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GHIST 225: US History Kevin R. Hardwick Spring 2012 LECTURE 16 The Perils Individualism: Alexis De Tocqueville’s Critique of American Democracy.

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Presentation on theme: "GHIST 225: US History Kevin R. Hardwick Spring 2012 LECTURE 16 The Perils Individualism: Alexis De Tocqueville’s Critique of American Democracy."— Presentation transcript:

1 GHIST 225: US History Kevin R. Hardwick Spring 2012 LECTURE 16 The Perils Individualism: Alexis De Tocqueville’s Critique of American Democracy

2 1.Popular Sovereignty 2.Equality of the People 3.Majority Rule 4.Democratic Conformity 5.Individualism 6.Despotism

3 1.Popular Sovereignty In America, the principle of the sovereignty of the people is not hidden or sterile as it is among certain nations: it is recognized by the mores [ie. cultural habits], proclaimed by the laws; it expands with liberty and attains its ultimate consequences without obstacles.

4 1.Popular Sovereignty The principle of the sovereignty of the people hangs over the whole political system of the Anglo-Americans.... In nations where the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people prevails, each individual forms an equal portion of the sovereign and participates equally in the government of the state. Each individual is thus assumed to be as enlightened, as virtuous, as strong as any other of his fellows.

5 2. Equality of the People The gradual development of the equality of conditions is thus a providential fact, which has the following principal characteristics: it is universal, it is durable, and each day it escapes human power. All events, as all men, serve its development.

6 2. Equality of the People As I studied American society, I saw more and more, in the equality of conditions, the generative fact from which each particular fact seemed to flow, and I kept finding that fact before me again and again as a central point to which all of my observations were leading.

7 2. Equality of the People But since the United States was settled by men equal among themselves, there is not yet enough natural and permanent divergence among the interests of its different inhabitants.

8 3. Majority Rule The idea that the majority possess the right by its enlightenment, to govern the society was brought to the soil of the United States by its first inhabitants. This idea, which was alone sufficient for creating a free people, has today passed into its mores, and it is visible even in the smallest habits of daily life.

9 3. Majority Rule All the parties are ready to recognize the rights of the majority because they all hope to be able one day to exercise them for their own advantage.

10 3. Majority Rule The majority thus has in the United States an immense power in fact and a power of opinion almost as great; and once a majority has formed on a question, there are virtually no obstacles which can, never mind stop, but even slow down its march and allow it the time to listen to the complaints of those it crushes in passing.

11 4. Democratic Conformity This same equality which renders him independent of each of his fellow citizens individually, abandons him, isolated and without defense, to the influence of the greatest number.

12 4. Democratic Conformity The public this has, among democratic peoples, a remarkable power of which aristocratic nations cannot even conceive the idea. It does not persuade men of its beliefs, it imposes them and makes them penetrate the souls of men by a sort of immense pressure of the mind of all on the intellect of each.

13 4. Democratic Conformity In the United States, the majority takes care of supplying individuals with a host of ready-made opinions and thus relieves them of the obligation of forming their own. There are a great number of theories of philosophy, morality, or politics which everyone there adopts in this way without examination, on the word of the public, and if one looks closely, one will see that religion itself prevails there much less as revealed doctrine than as common opinion.

14 5. Individualism and Egoism Individualism is a recent expression that a new idea has brought into being. Our fathers only knew about egoism. Egoism is a passionate and exaggerated love of oneself, which leads a man to relate everything only to himself alone and to prefer himself over all things.

15 5. Individualism and Egoism Individualism is a reflective and peaceful sentiment that disposes each citizen to isolate himself from the mass of his fellow men and to draw himself off to the side with his family and his friends in such a way that, after having thus created for himself a small society of his own, he willingly abandons the larger society to itself. Egoism dries up the germ of all the social virtues; individualism at first only dries up the source of the public virtues, but over the long term it attacks and destroys all others and eventually becomes absorbed in egoism.

16 5. Individualism and Egoism As conditions become more equal, there are a larger number of individuals who, while no longer being rich enough or powerful enough to exercise a large influence on the fate of their fellow men, have nonetheless acquired enough enlightenment and property to be able to be self-sufficient. These men owe nothing to anyone; they expect almost nothing from anyone; they are accustomed to always consider themselves in isolation, and they readily imagine that their whole destiny is in their hands.

17 5. Individualism and Egoism In this way, democracy not only makes each man forget his forefathers, but it conceals his descendents from him and separates him from his contemporaries; it leads him back constantly towards himself alone and threatens finally to confine him entirely within the solitude of his own heart.

18 5. Individualism and Egoism It is difficult to draw a man out of himself in order to interest him in the fate of the whole state because he understands poorly the influence that the fate of the state may exercise in his own lot.

19 5. Despotism I want to imagine under what new traits despotism could occur in the world: I see an innumerable mass of similar and equal men who go round and round without respite in order to procure for themselves small and vulgar pleasures, with which they fill their souls. Each of them, withdrawn to the side, has virtually nothing to do with the fate of all the others: his children and his particular friends form for him all of mankind; as for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is next to them, but he does not see them; he touches them and does not sense them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone, and if a family still remains to him, one can at least say that he no longer has a fatherland.

20 5. Despotism Above them rises an immense tutelary power, which alone is responsible for securing their pleasure and watching over their fate. It is absolute, detailed, regular, provident, and mild. It would resemble paternal authority if, like it, its object was to prepare men for adulthood; but it seeks only, on the contrary, to keep them irrevocably in childhood; it likes the citizens to enjoy themselves, provided they think only about enjoying themselves. Contrast Tocqueville here with George Orwell, 1984; or Orwell, Animal Farm

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