Between 11 May 1831 and 20 February 1832 Alexis de Tocqueville travelled the United States of America, ostensibly to investigate the American penal system. What developed from his travels when he returned to Paris was an ethnography of the system and culture of American democracy written in two stages - the first volume was published in 1835, and concentrates on the structural features of American democracy, whilst the second was published in 1840 and concentrates on its cultural aspects, as well as those features which can transform a republican democracy into a despotic one.

If Jefferson gives an optimistic view of America as the new world republican civilization (and his optimism is modified by a sense of the schisms of this new world), Alexis de Tocqueville is less sanguine. His Democracy in America - especially the passage 'That the Notions of Democratic Nations on Government are Naturally Favourable to the Concentration of Power' — draws attention to the dialectic of new world republicanism. De Tocqueville's importance is that he recognizes not only the tyranny of the few or of one person in what he calls 'aristocratic society', but also the tyranny of the many under a more democratic society. He detects the danger of the 'tyranny of equality' not only in the domain of politics, through the administration by the democratic state of more and more aspects of private life, but also (in the second part of Democracy in America, published in 1840) in the whole area of social life, in its culture, taste and intellectual affairs.