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An Outsider Looking In: Alexis de Tocqueville What is new in the history of societies (Sociology 156)

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Presentation on theme: "An Outsider Looking In: Alexis de Tocqueville What is new in the history of societies (Sociology 156)"— Presentation transcript:

1 An Outsider Looking In: Alexis de Tocqueville What is new in the history of societies (Sociology 156)

2 Bottom-Up Govt In America, township state federal govt (71) Man it is that makes monarchies and founds republics; the township seems a direct gift from the hand of God. But if the town has existed as long as man has, its freedom is uncommon and easily broken – The US is remarkable for the amount of power allowed municipal & local govts 2

3 The School of Democracy The strength of free nations resides in the township. Tow institutions are to freedom what primary schools are to knowledge: they bring it within peoples reach and give men the enjoyment and habit of using it for peaceful ends. Without town institutions a nation can establish a free government but has not the spirit of freedom itself. (73) – Town govt trains individuals in self-govt, ownership of and active participation in it – Democracy as a way of being – NE towns best at this – This also makes Americans unbearably touchy about criticism from foreigners: it is a criticism of their own creation (277) 3

4 Centralization Two kinds (103): – Governmental: national issues (national law, war, foreign relations) For T., this is very important to accomplish. The nation may speak with one voice. (104) – Administrative: Zoning, construction, local issues For T, this is bad. It diminishes the sense that individuals govern themselves, reducing civic pride. (104) America has highly centralized its government, but has a decentralized administration (103) 4

5 A central govt may administer more efficiently & wisely, but it detracts from a nations democratic spirit (107) – Men must walk in freedom, responsible for their own behavior. (108) – The advantages Americans get from decentralized administration are political, while in France Subjects still exist but citizens are no more. (110, 111) 5

6 Force of Ideas You will never come across true exercise of power among men, except by the free agreement of their wills; only patriotism or religion can carry, over a long period, the whole body of citizens toward the same goal. (111) – Decentralization of administration results in heightened patriotism, and forms a check against a potentially tyrannical central govt – The habit of freedom (114) 6

7 Judges Judges in America have extraordinary political power All judges act as arbitrators – Lawsuits when a over contested rights, or when a law has been broken All judges pronounce on individual cases, not general principles – To rule on general principle, rather than a case, is the sphere of the legislator Most commonly, judges can act only when summoned (seised of the matter) – Not as common as other two, but essential – Judicial power not active, but triggered by a crime or lawsuit – Would do violence to its nature if it took the initiative ( ) 7

8 American judges have each of these 3 characteristics, with the additional power to rule not only on laws, but on the Constitution – Judicial review The American constitution is unlike that of Britain (determined by majority in Parliament) or France (Cant be changed at all under July Monarchy) – American constitution amendable, but a separate entity which, since it represents the will of the people, places the same duties upon legislators as it does upon plain citizens The Constitution can thus vary, but during its existence is the fount of all authority – Judges never confront the legislature directly, only as it were accidentally, in ruling on a single case. The judge is dragged into the political sphere. 8

9 Political Crimes European parliaments can dispense all punishments, so may be reluctant to convict on political crimes – American congress can only remove an offender from office, at which point civil law takes over – Providing against legal tyranny, if not tyranny itself Everything considered, I wonder whether political jurisdiction as understood in the United States, is not the most fearsome weapon ever lodged in the hands of the majority. Once the American republics begin to degenerate, I believe we shall easily recognize that it be so; it will be enough to notice whether the number of political judgments increases. ( ) 9

10 If ever America showed itself capable of rising for a few moments to that lofty degree of renown which the proud imagination of its inhabitants would constantly wish to reveal to us, it was at that supreme time when the national authority had just in some way abdicated its dominion. The descriptions of Americans efforts to slip from under the English yoke have been greatly exaggerated. – The United States owed victory more to their geographical position than to the courage of their armies or the patriotism of their citizens. (132) 10

11 An alternative mythos Whoever would dare to compare the American war to the wars of the French Revolution or the efforts of the Americans to ours when France, exposed to attacks from the whole of Europe, penniless, without credit or allies, hurled a twentieth of her population before her advancing enemies, snuffing out with one hand the fire which gnawed at her innards while with the other brandishing the torch around her? (132) – French exceptionalism – A legacy of revolutions? 11

12 End of the Revolution But what is new in the history of societies is the sight of a great nation, warned by its legislators that the workings of government are grinding to a halt, turning its attention, without haste or fear sounding out the depths of the ill, standing still for two whole years in order to uncover the remedy at leisure, and, on the discovery of the remedy, submitting to it voluntarily without costing humanity a single tear or drop of blood. – The American Revolution ended, therefore, exactly when ours was beginning. (132-33) 12

13 State and Center How to allow states to govern themselves without losing the national American identity? Easy to define the rights & duties of the federal govt, which had to respond to certain general needs – Centralizing government: war, Constitutional law, national taxation, to a degree even greater than in some European countries Rights & duties of state govts more complex, because these governments were involved in every detail of social life. – Decentralized administration: roads, education, morality laws, zoning, voting law, etc. ( ) 13

14 Time, in the long term and within the same nation, always gives rise to different interests and sanctions various rights. Thereafter, when a general constitution has to be established, each of these interests and rights constitutes a goodly number of natural obstacles to prevent any particular political principle from being implemented with all its consequences. – It is, therefore, only in the first stages of societies that logic can completely govern lawmaking. When you see a nation profiting from this adavntage, do not hasten to conclude that it is wise; think rather that it is young. (139) 14

15 Executive The President is generally weak, – dependent on legislature – Veto only legislative power, & even that can be overridden – But free to act w/o control in own sphere, & head of armed forces But army small & weak, and country isolated and vulnerable This could change if – The Union were under constant threat – If its daily interests were intertwined with other powerful nations Has this happened? – For T., even though the laws may make the president strong, circumstance leaves him weak in 1831 This reveals very closely that that practice of government must not be judged by theory. (147) 15

16 Electing a President The presidency poses a lure to ambitious individuals, & will become more so if its powers increase – Thus, the dangers of elections rise with the power of the executive – Hereditary monarchies have the advantage that the royal family is fully, permanently, and constantly bonded to the state But in elective states, govt ceases to function as the presidential election approaches – The nation focuses its attention solely there Instability in domestic politics increases – Less risky in US b/c of weak executive, but the more powerful the office is, the more risky the election – In a constitutional monarchy, ministers rise and fall, but the executive remains more or less the same ( ) 16

17 Electing a President The election may be viewed a a time of national crisis – Concerns all, absorbs the attention of all – Parties rally around one man to better promote themselves, not so much because of the man, but to prove that their ideas have gained the majority – Factions redouble their efforts and enthusiasm – The President ceases to govern, and concerns himself entirely with defending his office President ceases to govern in the interests of the state and panders to the majority – The citizens are divided among themselves, the nation descends into a feverish state, newspapers talk of nothing else ( ) 17

18 Re-Electing the President Intrigue and corruption are natural to elective governments – But if the executive is re-electable, this intrigue & corruption penetrates to the heart of the state – No longer just an individual and allies, but deploying the resources of the state Running for a second term, the president finds concern for issues of state secondary to election – All thoughts & policies undertake with re-election in mind The deadly seed in democracies – The people attract everything to themselves, the laws [...] accelerate this action until it becomes irresistible[, inflicting] a direct attack on the existence of the government. The genius of the Framers was to constitute a government that would be generally guided by the will of the people, could still combat the whims and dangerous demands of the majority. – In introducing re-election, they undermined their greatest achievement, making the executive but a docile tool in the hands of the majority ( ) 18

19 The Justice System The major objective of justice is to substitute the concept of law for that of violence and to position intermediate authorities between the government and the use of physical force. – The impossibility of pure coercion All aspects of the justice system should be homogenous & harmonious – American justice is not: it is based in the conflicting claims of state and federal governments Democracies are naturally inclined to concentrate all the power in the hands of the legislature, because it stems most directly from the people themselves – The state legislatures have frequently yielded to these democratic instincts while the Union legislators always courageously resisted them. ( ) 19

20 Small and Large Republics Small nations – Are harder to tyrannize, by virtue of everything being observable by all – Being weak, tend to their own prosperity rather than nursing dreams of empire – Having governments which cannot offer glory, tend not to attract the ambitious – If their govts do become tyrannical, they are easier to overthrow – Thus, small nations are the cradle of political liberty (186) 20

21 Small and Large Republics The history of the world affords no example of a great nation that has remained a republic for any length of time – Great nations produce more inequality of wealth, big cities, personal egotism, lax morality, and diverse & competing interests than do small ones – Great, like small nations, have only majority opinion to combat these, but this is not proportionately greater in large nations, while the dangers are (187) 21

22 Nations become great in order to attain physical security – What use are prosperity and good morals if you live in constant fear of conquest? – Physical strength thus becomes a precondition for happiness or even existence, so small nations join great, voluntarily or otherwise The American confederacy is intended to maximize benefits of large & small nations – Unlike govts that are administratively centralized, American laws need not be made on the basis of general principles (which demand that reality conform to them), but on pragmatic, material conditions – The public spirit of the Union is not itself anything other than a summing up of provincial patriotisms ( ) 22

23 Weaknesses of the American System In general, only simple ideas take hold in the minds of a people. A false yet clear and precise idea will always have more potency in society at large than a true but complex one. – This is why parties always promote simple ideas & symbols Thus, the complexity of American govt is a weakness in inherent in a federal system – It is frightening to note how many differences of knowledge and discernment [the American system of govt] assumes in those governed. 23

24 Weaknesses of the American System The second and most fatal of all the defects inherent in my opinion to the federal system itself is the relative weakness of the government of the Union. – All confederations are based in the fragmentation of sovereignty But were the federal state to clash violently with the interests and prejudices of a state, are there not reasons to fear that every single citizen of that state would consider himself involved in the cause of any man refusing to obey it? – Slavery & Civil Rights – Strategic difference w/marriage equality movement ( ) 24

25 Weaknesses of the American System The most significant of all the events which mark the life of a nation is the act of war when a people struggles against foreign countries like a single individual. It fights for its very existence. – However, for a nation to be in a positon to wage a great war, its citizens must endure many painful sacrifices. To suppose a large number of men capable of submitting themselves to such deprivations is to have a poor grasp of human nature. – Consequently, all nations which have been forced to wage mighty wars have been forced, almost despite themselves, to increase the powers of their government. How does it come about that the American Union, protected as it is by the comparative perfection of its laws, does not collapse in the middle of a great war? It is simply that it has no great wars to fear. ( ) 25

26 Why can the federal system not thrive in all places? Not all places have the same cultural homogeneity as the US, which is necessary to federated govt – Though Maine & Georgia are a thousand miles apart, they are in culture closer to one another than Normandy & Brittany (197) Not all nations are as geographically safe from attack as the US – This safety does not require the centralization of administration ( ) The American spirit of practicality is what enables to complex, two-tiered system of govt to function ( ) 26

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