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Tocqueville And Democracy Essay

7688 words - 31 pages

Tocqueville is best known for "Democracy in America" (1835-40), which was a perceptive analysis of the U.S. political and social system in the early 19th century. Tocqueville's study analysed the vitality, the excesses and the potential future of American democracy. Tocqueville focused on his of the 'tyranny of majority' as he began his description of American democratic practices; it is also perhaps the best-known concept of democratic despotism Tocqueville introduced in his work (Schleifer, 1980; Zetterbaum, 1967). Tyranny of majority, as viewed by Tocqueville outlined several risks and problems within a democratic paradigm that we will further explore in this essay. Tocqueville also ...view middle of the document...

255)Tocqueville emphasized equality as the problem of democracy. Ruling of majority is problematic as it suggests the notion of equality- "sheep leading sheep." Tocqueville makes a clear distinction between the dichotomy of equality and liberty. The notion of democracy suggests liberty yet the outcome has inclined towards equality. This in turn results in contentment- everyone is guaranteed an equal level of lifestyle and expectations therefore people's expectations becomes reduced to their households and domestic lives, "living in the same manner and seeking wealth by the same means" (Democracy in America; Tie, personal communication, 28 July, 2003). Therefore political liberty is easily neglected by Americans whose constant focus is on the "extraneous awards in the labour market." (Democracy in America, para 3)Given this overwhelming moral power of "majority opinion", Tocqueville realised it had the ability to ostracise minorities and to enforce conformity. Tocqueville argues that this is a "fault of democracy rather than democracy in America" (Tocqueville and the Tyranny of the Majority, para 4). Therefore the 'tyranny of majority' had two major outcomes on the average person living in a democratic society:1. Renounce responsibility in political life and accept majority opinion as his/ her own. ( Tie, personal communication, 28 July, 2003)2. Trust the state will ensure equality- crushing the independence of thought, reducing people's thoughts and expectations down to their households (and even more down to themselves).For Tocqueville the problem of democracy and its solution could be understood in terms of a simple formula: "equality was the cause; freedom, the remedy". " To combat the evils which equality may produce, there is only one effectual remedy: namely, political freedom" (Tocqueville, as cited in Zetterbaum, 1967). Although USA lived in the boundaries of tyranny of majority in a democratic society, Tocqueville also felt America had also formulated mechanisms that stopped the 'tyranny' from developing further.Tocqueville saw government as becoming everyday more powerful, and individuals more helpless, and American experience suggest for the resolution of the democratic problem to take a new turn by employing "administrative decentralisation." (Zetterbaum, 1967,p.87). American federalism demonstrated that a unified legal system, a single structure of legal authority, was compatible with decentralized administration. The New England Township enabled Tocqueville to demonstrate both political and moral benefits of sustaining local autonomy in a political system. Administrative decentralisation fostered individual activity on matters important to the local community or township, proposing an increase in autonomy. By learning to care about and cooperate on political matters that affect the person on a personal level- on matters " he will see at a glance that there is a connection between this small public affair and his...

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