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An Outsider Looking In: Alexis de Tocqueville

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1 An Outsider Looking In: Alexis de Tocqueville
“Now in everything the majority holds sway”

2 Like God over the Universe
“Above all the institutions and beyond all the forms, there exists the sovereign power of the people which destroys or modifies them at will.” “What are the results of its unbounded force?” Institutions of gov’t not only democratic in principal but also in consequence (201)

3 Types of Parties Parties a fundamental defect of free gov’t
Large countries with distinct populations united under the same government Effectively distinct, competing nations under the same gov’t If civil war breaks out, it is closer to war between nations than a struggle between sections of the same country Other type when citizens have different opinions on matters of interest to the whole country Great and small parties ( )

4 Types of Parties Times of crisis, surrounding basic political constitution or even an endangered social fabric, produce great parties and revolutions Open, bold stands for principle rather than petty consequence Federalist & Democratic-Republican Federalists created necessary institutions in defiance of the leveling spirit of the age Ex: the US bank. The educated classes favored it, but the people sensed (but did not understand) an institution they did not control, and agitated to destroy it Made possible only by great men among their number, DRs, more in tune with the spirit of their age, quickly came to dominance ( )

5 Types of Parties “Between the centuries of misery and disorder there are others when societies come to rest amid the human race seems to draw breath. In actual fact, such times are more apparent than real. Time does not arrest its course for nations any more than for men, both move forward daily into an unknown future. When we think things are stationary, it is because we fail to see their movements. Men who move at a walking pace appear to be stationary to those who are running.” There are periods when “the changes taking place in the national constitution and the social structure of nations appear so slow and imperceptible that men think they have reached a final state. The human mind, believing itself to be firmly based upon sure foundations, does not seek to look beyond its set horizon.” “This is a time of intrigues and small parties.” (204)

6 Types of Parties Small parties
Lack coherent political credo Character imbued with selfishness rather than ideals Violent language, timid and cautious action Despicable means Where great parties tear the nation apart, small parties agitate it Times of stability cause great men to seem to vanish “America today has lost the great parties that it once had; it has gained, as a consequence, much happiness, but has lost much moral purpose.” ( ) Great and small parties products of their social and political context Responding to environment more than shaping it Do we want greatness?

7 Types of Parties “Aristocratic or democratic passions can easily be found at the heart of all parties.” In America, the democratic tide has forced the upper class to praise democracy in public, but they resent the rule of the masses Popular suspicion of the very wealthy Careful to appear at one with the people publicly, but privately live in aristocratic luxury and resent the imposition of democracy ( )

8 Freedom of the Press T. is ambivalent about the freedom of the press, supports it for the evils it avoids rather than the benefits it produces He’d prefer some intermediate position between “complete independence or entire enslavement of thought”, but what midpoint is there? If you try writers by jury and they are acquitted, their ideas immediately become popular If judges have power over the press, obscure texts leap to prominence at trial Besides, the press is only the body of the thought, not the thought itself Thus, effective regulation of the press requires regulation of speech “You had set out to repress the abuses of freedom and I discover you beneath the boots of a tyrant.” ( )

9 Freedom of the Press Further, the principle of universal suffrage demands the absolute freedom of the press If people are to be trusted with the franchise, they must be trusted to choose between all available viewpoints Nonetheless, the press is far less influential in America than it is in France. Why? Freedom of the press a novelty in France, but old for Anglo-Americans French press highly centralized in a few hands due to licensing and difficulty of starting a new paper Americans able to easily and affordably found papers, with the consequence that they are extremely numerous This means that they are highly decentralized and undisciplined, preventing the formation of uniform factions but causing political life to circulate in every corner of the Union

10 Freedom of the Press “Generally, journalists in the United States have a lowly status, their education is rudimentary and the expression of their ideas is frequently course. Now in everything the majority holds sway; it lays down certain styles to which each person then conforms. The sum total of these shared customs is called their spirit: there is the spirit of the courts, the spirit of royalty.” The spirit of French journalism is to discuss politics in a style that is violent but usually dignified and eloquent The spirit of American journalism “consists of a crude, unvarnished, and unsubtle attack on the passions of his readers; he leaves principles aside to seize hold of men whom he pursues into their private lives exposing their weaknesses and defects” (216)

11 Freedom of the Press Nonetheless, opinions formed under a free press are more deeply held than in countries with censors “Nations where this freedom prevails are attached to their opinions through pride as much as conviction. They love them because of their fairness and also because they have chosen them; they remain loyal to them, not only as something true but as something of their own.” “All social theories having been challenged and defeated in their turn, all those who who had adopted one of them stick to it, not so much because they are convinced of its excellence but because they are unsure that a better one exists.” ( )

12 Associations “An association consists simply in the public assent which a number of individuals give to such and such a doctrine and their commitment to help in a specific way to make it prevail. Thus the right to associate almost merges with the freedom to write but already associations wield more power than the press. When an opinion is represented by an association, it has to assume a sharper and more accurate expression. It counts up its supporters and involves them in its cause; these supporters learn to know each other and their enthusiasm is increased by their numbers. Association binds the efforts of disparate minds and energetically drives them toward one single goal which it has clearly marked out.” ( ) First stage of association

13 Associations Second stage Third stage
Assembling physically Centers of action in important places in the country Seeing each other, planning together, “opinions spread with a force and zeal the written word could never achieve.” Third stage Members electing delegates to represent them in central assembly “Thus, in the first case, men who possess the same opinion feel a purely intellectual bond between themselves; in the second, they gather in small assemblies which represent only a fraction of the party; finally, in the third, they form something like a separate nation within a nation, a government within a government” ( )

14 Associations “Nowadays, the freedom of association is a vital safeguard against the tyranny of the majority.” “The minority must bring to heart its entire moral strength against an oppressive physical power. Thus one dangerous expedient is used to oppose a still more fearful one.” “There are no countries where associations are more necessary to prevent the tyranny of parties or the whims of princes than those whose social state is democratic. Unrestricted freedom of association on the American model is dangerous, bringing society a step closer to anarchy, but it is a risk the Americans run to avoid the greater peril of the tyranny of the majority ( )

15 Associations “The more I observe the main effects of the independence of the press, the more I am convinced that this independence, in the modern world, is the principal and, as it were, the governing element of freedom. A nation, therefore, which intends to remain free is entitled to demand respect for this freedom at whatever cost. But unrestricted freedom of association in the political sphere cannot be entirely confused with the freedom to write. The former is both less necessary and more dangerous. A nation may set bounds upon it without losing control over its own affairs; it must sometimes do so in order to maintain this control.” (222)

16 Associations Why have Americans not suffered from the risks of faction inherent in an unlimited right of association? Americans see associations differently than do Europeans In Europe, they are “weapons of war” prepared for battle In America, they are to show numerical strength and to persuade the majority In Europe some political associations are so far out of the mainstream that they can never hope to persuade the majority, and “when such a party forms an association, its aim is not to convince but to fight.” But in America, there are no parties with such dramatic differences ( )

17 Democratic Government
Contrary to theory, American democracy seem to have little luck in selecting excellent members of government. Why? The masses lack the ability to judge the means of pursuing the national welfare. “Would the masses succeed where the greatest geniuses go astray? The people never find the time or the means to devote to this work. They always have to come to hasty judgments and to latch on to the most obvious features.” Thus, they elect anyone who has the ability to please them ( )

18 Democratic Government
“Moreover, it is not always the ability to choose men of merit which democracy lacks but the desire and inclination to do so.” “One must not blind oneself to the fact that democratic institutions promote to a very high degree the feeling of envy in the human heart, not so much because they offer each citizen ways of being equal to each other but because those ways continuously prove inadequate to those who use them. Democratic institutions awaken and flattery the passion of equality without being able to satisfy it entirely.” “So anything which exceeds their limitations in any way appears to them as an obstacle to their desires and all superiority, however legitimate, is irksome in their eyes.” ( )

19 Democratic Government
Why has America been able to avoid the worst consequences of this? During the revolution, America was fortunate to be led and founded by outstanding men who gave it wise institutions Good intelligence and customs help to restrain the worst aspects of democracy Thus, New England makes better choices than the rest of democracy While the House of Representatives is full of losers, the Senate is populated by intelligent and accomplished people This is because the House is directly elected, while the Senate is chosen by state legislatures, refining public opinion into “a nobler and more beautiful form” ( )

20 Corruption and Democracy
In aristocratic government, the positions are unpaid, so their holders are in pursuit of power. In democracies, positions are paid, and their holders often enter politics in pursuit of wealth. “If, therefore, the rulers in aristocratic societies sometimes seek to corrupt, democratic leaders prove to be corrupt. In the former case, the morality of the people is under direct attack; in the latter, the influence upon the public conscience is indirect, which is even more fearsome.” Democratic citizens, seeing someone advance into power, attribute it not to talent or effort on the part of that person, as that would be to admit that they were less talented or able than him. They instead ascribe his success to his vices. They are often correct ( )

21 Benefits of Democratic Government
Democratic government is corrupt, sloppy, wasteful, and prone to error, while aristocratic government is wise and efficient However, democracy moves slowly toward the benefit of the many, while aristocracy moves swiftly to benefit the few ( ) Democratic officials “are often inferior in capability and in moral standards to those an aristocracy would bring to power, but their interests” are generally those of their fellow citizens.

22 Self-Interest “The common man in the United States perceives the influence of public prosperity upon his own happiness, and idea so simple and yet so little understood by the people Moreover, he has grown used to regarding this prosperity as his own work. Thus he sees in public fortune his own and he works for the welfare of the state, not simply from civic duty or from pride, but I would venture to say, from greed.” This sense of the state as their own creation makes Americans touchy about criticism: “There is nothing more irksome in the conduct of life than the irritable patriotism Americans have. The foreigner would be very much willing to praise much in their country but would like to be allowed a few criticisms; that is exactly what he is refused.” (276-77)

23 Self-Interest American respect both rights and property because they all have both “In America, the proletariat does not exist. Since each man has some private possessions to protect, he acknowledges the right, in principle, to own property.” (278) Thus, they support political and property rights because it is in their interest to do so (279)

24 Self-Interest “Do you not see the decline of religions? [...] Do you not notice how, on all sides, beliefs are ceding place to rationality and feelings to calculations? If, amid this general upheaval, you fail to link the idea of rights to individual self-interest, which is the only fixed point in the human heart, what else have you got to rule the world except fear?” (279)

25 Social Outcomes of Democracy
Democracy does not make people great, saintly or noble, but its equality does does cause them to be law-abiding, practical, rational, and prosperous, all while minimizing suffering. ( )

26 Democratic Habits “I am convinced that, if ever tyranny succeeds in getting a foothold in America, it will have even more difficulty in overcoming the habits formed by freedom than in conquering the love of freedom itself. This constantly renewed agitation introduced by democratic government into the political realm subsequently passes into civil society. Perhaps, all in all, that is the greatest advantage of democratic government which I praise much more for what it causes to be done than for what it actually does.” (284)

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