Democracy (Alexis de Tocqueville)

I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.
Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?
Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things; it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look on them as benefits.

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  1. shinichi Post author

    Democracy in America

    by Alexis de Tocqueville



    No sovereign ever lived in former ages so absolute or so powerful as to undertake to administer by his own agency, and without the assistance of intermediate powers, all the parts of a great empire; none ever attempted to subject all his subjects indiscriminately to strict uniformity of regulation and personally to tutor and direct every member of the community. The notion of such an undertaking never occurred to the human mind; and if any man had conceived it, the want of information, the imperfection of the administrative system, and, above all, the natural obstacles caused by the inequality of conditions would speedily have checked the execution of so vast a design…

    It would seem that if despotism were to be established among the democratic nations of our days, it might assume a different character; it would be more extensive and more mild; it would degrade men without tormenting them. I do not question that, in an age of instruction and equality like our own, sovereigns might more easily succeed in collecting all political power into their own hands and might interfere more habitually and decidedly with the circle of private interests than any sovereign of antiquity could ever do…

    When I consider the petty passions of our contemporaries, the mildness of their manners, the extent of their education, the purity of their religion, the gentleness of their morality, their regular and industrious habits, and the restraint which they almost all observe in their vices no less than in their virtues, I have no fear that they will meet with tyrants in their rulers, but rather with guardians.

    I think, then, that the species of oppression by which democratic nations are menaced is unlike anything that ever before existed in the world; our contemporaries will find no prototype of it in their memories. I seek in vain for an expression that will accurately convey the whole of the idea I have formed of it; the old words despotism and tyranny are inappropriate: the thing itself is new, and since I cannot name, I must attempt to define it.

    I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.

    Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?

    Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things; it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look on them as benefits.

    After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

    I have always thought that servitude of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind which I have just described might be combined more easily than is commonly believed with some of the outward forms of freedom, and that it might even establish itself under the wing of the sovereignty of the people.

  2. shinichi Post author


    by Alexis De Tocqueville

    The Project Gutenberg eBook

    Volume 1

    Volume 2

    Book Four: Influence Of Democratic Opinions On Political Society

    Chapter VI: What Sort Of Despotism Democratic Nations Have To Fear

    I had remarked during my stay in the United States, that a democratic state of society, similar to that of the Americans, might offer singular facilities for the establishment of despotism; and I perceived, upon my return to Europe, how much use had already been made by most of our rulers, of the notions, the sentiments, and the wants engendered by this same social condition, for the purpose of extending the circle of their power. This led me to think that the nations of Christendom would perhaps eventually undergo some sort of oppression like that which hung over several of the nations of the ancient world. A more accurate examination of the subject, and five years of further meditations, have not diminished my apprehensions, but they have changed the object of them. No sovereign ever lived in former ages so absolute or so powerful as to undertake to administer by his own agency, and without the assistance of intermediate powers, all the parts of a great empire: none ever attempted to subject all his subjects indiscriminately to strict uniformity of regulation, and personally to tutor and direct every member of the community. The notion of such an undertaking never occurred to the human mind; and if any man had conceived it, the want of information, the imperfection of the administrative system, and above all, the natural obstacles caused by the inequality of conditions, would speedily have checked the execution of so vast a design. When the Roman emperors were at the height of their power, the different nations of the empire still preserved manners and customs of great diversity; although they were subject to the same monarch, most of the provinces were separately administered; they abounded in powerful and active municipalities; and although the whole government of the empire was centred in the hands of the emperor alone, and he always remained, upon occasions, the supreme arbiter in all matters, yet the details of social life and private occupations lay for the most part beyond his control. The emperors possessed, it is true, an immense and unchecked power, which allowed them to gratify all their whimsical tastes, and to employ for that purpose the whole strength of the State. They frequently abused that power arbitrarily to deprive their subjects of property or of life: their tyranny was extremely onerous to the few, but it did not reach the greater number; it was fixed to some few main objects, and neglected the rest; it was violent, but its range was limited.

    But it would seem that if despotism were to be established amongst the democratic nations of our days, it might assume a different character; it would be more extensive and more mild; it would degrade men without tormenting them. I do not question, that in an age of instruction and equality like our own, sovereigns might more easily succeed in collecting all political power into their own hands, and might interfere more habitually and decidedly within the circle of private interests, than any sovereign of antiquity could ever do. But this same principle of equality which facilitates despotism, tempers its rigor. We have seen how the manners of society become more humane and gentle in proportion as men become more equal and alike. When no member of the community has much power or much wealth, tyranny is, as it were, without opportunities and a field of action. As all fortunes are scanty, the passions of men are naturally circumscribed—their imagination limited, their pleasures simple. This universal moderation moderates the sovereign himself, and checks within certain limits the inordinate extent of his desires.

    Independently of these reasons drawn from the nature of the state of society itself, I might add many others arising from causes beyond my subject; but I shall keep within the limits I have laid down to myself. Democratic governments may become violent and even cruel at certain periods of extreme effervescence or of great danger: but these crises will be rare and brief. When I consider the petty passions of our contemporaries, the mildness of their manners, the extent of their education, the purity of their religion, the gentleness of their morality, their regular and industrious habits, and the restraint which they almost all observe in their vices no less than in their virtues, I have no fear that they will meet with tyrants in their rulers, but rather guardians. I think then that the species of oppression by which democratic nations are menaced is unlike anything which ever before existed in the world: our contemporaries will find no prototype of it in their memories. I am trying myself to choose an expression which will accurately convey the whole of the idea I have formed of it, but in vain; the old words “despotism” and “tyranny” are inappropriate: the thing itself is new; and since I cannot name it, I must attempt to define it.

    I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest—his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind; as for the rest of his fellow-citizens, he is close to them, but he sees them not—he touches them, but he feels them not; he exists but in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country. Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications, and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent, if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks on the contrary to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness: it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances—what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living? Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range, and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things: it has predisposed men to endure them, and oftentimes to look on them as benefits.

    After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp, and fashioned them at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a net-work of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided: men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting: such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd. I have always thought that servitude of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind which I have just described, might be combined more easily than is commonly believed with some of the outward forms of freedom; and that it might even establish itself under the wing of the sovereignty of the people. Our contemporaries are constantly excited by two conflicting passions; they want to be led, and they wish to remain free: as they cannot destroy either one or the other of these contrary propensities, they strive to satisfy them both at once. They devise a sole, tutelary, and all-powerful form of government, but elected by the people. They combine the principle of centralization and that of popular sovereignty; this gives them a respite; they console themselves for being in tutelage by the reflection that they have chosen their own guardians. Every man allows himself to be put in leading-strings, because he sees that it is not a person or a class of persons, but the people at large that holds the end of his chain. By this system the people shake off their state of dependence just long enough to select their master, and then relapse into it again. A great many persons at the present day are quite contented with this sort of compromise between administrative despotism and the sovereignty of the people; and they think they have done enough for the protection of individual freedom when they have surrendered it to the power of the nation at large. This does not satisfy me: the nature of him I am to obey signifies less to me than the fact of extorted obedience.

    I do not however deny that a constitution of this kind appears to me to be infinitely preferable to one, which, after having concentrated all the powers of government, should vest them in the hands of an irresponsible person or body of persons. Of all the forms which democratic despotism could assume, the latter would assuredly be the worst. When the sovereign is elective, or narrowly watched by a legislature which is really elective and independent, the oppression which he exercises over individuals is sometimes greater, but it is always less degrading; because every man, when he is oppressed and disarmed, may still imagine, that whilst he yields obedience it is to himself he yields it, and that it is to one of his own inclinations that all the rest give way. In like manner I can understand that when the sovereign represents the nation, and is dependent upon the people, the rights and the power of which every citizen is deprived, not only serve the head of the State, but the State itself; and that private persons derive some return from the sacrifice of their independence which they have made to the public. To create a representation of the people in every centralized country, is therefore, to diminish the evil which extreme centralization may produce, but not to get rid of it. I admit that by this means room is left for the intervention of individuals in the more important affairs; but it is not the less suppressed in the smaller and more private ones. It must not be forgotten that it is especially dangerous to enslave men in the minor details of life. For my own part, I should be inclined to think freedom less necessary in great things than in little ones, if it were possible to be secure of the one without possessing the other. Subjection in minor affairs breaks out every day, and is felt by the whole community indiscriminately. It does not drive men to resistance, but it crosses them at every turn, till they are led to surrender the exercise of their will. Thus their spirit is gradually broken and their character enervated; whereas that obedience, which is exacted on a few important but rare occasions, only exhibits servitude at certain intervals, and throws the burden of it upon a small number of men. It is in vain to summon a people, which has been rendered so dependent on the central power, to choose from time to time the representatives of that power; this rare and brief exercise of their free choice, however important it may be, will not prevent them from gradually losing the faculties of thinking, feeling, and acting for themselves, and thus gradually falling below the level of humanity. I add that they will soon become incapable of exercising the great and only privilege which remains to them. The democratic nations which have introduced freedom into their political constitution, at the very time when they were augmenting the despotism of their administrative constitution, have been led into strange paradoxes. To manage those minor affairs in which good sense is all that is wanted—the people are held to be unequal to the task, but when the government of the country is at stake, the people are invested with immense powers; they are alternately made the playthings of their ruler, and his masters—more than kings, and less than men. After having exhausted all the different modes of election, without finding one to suit their purpose, they are still amazed, and still bent on seeking further; as if the evil they remark did not originate in the constitution of the country far more than in that of the electoral body. It is, indeed, difficult to conceive how men who have entirely given up the habit of self-government should succeed in making a proper choice of those by whom they are to be governed; and no one will ever believe that a liberal, wise, and energetic government can spring from the suffrages of a subservient people. A constitution, which should be republican in its head and ultra-monarchical in all its other parts, has ever appeared to me to be a short-lived monster. The vices of rulers and the ineptitude of the people would speedily bring about its ruin; and the nation, weary of its representatives and of itself, would create freer institutions, or soon return to stretch itself at the feet of a single master.

  3. shinichi Post author


    by Alexis De Tocqueville

    The Project Gutenberg eBook

    Volume 1

    Volume 2

    Book Four: Influence Of Democratic Opinions On Political Society

    Chapter VII: Continuation Of The Preceding Chapters

    I believe that it is easier to establish an absolute and despotic government amongst a people in which the conditions of society are equal, than amongst any other; and I think that if such a government were once established amongst such a people, it would not only oppress men, but would eventually strip each of them of several of the highest qualities of humanity. Despotism therefore appears to me peculiarly to be dreaded in democratic ages. I should have loved freedom, I believe, at all times, but in the time in which we live I am ready to worship it. On the other hand, I am persuaded that all who shall attempt, in the ages upon which we are entering, to base freedom upon aristocratic privilege, will fail—that all who shall attempt to draw and to retain authority within a single class, will fail. At the present day no ruler is skilful or strong enough to found a despotism, by re-establishing permanent distinctions of rank amongst his subjects: no legislator is wise or powerful enough to preserve free institutions, if he does not take equality for his first principle and his watchword. All those of our contemporaries who would establish or secure the independence and the dignity of their fellow-men, must show themselves the friends of equality; and the only worthy means of showing themselves as such, is to be so: upon this depends the success of their holy enterprise. Thus the question is not how to reconstruct aristocratic society, but how to make liberty proceed out of that democratic state of society in which God has placed us.

    These two truths appear to me simple, clear, and fertile in consequences; and they naturally lead me to consider what kind of free government can be established amongst a people in which social conditions are equal. It results from the very constitution of democratic nations and from their necessities, that the power of government amongst them must be more uniform, more centralized, more extensive, more searching, and more efficient than in other countries. Society at large is naturally stronger and more active, individuals more subordinate and weak; the former does more, the latter less; and this is inevitably the case. It is not therefore to be expected that the range of private independence will ever be as extensive in democratic as in aristocratic countries—nor is this to be desired; for, amongst aristocratic nations, the mass is often sacrificed to the individual, and the prosperity of the greater number to the greatness of the few. It is both necessary and desirable that the government of a democratic people should be active and powerful: and our object should not be to render it weak or indolent, but solely to prevent it from abusing its aptitude and its strength.

    The circumstance which most contributed to secure the independence of private persons in aristocratic ages, was, that the supreme power did not affect to take upon itself alone the government and administration of the community; those functions were necessarily partially left to the members of the aristocracy: so that as the supreme power was always divided, it never weighed with its whole weight and in the same manner on each individual. Not only did the government not perform everything by its immediate agency; but as most of the agents who discharged its duties derived their power not from the State, but from the circumstance of their birth, they were not perpetually under its control. The government could not make or unmake them in an instant, at pleasure, nor bend them in strict uniformity to its slightest caprice—this was an additional guarantee of private independence. I readily admit that recourse cannot be had to the same means at the present time: but I discover certain democratic expedients which may be substituted for them. Instead of vesting in the government alone all the administrative powers of which corporations and nobles have been deprived, a portion of them may be entrusted to secondary public bodies, temporarily composed of private citizens: thus the liberty of private persons will be more secure, and their equality will not be diminished.

    The Americans, who care less for words than the French, still designate by the name of “county” the largest of their administrative districts: but the duties of the count or lord-lieutenant are in part performed by a provincial assembly. At a period of equality like our own it would be unjust and unreasonable to institute hereditary officers; but there is nothing to prevent us from substituting elective public officers to a certain extent. Election is a democratic expedient which insures the independence of the public officer in relation to the government, as much and even more than hereditary rank can insure it amongst aristocratic nations. Aristocratic countries abound in wealthy and influential persons who are competent to provide for themselves, and who cannot be easily or secretly oppressed: such persons restrain a government within general habits of moderation and reserve. I am very well aware that democratic countries contain no such persons naturally; but something analogous to them may be created by artificial means. I firmly believe that an aristocracy cannot again be founded in the world; but I think that private citizens, by combining together, may constitute bodies of great wealth, influence, and strength, corresponding to the persons of an aristocracy. By this means many of the greatest political advantages of aristocracy would be obtained without its injustice or its dangers. An association for political, commercial, or manufacturing purposes, or even for those of science and literature, is a powerful and enlightened member of the community, which cannot be disposed of at pleasure, or oppressed without remonstrance; and which, by defending its own rights against the encroachments of the government, saves the common liberties of the country.

    In periods of aristocracy every man is always bound so closely to many of his fellow-citizens, that he cannot be assailed without their coming to his assistance. In ages of equality every man naturally stands alone; he has no hereditary friends whose co-operation he may demand—no class upon whose sympathy he may rely: he is easily got rid of, and he is trampled on with impunity. At the present time, an oppressed member of the community has therefore only one method of self-defence—he may appeal to the whole nation; and if the whole nation is deaf to his complaint, he may appeal to mankind: the only means he has of making this appeal is by the press. Thus the liberty of the press is infinitely more valuable amongst democratic nations than amongst all others; it is the only cure for the evils which equality may produce. Equality sets men apart and weakens them; but the press places a powerful weapon within every man’s reach, which the weakest and loneliest of them all may use. Equality deprives a man of the support of his connections; but the press enables him to summon all his fellow-countrymen and all his fellow-men to his assistance. Printing has accelerated the progress of equality, and it is also one of its best correctives.

    I think that men living in aristocracies may, strictly speaking, do without the liberty of the press: but such is not the case with those who live in democratic countries. To protect their personal independence I trust not to great political assemblies, to parliamentary privilege, or to the assertion of popular sovereignty. All these things may, to a certain extent, be reconciled with personal servitude—but that servitude cannot be complete if the press is free: the press is the chiefest democratic instrument of freedom.

    Something analogous may be said of the judicial power. It is a part of the essence of judicial power to attend to private interests, and to fix itself with predilection on minute objects submitted to its observation; another essential quality of judicial power is never to volunteer its assistance to the oppressed, but always to be at the disposal of the humblest of those who solicit it; their complaint, however feeble they may themselves be, will force itself upon the ear of justice and claim redress, for this is inherent in the very constitution of the courts of justice. A power of this kind is therefore peculiarly adapted to the wants of freedom, at a time when the eye and finger of the government are constantly intruding into the minutest details of human actions, and when private persons are at once too weak to protect themselves, and too much isolated for them to reckon upon the assistance of their fellows. The strength of the courts of law has ever been the greatest security which can be offered to personal independence; but this is more especially the case in democratic ages: private rights and interests are in constant danger, if the judicial power does not grow more extensive and more strong to keep pace with the growing equality of conditions.

    Equality awakens in men several propensities extremely dangerous to freedom, to which the attention of the legislator ought constantly to be directed. I shall only remind the reader of the most important amongst them. Men living in democratic ages do not readily comprehend the utility of forms: they feel an instinctive contempt for them—I have elsewhere shown for what reasons. Forms excite their contempt and often their hatred; as they commonly aspire to none but easy and present gratifications, they rush onwards to the object of their desires, and the slightest delay exasperates them. This same temper, carried with them into political life, renders them hostile to forms, which perpetually retard or arrest them in some of their projects. Yet this objection which the men of democracies make to forms is the very thing which renders forms so useful to freedom; for their chief merit is to serve as a barrier between the strong and the weak, the ruler and the people, to retard the one, and give the other time to look about him. Forms become more necessary in proportion as the government becomes more active and more powerful, whilst private persons are becoming more indolent and more feeble. Thus democratic nations naturally stand more in need of forms than other nations, and they naturally respect them less. This deserves most serious attention. Nothing is more pitiful than the arrogant disdain of most of our contemporaries for questions of form; for the smallest questions of form have acquired in our time an importance which they never had before: many of the greatest interests of mankind depend upon them. I think that if the statesmen of aristocratic ages could sometimes contemn forms with impunity, and frequently rise above them, the statesmen to whom the government of nations is now confided ought to treat the very least among them with respect, and not neglect them without imperious necessity. In aristocracies the observance of forms was superstitious; amongst us they ought to be kept with a deliberate and enlightened deference.

    Another tendency, which is extremely natural to democratic nations and extremely dangerous, is that which leads them ta despise and undervalue the rights of private persons. The attachment which men feel to a right, and the respect which they display for it, is generally proportioned to its importance, or to the length of time during which they have enjoyed it. The rights of private persons amongst democratic nations are commonly of small importance, of recent growth, and extremely precarious—the consequence is that they are often sacrificed without regret, and almost always violated without remorse. But it happens that at the same period and amongst the same nations in which men conceive a natural contempt for the rights of private persons, the rights of society at large are naturally extended and consolidated: in other words, men become less attached to private rights at the very time at which it would be most necessary to retain and to defend what little remains of them. It is therefore most especially in the present democratic ages, that the true friends of the liberty and the greatness of man ought constantly to be on the alert to prevent the power of government from lightly sacrificing the private rights of individuals to the general execution of its designs. At such times no citizen is so obscure that it is not very dangerous to allow him to be oppressed—no private rights are so unimportant that they can be surrendered with impunity to the caprices of a government. The reason is plain:—if the private right of an individual is violated at a time when the human mind is fully impressed with the importance and the sanctity of such rights, the injury done is confined to the individual whose right is infringed; but to violate such a right, at the present day, is deeply to corrupt the manners of the nation and to put the whole community in jeopardy, because the very notion of this kind of right constantly tends amongst us to be impaired and lost.

    There are certain habits, certain notions, and certain vices which are peculiar to a state of revolution, and which a protracted revolution cannot fail to engender and to propagate, whatever be, in other respects, its character, its purpose, and the scene on which it takes place. When any nation has, within a short space of time, repeatedly varied its rulers, its opinions, and its laws, the men of whom it is composed eventually contract a taste for change, and grow accustomed to see all changes effected by sudden violence. Thus they naturally conceive a contempt for forms which daily prove ineffectual; and they do not support without impatience the dominion of rules which they have so often seen infringed. As the ordinary notions of equity and morality no longer suffice to explain and justify all the innovations daily begotten by a revolution, the principle of public utility is called in, the doctrine of political necessity is conjured up, and men accustom themselves to sacrifice private interests without scruple, and to trample on the rights of individuals in order more speedily to accomplish any public purpose.

    These habits and notions, which I shall call revolutionary, because all revolutions produce them, occur in aristocracies just as much as amongst democratic nations; but amongst the former they are often less powerful and always less lasting, because there they meet with habits, notions, defects, and impediments, which counteract them: they consequently disappear as soon as the revolution is terminated, and the nation reverts to its former political courses. This is not always the case in democratic countries, in which it is ever to be feared that revolutionary tendencies, becoming more gentle and more regular, without entirely disappearing from society, will be gradually transformed into habits of subjection to the administrative authority of the government. I know of no countries in which revolutions re more dangerous than in democratic countries; because, independently of the accidental and transient evils which must always attend them, they may always create some evils which are permanent and unending. I believe that there are such things as justifiable resistance and legitimate rebellion: I do not therefore assert, as an absolute proposition, that the men of democratic ages ought never to make revolutions; but I think that they have especial reason to hesitate before they embark in them, and that it is far better to endure many grievances in their present condition than to have recourse to so perilous a remedy.

    I shall conclude by one general idea, which comprises not only all the particular ideas which have been expressed in the present chapter, but also most of those which it is the object of this book to treat of. In the ages of aristocracy which preceded our own, there were private persons of great power, and a social authority of extreme weakness. The outline of society itself was not easily discernible, and constantly confounded with the different powers by which the community was ruled. The principal efforts of the men of those times were required to strengthen, aggrandize, and secure the supreme power; and on the other hand, to circumscribe individual independence within narrower limits, and to subject private interests to the interests of the public. Other perils and other cares await the men of our age. Amongst the greater part of modern nations, the government, whatever may be its origin, its constitution, or its name, has become almost omnipotent, and private persons are falling, more and more, into the lowest stage of weakness and dependence. In olden society everything was different; unity and uniformity were nowhere to be met with. In modern society everything threatens to become so much alike, that the peculiar characteristics of each individual will soon be entirely lost in the general aspect of the world. Our forefathers were ever prone to make an improper use of the notion, that private rights ought to be respected; and we are naturally prone on the other hand to exaggerate the idea that the interest of a private individual ought always to bend to the interest of the many. The political world is metamorphosed: new remedies must henceforth be sought for new disorders. To lay down extensive, but distinct and settled limits, to the action of the government; to confer certain rights on private persons, and to secure to them the undisputed enjoyment of those rights; to enable individual man to maintain whatever independence, strength, and original power he still possesses; to raise him by the side of society at large, and uphold him in that position—these appear to me the main objects of legislators in the ages upon which we are now entering. It would seem as if the rulers of our time sought only to use men in order to make things great; I wish that they would try a little more to make great men; that they would set less value on the work, and more upon the workman; that they would never forget that a nation cannot long remain strong when every man belonging to it is individually weak, and that no form or combination of social polity has yet been devised, to make an energetic people out of a community of pusillanimous and enfeebled citizens.

    I trace amongst our contemporaries two contrary notions which are equally injurious. One set of men can perceive nothing in the principle of equality but the anarchical tendencies which it engenders: they dread their own free agency—they fear themselves. Other thinkers, less numerous but more enlightened, take a different view: besides that track which starts from the principle of equality to terminate in anarchy, they have at last discovered the road which seems to lead men to inevitable servitude. They shape their souls beforehand to this necessary condition; and, despairing of remaining free, they already do obeisance in their hearts to the master who is soon to appear. The former abandon freedom, because they think it dangerous; the latter, because they hold it to be impossible. If I had entertained the latter conviction, I should not have written this book, but I should have confined myself to deploring in secret the destiny of mankind. I have sought to point out the dangers to which the principle of equality exposes the independence of man, because I firmly believe that these dangers are the most formidable, as well as the least foreseen, of all those which futurity holds in store: but I do not think that they are insurmountable. The men who live in the democratic ages upon which we are entering have naturally a taste for independence: they are naturally impatient of regulation, and they are wearied by the permanence even of the condition they themselves prefer. They are fond of power; but they are prone to despise and hate those who wield it, and they easily elude its grasp by their own mobility and insignificance. These propensities will always manifest themselves, because they originate in the groundwork of society, which will undergo no change: for a long time they will prevent the establishment of any despotism, and they will furnish fresh weapons to each succeeding generation which shall struggle in favor of the liberty of mankind. Let us then look forward to the future with that salutary fear which makes men keep watch and ward for freedom, not with that faint and idle terror which depresses and enervates the heart.

  4. shinichi Post author


    193年も前にトクヴィルがアメリカに滞在し考察したアメリカの民主主義が 79年前に日本に取り入れられ、トクヴィルが考えた通りの社会が日本に実現した。








  5. shinichi Post author

    Democracy in America

    Johnathan at Limbo


    Tocqueville writes in a time where everyone had a philosophy of history. People believed that you can’t understand politics without understanding the mechanisms of history.

    There are two general narratives of how political revolutions/progress occurs. The Aristotelian accounts is that any regime can dissolve into any other regime. The Platonic account is that there is a teleological progression (circular or linear) between different types of regimes. In this regard, Tocqueville is more of a Platonist. He believes in the inevitable progression of democracy.

    Tocqueville’s philosophy of history is heavily Christian. There was once a period of a rule of law. Effectively a caste system. Christianity brought down this caste system by enabling anyone to join in the ranks of the clergy. The clergy entered the government and started wielding power. Then lawyers and the bourgeoise slowly developed. The new middle class was spawned by Christian destruction of the old caste system and it was this new middle class that yearned for a new political system.

    The leftist interpretation is that society is trending towards the good after this radical break happened. The right believe that society is declining. The right have three options: 1. withdraw from society 2. attempt to undo the revolution 3. begin a new revolution that brings old aspects back stronger than before (20th century Fascism).

    Democracy in America is mostly addressed to the right. He doesn’t necessarily think that democracy is trending towards the absolute good but he does believe it is unstoppable. He wants the right to give up an illusion of the return.

    Tyranny of the Majority

    Tocqueville worried about three forms of tyranny of the majority: 1. institutional tyranny: that existing governmental systems could be used by the majority to abuse a minority. 2. future tyranny: that government could expand or dissolve into a tyranny. 3. psychological tyranny: that the majority could exercise a form of thought control that brought the best minds to a level of mediocrity.

    In almost all of these scenarios, the tyranny that Tocqueville fears is mild but pervasive, a tyranny that claws away at your character and soul rather than one that harms your body.

    Institutional Tyranny 

    Tocqueville thinks that because we elect officials, we feel much more confident in them wielding power so democratic officials get to wield more power than their aristocratic counterparts. And since every layer of government is, in some way, elected by the people — this is the defining characteristic of American democracies — the whole of society is simply this one homogenous mechanism of power.

    Tocqueville worries about the potential for abuse, minorities simply have nowhere to hide in such a society where the people control the government in its entirety. (Not sure how much of his argument stands given the polarization of politics).  

    When a man or a party suffers from an injustice in the United States, to whom can he turn? To public opinion? That is what forms the majority. To the legislative body? That represents the majority and obeys it blindly. To the executive power? That is appointed by the majority and serves as its passive instrument. To the public police force? They are nothing but the majority under arms. To the jury? That is the majority invested with the right to pronounce judgments; the very judges in certain states are elected by the majority. So, however unfair or unreasonable the measure which damages you, you must submit. 

    Future Tyranny

    There are various ways that government can increasingly take on more power such that its domain (and therefore what they majority can enforce and control) becomes total.

    We could be jealous of priviledges so much so that we hand increasing power to the state to level our differences:

    The loathing men feel for privilege increases as these privileges become rarer and less important, so that democratic passions would seem to burn the brighter in those very times when they have the least fuel. I have already accounted for this phenomenon. No inequality, however great, strikes the eye in a time of general social inequality, whereas the slightest disparity appears shocking amid universal uniformity; the more complete this uniformity, the more intolerable it looks. Therefore, it is natural that love of equality should thrive constantly with equality itself: to foster it is to see it grow. This ever-burning and endless loathing which democratic nations feel for the slightest privilege has an unusual effect upon the gradual concentration of every political right in the hands of a single representative of the state. Since the sovereign authority stands necessarily and indubitably above all the citizens, it does not arouse their envy and each citizen thinks that he is depriving all his fellow men of those powers that he grants to the crown. The man living in democratic ages is always extremely reluctant to obey his neighbor who is his equal; he refuses to acknowledge that the latter has any ability superior to his own; he distrusts his form of justice and looks enviously upon his power; he both fears and despises him; he likes to bring home to him the whole time that they are both equally dependent upon the same master. Any central power which pursues these natural feelings loves and promotes equality, for equality eases, extends, and guarantees the actions of such a power to an unusual degree.

    Industry and its growth could demand much more infrastructure, both material and political, to be built. Government and industry is symbiotic, the more the latter expands the more the former becomes all-encompassing:

    Industry normally causes a multitude of men to congregate in one place, establishing new and complex relationships between them. It exposes them to sudden and great alternations of plenty and poverty, during which public peace is threatened. Finally, this type of work can come to damage the health and even the lives of those who make money out of it or those who engage in it. Thus, the manufacturing classes have a greater need of regulation, supervision, and restraint than all other classes and it is to be expected that the functions of government will multiply as they do.

    This is not a tyranny per se but Tocqueville worries that the industrial, capitalist class could get so powerful that they form an aristocracy.

    Lastly, Tocqueville also warns of the possibility of a military leader not giving up his power and seizing the country by force.

    Psychological Tyranny

    I know of no country where there is generally less independence of thought and real freedom of debate than in America.

    This section reconstructs Tocqueville’s analysis of Democratic thought policing in Democracy in America. In the 19th century, the French Aristocrat toured the United States and spent the next decade wrestling with a central question. How can a society which guarantees the most freedoms on paper be so limited in imagination, devoid of independent thinking, and conformist in reality? This conformity isn’t just a superficial problem either, but a subtle yet nonetheless deadly bondage that chips away at our character, distorts our thinking, and corrodes our very spirit – a bondage so forceful and pervasive that Tocqueville labelled it a “tyranny”.

    Unlike modern commentators who may provide a timely diagnosis – blaming a particular political ideology or the recent polarization of politics – Tocqueville locates the source of bondage in the very democratic institutions and ideals that grant us freedom in the first place. His answer may be timeless, but we still need to keep the historical context in mind. When he comments on how unfree Americans were, he certainly did not have in mind as comparison the surveillance technologies of the 21st century nor the totalitarian regimes of the 20th. Tocqueville is contrasting the bondage of the democratic citizen to the freedom of European aristocrats who had considerable independence, even from the monarch. This may seem like a reason to dismiss his observations entirely. Aristocracies are part of the past; only a tiny population enjoyed this freedom; we shouldn’t dwell in a pessimistic critique of the freest regime we have today. But it is precisely this anachronism that makes his insights so unique and valuable. By contrasting democratic life to, perhaps, the most independent class in history, we can see how our freedoms are still limited in subtle ways. Under this light, it is we who are the pessimist and Tocqueville the optimist. For we look at democracies and say: “Yes, this is as free as man can be.” Tocqueville offers instead: “No, you can be much more!”

    Tocqueville draws a sharp distinction between the influence of democratic institutions (e.g. elections) and democratic ideals (e.g. equality). Both will limit independent thinking but in different ways.

    The defining characteristic of democratic institutions is the self-governance of the people. The political leadership is elected and, to a large extent, directed by the opinions of the masses. Ideas flow bottom-up, not top-down. A requirement of democratic citizenship is, therefore, to have an opinion on a wide-variety of topics. Ask any American, and they will gladly go on about anything from abortion, to economic policy, to global affairs. Ask almost any other nationality, and expect a puzzled look in response, wondering why you are asking them questions reserved for experts. From a young age, the American child is encouraged to form her own opinions, so much so that we expect beauty pageant contestants to have a ready-made foreign policy response to ISIS. The oddity of this social fact is perhaps visible only to the foreign eye: a fundamental perquisite of social life in America is to hold strong opinions on issues experts devote their entire lives to investigating. This social expectation is generated by the political demands of democratic institutions. If the people are to govern, the people must make up their own minds.

    Doesn’t this encourage free-thinking? Common sense suggests that the expectation to be opinionated should produce a nation of inquisitive and liberated minds. Tocqueville does not deny that the American is more educated and informed than your average aristocratic citizen, most of whom are peasants. What is worrisome is the way we form and enforce our opinions on others.

    Americans do not seek opinions from traditional forms of authority. There is a subconscious assumption that if we are equals, we must have equal access to the truth and the same capacities to reason. The democratic ideal of equality makes any authority figure appear inherently false and suspicious. Cautious of intellectual tyranny from above, Americans “search by oneself and in oneself alone for the reason of things.”

    How this pans out in reality is a far cry from this Cartesian ideal. Most people are simply too busy to properly wrestle with all the different perspectives, much less the underlying assumptions. Even the philosopher, who spends every waking hour engaging with ideas, “believes a million things upon the authority of someone else.” Dogma – opinions accepted on nothing other than authority – is necessary simply because there are too many perspectives to be questioned and too many assumptions to be tested. When it comes to authorities of truth within a functioning society, the question to ask is not “if” but “where” and “how”. Tocqueville urges us not to take the American and his self-proclaimed independence at his word, and instead look for hidden springs of dogma.

    The same ideal of equality that leads the American to distrust any traditional form of authority, makes him more trustful of public opinion. If we are all equals in our ability to reason, then truth shouldn’t lie with any singular person, no matter their credentials, but must instead rest with the greatest number of people, in public opinion. More so than any other regime, democracies look favorably upon the wisdom of the crowds. This is a marked difference from aristocracies where the authority of knowledge rested in the hands of a visible and select few. But just as the serf may adopt the ideas of the local priest, we too copy from authorities, even if they do not appear as such. We stitch together our beliefs from public opinion: a sound blurb on the late-night news, an echo from the community gathering, a post on social media. Because there is no explicit and visible authority to attribute our views to, we readily claim them as our own. We cling onto them ever the tighter, as fruits of our own intellectual labor, out of “pride as much as conviction.” When we say we are thinking for ourselves, too often that just means we forgot where we parroted it from.

    More worryingly, the issues we are required to take a stance on are often heavily politicized. Certain stances – gun control, immigration policy, abortion laws, etc. – are mostly adopted on party lines. Asking about someone’s views on abortion is often less motivated by curiosity than a desire to place them on the spectrum, to label them as “friend” or “foe”. As a result, free thinking is even more threatened because it is often easier and more socially rewarding to pick the opinion that nets political advantages. If all my friends are liberal hippies, is it even an option for me to, upon careful research, conclude that climate change is blown out of proportion? Tocqueville’s insight is that the more external rewards there are around having the right opinion, the harder it is to be a free thinker and pursue truth for truth’s sake. When you liberate political power from a specific class, as democratic institutions do, you inject the political, and political rewards, across all of society. We shouldn’t be surprised that as more and more of our life – entertainment, sports, coronavirus, etc. – becomes increasingly partisan, it is harder and harder to have sober conversations about them.

    Without a clear external authority dictating opinion, people feel a genuine ownership over their ideas. As a democratic citizen, I conceive of my opinions as “mine” and genuine, even if they come from external sources and are adopted for ulterior, political motives. The medieval courtier may secretly despise what he publicly accepts from an external authority. But the democratic citizen, believing himself to be the origin of his beliefs, endorses them wholeheartedly. Tocqueville praises this phenomenon and the character of responsibility it produces, but is nonetheless cautious of the side-effects. Because everyone in society has strong opinions, political allegiances and, thus, incentives to enforce these opinions, thought-control is much more pervasive than it ever could have been in aristocracies. Tocqueville’s claim is this: in aristocracies, there is a clear separation between the ruling class and the people, and even within the ruling class itself. Ideas don’t flow as freely and, therefore, society isn’t homogeneous. There’s always some safe harbor to explore outlandish ideas or, at least, enough people who don’t care enough to bother you. Even if the monarch wanted to control thinking, he can’t mobilize all of the people, all the time: “No monarch is so absolute that he can gather all the forces of society into his own hands and overcome resistance as can a majority endowed with the right of enacting laws and executing them.”

    But, Tocqueville warns, when authority is bottom-up, when the people’s will determine the direction of the leaders, there is nowhere to hide. The ruling party share the opinions of the people because they were elected by them. And the people, now with a strong set of opinions and a deep sense of ownership over the political process, all become voluntary thought police, keeping each other inside the party line. Surveillance is carried out not through force or violence, but dirty glances, nasty remarks, and social ostracism. It is total and continuous. Tocqueville insists that when a democratic people makes its mind up on an issue, there is no room to explore alternatives. Anything outside the Overton window immediately becomes blasphemy.  

    But even when there isn’t a nation-wide consensus, policing on partisan lines can still smother independent thinking. It is the bottom-up nature that makes it so pervasive and effective. The homogeneous intellectual climate in our liberal universities is a good example. During class, in the dorms, at a party – students police each other non-stop in speech and action. They are not following orders from a central committee of political correctness, but simply participating in the democratic process which is inherently political. The result is an almost universal enforcement of the party line and an ideological homogeneity that could rival the achievements of the most effective central committees. As this example suggests, bottom-up policing is not only more pervasive but can also be more forceful because it coerces with a moral force. When the rare student deviates from the progressive ideal, he is not beaten or tortured, but made to feel like a worthless outcast. Tocqueville explains:

    Under the absolute government of one man, despotism, in order to attack the spirit, crudely struck the body and the spirit escaped free of its blows, rising gloriously above it. But in democratic republics, tyranny does not behave in that manner; it leaves the body alone and goes straight to the spirit. No longer does the master say: “You will think as I do or you will die” he says: “You are free not to think like me, your life, property, everything will be untouched but from today you are a pariah among us. You will retain your civic privileges but they will be useless to you, for if you seek the votes of your fellow citizens, they will not grant you them and if you simply seek their esteem, they will pretend to refuse you that too. You will retain your place amongst men but you will lose the rights of mankind. When you approach your fellows, they will shun you like an impure creature; and those who believe in your innocence will be the very people to abandon you lest they be shunned in their turn. Go in peace; I grant you your life but it is a life worse than death.”

    Tocqueville’s surprising insight is that the threat of violence used by an aristocratic monarch to control thought is often less forceful than the social forces within a democracy. The assumption here is that there is a moral force behind the people. If you rebel against an authority, you may gain the prestige of a martyr. But if you go against the people, you are an evil and worthless person. Tocqueville’s observation is that, with this moral force, bottom-up policing doesn’t even need to resort to physical punishment because it stamps out dissident ideas from the get-go: “The Inquisition was never able to stop the circulation in Spain of books hostile to the religion of the majority. The power of the majority in the United States has had greater success than that by removing even the thought of publishing such books.”

    To be sure, it is not as if everyone in an aristocracy was a free-thinker. The social forces that restrict independent thinking exists in all societies. There will always be bottom-up policing. But it is inflamed by democratic institutions which require its citizens to have opinions around a wide range of issues and to form political allegiances around them.

    The advantage of aristocracies, Tocqueville must think, is not in what they do have but in what they don’t have. People just don’t care about the wide range of issues that concern the democratic mind: they have no say in these matters and no parties hoping to win their votes. This is undesirable for a whole host of reasons. But, in so far as independent thinking is concerned, there is also no constant policing around these issues. Tocqueville concedes that aristocratic peoples are more ignorant – they hold less opinions. Democracies have, without a doubt, raised the averaged level of education. But aristocratic peoples are also less dogmatic – they hold less opinions out of ulterior, political motives. In such a society, someone who has the opportunity and urge to explore truth, granted a tiny minority, could do so without a pervasive social force policing their thought. Tocqueville is concerned that the social forces within American-style democracies will smother out the great, rare, and rebellious minds from the get-go and instead herd everyone into an above-average mediocrity.

    If democratic institutions unleash social forces that limit our thinking through coercion, then the democratic ideal of equality furnishes our characters with similar habits, perspectives, and biases such that we naturally arrive at the same thoughts. Equality is the belief that we are fundamentally the same in essence. Any difference is either insignificant or the result of nurture. Democracies honor equality because they are meritocratic. In aristocracies, status is determined solely by birthright and remains stable for centuries on end. In democracies, no group of people is better in stock than another. Status is determined by merit. It is fluid and hierarchies are unstable. This is also the logic of the free market. Winners and losers change rapidly; your family lineage matters less than what and how much you can produce. Evidently, the ideal of equality is not exclusive to America nor democracies. We should not be surprised to discover the same effects on free thinking from equality in non-democratic regimes. Equality influences a society to the extent that it is meritocratic and allows for social mobility.

    Equality shapes the democratic character to be pragmatic and oriented towards action. With equality comes meritocracy and with meritocracy comes opportunity. But this opportunity is a double-edged sword. Tocqueville observes that the aristocrat rarely worries about wealth and his status is more or less guaranteed. This frees the mind for more noble pursuits. Even the peasant is able to, in a much more limited sense, free his mind from worldly concerns, if not only for the reason that there is not much he can do to improve it. Our stations, as democratic citizens, aren’t fixed in life. We are given license to pursue material goods and improve our status. But this license is, at the same time, a bondage. Our gaze becomes directed only to the worldly and the mundane. Free to pursue status and wealth, the liberating “can” quickly becomes a demanding “ought”. Meritocracies, Tocqueville observes, envelope everyone in a state of agitation. Because our stations are not fixed, we always want more and fear losing what we already have. We are always engrossed in a state of action trying to improve and protect our lot. Under this light, the aristocrat and the peasant are mentally freed from worldly concerns, relatively to us, by being physically limited in their ability to change them. Even the rich do not enjoy the same leisure as the aristocrat did. The latter rests in the comfort that his status will never change, while the former must remain in a state of action to maintain his standing in society.

    To be sure, our orientation towards constant action and our pursuit of worldly goods does not prohibit us from valuing ideas altogether. We quickly see the importance of intelligence for success and learn to appreciate it. But, as a result, we tend to value ideas only instrumentally for their usefulness. We are focused on utility, “aided much more by the opportunity of an idea … than its strict accuracy.” This pragmatism disposes us to value the useful and digestible ideas at the expense of the complex and profound. “In ages when almost every man is engaged in action, an excessive value is generally placed upon those rapid flights and superficial ideas of the intellect while its slower and deeper efforts are considerably undervalued.”

    So, even though democracies may show a strong desire for knowledge, we must remember that “the desire to use knowledge is not the same as the desire to know.” Free-thinking, in Tocqueville’s opinion, requires a certain aristocratic leisure that is simply unavailable to the action-oriented man.” The mental habits which suit action do not always promote thought.” Tocqueville’s insight is that great ideas only come about when you pursue them for their own sake. They are never the result of a pragmatic calculus:

    If Pascal had had in mind only some great source of profit or had been motivated only by self-glory, I cannot think he would have been able, as he was, to gather, as he did, all the powers of his intellect for a deeper discovery of the most hidden secrets of the Creator. When I observe him tearing his soul away, so to speak, from the concerns of life to devote it entirely to this research and severing prematurely the ties which bind his soul to his body, to die of old age before his fortieth year, I stand aghast and realize that no ordinary cause can produce such extraordinary efforts.   

    Equality furnishes the democratic mind with generalizations. The same pragmatism also leads the busy American to prefer generalizations that explain very much with very little. We are disposed to look for “common rules which apply to everything, to include a great number of objects in one category and to explain a collection of facts by one single reason” because our action-oriented life leaves little time for thinking. There is a further reason that we are inclined to generalizations, especially in matters regarding the human condition. The assumption of equality, that all humans are the same in essence, makes it natural to project observations of one individual onto the human whole. The same virtues and vices of one must apply to another. The best regime for one nation must also be the best universally. The moral standards of one epoch should judge all of history. We lose, if ever so subtly, this aristocratic instinct that different people are of different stock and should be evaluated according to different standards. The dangers of this tendency to generalize are obvious. We lose much nuance beneath our broad strokes. And our desire for a binary “good” or “bad” overlooks the complexity of the human experience.

    Lastly, equality directs the democratic gaze towards progress. Aristocratic citizens can see the bounds on their potential, the scope of their occupation, and limits of their status more or less at birth. They acknowledge the potential for progress but in a much more limited way. The son of an ironsmith may think about how he can improve his craft, but he dare not dream of one day becoming the King. Democratic ambitions are not bound by any such restraints. The American child is told from an early age that: “You can be anything you want to be!” This encouragement is not entirely deceitful either. The child has a whole host of presidents, scientists, and CEOs with humble beginnings to look up to that lend credence to this promise. Coupled with the belief that we are of the same essence, one can only explain this wide variance in outcomes with the indefinite perfectibility of man. Democratic citizens believe in the boundless potential for the human subject to adapt and progress. Consequently, we live life constantly trying to be better and self-improve.

    This disposition towards progress is not limited just to our lives but becomes a general perspective through which we view the world. Tocqueville offers an example: American ship makers build less durable vessels with the assumption that “the art of navigation is making such rapid progress that the best ship would soon outlive its usefulness if it extended its life more than a few years.” This belief in our indefinite perfectibility is a generator of a whole host of philosophical assumptions. Even the way we interpret time and history is linear rather than circular: as a continued progression of mankind itself.

    It is hard to see how this perspective of progress can limit our thinking. It might be odd to even think of it as a perspective and not just plain fact in the first place. This only goes to show the degree which progress is embedded into our democratic psyche. Tocqueville warns us that we may be stretching the bounds of human perfectibility to excess and exaggerating what is possible. Can the child really be anyone he wants to? Furthermore, our lens of progress is, at the same time, an orientation towards the future. Tocqueville observes how the subject of a better future populates democratic poetry, as the subject of a glorious past did aristocratic poetry. We must be cautious not to devalue the past. If we think of ourselves as progressed, as better in every way, we overlook what can be learned from those who came before us.

    A character oriented towards action, a mind fascinated with generalizations, and a gaze towards progress – these characteristics generated by the ideal of equality in turn generate numerous philosophical assumptions, predispose us to certain types of ideas, and makes us look for answers in similar places. But it is clear that as much as these tendencies frame and limit thought, they also lead the American to fruitful insights and innovative ideas. These weaknesses are, at the same time, strengths. Indeed, every political regime will carry within it assumptions that color its citizens perspectives. Tocqueville is highlighting ours so that we can become aware of them and their limitations.

    It should be obvious by now that Tocqueville is neither an enemy of democracy nor America. On the contrary, he is a self-described “friend of democracy” and only came to America to study the most functional democracy in his time. Indeed, he is cautious of the potential for intellectual tyranny. But even this he concedes is somewhat necessary: no society can function without unity sustained by commonly shared opinions based on nothing but authority alone. Not everyone can or should be a free-thinker. Dogma is somewhat necessary for the healthy functioning of society.

    Democracy in America highlights these sources of dogma that may not be obvious at first sight: hidden and decentralized but nonetheless restraining. Both democratic institutions and democratic ideals will always limit independent thinking, both to the benefit of societal cohesion as well as the detriment of independent thinking. This will not change as long as America remains a democracy. But Tocqueville does present the American with a genuine and meaningful choice: limit and contain these forces, and gain a degree of intellectual independence; neglect and inflame these forces, and expect an intellectual tyranny pervasive and restrictive beyond your wildest imagination. Just because the freedom of the intellect is granted on paper, does not mean it doesn’t have to be continuously fought for in reality.

    Barriers against Tyranny 

    It is impossible to summarize all the possible barriers against tyranny. That is what the whole book is about: how to preserve freedom in an age of increasing equality. But there seems to be three key pillars. 

    First, the lawyer class is disposed to higher learning and order from the demands of their occupation. They can form a meritocratic aristocracy that controls democratic passions. Also the process of being a juror helps. It makes men feel like they are part of something larger, makes them respect the court’s decisions and inhabits them in the mindset of judges.

    Second, religion greatly curbs the tyrannizing force of the majority by giving men shared opinions, making them think in the long term, establish a code of morality, etc.

    The last one is more local governments that institutionally prevent the majority from exercising too much power.

  6. shinichi Post author

    Freedom and Equality

     Then, with no man different from his fellows, nobody will be able to wield tyrannical power; men will be completely free because they will be entirely equal; they will all be completely equal because they will be entirely free. Democratic nations aim for this ideal.

    Tocqueville insists here that not only are freedom and equality not at odds with each other, as the common political intuition suggests, but that they are in harmony or even synonymous. 

    To unpack this unlikely synergy, we should first clarify what Tocqueville meant by both terms. By freedom, he refers not to the classical liberal notion of freedom (although it may be intimately connected) namely freedom from coercion. His freedom is an ability for self-governance. We get a hint of that in passages like these: “Under a free government … most public offices are elective.” The aristocrat who pursues all his hearts desires without coercion yet cannot assume political power is not free for Tocqueville. His freedom can be interpreted as an equality in wielding political power. Freedom becomes a subspecies of equality. It is no surprise then that “men may not become absolutely equal without being wholly free” for to be wholly equal in all conditions is to include being equal in possession of political power and thus free. Under this lens, free institutions are not institutions that protect people from coercion but rather ones that represent the authorship and will of the people. 

    By equality, Tocqueville meant an equality in all social conditions (and thus political conditions). The dangers of equality is that it encourages egoism and individualism in two ways. First, since everyone’s power is relatively equal, no one has the force to really effect a large amount of people, unlike the feudal lord. Since it is not even a possibility to effect those beyond one’s immediate circle, people’s interests and scopes narrow in onto their private spheres. Second, with the removal of a stable hierarchy, equality renders society in a constant state of flux. This unsettles the individual from any embedded social context.  

    The heightened degree of individualism makes democracies particularly susceptible to Tyranny. Free institutions prevent this, albeit not in the direct manner we intuitively think it would. Through the participation in free institutions, people learn about responsibility and get an education of the importance of society and the collective. Free institutions protect from tyranny not by directly preventing tyrannical coercion but by creating psychologically resilient individuals who form strong societal bonds. Again what is significant here is Tocqueville’s methodolical focus on the psychological. By focusing on the psychological he is able to connect the effects from various different spheres: religion, economics, politics, etc.

    Herein lies the synergy between freedom and equality. Freedom limits the negative psychological impacts of equality: individualism and egoism. Of course, freedom can have its own faults that lead to anarchy. But in his discussion of the importance of political associations for civil associations, he makes it clear that it is through the exercise of larger freedoms do people get a better grasp of its stewardship: “Thus it is by enjoying a dangerous freedom that Americans learn the skill of reducing the risks of freedom.”


    We need to separate between four concepts. Individualism, egoism, sympathy and sacrifice.

    Individualism is a disposition that only extend cares within a small circle. It is related to but not necessarily egoism which is to care only about oneself and treat everyone as a means to my ends. I may be an individual who only cares and works to better my family but nonetheless not be an egoist and respect the public good.

    Individualism is a recently coined expression prompted by a new idea, for our forefathers knew only of egoism. Egoism is an ardent and excessive love of oneself which leads man to relate everything back to himself and to prefer himself above everything. 

    Individualism is a calm and considered feeling which persuades each citizen to cut himself off from his fellows and to withdraw into the circle of his family and friends in such a way that he thus creates a small group of his own and willingly abandons society at large to its own devices. Egoism springs from a blind instinct; individualism from wrongheaded thinking rather than from depraved feelings. It originates as much from defects of intelligence as from the mistakes of the heart. 

    Egoism blights the seeds of every virtue, individualism at first dries up only the source of public virtue. In the longer term it attacks and destroys all the others and will finally merge with egoism. Egoism is a perversity as old as the world and is scarcely peculiar to one form of society more than another. Individualism is democratic in origin and threatens to grow as conditions become equal.

    Aristocrats were not individualistic. They cared a great deal about their lineage and country, their superiors and inferiors. Equality makes us individualistic in two ways. First, since everyone’s power is relatively equal, no one has the force to really effect a large amount of people, unlike the feudal lord. Since it is not even a possibility to effect those beyond one’s immediate circle, people’s interests and scopes narrow in onto their private spheres. This is why Tocqueville will say that the industrialist is worse to his workers than the feudal lord is to his serfs. Second, with the removal of a stable hierarchy, equality renders society in a constant state of flux. This unsettles the individual from any embedded social context. 

    In aristocracies:

    Among aristocratic nations, families remain in the same situation for centuries and often in the same location. This turns all the generations into contemporaries, as it were. A man practically always knows his ancestors and has respect for them; he thinks he can already see his great-grandchildren and he loves them. He willingly assumes duties toward his ancestors and descendants, frequently sacrificing his personal pleasures for the sake of those beings who have gone before and who have yet to come. In addition, aristocratic institutions achieve the effect of binding each man closely to several of his fellow citizens. Since the class structure is distinct and static in an aristocratic nation, each class becomes a kind of homeland for the participant because it is more obvious and more cherished than the country at large. All the citizens of aristocratic societies have fixed positions one above another; consequently each man perceives above him someone whose protection is necessary to him and below him someone else whose cooperation he may claim. Men living in aristocratic times are, therefore, almost always closely bound to an external object and they are often inclined to forget about themselves. It is true that in these same periods the general concept of human fellowship is dimly felt and men seldom think of sacrificing themselves for mankind, whereas they often sacrifice themselves for certain other men.

    And in democracies:

    Among democratic nations, new families constantly emerge from oblivion, while others fall away; all remaining families shift with time. The thread of time is ever ruptured and the track of generations is blotted out. Those who have gone before are easily forgotten and those who follow are still completely unknown. Only those nearest to us are of any concern to us. As each class closes up to the others and merges with them, its members become indifferent to each other and treat each other as strangers. Aristocracy had created a long chain of citizens from the peasant to the king; democracy breaks down this chain and separates all the links. 

    Despite being more individualistic democratic man are also more sympathetic to the entirety of the human race. They are more willing to help with small deeds and relate as well as pity the suffering of others. This is because 1. they all consider each other equal and 2. there are more shared experiences for them to relate to each other.  

    But the democratic man is not disposed to making huge sacrifices like the aristocrat. To die for one’s country is foreign to the democratic psyche.

    In democratic ages, men scarcely ever sacrifice themselves for each other but they display a general compassion for all the members of the human race. One never sees them inciting pointless cruelty and when they are able to relieve another’s suffering without much trouble to themselves, they are glad to do so. They are not entirely altruistic but they are gentle.

    The cynical reading of this is from Rousseau, who said that the wider the scope of sympathy the less possibility for action. The enlightenment philosopher loves mankind as to not love his neighbor.

    Self Interest Properly Understood

    As a result, Americans are never motivated by grand virtues and aesthetics but rather by utility and self-interest. Only things that concern their immediate sphere they find reason to pursue. Therefore, they need to reason if something benefits their self-interest before doing it. This gets to such an extreme point even when you ask the American who is genuinely helping another, he would explain it as just pursuing his own self-interest. Pragmatic character means that one can only be motivated by very immediate ends:

    When the world was controlled by a small number of powerful and wealthy individuals, they enjoyed promoting a lofty ideal of man’s duties; they liked to advertise how glorious it is to forget oneself and how fitting it is to do good without self-interest just like God himself. At that time, such was the official moral doctrine. I doubt whether men were more virtuous in aristocratic times than in others, but they certainly referred constantly to the beauties of virtue; only secretly did they examine its usefulness. But as man’s imagination indulges more modest flights of fancy and everyone is more self-centered, moralists fight shy of this notion of self-sacrifice and dare not promote it for man’s consideration. They are, therefore, reduced to inquiring whether working for the happiness of all would be to the advantage of each citizen, and when they have discovered one of those points at which individual self-interest happens to coincide and merge with the interest of all, they eagerly highlight it. Gradually, similar views become more numerous. What was an isolated observation becomes a universal doctrine and in the end the belief is born that man helps himself by serving others and that doing good serves his own interest.


    Despite America’s material prosperity, Tocqueville observed a deep-rooted sense of suffering. Here are some of his explanations why.

    Physical Pleasures

    Americans are more materialistic. This is because, unlike the aristocratic peasant, the american can actually work to improve his lot. The downside of this is that the peasant, values spiritual sphere more than the material sphere and is closer to God. American’s focus on materialism rarely leads to true happiness:

    At first, there is astonishment at the sight of this peculiar restlessness in so many happy men in the midst of abundance. Yet this is a sight as old as the world; what is new is to see a whole nation involved. The taste for physical pleasures must be acknowledged as the prime source of this secret anxiety in the behavior of Americans and of this unreliability which they exemplify every day. 

    Restlessness and Agitation

    Meritocracy makes people restless and agitated. Because you “CAN” be more you feel like you “OUGHT” be more. In a way, we are both worse of than the aristocrat but also the peasant who is freed from being concerned with status.  

    When it is birth alone and not wealth which governs a man’s class, everyone knows precisely his place on the social ladder; he neither seeks to rise nor fears to fall. In a society so organized, men from the different castes have little contact with each other but, when chance contact does occur, they are ready to come together without wishing or dreading to lose their own position. Their relations are not based upon equality but they do not experience any restraint.

    When an aristocracy based on money takes over from one based on birth, this ceases to be the case. The privileges of some people are still extensive but the potential for acquiring them is open to all. The result of that is that those who possess them are constantly obsessed by the fear of losing them, or of seeing them shared, and those as yet without them long to possess them at any cost or at least to appear to possess them if they fail, which is not impossible to achieve. Since the social importance of men is no longer fixed by blood in any obvious and permanent manner and since wealth produces innate variations, classes still exist but it is not easy to distinguish clearly their members at first glance…. Straightaway an unspoken war is declared between all citizens; some employ a thousand tricks to join, or to appear to join, those above them, while others constantly fight to repulse those who seek to usurp their rights, or rather the same person does both these things for, while he is attempting to infiltrate the level above him, he fights relentlessly against those working up from below.

    Endless Ambition

    Americans have endless ambition, an ambition that must be thwarted if not only for the fact that everyone else has its to. Because we are all equals and consider ourselves to have the same potential as others, we always want to be the best. But this unleashes a competitive force that inevitably upsets those ambitions:

    When all the privileges of birth and wealth are destroyed, when all the professions are open to all, and when a man can climb to the top of any of them through his own merits, men’s ambitions think they see before them a great and open career and readily imagine they are summoned to no common destiny. Such, however, is a mistaken view which experience corrects daily. This very equality which allows each citizen to imagine unlimited hopes makes all of them weak as individuals. It restricts their strength on every side while offering freer scope to their longings. Not only are they powerless by themselves but at every step they encounter immense obstacles unnoticed at first sight. They have abolished the troublesome privileges of a few of their fellow men only to meet the competition of all. The barrier has changed shape rather than place. Once men are more or less equal and pursue the same path, it is very difficult for any one of them to move forward quickly in order to cleave his way through the uniform crowd milling around him. This permanent struggle between the instincts inspired by equality and the means it supplies to satisfy them harasses and wearies men’s minds. 

    Tocqueville Principle

    The famous Tocqueville principle states that the more a society tends towards equality the more the inequalities look like great crimes.  This is because they become muhc more apparent and unjust. So as society becomes more equal, people feel they are less equal and become more resentful (This is a different argument from GIrard).

    One can imagine men enjoying a certain degree of freedom which wholly satisfies them. Then they savor their independence free from anxiety or excitement. But men will never establish an entirely satisfying equality. No matter what a nation does, it will never succeed in reaching perfectly equal conditions. If it did have the misfortune to achieve an absolute and complete leveling, there would still remain the inequalities of intelligence which come directly from God and will always elude the lawmakers. However democratic the state of society and the nation’s political constitution, you can guarantee that each citizen will always spot several oppressive points near to him and you may anticipate that he will direct his gaze doggedly in that direction. When inequality is the general law of society, the most blatant inequalities escape notice; when everything is virtually on a level, the slightest variations cause distress. That is why the desire for equality becomes more insatiable as equality extends to all. In democratic nations, men will attain a certain degree of equality with ease without being able to reach the one they crave. This retreats daily before them without moving out of their sight; even as it recedes, it draws them after it. They never cease believing that they are about to grasp it, while it never ceases to elude their grasp. They see it from close enough quarters to know its charms without getting near enough to enjoy them and they die before fully relishing its delights. Those are the reasons for that unusual melancholy often experienced by the inhabitants of democratic countries in the midst of plenty and for that distaste for life they feel seizes them even as they live an easy and peaceful existence.

    Growth as a Requirement for Democracy

    Democracies generate a lot of discontent, envy, and resentment. If they aren’t channeled into productive, positive-sum ends, they are channeled into bitter party disputes. The best gift to America was its wide frontier that gave everyone a way to satisfy their ambition without stealing from their neighbor. The same could be said about economic growth. Perhaps it too is a necessity for democratic functioning.

    In the lucky circumstances which have supported and confirmed the establishment and continuance of the democratic republic in the United States, the most important is the choice of the country itself which Americans inhabit. Their fathers have given them the love of equality and freedom but it was God himself who granted them the means of long remaining equal and free by his gift of this boundless continent.

    General prosperity supports the stability of all governments, but especially democratic governments which depend upon the attitudes of the greatest number and primarily upon the attitudes of those most exposed to privations. When the people rule, it is vital that they are happy, to avoid any threat to the stability of the state. Wretchedness has the same effect upon them as ambition does upon kings. Now, those physical causes, unconnected with laws, which can lead to prosperity are more numerous in America than in any other country at any time in history.

    The territory of the Union provides limitless scope to human activity: it offers inexhaustible supplies for industry and labor. The love of wealth, therefore, replaces ambition and prosperity quenches the fires of party disputes.

    Industry and Democracy 

    Wealth over Politics

    Tocqueville believes that the top talent in democracies go and pursue wealth because political power is unstable and there is no real independence (you are dictated by the will of the people). They also don’t get the respect they do in public life as they do in private life and so don’t bother trying.

    In fact the wealthy in America, in public life, have to appear to be poor, to have friends in low places. There is a deep insecurity and disdain for democratic processes by the rich, because of how powerful the people are:

    Just look at this opulent citizen. Wouldn’t you say he is like a medieval Jew who dreads that his wealth might be discovered? His clothes are simple and his demeanor is modest. Within the four walls of his house he adores luxury; he allows only a few chosen guests, whom he insolently calls his equals, to penetrate this sanctuary. No European aristocrat shows himself more exclusive in his pleasures, more jealous of the slightest advantages of his privileged position than he is. Yet here he emerges from home to make his way to work in a dusty den in the center of a busy town where everyone is free to accost him. On his way, his shoemaker might pass by and they stop; both then begin to chat. What can they say? These two citizens are concerned with affairs of state and will not part without shaking hands. But beneath this conventional enthusiasm and amid this ingratiating ritual toward the dominant power, you can easily perceive in the wealthy a deep distaste for the democratic institutions of their country. The people are a power they both fear and despise.

    On the Industrialist Aristocracy 

    The most likely way that aristocracies will reappear in democracies is through wealth and industry. Tocqueville reasons that with the division of labor, you are going to get a class of smarter and smarter class of managers that needs to deal with more and more complex problems. But you are also going to get a less and less educated working class that focuses more and more on specificities.  

    A naïve reader, given Tocqueville’s praise for aristocracy, may take this to be a positive thing to be celebrated. But this aristocracy, Tocqueville believes will have all the negatives of the old one and none of the positives.

    First, this class will not be stable enough to form a class consciousness and leisurely character that was so generative of creative insights. Because of the competitive nature of democracies and the inherit instability within them, they need to be disposed to action as well. Capitalist aristocracies do not escape the same psychological problems that plague the democratic masses. Take the urge for work and pragmatism: while aristocrats of old saw it as repugnant, and leisure as virtue, today’s elites are more enslaved by work than many of their employees! Furthermore, the capitalistic elite does not seem to have its own cultural values. In aristocracies, culture flows top-down. In democracies, culture flows bottom-up, it seems like what, in no small part, determines the cultural values of the capitalist-aristocracy starts from the masses: Hollywood, memes, pop music, major sports. Lastly, instead of nobility in character and pride, it is my observation that the richer the household the child is born in, and the more they hold equality as an ideal, the more it produces a sense of guilt. Since the default position is equality, their wealth does not bring forth a reason for pride or a legacy to maintain and standard to uphold but a sentiment comparable to survivors guilt. 

    Second, they are worse to their workers than the lords were to their serfs. This is because, Tocqueville thinks, by conceiving of themselves as so much better and power, and having a historical relationship, the old aristocracy felt a degree of responsibility to the people below them that isn’t the case anymore in societies where people are equal:

    Not only are the rich not firmly united to each other, but you can also say that no true link exists between rich and poor. They are not forever fixed, one close to the other; moment by moment, self-interest pulls them together, only to separate them later. The worker depends upon the employer in general but not on any particular employer. These two men see each other at the factory but do not know each other anywhere else; and while they have one point of contact, in all other respects they keep their distance. The industrialist only asks the worker for his labor and the latter only expects his wages. The one is not committed to protect, nor the other to defend; they are not linked in any permanent way, either by habit or duty. This business aristocracy seldom lives among the industrial population it manages; it aims not to rule them but to use them. An aristocracy so constituted cannot have a great hold over its employees and, even if it succeeded in grabbing them for a moment, they escape soon enough. It does not know what it wants and cannot act. The landed aristocracy of past centuries was obliged by law, or believed itself obliged by custom, to help its servants and to relieve their distress. However, this present industrial aristocracy, having impoverished and brutalized the men it exploits, leaves public charity to feed them in times of crisis. This is a natural consequence of what has been said before. Between the worker and employer, there are many points of contact but no real relationship. Generally speaking, I think that the industrial aristocracy which we see rising before our eyes is one of the most harsh ever to appear on the earth; but at the same time, it is one of the most restrained and least dangerous.


    The democratic people do not want revolutions or wars. This is because of the asset owning middle class. It is clear what people will lose if they fail but it is not clear what is to be won if they win. Democratic armies want war more than aristocratic armies because it is the only way for them to win status.

    Democratic armies will be worse prepared than aristocratic armies at the beginning of the war because the democratic mores of pragmatism, material comforts is in conflict with the heroism and honor virtues present in the military. As a result, the best people do not go into militaries.

    He does present a very hopeful idea towards the democratic chain of command, however:

    When the officer is a nobleman and the soldier a serf, the one rich and the other poor, the one educated and strong, the other ignorant and weak, the tightest bond of obedience can easily be established between these two men. The soldier is broken in to military discipline, even, so to speak, before entering the army, or rather, military discipline is merely the completion of social enslavement. In aristocratic armies, soldiers quite easily become virtually insensitive to everything except the orders of their leaders. They act without thought, they triumph without passion, and die without complaint. In this condition, they are no longer men but still very fearsome animals trained for war. 


    Democratic nations are bound to despair of ever obtaining such blind, detailed, resigned, and unvarying obedience from their soldiers as aristocratic nations can impose upon them with no effort at all. The state of society does not prepare men for this and they would run the risk of losing their natural advantages by wishing artificially to acquire it. In democracies, military discipline should not attempt to obliterate men’s creative freedom; it can only hope to control it so that the resulting obedience, though less ordered, is more eager and more intelligent. It is rooted in the very will of the man who obeys it; it relies not only upon instinct but also upon reason and, consequently, will automatically grow stricter as danger makes this necessary. The discipline of an aristocratic army is apt to relax in wartime because it is founded upon habit which is upset by war. But the discipline of a democratic army is strengthened in the face of the enemy because soldiers see very clearly the need to be silent and to obey to achieve victory.

    Mores and Family 

    Tocqueville presents a quite idealistic picture of democratic family life. His essential point, commenting on parenting and sibling relationships, is that without rigid hierarchies, the artificial is taken away and the natural emerges and shines all the more brightly because of it within these relationships: 

    But such is not the case with the feelings natural to man. The law seldom avoids weakening such feelings by striving to mold them in a certain way and by wishing to add some thing, it almost always removes some thing from them, for they are always stronger when left alone.

    I do not know whether, all in all, society stands to lose by this change but I am inclined to think that individuals gain from it. I think that as customs and laws are more democratic, the relations of father and sons become more intimate and kinder. Rules and authority are less in evidence; trust and affection are often greater; it seems as though natural ties draw closer while social ties loosen.

    I think that it is not impossible to encapsulate in a single sentence the main sense of this chapter and several others preceding it. Democracy loosens social ties but tightens natural ones; it draws families more closely together while separating citizens.

    In an aristocratic society, familial order is given on authority “because I said so”. In democracies, parents treat their kids as if they were equals.

    As far as the romantic relationship goes, he believes that womanly virtues are raised to being equal with masculine ones but women are not being forced to be men. American women are much more independent but lose a degree of warmness to them:

    I realize that such a method of education is not free from danger; I am fully aware as well that it will tend to develop judgement at the cost of imagination and to turn women into virtuous and cold companions to men, rather than tender and loving wives. Although society is more peaceful and better ordered as a consequence, private life has often fewer charms. But those are minor ills which must be braved for a greater good. At the point we have now reached, we no longer have a choice: we need a democratic education to safeguard women from the dangers with which democratic institutions and customs surround them. 

    Interconnectedness of Politics, Religion, and Industry

    If there is one thing to take away from this book it is how truly interconnected every aspect of a society is. Politics, religion, and industry these activities and the rules that govern them all shape our psyche in one way or another. It is through their psychological effects that these seemingly separate domains are so dependent on each other.

    How Industry Supports Politics

    Take inheritance laws for example. Seems like its not a big deal. But depending on whether the eldest son inherits everything or every kid inherits an equal share, an aristocracy gets created or destroyed:

    When framed in a certain way, this law unites, draws together, and gathers property and, soon, real power into the hands of an individual. It causes the aristocracy, so to speak, to spring out of the ground. If directed, however, by opposite principles and launched along other paths, its effect is even more rapid; it divides, shares out, and disperses both property and power. 

    But the division of property doesn’t only limit a material aristocracy. It also forms a psychological character that is not too concerned with family lineage and more concerned about the present:

    But the law of equal division exercises its influence not merely upon property itself, it also affects the minds of the owners, calling their emotions into play. Huge fortunes and above all huge estates are destroyed rapidly by the indirect effects of this law.

    Among nations where the law of inheritance is based upon the rights of the eldest child, landed estates mostly pass from generation to generation without division. The result is that family feeling takes its strength from the land. The family represents the land, the land the family, perpetuating its name, history, glory, power, and virtues. It stands as an imperishable witness to the past, a priceless guarantee of its future.

    When the law of inheritance institutes equal division, it destroys the close relationship between family feeling and the preservation of the land which ceases to represent the family. For the land must gradually diminish and ends up by disappearing entirely since it cannot avoid being parceled up after one or two generations.

    This so-called family feeling is often based upon an illusion of selfishness wh

  7. shinichi Post author


    by Alexis De Tocqueville

    The Project Gutenberg eBook

    Volume 1

    Volume 2

    Book Three: Influence Of Democracy On Manners, Properly So Called

    Chapter XVI: Why The National Vanity Of The Americans Is More Restless And Captious Than That Of The English

    All free nations are vainglorious, but national pride is not displayed by all in the same manner. The Americans in their intercourse with strangers appear impatient of the smallest censure and insatiable of praise. The most slender eulogium is acceptable to them; the most exalted seldom contents them; they unceasingly harass you to extort praise, and if you resist their entreaties they fall to praising themselves. It would seem as if, doubting their own merit, they wished to have it constantly exhibited before their eyes. Their vanity is not only greedy, but restless and jealous; it will grant nothing, whilst it demands everything, but is ready to beg and to quarrel at the same time. If I say to an American that the country he lives in is a fine one, “Ay,” he replies, “there is not its fellow in the world.” If I applaud the freedom which its inhabitants enjoy, he answers, “Freedom is a fine thing, but few nations are worthy to enjoy it.” If I remark the purity of morals which distinguishes the United States, “I can imagine,” says he, “that a stranger, who has been struck by the corruption of all other nations, is astonished at the difference.” At length I leave him to the contemplation of himself; but he returns to the charge, and does not desist till he has got me to repeat all I had just been saying. It is impossible to conceive a more troublesome or more garrulous patriotism; it wearies even those who are disposed to respect it.

    Such is not the case with the English. An Englishman calmly enjoys the real or imaginary advantages which in his opinion his country possesses. If he grants nothing to other nations, neither does he solicit anything for his own. The censure of foreigners does not affect him, and their praise hardly flatters him; his position with regard to the rest of the world is one of disdainful and ignorant reserve: his pride requires no sustenance, it nourishes itself. It is remarkable that two nations, so recently sprung from the same stock, should be so opposite to one another in their manner of feeling and conversing.

    In aristocratic countries the great possess immense privileges, upon which their pride rests, without seeking to rely upon the lesser advantages which accrue to them. As these privileges came to them by inheritance, they regard them in some sort as a portion of themselves, or at least as a natural right inherent in their own persons. They therefore entertain a calm sense of their superiority; they do not dream of vaunting privileges which everyone perceives and no one contests, and these things are not sufficiently new to them to be made topics of conversation. They stand unmoved in their solitary greatness, well assured that they are seen of all the world without any effort to show themselves off, and that no one will attempt to drive them from that position. When an aristocracy carries on the public affairs, its national pride naturally assumes this reserved, indifferent, and haughty form, which is imitated by all the other classes of the nation.

    When, on the contrary, social conditions differ but little, the slightest privileges are of some importance; as every man sees around himself a million of people enjoying precisely similar or analogous advantages, his pride becomes craving and jealous, he clings to mere trifles, and doggedly defends them. In democracies, as the conditions of life are very fluctuating, men have almost always recently acquired the advantages which they possess; the consequence is that they feel extreme pleasure in exhibiting them, to show others and convince themselves that they really enjoy them. As at any instant these same advantages may be lost, their possessors are constantly on the alert, and make a point of showing that they still retain them. Men living in democracies love their country just as they love themselves, and they transfer the habits of their private vanity to their vanity as a nation. The restless and insatiable vanity of a democratic people originates so entirely in the equality and precariousness of social conditions, that the members of the haughtiest nobility display the very same passion in those lesser portions of their existence in which there is anything fluctuating or contested. An aristocratic class always differs greatly from the other classes of the nation, by the extent and perpetuity of its privileges; but it often happens that the only differences between the members who belong to it consist in small transient advantages, which may any day be lost or acquired. The members of a powerful aristocracy, collected in a capital or a court, have been known to contest with virulence those frivolous privileges which depend on the caprice of fashion or the will of their master. These persons then displayed towards each other precisely the same puerile jealousies which animate the men of democracies, the same eagerness to snatch the smallest advantages which their equals contested, and the same desire to parade ostentatiously those of which they were in possession. If national pride ever entered into the minds of courtiers, I do not question that they would display it in the same manner as the members of a democratic community.

  8. shinichi Post author


    by Alexis De Tocqueville

    The Project Gutenberg eBook

    Volume 1

    Volume 2

    Book Four: Influence Of Democratic Opinions On Political Society

    Chapter III: That The Sentiments Of Democratic Nations Accord With Their Opinions In Leading Them To Concentrate Political Power

    If it be true that, in ages of equality, men readily adopt the notion of a great central power, it cannot be doubted on the other hand that their habits and sentiments predispose them to recognize such a power and to give it their support. This may be demonstrated in a few words, as the greater part of the reasons, to which the fact may be attributed, have been previously stated. As the men who inhabit democratic countries have no superiors, no inferiors, and no habitual or necessary partners in their undertakings, they readily fall back upon themselves and consider themselves as beings apart. I had occasion to point this out at considerable length in treating of individualism. Hence such men can never, without an effort, tear themselves from their private affairs to engage in public business; their natural bias leads them to abandon the latter to the sole visible and permanent representative of the interests of the community, that is to say, to the State. Not only are they naturally wanting in a taste for public business, but they have frequently no time to attend to it. Private life is so busy in democratic periods, so excited, so full of wishes and of work, that hardly any energy or leisure remains to each individual for public life. I am the last man to contend that these propensities are unconquerable, since my chief object in writing this book has been to combat them. I only maintain that at the present day a secret power is fostering them in the human heart, and that if they are not checked they will wholly overgrow it.

    I have also had occasion to show how the increasing love of well-being, and the fluctuating character of property, cause democratic nations to dread all violent disturbance. The love of public tranquillity is frequently the only passion which these nations retain, and it becomes more active and powerful amongst them in proportion as all other passions droop and die. This naturally disposes the members of the community constantly to give or to surrender additional rights to the central power, which alone seems to be interested in defending them by the same means that it uses to defend itself. As in ages of equality no man is compelled to lend his assistance to his fellow-men, and none has any right to expect much support from them, everyone is at once independent and powerless. These two conditions, which must never be either separately considered or confounded together, inspire the citizen of a democratic country with very contrary propensities. His independence fills him with self-reliance and pride amongst his equals; his debility makes him feel from time to time the want of some outward assistance, which he cannot expect from any of them, because they are all impotent and unsympathizing. In this predicament he naturally turns his eyes to that imposing power which alone rises above the level of universal depression. Of that power his wants and especially his desires continually remind him, until he ultimately views it as the sole and necessary support of his own weakness. This may more completely explain what frequently takes place in democratic countries, where the very men who are so impatient of superiors patiently submit to a master, exhibiting at once their pride and their servility.

    The hatred which men bear to privilege increases in proportion as privileges become more scarce and less considerable, so that democratic passions would seem to burn most fiercely at the very time when they have least fuel. I have already given the reason of this phenomenon. When all conditions are unequal, no inequality is so great as to offend the eye; whereas the slightest dissimilarity is odious in the midst of general uniformity: the more complete is this uniformity, the more insupportable does the sight of such a difference become. Hence it is natural that the love of equality should constantly increase together with equality itself, and that it should grow by what it feeds upon. This never-dying, ever-kindling hatred, which sets a democratic people against the smallest privileges, is peculiarly favorable to the gradual concentration of all political rights in the hands of the representative of the State alone. The sovereign, being necessarily and incontestably above all the citizens, excites not their envy, and each of them thinks that he strips his equals of the prerogative which he concedes to the crown. The man of a democratic age is extremely reluctant to obey his neighbor who is his equal; he refuses to acknowledge in such a person ability superior to his own; he mistrusts his justice, and is jealous of his power; he fears and he contemns him; and he loves continually to remind him of the common dependence in which both of them stand to the same master. Every central power which follows its natural tendencies courts and encourages the principle of equality; for equality singularly facilitates, extends, and secures the influence of a central power.

    In like manner it may be said that every central government worships uniformity: uniformity relieves it from inquiry into an infinite number of small details which must be attended to if rules were to be adapted to men, instead of indiscriminately subjecting men to rules: thus the government likes what the citizens like, and naturally hates what they hate. These common sentiments, which, in democratic nations, constantly unite the sovereign and every member of the community in one and the same conviction, establish a secret and lasting sympathy between them. The faults of the government are pardoned for the sake of its tastes; public confidence is only reluctantly withdrawn in the midst even of its excesses and its errors, and it is restored at the first call. Democratic nations often hate those in whose hands the central power is vested; but they always love that power itself.

    Thus, by two separate paths, I have reached the same conclusion. I have shown that the principle of equality suggests to men the notion of a sole, uniform, and strong government: I have now shown that the principle of equality imparts to them a taste for it. To governments of this kind the nations of our age are therefore tending. They are drawn thither by the natural inclination of mind and heart; and in order to reach that result, it is enough that they do not check themselves in their course. I am of opinion, that, in the democratic ages which are opening upon us, individual independence and local liberties will ever be the produce of artificial contrivance; that centralization will be the natural form of government.

  9. shinichi Post author


    by Alexis De Tocqueville

    The Project Gutenberg eBook

    Volume 1

    Volume 2

    Book Four: Influence Of Democratic Opinions On Political Society

    Chapter V: That Amongst The European Nations Of Our Time The Power Of Governments Is Increasing, Although The Persons Who Govern Are Less Stable

    On reflecting upon what has already been said, the reader will be startled and alarmed to find that in Europe everything seems to conduce to the indefinite extension of the prerogatives of government, and to render all that enjoyed the rights of private independence more weak, more subordinate, and more precarious. The democratic nations of Europe have all the general and permanent tendencies which urge the Americans to the centralization of government, and they are moreover exposed to a number of secondary and incidental causes with which the Americans are unacquainted. It would seem as if every step they make towards equality brings them nearer to despotism. And indeed if we do but cast our looks around, we shall be convinced that such is the fact. During the aristocratic ages which preceded the present time, the sovereigns of Europe had been deprived of, or had relinquished, many of the rights inherent in their power. Not a hundred years ago, amongst the greater part of European nations, numerous private persons and corporations were sufficiently independent to administer justice, to raise and maintain troops, to levy taxes, and frequently even to make or interpret the law. The State has everywhere resumed to itself alone these natural attributes of sovereign power; in all matters of government the State tolerates no intermediate agent between itself and the people, and in general business it directs the people by its own immediate influence. I am far from blaming this concentration of power, I simply point it out.

    At the same period a great number of secondary powers existed in Europe, which represented local interests and administered local affairs. Most of these local authorities have already disappeared; all are speedily tending to disappear, or to fall into the most complete dependence. From one end of Europe to the other the privileges of the nobility, the liberties of cities, and the powers of provincial bodies, are either destroyed or upon the verge of destruction. Europe has endured, in the course of the last half-century, many revolutions and counter-revolutions which have agitated it in opposite directions: but all these perturbations resemble each other in one respect—they have all shaken or destroyed the secondary powers of government. The local privileges which the French did not abolish in the countries they conquered, have finally succumbed to the policy of the princes who conquered the French. Those princes rejected all the innovations of the French Revolution except centralization: that is the only principle they consented to receive from such a source. My object is to remark, that all these various rights, which have been successively wrested, in our time, from classes, corporations, and individuals, have not served to raise new secondary powers on a more democratic basis, but have uniformly been concentrated in the hands of the sovereign. Everywhere the State acquires more and more direct control over the humblest members of the community, and a more exclusive power of governing each of them in his smallest concerns. Almost all the charitable establishments of Europe were formerly in the hands of private persons or of corporations; they are now almost all dependent on the supreme government, and in many countries are actually administered by that power. The State almost exclusively undertakes to supply bread to the hungry, assistance and shelter to the sick, work to the idle, and to act as the sole reliever of all kinds of misery. Education, as well as charity, is become in most countries at the present day a national concern. The State receives, and often takes, the child from the arms of the mother, to hand it over to official agents: the State undertakes to train the heart and to instruct the mind of each generation. Uniformity prevails in the courses of public instruction as in everything else; diversity, as well as freedom, is disappearing day by day. Nor do I hesitate to affirm, that amongst almost all the Christian nations of our days, Catholic as well as Protestant, religion is in danger of falling into the hands of the government. Not that rulers are over-jealous of the right of settling points of doctrine, but they get more and more hold upon the will of those by whom doctrines are expounded; they deprive the clergy of their property, and pay them by salaries; they divert to their own use the influence of the priesthood, they make them their own ministers—often their own servants—and by this alliance with religion they reach the inner depths of the soul of man.

    In almost every part of Europe the government rules in two ways; it rules one portion of the community by the fear which they entertain of its agents, and the other by the hope they have of becoming its agents.]

    But this is as yet only one side of the picture. The authority of government has not only spread, as we have just seen, throughout the sphere of all existing powers, till that sphere can no longer contain it, but it goes further, and invades the domain heretofore reserved to private independence. A multitude of actions, which were formerly entirely beyond the control of the public administration, have been subjected to that control in our time, and the number of them is constantly increasing. Amongst aristocratic nations the supreme government usually contented itself with managing and superintending the community in whatever directly and ostensibly concerned the national honor; but in all other respects the people were left to work out their own free will. Amongst these nations the government often seemed to forget that there is a point at which the faults and the sufferings of private persons involve the general prosperity, and that to prevent the ruin of a private individual must sometimes be a matter of public importance. The democratic nations of our time lean to the opposite extreme. It is evident that most of our rulers will not content themselves with governing the people collectively: it would seem as if they thought themselves responsible for the actions and private condition of their subjects—as if they had undertaken to guide and to instruct each of them in the various incidents of life, and to secure their happiness quite independently of their own consent. On the other hand private individuals grow more and more apt to look upon the supreme power in the same light; they invoke its assistance in all their necessities, and they fix their eyes upon the administration as their mentor or their guide.

    I assert that there is no country in Europe in which the public administration has not become, not only more centralized, but more inquisitive and more minute it everywhere interferes in private concerns more than it did; it regulates more undertakings, and undertakings of a lesser kind; and it gains a firmer footing every day about, above, and around all private persons, to assist, to advise, and to coerce them. Formerly a sovereign lived upon the income of his lands, or the revenue of his taxes; this is no longer the case now that his wants have increased as well as his power. Under the same circumstances which formerly compelled a prince to put on a new tax, he now has recourse to a loan. Thus the State gradually becomes the debtor of most of the wealthier members of the community, and centralizes the largest amounts of capital in its own hands. Small capital is drawn into its keeping by another method. As men are intermingled and conditions become more equal, the poor have more resources, more education, and more desires; they conceive the notion of bettering their condition, and this teaches them to save. These savings are daily producing an infinite number of small capitals, the slow and gradual produce of labor, which are always increasing. But the greater part of this money would be unproductive if it remained scattered in the hands of its owners. This circumstance has given rise to a philanthropic institution, which will soon become, if I am not mistaken, one of our most important political institutions. Some charitable persons conceived the notion of collecting the savings of the poor and placing them out at interest. In some countries these benevolent associations are still completely distinct from the State; but in almost all they manifestly tend to identify themselves with the government; and in some of them the government has superseded them, taking upon itself the enormous task of centralizing in one place, and putting out at interest on its own responsibility, the daily savings of many millions of the working classes. Thus the State draws to itself the wealth of the rich by loans, and has the poor man’s mite at its disposal in the savings banks. The wealth of the country is perpetually flowing around the government and passing through its hands; the accumulation increases in the same proportion as the equality of conditions; for in a democratic country the State alone inspires private individuals with confidence, because the State alone appears to be endowed with strength and durability. Thus the sovereign does not confine himself to the management of the public treasury; he interferes in private money matters; he is the superior, and often the master, of all the members of the community; and, in addition to this, he assumes the part of their steward and paymaster.

    The central power not only fulfils of itself the whole of the duties formerly discharged by various authorities—extending those duties, and surpassing those authorities—but it performs them with more alertness, strength, and independence than it displayed before. All the governments of Europe have in our time singularly improved the science of administration: they do more things, and they do everything with more order, more celerity, and at less expense; they seem to be constantly enriched by all the experience of which they have stripped private persons. From day to day the princes of Europe hold their subordinate officers under stricter control, and they invent new methods for guiding them more closely, and inspecting them with less trouble. Not content with managing everything by their agents, they undertake to manage the conduct of their agents in everything; so that the public administration not only depends upon one and the same power, but it is more and more confined to one spot and concentrated in the same hands. The government centralizes its agency whilst it increases its prerogative—hence a twofold increase of strength.

    In examining the ancient constitution of the judicial power, amongst most European nations, two things strike the mind—the independence of that power, and the extent of its functions. Not only did the courts of justice decide almost all differences between private persons, but in very many cases they acted as arbiters between private persons and the State. I do not here allude to the political and administrative offices which courts of judicature had in some countries usurped, but the judicial office common to them all. In most of the countries of Europe, there were, and there still are, many private rights, connected for the most part with the general right of property, which stood under the protection of the courts of justice, and which the State could not violate without their sanction. It was this semi-political power which mainly distinguished the European courts of judicature from all others; for all nations have had judges, but all have not invested their judges with the same privileges. Upon examining what is now occurring amongst the democratic nations of Europe which are called free, as well as amongst the others, it will be observed that new and more dependent courts are everywhere springing up by the side of the old ones, for the express purpose of deciding, by an extraordinary jurisdiction, such litigated matters as may arise between the government and private persons. The elder judicial power retains its independence, but its jurisdiction is narrowed; and there is a growing tendency to reduce it to be exclusively the arbiter between private interests. The number of these special courts of justice is continually increasing, and their functions increase likewise. Thus the government is more and more absolved from the necessity of subjecting its policy and its rights to the sanction of another power. As judges cannot be dispensed with, at least the State is to select them, and always to hold them under its control; so that, between the government and private individuals, they place the effigy of justice rather than justice itself. The State is not satisfied with drawing all concerns to itself, but it acquires an ever-increasing power of deciding on them all without restriction and without appeal.

    There exists amongst the modern nations of Europe one great cause, independent of all those which have already been pointed out, which perpetually contributes to extend the agency or to strengthen the prerogative of the supreme power, though it has not been sufficiently attended to: I mean the growth of manufactures, which is fostered by the progress of social equality. Manufactures generally collect a multitude of men of the same spot, amongst whom new and complex relations spring up. These men are exposed by their calling to great and sudden alternations of plenty and want, during which public tranquillity is endangered. It may also happen that these employments sacrifice the health, and even the life, of those who gain by them, or of those who live by them. Thus the manufacturing classes require more regulation, superintendence, and restraint than the other classes of society, and it is natural that the powers of government should increase in the same proportion as those classes.

    This is a truth of general application; what follows more especially concerns the nations of Europe. In the centuries which preceded that in which we live, the aristocracy was in possession of the soil, and was competent to defend it: landed property was therefore surrounded by ample securities, and its possessors enjoyed great independence. This gave rise to laws and customs which have been perpetuated, notwithstanding the subdivision of lands and the ruin of the nobility; and, at the present time, landowners and agriculturists are still those amongst the community who must easily escape from the control of the supreme power. In these same aristocratic ages, in which all the sources of our history are to be traced, personal property was of small importance, and those who possessed it were despised and weak: the manufacturing class formed an exception in the midst of those aristocratic communities; as it had no certain patronage, it was not outwardly protected, and was often unable to protect itself.

    Hence a habit sprung up of considering manufacturing property as something of a peculiar nature, not entitled to the same deference, and not worthy of the same securities as property in general; and manufacturers were looked upon as a small class in the bulk of the people, whose independence was of small importance, and who might with propriety be abandoned to the disciplinary passions of princes. On glancing over the codes of the middle ages, one is surprised to see, in those periods of personal independence, with what incessant royal regulations manufactures were hampered, even in their smallest details: on this point centralization was as active and as minute as it can ever be. Since that time a great revolution has taken place in the world; manufacturing property, which was then only in the germ, has spread till it covers Europe: the manufacturing class has been multiplied and enriched by the remnants of all other ranks; it has grown and is still perpetually growing in number, in importance, in wealth. Almost all those who do not belong to it are connected with it at least on some one point; after having been an exception in society, it threatens to become the chief, if not the only, class; nevertheless the notions and political precedents engendered by it of old still cling about it. These notions and these precedents remain unchanged, because they are old, and also because they happen to be in perfect accordance with the new notions and general habits of our contemporaries. Manufacturing property then does not extend its rights in the same ratio as its importance. The manufacturing classes do not become less dependent, whilst they become more numerous; but, on the contrary, it would seem as if despotism lurked within them, and naturally grew with their growth. As a nation becomes more engaged in manufactures, the want of roads, canals, harbors, and other works of a semi-public nature, which facilitate the acquisition of wealth, is more strongly felt; and as a nation becomes more democratic, private individuals are less able, and the State more able, to execute works of such magnitude. I do not hesitate to assert that the manifest tendency of all governments at the present time is to take upon themselves alone the execution of these undertakings; by which means they daily hold in closer dependence the population which they govern.

    On the other hand, in proportion as the power of a State increases, and its necessities are augmented, the State consumption of manufactured produce is always growing larger, and these commodities are generally made in the arsenals or establishments of the government. Thus, in every kingdom, the ruler becomes the principal manufacturer; he collects and retains in his service a vast number of engineers, architects, mechanics, and handicraftsmen. Not only is he the principal manufacturer, but he tends more and more to become the chief, or rather the master of all other manufacturers. As private persons become more powerless by becoming more equal, they can effect nothing in manufactures without combination; but the government naturally seeks to place these combinations under its own control.

    It must be admitted that these collective beings, which are called combinations, are stronger and more formidable than a private individual can ever be, and that they have less of the responsibility of their own actions; whence it seems reasonable that they should not be allowed to retain so great an independence of the supreme government as might be conceded to a private individual.

    Rulers are the more apt to follow this line of policy, as their own inclinations invite them to it. Amongst democratic nations it is only by association that the resistance of the people to the government can ever display itself: hence the latter always looks with ill-favor on those associations which are not in its own power; and it is well worthy of remark, that amongst democratic nations, the people themselves often entertain a secret feeling of fear and jealousy against these very associations, which prevents the citizens from defending the institutions of which they stand so much in need. The power and the duration of these small private bodies, in the midst of the weakness and instability of the whole community, astonish and alarm the people; and the free use which each association makes of its natural powers is almost regarded as a dangerous privilege. All the associations which spring up in our age are, moreover, new corporate powers, whose rights have not been sanctioned by time; they come into existence at a time when the notion of private rights is weak, and when the power of government is unbounded; hence it is not surprising that they lose their freedom at their birth. Amongst all European nations there are some kinds of associations which cannot be formed until the State has examined their by-laws, and authorized their existence. In several others, attempts are made to extend this rule to all associations; the consequences of such a policy, if it were successful, may easily be foreseen. If once the sovereign had a general right of authorizing associations of all kinds upon certain conditions, he would not be long without claiming the right of superintending and managing them, in order to prevent them from departing from the rules laid down by himself. In this manner, the State, after having reduced all who are desirous of forming associations into dependence, would proceed to reduce into the same condition all who belong to associations already formed—that is to say, almost all the men who are now in existence. Governments thus appropriate to themselves, and convert to their own purposes, the greater part of this new power which manufacturing interests have in our time brought into the world. Manufacturers govern us—they govern manufactures.

    I attach so much importance to all that I have just been saying, that I am tormented by the fear of having impaired my meaning in seeking to render it more clear. If the reader thinks that the examples I have adduced to support my observations are insufficient or ill-chosen—if he imagines that I have anywhere exaggerated the encroachments of the supreme power, and, on the other hand, that I have underrated the extent of the sphere which still remains open to the exertions of individual independence, I entreat him to lay down the book for a moment, and to turn his mind to reflect for himself upon the subjects I have attempted to explain. Let him attentively examine what is taking place in France and in other countries—let him inquire of those about him—let him search himself, and I am much mistaken if he does not arrive, without my guidance, and by other paths, at the point to which I have sought to lead him. He will perceive that for the last half-century, centralization has everywhere been growing up in a thousand different ways. Wars, revolutions, conquests, have served to promote it: all men have labored to increase it. In the course of the same period, during which men have succeeded each other with singular rapidity at the head of affairs, their notions, interests, and passions have been infinitely diversified; but all have by some means or other sought to centralize. This instinctive centralization has been the only settled point amidst the extreme mutability of their lives and of their thoughts.

    If the reader, after having investigated these details of human affairs, will seek to survey the wide prospect as a whole, he will be struck by the result. On the one hand the most settled dynasties shaken or overthrown—the people everywhere escaping by violence from the sway of their laws—abolishing or limiting the authority of their rulers or their princes—the nations, which are not in open revolution, restless at least, and excited—all of them animated by the same spirit of revolt: and on the other hand, at this very period of anarchy, and amongst these untractable nations, the incessant increase of the prerogative of the supreme government, becoming more centralized, more adventurous, more absolute, more extensive—the people perpetually falling under the control of the public administration—led insensibly to surrender to it some further portion of their individual independence, till the very men, who from time to time upset a throne and trample on a race of kings, bend more and more obsequiously to the slightest dictate of a clerk. Thus two contrary revolutions appear in our days to be going on; the one continually weakening the supreme power, the other as continually strengthening it: at no other period in our history has it appeared so weak or so strong. But upon a more attentive examination of the state of the world, it appears that these two revolutions are intimately connected together, that they originate in the same source, and that after having followed a separate course, they lead men at last to the same result. I may venture once more to repeat what I have already said or implied in several parts of this book: great care must be taken not to confound the principle of equality itself with the revolution which finally establishes that principle in the social condition and the laws of a nation: here lies the reason of almost all the phenomena which occasion our astonishment. All the old political powers of Europe, the greatest as well as the least, were founded in ages of aristocracy, and they more or less represented or defended the principles of inequality and of privilege. To make the novel wants and interests, which the growing principle of equality introduced, preponderate in government, our contemporaries had to overturn or to coerce the established powers. This led them to make revolutions, and breathed into many of them, that fierce love of disturbance and independence, which all revolutions, whatever be their object, always engender. I do not believe that there is a single country in Europe in which the progress of equality has not been preceded or followed by some violent changes in the state of property and persons; and almost all these changes have been attended with much anarchy and license, because they have been made by the least civilized portion of the nation against that which is most civilized. Hence proceeded the two-fold contrary tendencies which I have just pointed out. As long as the democratic revolution was glowing with heat, the men who were bent upon the destruction of old aristocratic powers hostile to that revolution, displayed a strong spirit of independence; but as the victory or the principle of equality became more complete, they gradually surrendered themselves to the propensities natural to that condition of equality, and they strengthened and centralized their governments. They had sought to be free in order to make themselves equal; but in proportion as equality was more established by the aid of freedom, freedom itself was thereby rendered of more difficult attainment.

    These two states of a nation have sometimes been contemporaneous: the last generation in France showed how a people might organize a stupendous tyranny in the community, at the very time when they were baffling the authority of the nobility and braving the power of all kings—at once teaching the world the way to win freedom, and the way to lose it. In our days men see that constituted powers are dilapidated on every side—they see all ancient authority gasping away, all ancient barriers tottering to their fall, and the judgment of the wisest is troubled at the sight: they attend only to the amazing revolution which is taking place before their eyes, and they imagine that mankind is about to fall into perpetual anarchy: if they looked to the final consequences of this revolution, their fears would perhaps assume a different shape. For myself, I confess that I put no trust in the spirit of freedom which appears to animate my contemporaries. I see well enough that the nations of this age are turbulent, but I do not clearly perceive that they are liberal; and I fear lest, at the close of those perturbations which rock the base of thrones, the domination of sovereigns may prove more powerful than it ever was before.

  10. shinichi Post author


    by 勤労読書人

    アマゾン カスタマーレビュー








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