Marx Vs Tocqueville: Analysis of Democracy in America

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Marx vs. Tocqueville: Solution to Alienation and Individualism

Both Marx and Tocqueville have theorized about community, as well as the implications of the absence of community. The two sociologists have come up with solutions to gain community in order to avoid the opposite, in Marx’s case: alienation, and in Tocqueville’s case: individualism. When looking at both theorists, an important question arises: which solution would be more effective, in order to gain community? In this paper, I will argue that in order to gain community through labor, Tocquville’s proposal of voluntary associations is more effective than Marx’s proposal of the abolishment of private property. I will compare and contrast Marx’s and Tocqueville’s solution in relation to two types of alienation that Marx proposes in Alienated Labor: the alienation between a worker and their work, as well as the alienation between a worker and other workers. I will then conclude the paper with the importance of this comparison in relation to contemporary labor.

Marx argues that under a capitalistic economy, labor becomes alienated for the worker because as they continue to work in an advanced division of labor, the work becomes so repetitive, they become alienated from the physical task they are doing (Marx 6). Because of this, there is a loss of community for the worker. An effective solution to this would be what Toqueville proposes as voluntary associations in Democracy in America, rather than Marx’s proposal of the abolition of private property. Labour could still continue without the feeling of alienation with these types of associations. Individuals can form small groups, or communities with each other and would be able to exercise a simple division of labor, rather than an advanced division of labor that is exercised outside of these smaller groups. This would combat the feeling of individualism, as well as alienation because everyone would be able to share tasks that are not organized by the government, and would be able to expand their skills by not specializing in a specific area. This is a more effective solution to gaining community through labor, than Marx’s proposal of getting rid of private property because there would still be a large control on labor by the government, which allows individuals to still feel alienated. Marx states: “Thus private property is the result of the analysis of the concept of externalized labour, i.e. externalized man, alienated work, alienated life, alienated man.” (Marx 11). What Marx is arguing in this quote is that private property and alienated labor go hand-in-hand and that one always causes the other. Getting rid of private property would give the government full control on property, which gives them more ground to stand on, which Tocqueville argues goes hand-in-hand with individualism, the opposite of community. Overall, in order to create communities in relation to labor, voluntary associations are more effective, rather than getting rid of private property because voluntary associations get rid of individualism, which allows the government to have less control on citizens.

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The second type of alienation of labor that would be solved more effectively using voluntary associations rather than abolishing private property is alienation from other workers. Marx describes that labor under capitalism involves alienation from other workers. Due to the advanced division of labor, workers feel as though they lose community because they are doing different tasks as everyone else, as well as have different interests than the owners. A way of getting rid of this individualism and alienation would be with voluntary association. Creating these smaller communities would again, allow individuals to feel less alienated from one another because they would be doing the same tasks, but it would also get rid of the harsh divide of social classes in relation to labor. In Democracy in America, Tocqueville states: “Is that just an accident, or is there really some necessary connection between associations and equality?... They would all therefore find themselves helpless if they did not learn to help each other voluntarily.” (Tocqueville 514). To unpack this quote, Tocqueville is referring to the associations he sees in the U.S., and how these associations are creating more equality in society. This shows that by using voluntary associations as a solution to alienation from workers to other workers, there is a stronger sense of community that is created because the strong divide of social classes would disappear. Though abolishing private property could have the same benefits in this case, there would be no relationship between workers that would create as strong of a sense of community, and the feeling of individualism could still be felt.

By using Tocqueville’s proposal of voluntary associations to create community as a solution to feeling alienated from labor under capitalism, rather than Marx’s proposal of abolishing private property, a stronger sense of community would be created, making it more effective. This is an important and relevant comparison to make because we are living in a capitalistic economy in Canada, and these feelings of alienation and individualism are still felt by workers today. Even though these theories were published years ago, they are still relevant to contemporary society and should continue to be discussed and considered.

Works Cited

  1. de Tocqueville, Alexis. Why Democratic Nations Show a More Ardent and Enduring Love for Equality than for Liberty in Democracy in America. Harper and Row, 1969.
  2. Marx, Karl. Alienated Labor, in Sociological Theory. Roxbury Publishing, 2003.
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Marx Vs Tocqueville: Analysis of Democracy in America. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 23, 2024, from
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