Photograph of Occupy Wall Street protest, taken by David Shankbone, 2011.
In the summer and fall of 2011, protestors in New York occupied a small, privately-owned park near Wall Street to protest the persistent financial inequalities in the United States, among other issues. Here we can see two aspects of Tocqueville’s analysis of America, and unpack its continuing relevance. On the one hand, Tocqueville would have applauded the movement, which is fundamentally a civic movement, coming together in the pursuit of morality, equality, and liberty. On the other hand, Tocqueville worried about the role of materialism in American society, and our boundless love of commerce. He would not have been surprised, that is, to find that major banks and corporations wielded enormous power in our society.