When the political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-59) visited the infant United States in 1831, he was struck above all by the “equality of condition” that prevailed there.

He was a French nobleman with aristocratic biases, but his American observations forced the conclusion on him that equality was the way of the future, not only in the New World but in the Old as well. The evidence, once his eyes had been opened, was unmistakable. “The whole book which is here offered to the public” — “Democracy in America” — “has been written under the impression of a kind of religious terror produced in the author’s mind by the view of that irresistible revolution … It is not necessary that God himself should speak in order that we may discover the unquestionable signs of his will.” God’s will, Tocqueville had discovered, was “equality of condition.”

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