The Readings for Democracy in America unit
4 are available here for download as a PDF file. You'll need a copy
of Adobe Acrobat Reader to read the files. Acrobat Reader is available
free for download from adobe.com.
Unit 4 Readings, Civil Liberties: Safeguarding the Individual
- IntroductionCivil Liberties: Safeguarding the Individual
- Tocqueville, Democracy in America: Effects of the Tyranny
of the Majority Upon the National Character of the AmericansThe
Courtier Spirit in the United States
- Locke, An Essay Concerning the True Original, Extent,
and End of Civil Government
- Mill, On Liberty
- Thoreau, Civil Disobedience
- In what ways, according to Tocqueville, do democracies exercise
despotism over the minds of men?
- What did Locke make of the argument that Adam had a natural
dominance over his children?
- According to Mill, how far should the liberty of the individual
- How did Thoreau believe that most men serve the state?
IntroductionCivil Liberties: Safeguarding the Individual
Unimaginably old but surprisingly new, civil liberties have become
central to American perceptions of what it is to be an individual
as well as an American. The ability to be left alone with your beliefs,
opinions, and actions may be as old as Achilles but has certainly
reached new importance in the twentieth century. It has also contributed
to, as Tocqueville predicted, new difficulties. In a democratic
society people necessarily become more skeptical of the beliefs
of their neighbors but more reliant on the beliefs of the public.
In the United States, the majority undertakes to supply a multitude
of ready-made opinions for the use of individuals, who are thus
relieved from the necessity of forming opinions of their own. Everybody
there adopts great numbers of theories, on philosophy, morals, and
politics, without inquiry, upon public trust; and if we examine
it very closely, it will be perceived that religion itself holds
sway there much less as a doctrine of revelation than as a commonly
Democracy, Tocqueville supposed, presented new challenges for individualism,
particularly through the threat of mass culture overwhelming individual
tastes, opinions, and ideas, even as it presented important possibilities.
The readings collected here offer significant background information
on the growth and development of notions of individualism. John
Lockes and John Stuart Mills are standard texts on liberty
and individual freedom. They attempt to explain why people should
be left alone in their own personal choices and to explicate the
powerful, sometime supreme role of the individual in political society.
These selections are made more complex with the addition of a reading
not normally taken to be about abstract libertythat of Henry
David Thoreau. This piece provides substance and context for the
writings of Locke and Mill. That is, it explores the backgrounds,
costs, and responsibilities of liberties in very specific contexts.
While Thoreaus piece is not one of his more naturalist writings,
it does suggest some meanings of the natural world for Thoreau that
bear an interesting relationship to the role of the land in the
writings of Jefferson (The Declaration of Independence) and Locke.
All of these selections explore the background and foreground of
Tocquevilles claim that liberty, especially of opinion, experienced
numerous challenges in the United States. The readings chosen from
earlier sources expound a more natural source of individual interests
and ideas. The later readings often deal more explicitly with the
challenges presented to individualismindividualism is a struggle
and a goal, not a given.