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VARIOUS TEXTS: Practising Reading Comprehension and Writing III

Practising Reading Comprehension and Writing

Write down paragraph by paragraph:
a. WHAT the author's subject is
b. WHAT does the author think ABOUT the subject?


Tocqueville, Democracy in America
Alexis de Tocqueville's 'Democracy in America' studies the interplay between political power and society. The treatise was the first of its kind and was revolutionary for its use of empirical methods, which were more common in the "hard" sciences — chemistry, biology, and physics — than in the social sciences. Tocqueville distinguished himself from his colleagues by viewing democracy not as a system based on freedom but as one based on power. In fact, Tocqueville argues that democracy is a form of government with more power than any other governmental system.

Born in France in 1805, Tocqueville had a conflicted relationship with his reformist ideals. His grandfather, a liberal aristocrat, lawyer, and politician, was a powerful force for social reforms prior to and during the French Revolution. Despite this, he was condemned as a counterrevolutionary and executed along with several members of his family. Tocqueville adopted his grandfather's liberal ideals, but never lost a profound distrust for the potentially violent extremes to which the drive for democracy can push a nation. Tocqueville's famous study of the United States was the product of a nine-month trip to the young republic, beginning in 1831. Tocqueville had traveled to the United States to produce a study of America's prisons. That initial study was published in 1833, a year after he returned to France. He then labored another nine years over 'Democracy in America'. The book itself was written in two distinct volumes. The first volume focused specifically on Tocqueville's observations of American culture. He stressed the growth of social equality promoted by a stable social order, an issue that was close to his heart given France's repeated violent efforts to establish a lasting democracy. The second volume, written four years after the first had been completed, was more abstract. Tocqueville turned his attention to the conflict of individuality and centrality in democratic cultures.

Tocqueville ascribes the power of a democracy to its tendency to centralize power. In a democracy, there are no guilds, estates, or sharply defined social classes. These institutions, in earlier times, represented a check on the powers of kings and tyrants. But in their absence, the government holds the ultimate authority. According to Tocqueville, it is the lower classes that primarily drive the centralization of power in a democracy.

One reason the lower classes prefer a centralization of power relates to the historical role of the aristocratic class. In many class-based societies, the lower classes were subject to the rule of classes above them. Local affairs were overseen by aristocrats, who often acted like petty tyrants. Only by surrendering authority to a central government could the lower classes achieve equality.

Another connection between the lower classes and the centralization of power is literacy, or more accurately, illiteracy. In aristocratic societies, widespread illiteracy did not result in the consolidation of power because the social structure was so segmented. But in an egalitarian society, the intermediate agencies vanish. Without these agencies acting on behalf of the less-informed citizenry, the responsibility falls to the government. Centralization is therefore necessary to aid and provide for citizens who may otherwise have nowhere else to turn to for assistance.

But perhaps the most profound effect the lower classes can have on the centralization of power in a democracy concerns the nature of the democratic leader. In an aristocracy or a monarchy, the ruler was always viewed as a person apart from the lower classes, a person whose, birth made him (or her) superior to his subjects. In a democracy, the lower classes can identify more closely with a leader whom they can view as one of them and thus are willing to rally around him (or her) more readily.

Of course, other factors increase the centralization of a democracy. Tocqueville points out that war is an important agent of centralization. To succeed in war, contends Tocqueville, a nation must be able to focus its resources around a single point. Countries with a centralization of power are far more able to accomplish this task than are countries with fragmented power structures. But it is interesting how Tocqueville sees democracy as a vehicle not for freedom but for power, driven by the very people the democracy is designed to empower.
697 words


Source:
Cracking the iBT TOEFL, 2013, pp. 34/35


Apply your active reading skills (skimming and scanning) when answering your questions. I.e. you don't have to understand every word.

Paragraph 1
What?


What about it?


Paragraph 2
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What about it?
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What about it?


Paragraph 4
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What about it?


Paragraph 5
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What about it?


Paragraph 6
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Paragraph 7
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Overall Purpose?















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