Touring early America, Alexis de Tocqueville marveled at the people's propensity to form associations for every purpose under the sun: "religious, moral, grave, futile, very general and very particular, immense and very small . . . to give fêtes, to found seminaries, to build inns, to raise churches, to distribute books, to send missionaries to the antipodes."
Associational proliferation buttressed individual freedom, Tocqueville believed. As he explained, private groups are nimbler at orchestrating cultural and social life - "maintain[ing] and renew[ing] the circulation of sentiments and ideas" - than government could ever be.
States "exercise an insupportable tyranny, even without wishing to, for a government knows only how to dictate precise rules; it imposes the sentiments and the ideas that it favors, and it is always hard to distinguish its counsels from its orders," he wrote.