About Iraq: What Tocqueville Would Advise If He Were Alive Today

News Abroad

Mr. Widen is an instructor in American History and U.S. Government with Central Texas College's Navy PACE program and a writer for the History News Service.


From: Alexis de Tocqueville
To: People of Iraq
Re: Democracy in Iraq

A new birth of freedom can be a blessed event, but it's painful. In 1831, when Gustave de Beaumont and I left France to visit the United States to examine first hand this interesting experiment in democracy, Americans had yet to experience their most excruciating moment of freedom's birth, the Civil War.

Yet they had already surmounted the major obstacle facing you. They embedded the separation of church and state in the Bill of Rights they added to the new U.S. Constitution. Within the United States, there are Christian Fundamentalists who would like to remove this barrier to tyranny. Alexis de Tocqueville, author of Democracy in AmericaIf they succeed, the continued intellectual and material progress of the United States would be impeded, just as mixing Church and State has impeded progress in the Arab world. Among you there are those who love power and money more than they love their country, as, alas, there are in my France and the United States. If those people fail to subordinate the love of power and money to the love of country, Iraq will not develop a working democracy.

One of the chief reasons Saddam Hussein was able to maintain his political and military tyranny over you was because the continued sectarian strife between Sunnis and Shiites within your great community of Islam weakened the entire civic and social fabric of your country. Your disagreement over the legitimate descent of authority from Muhammad seems of little importance alongside the your much broader agreement on the teachings of the Koran, the Muslim bible revealed by God to the prophet Muhammad.

The solution of the United States to the sectarian conflicts that it suffered in the founding era is worth considering. Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, and James Madison, chief architect of the Constitution, worked individually and in concert from 1776 through 1786 to prevent the Virginia legislature from establishing the Episcopal church, which had enjoyed privileges during the colonial era as the Church of England. Both men were determined to prevent a continuation of this form of religious tyranny, so injurious to the Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists and nonbelievers in their midst, from becoming part of the federal Constitution. They firmly believed that political freedom could be sustained only in the presence of religious freedom.

Jefferson wrote that he had "sworn, on the altar of God, eternal hostility to any form of tyranny over the mind of man." He was convinced that the marriage of Church and State was only a step away from creating the age-old triad of king, priests and nobles.

Beyond the issue of religious freedom, what impressed Beaumont and me about the Americans was their capacity to unite in dealing with a common problem. The expectation that patriarchal authority will solve community problems has been a hindrance to effective action in the Arab World.

When I wrote about the United States in my book, Democracy in America, I recognized that the world was tending toward "equality of condition," but that it depended upon the people themselves "whether the principle of equality is to lead them to freedom or servitude, to knowledge or barbarism, to prosperity or wretchedness."

Look. Democracy is the government form legitimized by both the consent and participation of the people, but it depends upon tolerance in a world filled with different religious convictions. People must build pluralism into their society. Pluralism balances the competing interests of society and prevents the concentration of power in the hands of a few. It takes time. Americans know that. They are continually asking themselves, "How do we make democracy work the way it should?"

The American army can't create democracy for you. It has to be created by all of you working in Common Cause. Your constitution need not be perfect. You can change it over time as the Americans have with their many amendments.

Neither Saddam Hussein nor Muhammad is around to tell you what to do. Allah helps those who help themselves. There is no escape from freedom except going back into the hell most of you found intolerable.

So, People of Iraq, get on with it.

This piece was distributed for non-exclusive use by the History News Service, an informal syndicate of professional historians who seek to improve the public's understanding of current events by setting these events in their historical contexts. The article may be republished as long as both the author and the History News Service are clearly credited.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

John Lederer - 12/23/2003

From the Guardian website:

Corrections and clarifications

Friday June 6, 2003

A report which was posted on our website on June 4 under the heading "Wolfowitz: Iraq war was about oil" misconstrued remarks made by the US deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, making it appear that he had said that oil was the main reason for going to war in Iraq. He did not say that. He said, according to the Department of Defence website, "The ... difference between North Korea and Iraq is that we had virtually no economic options with Iraq because the country floats on a sea of oil. In the case of North Korea, the country is teetering on the edge of economic collapse and that I believe is a major point of leverage whereas the military picture with North Korea is very different from that with Iraq." The sense was clearly that the US had no economic options by means of which to achieve its objectives, not that the economic value of the oil motivated the war. The report appeared only on the website and has now been removed.

NYGuy - 12/22/2003


Thank you for the correcion. I am not too familiar with what happens west of the Hudson. As for spelling I am a product of the public school system in the US where english is a second language and spelling and grammar is not necessary. As you know we graduate people from college who know neither.

But I thank you because I learned something new today and my day is not wasted. Still this is a fine article that all Iraqi's should read. They should also read this article:

Constitutional Amendment Proposed in China
1 hour, 6 minutes ago

By JOE McDONALD, Associated Press Writer

BEIJING - China's leaders sent its legislature a proposed constitutional amendment on Monday to protect private property for the first time since the 1949 communist revolution — a key step toward cementing the status of capitalism in a nation undergoing radical change.


Just another example of how irrelevant France is becoming and the opportunities for Iraq's to follow: "What Tocqueville Would Advise If He Were Alive Today."

Cheers and happy holiday's.

Hector - 12/22/2003

Try the library, you might like it. You could learn the spelling of Louisiana and Libya there. You could also learn that Kansas and eleven other states, in addition to the state of Louisiana, were formed out of the territory obtained through this transaction between the United States and our oldest ally. Tocqueville, the subject of the article we are commenting upon, was a citizen of that ally, not of Libya.

I personally prefer oatmeal to wheat toast, but much of our oats also comes from the regions acquired 200 hundred years ago.

Happy New Year

NYGuy - 12/21/2003

Thank you Hector you have made an obscure point, but I don't understand how it relates to the current world situation. Is it that you like the French and think they are world leaders. They sold Lousianana and now you say they sold Kansas. Not very bright people but I think we already know that. They could not even succeed in Canada.

But now that I have finished a breakfast of champions I feel much better and have a keener mind.


Best wishes for a Merry Christmas.

Hector - 12/21/2003

It is on in your local branch of the New York public library which probably has a copy of "Democracy in America". Read there about how de Tocqueville does not say that prior history is irrelevant to the present. Then go and eat a nice breakfast of toast made from Kansas wheat grown in terrority sold to America by the French 200 years ago this past weekend.

Happy holidays

NYGuy - 12/21/2003

The author - Mr. Widen

When I wrote about the United States in my book, Democracy in America, I recognized that the world was tending oward "equality of condition," but that it depended upon the people themselves "whether the principle of equality is to lead them to freedom or servitude, to knowledge or barbarism, to prosperity or wretchedness."

Look. Democracy is the government form legitimized by both the consent and participation of the people, but it depends upon tolerance in a world filled with different religious convictions. People must build pluralism into their society. Pluralism balances the competing interests of society and prevents the concentration of power in the hands of a few. It takes time. Americans know that. They are continually asking themselves, "How do we make democracy work the way it should?"


This is a wonderful article and a timely analysis for the 21st century. With the rapid changes in technology and the ability of all people in the world to get access to world news your article is a roadmap for peace and prosperity as well as for the liberation of all. You are right on target and give an excellent historical perspective for a site such as HNN.

Not only are the world’s individuals getting more information, but technology is enhancing world trade and we now see communist countries such as China opening the windows to terms such as democracy. And look at India another highly populated country that is now becoming a country that interacts with our democracy as technology enables Indians and Americans to communicate directly for business purposes.

A well written article that is relevant history for our current events. We need more such articles.

Dr. John's long article is just another example of the quaqmire some historians are still stuck in.

Best wishs for the holidays Mr. Widen and thank you again.

NYGuy - 12/21/2003


When one first comes out of the dark and sees the light it is blinding. But as the picture becomes clear you will realize that your country is being rescued from ignorance and lead into a new millenium in which you and your off spring will enjoy great happiness, peace and prospertity.

Bush has created a "defining moment in history" in which all nations will benefit not just Iraq. Libyia already sees the light, Iran and North Korea"s vision is become clearer. In time you too will see the wisdom of Bush.

But Amerians just are used to doing the right thing for the individual as we have for over 200 years.

Joe Iraqi - 12/19/2003

Dear Bernard,

I am all for democracy, but I don't expect it to come from the "non-nation builder" your president (whose advisors first supported Saddam and then bombed us in 1991 only to leave our home-grown oppressor in power to slaughter more thousands of us), who declared the "end of combat operations" when the current terrible insurgency was just getting started, the poker player who himself got into power non-democratically. Send us Kofi Annan, Hans Blix, the blue helmets, and someone my people do not fundamentally mistrust. When you Americans get your per capita oil use down to the norms of the civilized world and start acting responsibly to promote democracy in Saudi Arabia and Palestine, i.e. put your policies where your president's mouth is, then you can send your good French friend over here to look, observe, and learn, as he did in 1830s in your country...and maybe even lecture us on the tyranny of the majority.

Bernard - 12/19/2003

Dear Joe,

What a pity that you seem more intent on snarking about "bad blunders" from the past than working towards a democratic Iraq.

Robert John - 12/17/2003

Dr. John on The Surrender of Saddam Hussein.

Iraq, - The hunt for Saddam Hussein ended late Dec. 13, 2003 following information from a member of his tribal clan. The Iraqi president surrendered without resistance to a force of 600 American soldiers and Special Operations forces backed by tanks, artillery and Apache helicopter gunships.
There is the possibility that the surrender was intentional and planned.
The timing is strategically good - between the end of Ramadan and Christmas.

Prior to the Anglo-American attack, Saddam Hussein had divided military command into five areas, that could operate independently to conduct guerrilla war against an overwhelmingly powerful enemy that declared it would use its power to "shock and awe" the people of Iraq into submission
This system of resistance is now functioning as well as could be expected.

It is now more appropriate for the resistance that Saddam Hussein represents to become active on the political plane. The United States has violated international law. Richard Perle a key member of the defence policy board, which advises the US defence secretary, conceded that the invasion of Iraq had been illegal. He told an audience in London on November 20: "I think in this case international law stood in the way of doing the right thing."
In June 2003, speaking to delegates at an Asian security summit in Singapore, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said the United States chose military action over diplomacy in Iraq because the country was "swimming" in oil, reported George Wright in the GUARDIAN.
These extraordinary admissions remind one of the British psychological warfare dictum: if you don't give people a false reason, they may think the real one. Unmentioned was the possible threat to Israel that existed while Saddam Hussein was in power. According to New York Times foreign affairs exponent Thomas Friedman, 25 people in Washington were responsible for the decision to make war on Iraq. An Iraq freed from sanctions, supporting Palestinian rights, would challenge Israeli policy more strongly. Could ethnocentrism be an influence on some of Friedman's 25 warmen? This was suggested by Iraq's last foreign minister Tariq Azziz.

The United Nations charter has been violated by the United States and Britain, and the principle of collective security, instigated to protect small nations from aggression by more powerful ones, has been broken. All states are less secure.
Iraq under President Saddam Hussein has been demonstrated to have fulfilled its obligation under the United Nations resolutions to destroy so-called weapons of mass destruction.
In the matter of killing Iraqis and mass graves, the Anglo-American war of 2003 is estimated to have killed more than 10,000 Iraqi civilians, and inflicted many billion dollars worth of property damage. And, the Anglo-American-backed sanctions against Iraq for more than 10 years, depriving its people of the right to buy food (60 per cent had been imported), to maintain a reasonable standard of living, to repair the country's infrastructure destroyed by Allied bombing, resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

In an interview with U.S. Secretary of State (then Ambassador) Albright May 12, 1996) on the TV program '60 Minutes,' for which Leslie Stahl was given a Columbia University School of Journalism award in 1997, she said that U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization figures showed that half a million children died from starvation as a result of the American-led sanctions against Iraq.
"I mean, that's more than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?"
Ambassador Albright: "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price-we think the price is worth it."
Stahl: (voice-over) "Worth it because she believes the sanctions are working."
Ambassador Albright: "He [Saddam Hussein] has, in fact, come cleaner on some these weapons programs than we thought before, and he has recognized Kuwait, which was one of the very important reasons that this whole war started."

Former senior UN representatives Denis Halliday in 1998 and Hans von Sponeck, successively appointed after a UN food program was instituted, resigned when they visited Iraq in protest over the degradation of living standards of the Iraqi people resulting from the sanctions.

The CIA is blamed for the disparity between the Iraq described as a threat to world peace and security before the Anglo-American attack, and the rundown state of the country, and the poverty of its once prosperous people obvious to the invaders and those "embedded" journalists.
How would any country look after years of similar sanctions? And daily overflights and frequent bombing challenging the principle of national sovereignty?

Any politician who believed that Iraq in 2003 still represented a military threat should not be reelected. Their judgment is dangerously poor.

Impartiality is a discipline.

How can we stop terrorism?
By stopping terrorism:

"Sometimes directed, but generally coordinated by NATO, with participation of the C.I.A. and British secret service," clandestine groups have been used in Europe "for domestic political purposes, possibly even terrorism, to justify government crackdowns and defense preparedness." (N.Y. Times N. 14, 1990 A29).
"Breaking with its past," declared the New York Times (Mr. 3, 1997 A12), "the Central Intelligence Agency has severed its ties to roughly 100 foreign agents, about half of them in Latin America, whose value as informers was outweighed by their acts of murder, assassination, torture, terrorism and other crimes, Government officials said today."
We are all potential victims.

And we can stop terrorism by withdrawing Anglo-American forces from every country but their own. That is not isolationism. It recognizes the rights of all peoples.
This is in accord with the founding principles of the USA.
I am an American fundamentalist! I am a country doctor. My specialty is the sickness of countries and peoples.

ROBERT JOHN MD is a foreign affairs authority, diplomatic historian; human ecologist (http://www.ichee.org), and psychiatrist.

He is the author of The Palestine Diary: British, American and United Nations Intervention 1914-1948, 1970, second ed. 1973, 2 volumes, In his foreword to The Palestine Diary, Arnold Toynbee, the outstanding historian of the 20th century, wrote, "I hope this book will be widely read in the United States, and this by Jewish and non-Jewish Americans. If the American Government were constrained by American public opinion to take a non-partisan line in Palestine, the situation in Palestine might quickly change for the better."
John K. Cooley, Middle East Bureau, The Christian Science Monitor, wrote "It is a most illuminating and useful book. It should be in universities and libraries, and especially in the hands of historians, throughout the world."
David W. Littlefield of the Library of Congress wrote in the Library Journal, "this is not a personal diary, but the most detailed history available of the Palestine problem . . .the book is so detailed, and the quotations and footnoting of the sources is so extensive that it is a valuable aid to researchers."

Dr. John is a public educator through writing, lecturing, and broadcasting. ' He has broadcast on the Overseas Service of the BBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Service and on CBS and NBC television He was invited by the US Ambassador to UN Mission to discuss the war in Lebanon, and lectured at the Army & Navy Club in Washington, D.C. and the Union League in New York (the ambassadors of Egypt , later foreign minister Abdel Meguid, and Kuwait, and first secretary of the Mission of the USSR to the UNO, and other representatives were present). In August 2003, at the 15th Conference sponsored by the International Institute for Advanced Studies in Systems Research and Cybernetics, in Baden-Baden, Germany, Dr. John was presented with a Peace Award "for his significant contribution to the advancement of peace and freedom . . "
Dr. John is a member of The Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, Inns of Court where he studied Law. He has been a member of the American Political Science Assn. for over 30 years. He is also a member of the Organization of American Historians, and The Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, The Human Behavior and Evolution Society and other organizations.
In World War II, Dr. John's brother volunteered for the B.E F. in France in 1939, volunteered to command in Waziristan, N.W. Frontier, India, was wounded twice in action against the Afrika Corps. in North Africa and the 1st German Parachute Div. at Monte Cassino. His cousin Alain John volunteered from King's Cambridge for the Royal Air Force and was killed-in-action at age 23, but a sculpture that he made at age 17 is in Coventry Cathedral as a war memorial to members of the R.A.F In WW I, his uncle, Lt. Col. J.C. John, fought on the Western Front and volunteered for Dunster Force that freed Mesopotamia/Iraq from Turkish rule; in WW II he was Acting Major General commanding in Bihar and Orissa., India.

Joe Iraqi - 12/16/2003

Dear Alex,

Congrats on arriving in the 21st century and quickly picking up on contemporary jargonisms such as one word imperative sentences. How brave of you to appear here, where there are so many Francophobes haunting the comment pages.

Unfortunately, your memory of history seems to have suffered some damage in the process of your time travel. The idea that the conquest of Iraq earlier this year can be compared historically to the founding of the United States is no less absurd than the pitiful attempts on this website to compare the current occupation of my country to southern Reconstruction after the American Civil War, or the occupation of Germany and Japan in 1945. America did not gain her independence solely through outside intervention (with all due respect to your former King Louis and the Marquis de Lafayette). In 1776, King George III was not overthrown by Emperor Joseph II of Austria, in defiance of his European allies, using trumped up charges regarding vast cisterns of smallpox hidden under London Bridge, all in order to distract people from the unusual circumstances surrounding his selection as ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, and from the terrible crashing of a gunpowder wagon into St. Stephens cathedral in Vienna by extremists with no links to England or America.

Your suggestions for religious pluralism in Iraq are praiseworthy. What a pity that the father of America's current selected leader ignored such concerns and betrayed our attempted revolution in 1991. What a pity that America's current chief executive, his son, so utterly failed to go through proper diplomatic channels and gain international legitimacy for his current intervention in our country. What a pity that this website, supposedly devoted to history, is instead so bent on distorting history for the purposes of, among other matters, whitewashing these bad blunders by American presidents.