Alexis Detocqueville Essay Research Paper Alexis de — страница 2

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constitute to him the whole of mankind; as for the rest of his fellow-citizens, he is close to them, but he sees them not; — he touches them, but he feels them not; he exists but in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country. Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications, and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like he authority of a parent, if, like that authority its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but

rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labours, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principle concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?” This, perhaps the most well-known and prophetic lines of “Democracy in America” describe the deplorable conditions to which Tocqueville believes democracy will lead mankind. Mayer writes; “In fact, the grandeur of his prophetic gift is impressed upon one by the fact that after the passage of hundred-plus years, his

words have proved an exact description of a present day reality.” While many academics, including myself, would consider it overzealous to proclaim Tocqueville’s vision as modern reality, there are definitely striking and dangerous resemblances. De Beaumont, Tocqueville’s good friend and colleague, recalled that Tocqueville had many questions relating to despotism before his trip to America, and that this trip only served to strengthen his inquisition. Alexis wrote, “How to prevent a power, the offspring of democracy, from becoming absolute and tyrannical? Where to find a force able to contend against this power among a set of men all equal, it is true, but all equally weak and impotent? Was the fate of modern society to be both democracy and despotism?” Tocqueville

underscored his fear that democracy as most men understood it – namely, participation by the many in the act of sovereignty – was compatible with tyranny as well as with liberty. More precisely, tyranny could indeed coexist with what appeared to be democratic institutions. Unlike some of his contemporaries, who believed that the gradual development of equality meant the gradual but final destruction of the possibility of tyranny on earth, Tocqueville understood that the democratic principle could lead to despotism never before experienced. He stressed that individualism seems to generate a kind of power of its own, which, when it has been allowed to proceed to its conclusion, eventually ends in authoritarian rule. Though this authoritarianism is surely different in origin and

character from that against which individualism originally rebelled, it is a form of authoritarianism nonetheless. “I perceive how, under the dominion of certain laws, democracy would extinguish that liberty of the mind to which a democratic social condition is favourable; so that, after having broken all the bondage once imposed on it by ranks or by men, the human mind would be closely fettered to the general will of the greatest number. If the absolute power of a majority were to be substituted by democratic nations for all the different powers that checked or retarded overmuch the energy of individual minds, the evil would only have changed character…For myself, when I feel the hand of power lie heavy on my brow, I care but little to know who oppresses me…” Here,

Tocqueville expresses that if democracy is to survive, or if it is to fulfill the expectations surrounding it, individualism as a social force must have its anti-social tendencies neutralized, and society in turn must be rendered incapable of destroying the independence that individualism fosters. Individualism must be weakened or transformed, but not made impotent. “Democracy,” Tocqueville tells us, “loosens social ties, but tightens natural ones; it brings kindred more closely together, while it throws citizens more apart.” Certain propensities of democratic man – namely their drive toward materialism, mediocrity, compassion, domesticity, and isolation make us all too prone to accept or to drift into what Tocqueville labels a “soft” despotism. The fundamental