Alexis de Tocqueville was one of the first sociologists and political scientists, but that only hints at his true impact. He was one of the first European students of the United States who “got” that Americans were building a very different society (more info here and here).
The affability and openness of most Americans — regardless of class — struck de Tocqueville as unusual. In fact, the idea of class was much more jumbled in the U.S. than in early 19th century Europe. Liking and mixing with all sorts (and being likeable to all sorts) was the essential social lubricant for the new society he saw forming.
It seems like we’ve forgotten that lesson these days. Rather, too many of us have bought into the idea that “hell is other people“. We feel much more free to be rude or condescending to others; but then we can turn right around and become unctuously polite and flattering to someone we think you can give us something. We stereotype and demean others, then are shocked when others treat us the same way in return. No wonder it takes forever to get anything done.
Ah, times like these make me wistful for good ol’ noblesse oblige!