Self-Interest Rightly Understood



Self-InterestRightly Understood

Thepremise of self-interest rightly understood by Tocqueville evokescritically thinking even in contemporary society. Tocquevillepresents a critical view of democracy in young America at a time whenthe nation embraces democracy and moves away from the aristocraticsystem of governance. He uses the concept in order to provide insightinto human behavior and what democracy will be all about. This paperseeks to examine the concept of self-interest understood and itssignificance in contemporary society.

Accordingto Tocqueville, self-interest understood moves individuals to act notbecause he/she considers self-sacrifice as important, but becausetheir own well-being is at stake. He argues that human beings are notbound together by ideas but rather by interests. Tocqueville defendedhis ideology as an antidote to excessive egoism and individualism. Ashe observed the American society, he noted that people servethemselves in the process of helping others. For instance, he givesan example of Christians who persistently forgot themselves to workfor the greater good and happiness of others, Tocqueville says thathe heard such individual say that they did so in order to earnblessings in their future state (Tocqueville, 1840).

Tocqueville further describes what it means to be a moral person inthe context of self-interest rightly understood. In order to bevirtuous one has to sacrifice something for the sake of another.According to Tocqueville, although self-love and self-interest drivepeople to act in a certain way there is a need to adopt behavior thatis greater than individual benefits (Tocqueville, 1840).

Theidea of self- interest rightly understood is still significant inmodern day America. Foremost, a person cannot deny that sometimes ouractions are directed by self- interest as argued by Tocqueville(Tocqueville, 1840). People join groups or even social movements notwith the sole objective of propagating the interests of the group,but rather their interests. For instance, Americans are activelyinvolved in helping societies such as Haiti, a nation that hasexperienced numerous calamities. A factual issue is that most of theaid donated to the needy is provided with an underlying objective ofpersonal interests. A case in point is when support agencies provideassistance to the poor with the objective of advancing theirpopularity.

Self-interest rightly understood also argues that despite the fact thatpeople are motivated to behave in a certain way due self –interest, they have the capability of acting for the good of others(Tocqueville, 1840). This notion is important in the 21stcentury. It has the ability to change the perspective that everythingthat a person does should be as a result of the benefits derived fromthe action. Consequently, the actions of many will be directedtowards assist others without looking at individual gains. Forinstance, initiatives such as helping the homeless with sheltershould increase in our society. Such projects would help to eliminatethe problems that the poor experience on the streets.

Tocqueville premise of self- rightly understood can be applied inmodern day society to show that acting morally should not just besuperficial, but it should be from within. If individual values arefrom the heart, then society will be a better place. As a result,everyone would perform activities that benefit others because it isan innate attribute. The principle therefore assists in building amoral society. Ethical decadences such corruption will not existbecause right actions emanate from within.

Additionally,Tocqueville proposes that the principle of self- rightly understoodshould be reconciled to individual principles. People should watchtheir own lives and passions and steadily control their excesses(Tocqueville, 1840). This ideology is applicable to both individualsand our society today. What is evident is that many people today wantto display their level of success. Achievement is highly ratedwithout the knowledge that there are individuals on the other side oflife without similar privileges like those who rate themselves assuccessful and wealthy. The American society is full of people whowant to flaunt their wealth. However, if such individuals wouldapply this principle in their lives, the manner in which the affluentdisplay their wealth and achievement would be done with caution. Byapplying the principle, restraint and control will be a behavior thatthe wealthy embrace.

Thelevel of sacrifice in modern society is very limited. People act withtheir interests in mind. For instance, the employees in organizationsuse the expectancy theory to influence the manner in which they work.Each person does something with the question ‘’ what will I getout of this.’’ Additionally, chief executives in organizationsseek to maximize their interests as opposed to the interests of theshareholders. There is a need to inculcate the spirit of sacrificewithout putting more emphasis on self-interest. More Americans shouldlearn to practice detriment whether we are in the military or not.


Itessential to incorporate the principle of self-interest in thecontemporary society and the 21st century to resolve the challengesthat arise as a result of self-interest. Tocqueville principle ofself- rightly understood is therefore very relevant to modernsociety.


Tocqueville,A. (1840). Democracyin America.Vintage Books.