The principal thesis
of the second volume of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy
in America is that the dominant passion of modern societies
is equality. One of its effects would be the “softening
of customs,” but it would also engender cultural upheaval
and an upending of established cultural objects. For, if it is
really aristocratic inequality that has encouraged the creation
of works that are considered to be major, democratic society,
with its egalitarian calling, would on the contrary be driven
toward a culture of entertainment that goes off in search of what
is new and easy. That is why Tocqueville saw modern societies
as unsuited to the production of significant works of art, citizens
there being incapable of elaborating reasonable criteria of evaluation.
While we often see art
as a force of opposition (above or alongside public opinion),
Tocqueville thus envisages it, on the contrary, as an object that
is representative of the general spirit of a society.
Great experts on Tocqueville’s thought, Françoise
Mélonio and Lucien Jaume retrace for us the point of view
of this writer, not an art enthusiast but someone concentrated
on democracy and its effects on the arts.