Tocqueville Essay, Research Paper
In the book Democracy in America, Tocqueville describes why he believes democracy, especially in America, is going to turn into a despot. Tocqueville believes that despotism is going to rise in America because when the inhabitant of a democratic country compares himself individually with all those about him, he feels with pride that he is the equal of any one of them; but when he comes to survey the totality of his fellows and to place himself in contrast to so huge a body, he is instantly overwhelmed by the sense of his own insignificance and weakness (Tocqueville v2, p10). This insignificance and weakness makes the inhabitant rely on the government more and thereby the government turns into a despotic one. This is why Tocqueville believes that despotism will be the end result of democracy.
Democratic nations, such as America, pride themselves on equality of conditions. The first and most tense passion that is produced by equality of condition is the love of that equality (Tocqueville v2, p94). Men love equality because it gives everyone equality of opinions and equality of worth, which means that no one person, is any better than anyone else. Americans do not believe just one person because their opinion is equal to that one person s opinion; but if the majority holds that same opinion then that one person will conform to the majority. At periods of equality men have no faith in one anther, by reason of their common resemblance; but this very resemblance gives them almost unbounded confidence in the judgement of the public (Tocqueville v2, p10). This equality on an individual basis leads to a sense of individualism.
Equality of condition leads to a sense of individualism. Since everyone is equal and on an individual basis no one needs or wants anything from anyone else, a sense of individualism or isolation arises. Democracy makes every man forget his ancestors and it hides his descendants and separates his contemporaries from him; it throws him back forever upon himself alone and threatens in the end to confine him entirely within the solitude of his own heart (Tocqueville v2, p99). This independence on an individual level leads to isolationism and therefore, leads to a feeling of dependence upon the government. As citizens become more dependent on the government, their desire for want the government to take care of them increases, because they are no longer individually connected to each other. A citizens independence fills him with self-reliance and pride among his equals; his debility makes him feel from time to time the want of some outward assistance (Tocqueville v2, p294). This growing reliance on the government increases its power while at the same time taking away freedom from the citizens. Even though citizens of democratic nations would rather not be lead by one person, they are willing to be lead by the government as a whole, because it is seen as the majority authority. The citizens dependence on the government is what eventually leads to despotism.
As equality separates individuals more and more from each other, the country becomes more individually isolated. The citizens will start relying more upon their government to provide them with more public service programs. The more citizens rely on their government, the more isolated they become from each other. This viscous cycle of reliance and isolation is what ultimately leads to despotism. Despotism sees in the separating among men as the surest guarantee of its continuance, and it usually makes every effort to keep them separate (Tocqueville v2, p102). Therefore, democracy s passion for equality breeds individualism, because individually, each citizen feels a sense of pride. When an individual citizen compares himself with the majority he feels weak, so he depends on the government to make him feel stronger. America has tried to create associations to lessen the dependence on the government and to resist despotism.
There are many different types of political and social associations that can help resist democracy s tendency towards despotism. Associations are opportunities for citizens of democratic nations to join together in order to not feel so isolated. Citizens of democratic nations create many different types of associations so that they can rely on those associations rather than the government for unification. Therefore, associations are a way in which democratic societies can bind together to resist despotism.
Democratic nations have one extremely important political association that helps it to resist its tendency towards despotism. The association is decentralized administration of local government. Decentralized administration allows inhabitants to become more active citizens because it allows them to get involved in the government of their local community. In the United States, decentralized administration helps the country make itself felt everywhere [and] gives support to the government by the community (Tocqueville v1, p85). Decentralized administration is a political association that also helps to combat despotism by bringing the citizens of a community together so that they have a reason to combine on a common level. A community of this type is less likely to become a despotic society because of their lack of dependence on the government.
Democratic nations also have many social associations that help to combat democracy s tendency towards despotism. Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form [social] associations (Tocqueville v2, p106). They have many different kinds of associations, religious, moral, serious, futile, general or restricted, enormous or diminutive (Tocqueville v2, p106). All of these different kinds of associations are created so that citizens will not have to rely on their government to meet their various needs. Then citizens can combine together because of common interests and therefore, become less and less isolated. Associations are the way that most democratic nations resist despotism, because associations are the key to freedom. Associations keep despotism at bay.
Democratic nations that pride themselves on equality have to be really careful to make sure that despotism does not arise. Wherever equality is the most important thing, despotism always has a chance of developing because the vices which despotism produces are precisely those which equality fosters (Tocqueville v2, p102). Just because a nation is democratic does not inevitably mean that despotism will arise, but it is always something that has to always be kept in check.
Equality is what democratic nations pride on; but this equality often leads to individualism, which ultimately can lead to despotism. Democracy often fosters despotism because of its equality, but equality does not unavoidably lead to despotism. To combat this threat of despotism, democratic nations have created many different kinds of political and social associations. These associations help to resist despotism, because they bring the citizens together which reduces the isolation between them. As long as democratic nations continue creating association and try to rely less on the government, the greater their chances of resisting despotism will be.