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An Outsider Looking In: Alexis de Tocqueville

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1 An Outsider Looking In: Alexis de Tocqueville
“The consequences of this state of affairs are dire and dangerous for the future.” (Political Science 565)

2 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 ( )

3 Democratic Government
“it is not always the ability to choose men of merit which democracy lacks but the desire and inclination to do so.” Envy, resentment & equality (230) 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” ( )

4 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)

5 Perils of Popular Sovereignty
In America, the majority “possesses immense actual power and a power of opinion almost as great; and when it has made up its mind over a question, there are, so to speak, no obstacles which might, I will not say halt, but even retard its onward course long enough to allow it time to heed the complaints of those it crushes as it goes by. The consequences of this state of affairs are dire and dangerous for the future.” (290)

6 Tyranny of the Majority
The majority thinks itself both the source of law and above the law, a tyrant In Maryland, black Americans had the legal right to vote, but majority white prejudice against them, and majority sanction of violence, mean that on the whole, they choose not to. “So you mean that the majority, which has the privilege of enacting laws, also wishes to have the privilege of disobeying them?” (295, fn. 4)

7 Tyranny of the Majority
“There is [...] no earthly authority so worthy of respect or so vested with so sacred a right that I would wish to allow it unlimited action and unrestricted dominance.” “My main complaint against a democratic government as organized in the United States in not in its weakness, [...] but in its inexorable strength.” (294) Though the people rule as God, they have neither his wisdom nor his justice

8 Tyranny of the Majority
“In America, the majority has staked out a formidable fence around thought. Inside those limits a writer is free but woe betide him if he dares to stray beyond them.” “Formerly tyranny employed chains and executioners as its crude weapons; but nowadays civilization has civilized despotism itself even though it appeared to have nothing else to learn. Princes had, so to speak, turned violence into a physical thing but our democratic republics have made it into something as intellectual as the human will it intends to constrict.” (298) Even Louis XIV could tolerate mockery of itself, but the majority will tolerate no insult. “The majority lives therefore in an everlasting self-adoration.” (299)

9 Barriers to Tyranny “When the American people become intoxicated by their enthusiasms or carried away by them, lawyers supply an almost invisible brake to slow them down.” (313) Judges also Constitutional review Lifetime appointment Election of judges will have “disastrous results, and it will be seen that an attack has been directed against not only the power of judges but against the democratic republic itself.” (314)

10 Juries “One must make a distinction between the jury as a judicial institution and as a political one.” (315) Institutions have unintended social outcomes “I do not know whether juries are much use to litigants but I am sure that they are are of great use to those who judge the case. They are, in my view, one of the most effective means available to society for educating the people.” (321) To exercise judgment in the application of law & power

11 Slavery & Racism “Man, in modern time, after the abolition of slavery, must, therefore, eradicate three much more intangible and tenacious prejudices: the prejudice of the master, the prejudice of race, and, finally, the prejudice of whites.” This is demonstrated by the fact the even in states without slavery or legal subjugation of blacks, where they may vote and interracial marriage is legal, majority prejudice means that these things almost never happen Lacking a legal guarantee of white supremacy, Northerners are more likely to demand the absolute social exclusion of blacks than in the South, where whites are confident of their clear social supremacy ( )

12 Abolition Northern abolition meant that paid labor no longer had to compete with slaves “Slavery in the United States is destroyed in the interest, not of Negroes, but of the whites.” But while abolition ended slavery in a state, it did not free slaves With the approach of abolition, & the knowledge that a slave’s children could no longer be counted part of the slave’s wealth generating ability, slave owners either sold their slaves South or relocated their whole operation The same policy subtracts from the Northern population at the same time that it swells the Southern ( )

13 Secession The South realizes that its hegemony over American politics is slipping Thus, “If it happens to notice that a Union law is not in its favor, it cries out against this abuse of power; it vigorously remonstrates and, if its voice is not heard, it becomes indignant and threatens to withdraw from an association whose burdens it bears without enjoying the profits.” (449)

14 Will republican government endure?
“What most strikes the visitor to the United States is the kind of tumultuous agitation at the heart of which we find political society.” While the small laws change constantly, the fundamental law is stable “What can be foreseen now is that, if Americans were to deviate from a republic, they would speedily arrive at despotism without pausing for very long at monarchy.” If the ill-defined powers fearlessly allocated to the elected official fall into the hands of a hereditary power, the people are use to extraordinary deployments of power, without any check against it (465-70)

15 Individualism A centrifugal psychological product of democratic equality “Individualism is a calm and considered feeling which persuades each citizen to cut himself off from his fellows and to withdraw into the circle of his family and friends in such a way that he thus creates a small group of his own and willingly abandons society at large to its own devices.” (587) Isolates individuals from others, communities, and history “wrong headed thinking” originating in defects of the mind as much as the heart Not egoism, which is “an ardent and excessive love of oneself which leads man to relate everything back to himself and to prefer himself to everything Springs from blind instinct

16 Self-Interest Rightly Understood
Practical interactions make it apparent “that man helps himself by serving others and that doing good is in his own interest.” (610) Especially over long term A conclusion drawn from democratic habits of association, interaction, cooperation Americans respect both rights and property because they all have both “The doctrine might debase a few individuals but it does raise the race as a whole.” (612) People are not less selfish in America than in Europe, they only understand their self-interest better

17 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)

18 John L. O’Sullivan 1813-1895 Democratic party activist
Editor, literary critic, gov’t envoy to Portugal Influential in van Buren, Pierce administrations Founder, editor-in-Chief of United States Magazine & Democratic Review Whitman & Hawthorne

19 The Nation as Crusade The “high and holy” democratic/voluntary principle (“Introduction”) “the fundamental element of [America’s] new social and political system” Defining America “The best government is that which governs least” “Let man be fettered by no duty, save His brother’s right—like his, inviolable” A community of belief “full and free profession of the cardinal principles of political faith on which we take our stand” “true and living faith”

20 The Nation as Crusade US exceptional, world-historical importance
“All history has to be re-written; political science and the whole scope of all moral truth have to be considered and illustrated in the light of the democratic principle. All old subjects of thought and all new questions arising, connected more or less directly with human existence, have to be taken up again and re-examined in this point of view.” The American interest = the universal interest Voluntary principle = democracy = United States = “the cause of all mankind”

21 The Nation as Crusade Defining the community: What about slavery?
Vague commitment to eventual extinction of slavery slavery was “not a political” problem, “but a moral and economic one, the decision of which must rest, voluntarily, with the slave states themselves.” Matter of intrastate commerce, not rights (Democratic Review 14, 4/44, p. 429) Union composed of states, not individuals Illegitimate to compel change in status quo Would violate democratic principle

22 The Nation as Crusade Liberty > Equality
To be treated as an equal, one must be capable of self-rule. Some can, some can’t: “According to their knowledge of, and respect for, the rights of a citizen, shall their freedom from governmental restraints be measured out to them, and every privilege which they learn to exercise wisely, government will be forced to relinquish, until each man becomes a law unto himself.” (“Territorial Aggrandizement”)

23 The Nation as Crusade To be considered an equal, one must first become free Anglo-Saxon culture (not biology) makes whites most capable of freedom Until then, it is fair to regard the un-free individual as an inferior Slaves are made incapable of being free because the brutality w/which they are treated has made them brute Natives cannot be free because of their savagery & primitiveness Mexicans can’t be free because they are “semi-barbarous”, have an aristocratic Spanish culture. They may one day be educated enough that they can be free.

24 The Nation as Crusade “The Great Nation of Futurity”
“we have, in reality, but little connection with the past history of any [other nations], and still less with antiquity, its glories, or its crimes. On the contrary, our national birth was the beginning of a new history.” America is new, morally pure, and unstained by sins of the past A radical break from the past

25 The Nation as Crusade “America is destined for better deeds. It is our unparalleled glory that we have no reminisces of battle fields, but in defence of humanity, of the oppressed of all nations, of the rights of personal conscience, the rights of personal enfranchisement.” America acts with pure motives, in the interest of all mankind by definition

26 The Nation as Crusade “We have no interest in the scenes of antiquity, only as lessons of avoidance of nearly all their examples. The expansive future is our arena, and for our history. We are entering on its untrodden space, with the truths of God in our minds, beneficent objects in our hearts, and with a clear conscience unsullied by the past. “

27 The Nation as Crusade “We are the nation of human progress, and who will, what can, set limits to our onward march? Providence is with us, and no earthly power can. We point to the everlasting truth on the first page of our national declaration, and we proclaim to the millions of other lands, that ‘the gates of hell—the powers of aristocracy and monarchy—’ shall not prevail against it.”

28 The Nation as Crusade The enemies of the United States and democracy are enemies not only of all mankind, but of God They are intrinsically evil, satanic “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it” Matthew 16:18 Refers to the Christian church America, embodying the will of God, is the new church By definition, the United States is a force of pure good and its enemies agents of pure moral and religious evil

29 The Nation as Crusade “no lust for territory has stained our annals. No nation has been despoiled by us, no country laid desolate, no people overrun.” The indigenous would probably disagree. But, they cannot for O’Sullivan be free, and thus are removed from consideration. Where they were, democracy will be.

30 The Nation as Crusade New York Morning News, Dec. 27, 1845:
“To state the truth at once in its neglected simplicity, we are free to say that were the respective arguments and cases of the two parties, as to all these points of history and law, reversed—had England all ours, and we nothing but hers—our claim to Oregon would still be best and strongest. And that claim is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.”

31 The Nation as Crusade “All this will be our future history, to establish on earth the moral dignity and salvation of man—the immutable truth and beneficence of God. For this blessed mission to the nations of the world, which are shut out from the life-giving light of truth, has America been chosen; and her high example shall smite unto death the tyranny of kings, hierarchs, and oligarchs, and carry the glad tidings of peace and good will where myriads now endure an existence scarcely more enviable than that of beasts of the field. Who, then, can doubt that our country is destined to be the great nation of futurity?” (Great Nation of Futurity)

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