THE INDIVIDUAL & SOCIETY
THE INDIVIDUAL & SOCIETY PHI 335
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This 4 page Class Notes was uploaded by Emerald Altenwerth on Friday October 23, 2015. The Class Notes belongs to PHI 335 at University of Kentucky taught by David Bradshaw in Fall. Since its upload, it has received 36 views. For similar materials see /class/228285/phi-335-university-of-kentucky in PHIL-Philosophy at University of Kentucky.
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Date Created: 10/23/15
1 Women in American Society quotAnd now that I come near the end of this book in which Ihave recorded so many considerable achievements of the Americansquot writes Tocqueville quotif anyone asks me what I think the chief cause of the extraordinary prosperity and growing power of this nation I should answer that it is due to the superiority of their women quot Tocqueville s belief that women play a crucial role in shaping society is inseparable from his emphasis on the need for proper values and mores to achieve and maintain social stability and prosperity especially in a democracy In Tocqueville39s estimation mores are quotone of the great general causes responsible for the maintenance of a democratic republic in the United Statesquot With the term mores Tocqueville is referring to quotthe different notions possessed by men the various opinions current among them and the sum of ideas that shape mental habitsquot Mores are especially crucial and in uential in democratic societies because of the freedom that the people enjoy the strong role of public opinion and the general weakness of authority Women have a particularly important responsibility in democratic society precisely because of their ability to shape its mores As Tocqueville remarks quotthere have never been free societies without mores and it is women who shape these mores Therefore everything which has a bearing on the status of women their habits and their thoughts is in my view of great political importancequot The principle way in which women shape mores is through their role as wives and mothers Tocqueville argues that the respect given to the institution of marriage in a society has a powerful impact on the order and wellbeing of that society as a whole From his observations Tocqueville found that the United States was the country where marriage was most respected and he attributed the stability of American societyDas opposed to the general disorder of many European societies particularly FranceDto the strength of this institution quotIn Europequot asserts Tocqueville quotalmost all the disorders of society are born around the domestic hearth and not far from the nuptial bed It is there that men come to feel scorn for natural ties and legitimate pleasures and develop a taste for disorder restlessness of spirit and insatiability of desiresquot By contrast quotwhen the American returns from the turmoil of politics to the bosom of the family he immediately finds a perfect picture of order and peace There all his pleasures are simple and natural and his joys innocent and quiet and as the regularity of life brings him happiness he easily forms the habit of regulating his opinions as well as his tastesquot The result for society at large is that quotwhereas the European tries to escape his sorrows at home by troubling society the American derives from his home the love of order which he carries over into affairs of the statequot Tocqueville sees the effort of a wife to create an orderly loving and pleasant home environment therefore as not only a matter affecting the wellbeing of individual families but also as a great service to society with immense social and even political repercussions What was it in particular about American society in the nineteenth century that had fostered such a strong respect for marriage and such exemplary strength of character in American women Tocqueville attributes the situation partially to the style of a girl s upbringing and education combined with the strong in uence of religious values and the discipline provided by industrial habits In America Tocqueville notes that rather than being sheltered and shielded from reality a young woman is allowed to become familiar with quotthe vices and dangers of societyquot so that quotseeing them clearly she judges them without illusion and faces them without fearquot He adds that quother morals are pure rather than her mind chastequot Such an approach leads to the formation of women who are not na39139ve but who have the prudence and fortitude necessary to carry out their duties and live upright lives Tocqueville also provides some possible explanations for the respect given to the institution of marriage in American society Through his studies Tocqueville found that quotreligious peoples and industrial nations take a particularly serious view of marriage The former consider the regularity of a woman s life the best guarantee and the surest sign of the purity of her morals The latter see in it the surest safeguard of the order and prosperity of the housequot America in Tocqueville s day combined both of these attributes Puritanism still had a very strong in uence and society at least in the north was becoming highly industrialized These forces shaped cultural expectations of women and created a strong public opinion in favor of respecting the permanence of marriage and particularly the specifically domestic role of women The women themselves aware of this situation and aware of the sacrifices that marriage demands entered into marriage with full knowledge of what is expected of them and were cautious before entering into a marriage commitment Another attribute of American society that contributes to the strength of marriage and the strong salutary role of women is the American view of equality between the sexes In an aristocratic society the relations between men and women tend to be more problematic because people often have little choice of whom they are going to marry and even if they can choose their choice is limited by class barriers Of course passions and affections cannot be bound by those barriers and consequently there are quota great number of ephemeral and clandestine connectionsquot In a democratic society however where quotequality of conditions has swept down all the real or imaginary barriers separating man and womanquot women are empowered to test the true level of a man s love and commitment to her As Tocqueville points out quothowever credulous passion may make us there is hardly a way of persuading a girl that you love her when you are perfectly free to marry her but will not do soquot Another effect of equality in nineteenthcentury America is that precisely because there was freedom in the choice of one39s spouse public opinion very harshly condemned infidelity and divorce thereby strengthening the institution of marriage The Americans particular view of equality between the sexes also strengthened the position of women in society Tocqueville disagrees with the notion gaining popularity among the European philosophers of his time that men and women quotare not equal only but actually similarquot Tocqueville believes that the view of equality which treats men and women as the same quotdegrades them both and that so coarse a jumble of nature s works could produce nothing but feeble men and unseemly womenquot In America on the other hand Tocqueville was pleased to find the prevailing view that quotnature which created such great differences between men and women clearly intended to give their diverse faculties a diverse employmentquot Women he believes are best suited to work in the domestic sphere while men are better equipped for business political affairs and managing the external relations of the family Likewise Tocqueville places importance on the need for strong paternal authority in the family and he praises the Americans for respecting that authority in spite of their democratic mentality recognizing that quotevery association to be effective must have a head and the natural head of the conjugal association is the husband While Tocqueville s opinions about a woman s role are clearly marked by the conventions of his era he shows a much greater respect for women than the prevailing European views at the time quotIn Europequot remarks Tocqueville quotone has often noted that a certain contempt lurks in the attery men lavish on women although a European may often make himself a woman39s slave one feels that he never sincerely thinks her his equalquot By contrast in America Tocqueville found that while men did not often atter or compliment women they treated them with respect and esteem displaying complete confidence in their spouse39s judgment and deep respect for their freedomquot While in Europe men regarded women as quotseductive but incomplete beingsquot in America men quothad such respect for their moral freedom that in their presence every man was careful to keep a watch on his tongue for fear that they should be forced to listen to language which offends themquot Clearly the Americans while holding to the idea that men and women are destined to pursue different occupations in life had a deep sense of the dignity of women regarding them quotas beings of equal worthquot and considering their work to be as important as men39s 11 Democracy and War Tocqueville in general follows the classical liberal characterization of democracies as un warlike both because of their ideology and also because of economic selfinterest There are a few anomalies such as the soldiers who tend to have an interest in war but in general this problem does not seem to have great potential to cause any real danger Tocqueville argues that great revolutions will become rare because quotany revolution is more or less a threat to propertyquot and quotmost inhabitants of a democracy have propertyquot There is a more philosophic and even for other reasons quite disturbing element of democratic societies that disincline them to revolution their individualism quotWhen social conditions are equalquot asserts Tocqueville quotevery man tends to live apart centered in himself and forgetful of the publicquot This tendency will indeed make revolution more unlikely but Tocqueville warns that it ought not to be fostered because the apathy and selfinterest of the majority could be taken advantage of by a minority with an interest in revolution The tendencies toward the omnipotence of the majority and overwhelming acceptance of public opinion also work against revolution General ideas about life and government are fixed by the opinion of the majority and almost never change As a result there are few widespread ideas contrary to public opinion that would spur a revolution Of course this unchangeability of general ideas is also a great danger for democracies Even aside from the problem of tyranny of the majority Tocqueville fears that democratic societies quotwill end up by being too unalterably fixed with the same institutions prejudices and mores so that mankind will stop progressing and will dig itself inquot Tocqueville argues that local liberties are much more important than political rights in deciding the general affairs of the whole country because a person quothas little understanding of the way in which the fate of the state can in uence his own lotquot while minor questions of local interest have an obvious visible effect on his everyday life 511 As a result people will be much more effectively drawn together and more likely to exercise their liberty if they are given control of minor local affairs Most importantly quotfree institutions and the political rights enjoyed there provide a thousand continual reminders to every citizen that he lives in societyquot Liberty Here one can see yet another feature of the complementarity between liberty and equality While a certain amount of equality is necessary for genuine liberty liberty is necessary to guard against the negative sideeffects of equality As Tocqueville asserts quotthere is only one effective remedy against the evils which equality may cause and that is political libertyquot Yet this dynamic between equality and liberty could be problematic In America where the institutions that safeguard freedom are already in place there is no difficulty and the only action necessary is to ensure the security and prominence of them In a country like France in the nineteenth century however the problem is much more serious For while only liberty can mitigate the negative effects of equality those negative effects themselves act as obstacles to liberty For such a situation Tocqueville seems to offer little hope The only possible course of action may be an attempt to demonstrate the dangers of equality and the benefits of liberty to the people and particularly the leaders of the country persuading them to enact reforms as Tocqueville himself is trying to do in his writings Overall Tocqueville39s conception of the relationship between freedom and equality is far from simple On the one hand it is clear that Tocqueville sees the growing equality of conditions as a danger to liberty The passion for equality more deeplyrooted longstanding and ardent than the desire for liberty can lead people even to accept despotism On the other hand lack of equality especially unequal rights is a detriment to freedom freedom is dependent on equality and vice versa Yet with increasing equality as the prevailing andD in Tocqueville39s viewDinevitable force in history the difficulty which deserves primary focus is that of fostering and preserving liberty
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