The power of the democratic majority arises from the fact that every individual is assumed to be competent to guide his own life and is politically the equal of every other individual. We have provided teaching guides and glossaries for the academic vocabulary, as well. Alexis de Tocqueville's Warning About Presidential Elections. He describes the government as being a “slave to its passions,” because if the majority feels one thing is … 2221 S Clark Street, 12th Floor, Arlington, VA 22202. As for me, I cannot believe it; and I shall never grant to several the power of doing everything that I refuse to a single one of those like me.[1]. Learn Liberty is your resource for exploring the ideas of a free society. Alexis Charles Henri Clérel, comte de Tocqueville , colloquially known as Tocqueville (/ˈtɒkvɪl, ˈtoʊk-/), was a French aristocrat, diplomat, political scientist, political philosopher and historian. Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-59) came to America in 1831 to see what a great republic was like. We can fairly summarize Tocqueville’s complex and lengthy reasoning on this point by saying that democratic society tends to make people rely first on their own reason and second on the reason of the democratic multitude that is so much like oneself. Anyone suspicious of the power of a king ought likewise to be suspicious of the power of a majority. 5. It is rather the aristocracy, the clergy, the legal profession, and the rising merchant class—the independent centers of powers—that will resist and even oppose the sovereign. Alexis de Tocqueville tells this chilling story in "Democracy in America," and warns that the greatest threat the United States faces is the tyranny of the majority, a phrase he is credited with coining. Let’s consider some words of wisdom — and warning — from a Frenchman who last visited the United States in the 1830s. During this period … universal manhood suffrage. On the other hand, those who chose to violate the law were immediately branded as outcasts by the law-abiding majority. Equipped with a deep understanding of the achievements and failures of European civilization and an equally deep passion for liberty and human dignity, Tocqueville was able to bring his complex perspective to bear on his subject. In more recent times, Tocqueville’s warnings about democracy’s capacity to generate its own forms of despotism have been portrayed as prefiguring a political dynamic associated with the welfare state: i.e., people voting for politicians who promise to give them more things in return for which voters voluntarily surrender more and more of their freedom. To understand Tocqueville’s teaching on the tyranny of the majority completely, one must consult not only the portions from Volume I on that topic but also Volume II, Part 1, which is titled “Influence of Democracy on Intellectual Movement in the United States,” and from which this extended block quote is taken. In 1868, the House impeached Andrew Johnson for purely partisan reasons, and he was acquitted in the Senate. Tocqueville was a great thinker, a philosopher greater even than his admirers believe, and Trump is great mainly in the amazing extent of his pettiness and willingness to level insults at his rivals. “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with … A complex informational text such as this poses an invigorating challenge to high school students. 4. 5). In Volume 2, Part 2, Chapter 7, “ Of the Omnipotence of the Majority in the United States and Its … But he also saw and criticized the way white majorities supported the institution of slavery and the unjust treatment of free blacks and Native Americans. The first lesson introduces students to Tocqueville’s thesis about the omnipotence, i.e., the all-powerful character, of the majority in a democracy and his way of developing an argument through well-chosen historical examples. Undoubtedly, the United States’ size and diversity means that our nation “is partitioned among several great irreconcilable interests” such that “the privilege of the majority is often unrecognized.”[6] Yet, social phenomena ranging from safe spaces to the use of public opinion polls in the place of argument in news reportage suggest that advocates of a free society must remain vigilant against the pressure to conform to the moral empire of the majority still today. Share. Ibid., 236-237 [I.2.7]. This muscular democratic vision also captures the very core of what makes the United States the place of profound vision that foreigners Thomas Paine and Alexis De Tocqueville wrote of so powerfully. First political career. There, Tocqueville argued, the opinion of the democratic majorities on matters of truth and morality often come to rest without examination. Above all else, Tocqueville was a sociologist, and he attributes to social structure the emergence of the moral empire of the majority. The foregoing point notwithstanding, Tocqueville argued that the majority’s greatest power lay not in the halls of the legislature but in the chamber of the mind. In fact, the greatest danger Americans faced was inherent in their treatment of unpopular minorities. Tocqueville’s prediction waited only 33 years for confirmation. Whigs. Students For Liberty FrankGaffney. His warnings about and solutions to despotic attempts at ruling democracies shine a light on the dangerous tendencies of certain governing practices. Paradoxically, when a whole society protects freedom of speech, thought, and judgment, people tend to believe that truth is “found on the side of the greatest number.” Tocqueville’s reasoning on this point is worth citing at some length: Not only is common opinion the sole guide that remains for individual reason among democratic peoples; but it has an infinitely greater power among these peoples than among any other. The notion that the people can do no wrong became widely held. According to Tocqueville, these “intermediary” institutions that exist in aristocracies serve as a “dike” against the force of dominant political power and a vital protection for human dignity and liberty. Have men changed in character by being united? He came to study the American system. De Tocqueville found a deep respect for the law in America. One can easily imagine an Iranian Tocqueville today issuing the same warning with regard to Shi’a Islam and cautioning his readers about the politicization of Islam in his country. The three lessons in this unit comprise key selections from the chapter. In the extension activities, students are asked to bring to bear the knowledge that they have acquired in the unit on Tocqueville’s next chapter, in which he discusses the factors that might mitigate the tyranny of the majority. Tocqueville does not mean that the majority in a democracy will always act tyrannically, only that nothing can prevent it from so doing. In both, he analysed the improved living standardsand social conditions of individuals as well as their relationship to the market and state in Western societies. Immanuel Kant, “What is Enlightenment,” in The Portable Enlightenment Reader, edited by Isaac Kramnick (London: Penguin Classics, 1995), 1. For example, when people fear for their security: The reason, he felt, was that the American citizens themselves held the ultimate power to change any laws they disliked. He is best known for his works Democracy in America (appearing in two volumes, 1835 and 1840) and The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856). There are a great number of theories on matters of philosophy, morality, or politics that everyone thus adopts without examination, on the faith of the public.[5]. The following statement regarding the tyranny of the majority is one of the most famous quotes from Tocqueville’s entire book: “I do not know any country where, in general, less independence of mind and genuine freedom of discussion reign than in America.”[2] To understand this quote, one must first understand why there existed in America what Tocqueville called “the moral empire of the majority.”[3]. There is an assessment that offers a series of questions for students to answer in well-thought-out, short essays. Ibid., 244 [I.2.7]. Tocqueville, in the light of his “new political science,” calls this an “impious and detestable maxim.” In Volume 2, Part 2, Chapter 7, “Of the Omnipotence of the Majority in the United States and Its Effects,” he lays out his argument against this view. Alexis de Tocqueville’s official purpose was to study the American penal system, but his real interest was America herself.He spent nine months criss-crossing the young country, traveling mostly by steamboat, but also sometimes on horseback and by foot. Any college student familiar with Alexis de Tocqueville knows his warning against the tyranny of the majority in democracies. Kant famously argued in his essay “What is Enlightenment?” that enlightened people have the courage to rely first on their own reason and do not trust in the reason of another. While Tocqueville was a strong supporter of the separation of Church and State, he was also a … Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 409 [II.1.2]. Since then, every president has governed under increasing threat of politically-driven administrative removal. In Europe, with its complex hierarchical societies, the majority has little or no power. In this situation, the greatest legitimate power will always be with the majority. Ibid.,244 [I.2.7]. From the founding period to the time of his visit, Americans had become increasingly more egalitarian and democratic. The frst daughter weighed in on her father’s impeachment Thursday evening with a quote from 19th century French historian Alexis de Tocqueville warning that impeachment could be used politically. Anyone who would defend liberty must have the courage to support checks and limitations not only on the power of executives and courts but also on the power of majorities. Gen. Barr recalled de Tocqueville’s warning that, in the absence of key checks that have protected our nation from the dangers of "totalitarian democracy," we would inevitably be reduced to the tyrannical rule of an intolerant majority. “First Blood.” This 1812 political cartoon shows the warring Federalists and Republicans planning to attack. Motivated by his “love of liberty and human dignity,” his Democracy in America has been called “one of the wisest works of modern thought,” that for understanding and preserving liberty, “the … 7. Throughout, students are challenged to read carefully, think critically, and draw analogies between Tocqueville’s statements and their own experience and knowledge. Tocqueville offers two gripping and illuminating examples: mob violence against anti-war journalists in the War of 1812; and the way free blacks are preventing from voting in the Northern states. 6. In the third lesson, students confront and evaluate Tocqueville’s most shocking claim—that there is less freedom of discussion and independence of mind in America than in Europe, with negative consequences for American character and culture. In Europe, de Tocqueville observed, the people merely watched as the authorities tracked down a criminal, while in America "...everyone thinks he has an interest in furnishing proof of an offense and in arresting t… His scholarly interests include the political thought of the American… read more. Alexis de Tocqueville raised that point in his treatise, Democracy in America, where he warned that democracy could be destroyed by two forms of dictatorship: the despotism of a single ruler, and the tyranny of the majority. The organic industry is a case study in rent-seeking. Still, Tocqueville has rightly been called prophetic for warning about the threat to liberty posed by the democratic tendency toward centralizing power (Democracy in America, Vol. In 1831, an ambitious and unusually perceptive twenty-five-year-old French aristocrat, Alexis de Tocqueville, visited the United States. As Tocqueville writes “The master no longer says to [an individual]: You shall think as I do or you shall die; he says: You are free not to think as I do, your life, your goods, everything remains to you; but from this day on, you are a stranger among us.”[7] I wanted to know democracy, if only to know at least what we must hope or fear from it.”. His chapters on democratic individualism and centralization in Democracy in America contained a new warning based on these observations. He argued that a mild, stagnant despotism was the greatest threat to democracy. But are Tocqueville’s insights on this matter still relevant? In his introduction, Tocqueville writes: “In America, I saw more than America… I sought the image of democracy itself, with its inclinations, its character, its prejudices, and its passions. The book is influential both for its study of American society in the Jacksonian period and for its analysis of democracy. Some of these groups do exist in democracies, but they have little or no independent legitimacy. There are at least two reasons to think that they are. In America, he saw and praised a people who enjoyed an unprecedented equality of conditions and political and civil liberty without endangering order or prosperity. 268. Atty. EDSITEment’s new unit, Tocqueville on Tyranny of the Majority, breaks down Tocqueville’s argument into its component parts. And solutions to despotic attempts at ruling democracies shine a light on the dangerous tendencies certain. Your resource for exploring the ideas of a de tocqueville warning ought likewise to be suspicious of the majority, down... 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