In a letter composed just three years before his death, Tocqueville wrote: “This profound saying could be applied especially to me: it is not good for man to be alone.” When I tell my students that the whole of Democracy in America was written under the aegis of this sentiment, under the shadow of what could be called a philosophy of loneliness, they listen. Tocqueville’s concern, I tell them, was the emergence of a new type, homo solus, the lonely man; and with how this new type would understand himself and his place in the world. And, so, my students approach Tocqueville’s Democracy in America with a sense of urgency. They soon discover that it is a book that reads their own hearts, for few things are more haunting to them than the spectre of loneliness. They seek to understand Tocqueville, so that they may understand themselves; for in Tocqueville’s writing they find an account of the etiology of the disease from which they suffer. Man, the lonely animal. That is why I ask my students around the globe to read his book. And because teachers of the history of political thought are called not only to diagnose disease but to indicate wherein health may lie, I ask my students to read Democracy in America so that they may also discover Tocqueville’s cautious hope that such loneliness need not be the final word about their future.
While loneliness has been chronicled in all ages, Tocqueville thought that it would be an especially acute problem in the democratic age, because the antidote that the aristocratic age before it had offered would no longer be available. That antidote was the “links,” as he called them, which tied each to everyone else. In his words:
Aristocracy links everybody, from peasant to king, in one long chain. Democracy breaks the chain and frees each link. . . . Each man is [thereby] thrown back on himself alone, and there is danger that he may be shut up in the solitude of his own heart (508).1
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