden and momentous . . . events'" revealed that he could indeed be conscious of the times in which each edition appeared. Not only did he not recognize the need to rethink anything about his analysis but he advocated even stronger for the United States as a model for Europe.

What the preceding suggests is that in addition to the inadequacies and defects of his framework, there was another dimension of Tocqueville that figured significantly in the image he drew of the United States—his own political core, his most basic political instincts. Like Marx and Engels, Tocqueville, too, was the product of the French Revolution, perhaps even more so than Marx and Engels.

But just as Stalinism in the aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution left for some doubts about the desirability of revolutionary overturns, the Terror in France had performed the same function for many in the aftermath of its Revolution. Tocqueville, owing to his class origins, was a victim of the Revolution and a prime example of such sentiment. The guillotine had taken its toll on his own family. Thus, his particular spin on the United States—the realization of democracy without a revolutionary struggle—that has many latter-day adherents. While the drive toward equality was, as he argued, inexorable, his story of the United States showed that it could be forged without revolutionary intervention by the masses.

As Europe erupted in revolution in 1848, beginning in France in February, he urged the European readers of the latest edition of his book to look to the United States as the embodiment of democratic governance. "The institutions of America . . . ought to be a subject of study for republican France. It is not force alone, but good laws that give stability to a new government. After the combatants comes the legislator; the one has pulled down, the other builds up," he wrote. And in recognition of the revolutionary situation he had to face—for a truncated time hopefully—"each has his office."98 The belief that the legislative arena and not the streets was the center of politics is what Marx and Engels soon came to call—on the basis of practical experience with individuals who held views similar to those of Tocqueville—"parliamentary cretinism."

Nothing better captures Tocqueville than this admission in a self-reflective moment sometime between 1839 and 1841:

'My mind is attracted by democratic institutions but I am instinctively aristocratic because I despise and fear mobs. At the most fundamental level, I passionately love freedom, legality, respect for rights, but not democracy. I hate demagoguery, the disordered action of the masses, their violent and unenlightened intervention in public affairs. . . . I belong neither to the revolutionary nor the conservative party. But, when all is said and done, I incline towards the latter rather than the former because I differ from the conservatives over means rather than ends, while I differ from the revolutionaries over both means and ends.'99
This suggests that Tocqueville was not incapable of seeing what Marx and Engels anticipated and later explained, and is now verified by current scholarship—U.S. class formation and conflict in the making. His second volume, published in 1840 five years after the first tome, clearly saw the possibility for such a messy reality since it was already underway in Europe. But the political conclusions he would have had to draw—the need for a revolutionary mass movement to prevent Sellers's "developmentalists" and all that Tocqueville despised about them from establishing their hegemony—went against his political grain. The Revolution and the Terror had cast too long a shadow over him. Tocqueville's disposition reminds one of the individual that Frederick Douglass had in mind in his oft-quoted speech on the eve of the Civil War: "Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground." Perhaps it was his fundamental dislike for the plow of mass struggle that led Tocqueville to overstate the size of the harvest that he so desired, without sweat, blood, and all that accompanies the "disordered action of the masses."

Marx and Engels's political core was just the opposite of Tocqueville's. They reveled in the fight. They were heartened whenever the oppressed anywhere went into motion against their oppressors. Sheldon Wolin, in his new book on Tocqueville, is right to say that in contrast to the latter, "Marx thought of politics as a form of combat." But the remainder of the comparison is invidious. To posit that "Tocqueville might be the last influential theorist who can be said to have truly cared about political life" and that "[f]ew of his contemporaries did," is dead wrong.100

There was nothing in Marx's life, nor that of Engels, to suggest that either "truly cared about political life" any less than Tocqueville. But what he and his partner understood and the latter could not fathom was that "caring" wasn't enough. Combat is at the heart of class politics—on either side of the barricades. The question is whether one is willing to put in the requisite time, energy, and sacrifice to join the battle. History revealed that Tocqueville was not so disposed while Marx and Engels were, and single-mindedly so. The excerpt from Douglass's aforementioned speech could easily have been authored by either of them. Exactly because they sincerely believed, like Douglass, that "If there is no struggle there is no progress," they understood in their bones what it would take to bring about real democracy in the United States—the subject to which we now turn.




Notes
  1. For details on Marx's political evolution at this stage see my Marx and Engels: Their Contribution to the Democratic Breakthrough (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 2000), chapter 1.
  2. C. B. Macpherson, The Life and Times of Liberal Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 10.
  3. Hal Draper, Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution, Vol I. (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977), p. 59.
  4. 27, p. 405.
  5. 6, pp. 498, 504. In the catechismic style of his draft, Engels wrote, in reply to the question, "What will be the course of this [proletarian] revolution?": "In the first place it will inaugurate a democratic constitution and thereby, directly or indirectly, the political rule of the proletariat."(6, p. 350) Draper, The Annotated Communist Manifesto (Berkeley: Center for Socialist History, 1984), pp. 175–77, makes a convincing case that unlike Engels in his draft, Marx was deliberately vague in his usage of "democracy" here and in other passages in the Manifesto, mainly because he was not as clear as his partner on the role of the democratic struggle in the transition to socialism. Within a year, however, he had clearly embraced Engels's position.
  6. 6, p. 333.
  7. 27, p. 271.
  8. 38, p. 102.
  9. Marx, Grundrisse (Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1973), p. 884 (hereafter, Grundrisse).
  10. 1, p.167. Marx wrote this in 1842. Note the similarity to what he said twenty-five years later in the Preface to Capital about his reason for beginning the inquiry with the analysis of the commodity: " . . . in the analysis of economic forms neither microscopes nor chemical reagents are of assistance. The power of abstraction must replace both. But for bourgeois society, the commodity-form . . . is the economic cell-form," or, later, "its elementary form." Capital, Vol I. (New York: Penguin, 1977), pp. 90, 125. The commodity, in other words, as the "pure case" for understanding of capitalism.
  11. 3, p. 120.
  12. This crucial fact about Marx's writings in this period is exactly what Seymour Lipset ignores or doesn't understand in his clumsy effort to challenge Marx's understanding of the U.S. reality. See his "Why No Socialism in the United States?" Radicalism in the Contemporary Age, eds. Seweryn Bialer and Sophia Sluzar (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1977). More about Lipset's legerdemain later.
  13. For a most informative discussion on Marx's usage of "civil society" see Jan Rehmann, " 'Abolition' of Civil Society?: Remarks on a Widespread Misunderstanding in the Interpretation of 'Civil Society,' " Socialism and Democracy, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Fall–Winter 1999).
  14. Draper's discussion of the articles and their context is first rate as well as his appendix, "Marx and the Economic-Jew Stereotype," which convincingly disputes the anti-semitic charge often directed at the work (Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution, vol. 1, respectively, chapter 5 and pp. 591–608). Gary Teeple's reading of the two articles is also useful, especially if read together with Draper; Marx's Critique of Politics: 1842–1847 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984), pp. 100–108. For a more recent reading that also does justice to Marx's argument, see Y. Peled, "From Theology to Sociology: Bruno Bauer and Karl Marx on the Question of Jewish Emancipation," History of Political Thought 13(3): 463–85, Fall 1992.
  15. 5, p. 236.
  16. 3, p. 150.
  17. The replies of evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson to a reporter's questions about his study of religion would have probably resonated with the young Marx and the Left Hegelians. While religion may have promoted what he calls a "guarded egalitarianism" and "willingness of people to cooperate with others," it could also be divisive. "Religions and other social organizations may preach kindness and cooperation within the group, but they often say nothing about those outside the group, and may even promote brutality toward those beyond the brotherhood of the [bee] hive. That has been the dark side [Marx's "defect"] of religion" (New York Times, Dec. 24, 2002).
  18. ibid., p. 151.
  19. ibid., p. 153.
  20. ibid., pp. 162–68.
  21. ibid., p. 171. Commenting on the brief spurt in religiosity in the U.S. in the aftermath of September 11, Robert Wuthnow, director of the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University, made a comment that Marx would have understood all too well: " 'We are in some ways a very religious country, especially compared to Western Europe,' Mr. Wuthnow said. 'But we're of two minds, and the other mind is that we are pretty secular. We are very much a country of consumers and shoppers, and we're quite materialistic. And as long as we can kind of paste together a sense of control through our ordinary work and our ordinary purchases, we're pretty happy to do that' "(New York Times, Nov. 26, 2001, p. B6). Marx later remarked on the U.S.–Western Europe difference; see below, pp. 12–13.
  22. ibid., p. 155.
  23. 5, p. 217. It's possible that Marx relied on Thomas Hamilton's observations, cited below, about the Workingmen's Party in New York in making this point.
  24. 41, p. 390.
  25. Gustave de Beaumont, Marie or, Slavery in the United States (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1999), p. 7.
  26. Thomas Hamilton, Men and Manners in America, 2 volumes (Edinburgh: William Blackwood, 1833). Unfortunately, the 1999 edition of Marie doesn't include the appendix on religious groups that refers to Hamilton's book. For the reference, see Marie ou L'esclavage aux États- Unis, 5me Édition (Paris: Charles Gosselin, 1842), p. 271.
  27. Marx/Engels, Gesamtausgabe, Abt. 4, bd. 2 (Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1981), pp. 266–75. Hamilton's characterization of the money-grabbing New Englander—"The whole race of Yankee pedlars . . . resemble the Jews"—may have been the basis for Marx's central argument in the second article about the Judaization of the Christian world. See Hamilton, Vol. 1, pp. 229–30.
  28. Maximilien Rubel, "Notes on Marx's Conception of Democracy," New Politics, vol. 1, no. 2 (Winter 1962), pp. 83–85, also argues that Hamilton exercised a decisive influence on Marx. His treatment, however, is far more suggestive and less systematic than what is presented here. Lewis Feuer, "The North American Origin of Marx's Socialism," Western Political Quarterly, vol. XVI, no. 1 (March 1963), pp. 53–67, makes a similar argument but with particular focus on Hamilton's treatment of the Workingmen's Party of New York and in greater detail. A close reading of both Rubel and Feuer reveals that my argument differs significantly from their reading of Marx's reading of the United States.
  29. Lipset, pp. 35–36.
  30. Hamilton, vol. 1, p. 217.
  31. Marx and Engels, Gesamtausgabe, Abt. 4, Bd. 2, pp. 268–69. For the comparable pages in Hamilton, see Vol. 1, pp. 221–22.
  32. Hamilton, Vol 1, pp. 299–301. For details on the party in New York at the time see Anthony Gronowicz, Race and Class Politics in New York City Before the Civil War (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1998), chapter 3.
  33. Hamilton, Vol. 2, pp. 226–27.
  34. ibid., pp. 142–43. Hamilton also denounced Thomas Jefferson for hypocrisy: "Continually puling about liberty, equality, and the degrading curse of slavery," he not only fathered children by his slaves but later, according to Hamilton, sold them into slavery—a charge that has greater credence given the recent DNA findings about his descendants. See Vol. 1, pp. 324–25.
  35. ibid., pp. 225, 227.
  36. ibid., p. 210.
  37. There are other interesting issues addressed by Hamilton worth noting but are not necessarily germane to the topic at hand. One, for example, was the protective tariffs' policy of the U.S. government, which Hamilton opposed. It's possible that this was not only Marx's introduction to the topic but one from a perspective, i.e. against protectionism, that would figure significantly in his political economy writings. It should be made clear that no claim is being made here that Marx necessarily agreed with all of Hamilton's views.
  38. Tocqueville, vol 1, p. 311.
  39. ibid., p. 324.
  40. Hamilton, vol. 2, p. 210.
  41. Beaumont (1842 edition), pp. 272–75. Again, unfortunately the recent English edition of Marie does not include the appendix, Sur le Mouvement Religieux aux État-Unis.
  42. Tocqueville, vol. 1, pp. 314–15.
  43. 4, pp. 116–17.
  44. If Marx was indeed informed by Tocqueville's insight, it reveals —especially in the context of his larger argument in which these statements originate—the difference between the feudal and the modern state, Marx went much further to explain the fundamental differences between both states, i.e., beyond just how they related to religion.
  45. ibid., p. 321.
  46. "Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law," 3, p. 94. Tocqueville's claim must have seemed contradictory to Marx given his assertion that other components of U.S. civil society such as slavery and the treatment of Indians were "collateral" to an explanation of democracy. His other assertion, that the Catholic Church was a paragon of democracy, must have appeared ludicrous to Marx in view of his critique of the Church (p. 51).

    Marx's critique of "patriarchal laws" anticipates Rheinhardt's critique of Tocqueville's defense of "America's gendered hierarchy"(p. 69).
  47. Tocqueville, vol. 1, pp. 206, 204.
  48. ibid., p. 254.
  49. ibid., pp. 327, 207.
  50. George Wilson Pierson, Tocqueville in America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), p. 608.
  51. Tocqueville, vol. 2, p. 170.
  52. I owe this insight about Tocqueville to Laura Janara, specifically, chapter 4 of her dissertation, "After the Mother: Authority, Autonomy and Passion in Tocqueville's Democracy in America," University of Minnesota, 1998.
  53. Tocqueville, Vol. 2, pp. 250, 258.
  54. ibid., p. 199. Tocqueville makes another interesting observation in explaining why the modern state tends to grow in power: "the manufacturing classes [workers] require more regulation, superintendence, and restraint than the other classes of society, and it is natural that the powers of government should increase in the same proportion as those classes." ibid., 327. Here, he makes clear that he is only referring to Europe though the implications for the U.S. in his thinking can only be speculated on.
  55. Seymour Drescher, Dilemmas of Democracy: Tocqueville and Modernization (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1968), p. 54n.
  56. Ibid., p. 56.
  57. Though it would be instructive to look at Tocqueville's views on American Indians, given the almost complete absence of anything comparable in Marx I have confined this discussion to the situation of Blacks in his analysis. For a thoughtful critique of his views on Indians, see William E. Connolly, "Tocqueville, Territory and Violence," Theory, Culture & Society, Vol. 11(1994), 19–40.
  58. Tocqueville, vol. 1, p. 372. Regarding Marx and Engels's views on Blacks, see, p. 25 n.85.
  59. ibid., p. 373.
  60. Tocqueville was active in France's abolitionist circles (more about in Chapter Two), a milieu that was influenced by Grégoire's book. For the new English edition, see Henri Grégoire, An Enquiry Concerning the Intellectual and Moral Facilities, and Literature of Negroes (New York: M. E. Sharpe, 1997).
  61. Tocqueville, vol. 1, p. 394.
  62. For a somewhat similar assessment, see Peter Augustine Lawler, "Tocqueville on Slavery, Ancient and Modern," Comparative Issues in Slavery, ed. Paul Finkelman (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1989).
  63. ibid., p. 395.
  64. ibid., p. 378n; Hamilton, vol. 2, p. 229.
  65. Tocqueville, vol. 1, p. 280.
  66. Drescher, Dilemmas of Democracy, p. 184n.
  67. Ibid., p. 177.
  68. Reinhardt, p. 64. In the section of his book from which this comes, Reinhardt makes a case similar to the one presented here. Tocqueville's "evasion of the politics of actively confronting slavery is more than a refusal to invent easy and fanciful solutions to complex and stubborn problems; it amounts, despite his moral distress and the acuity of his analyses, to the subversion of his condemnations, to a backhanded legitimation of this condition." (p. 66)
  69. ibid., p. 412.
  70. ibid., p. 389.
  71. ibid., p. 397. This is a curious comment. Was he referring to the Haitian Republic or, perhaps, the Nat Turner rebellion in 1831, the year of his visit, to which he made no explicit reference anywhere?
  72. The argument here is anticipated to some degree in Maximilien Rubel, "Marx and American Democracy," Marx and the Western World, ed. Nicholas Lobkowicz (London: University of Notre Dame Press, 1967), and Robert Weiner, "Karl Marx's Vision of America: A Bibliographical and Bibliographical Sketch," The Review of Politics, vol. 42 (Oct. 1980), No. 4. However, a close reading of both articles reveals that in the former the thesis is not really proven to the degree it is here while in the latter the significance of Marx's reading of Tocqueville is not fully appreciated.
  73. It's likely that other materials also informed him but the extant record only reveals these sources.
  74. Charles Sellers, The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815–1846 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 6n.
  75. Ibid., p. 396.
  76. This is not to imply in any manner that Marx and Engels, in their move toward political economy, ignored political institutions. To the contrary. Any close and honest read of the young Marx would reveal not only sincere interest in but detailed attention to the state and its various institutions. For a useful summary of the evidence for this claim, see Teeple, chapter 5.
  77. Levine, pp. 14–15.
  78. Sean Wilentz, Chants Democratic: New York City and the Rise of the American Working Class, 1788–1850 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984).
  79. Sellers, p. 6.
  80. Edward Pessen, Riches, Class, and Power Before the Civil War (Lexington, Mass.: D. C. Heath, 1973), p. 1. See also, Pessen's debate with a Tocqueville partisan on some of these questions in Revue Tocqueville (1981–1982)
  81. ibid., p. 26.
  82. ibid., p. 43.
  83. ibid., pp. 298–89.
  84. Alexander Keyssar, The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States (New York: Basic Books, 2000), pp. xvii, 76.
  85. Levine, p. 70.
  86. Rogers M. Smith, Civic Ideals: Conflicting Visions of Citizenship in U.S. History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), p. 17.
  87. Ibid., p. 199.
  88. Ibid, p. 472.
  89. This was exactly what he understood about the oppression that Jews faced in Germany in both the political and civil spheres; he was resolute, it should be quickly added, in defending religious and political freedom for Jews. For details, see Draper, Karl Marx's Theory, Vol. 1, pp. 110–13.
  90. Michael Goldfield, The Color of Politics: Race and the Mainspring of American Politics (New York: The New Press, 1997).
  91. 39, p. 62.
  92. See Eric Foner's "New Introductory Essay" in his Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. xxi.
  93. Drescher, p.
  94. Tocqueville, vol. 1, pp. xi, 6.
  95. Jack Hayward, After the French Revolution: Six Critics of Democracy and Nationalism (New York: New York University Press, 1991), p. 149.
  96. Drescher, p. 278.
  97. For a critical assessment of Tocqueville's religious views, see Michael Levin, The Spectre of Democracy: The Rise of Modern Democracy as Seen by its Critics (New York: New York University Press, 1992), pp. 115–18.
  98. Tocqueville, vol. 1, p.ix.
  99. Tocqueville, Mon Instinct, mes opinions," quoted in Antoine Rédier, Comme disait M. de Toqueville (Paris, 1925), p. 48; quoted in Hayward, p. 149. See Also, André Jardin, Tocqueville: A Biography (New York: Farrar, Straux, Giroux, 1988), p. 305, for a more abbreviated version of this statement. To understand in a broader sense what Tocqueville meant see Roger Boesche, The Strange Liberalism of Alexis de Tocqueville (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987), and Alan S. Kahan, Aristocratic Liberalism: The Social and Political Thought of Jacob Burckhardt, John Stuart Mill, and Alexis de Tocqueville (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).
  100. Sheldon S. Wolin, Tocqueville Between Two Worlds: The Making of a Political and Theoretical Life (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), p. 5.

    
  
 
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