Alexis Detocqueville Essay Research Paper Alexis de — страница 3

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paradox of democracy, as he understands it, is that equality of conditions is compatible with tyranny as well as with freedom. A species of equality can co-exist with the greatest inequality. Left to it’s own devices, democracy is actually prone and ready prey for the establishment of tyranny, whether of one over all, of the man over the few, or even of all over all. Democracy originates a new form of despotism, society tyrannizing over itself. The only limitation imposed on the central authority is that its rules and its power be uniform and applied to all without distinction. This restriction actually facilitates the establishment of despotism, for government is relieved of the responsibility for making inquiry “into an infinity of details, which must be attended to if

rules have to be adapted to different men.” It is clear from Tocqueville’s writings that he believed the sway of governmental opinion to be an evil unto itself. He realizes that so pervasive is the pendulum swing of public opinion in a democracy that it sets the tone of the whole society, to the extent that the governors can barely come to have wishes different from those of the ruled. The governors, however much they think themselves independent of the masses, are nonetheless their servants. As Tocqueville expresses it, the “universal moderation moderates the sovereign himself.” And what the majority of the governed wants is soft despotism. Tocqueville describes the majority of men of his time as cautious, timorous, and more concerned with preserving what they have:

“It may readily be conceived that if men passionately bent upon physical gratifications desire eagerly, they are also easily discouraged; as their ultimate object is to enjoy, the means to reach that object must be prompt and easy, or the trouble of acquiring the gratification will be greater than the gratification itself. Their prevailing frame of mind, then, is at once ardent and relaxed, violent and enervated. Death is often less dreaded by them than perseverance in continuous efforts to one end. Here, in my view, is another link between the tyranny of the majority and the new despotism. The men who surrender to soft, comfortable despotism are the men of the new majority who have enjoyed the first rewards of the universal pursuit of well-being. But their desires have outrun

their opportunities. Frightened at the prospect of losing what they have to those more able than themselves, the majority turn to government as the only power capable of protecting their rights and goods and of restraining the ambitions of the few. At the expense of the few, usually the wealthy, the government secures to the many a moderate enjoyment of the good things in life. This, the ground works for a new type of despotism revives the ancient discussion of the good man and the good citizen. Aristotle had pointed out that except under the most chance of circumstances the two were not identical. The main point of his argument is that it is far easier to be a good citizen, since this requires only subservience to the principles of the regime under which one lives. Their

goodness or badness is irrelevant: one could be a good citizen of a bad regime. To be a good man, however, one must live in a society that encourages the realization of a man’s moral and intellectual potentials. It is barely conceivable that a good man might develop under a tyranny, but if he did it would be an instance of nature asserting herself over the normally sovereign way of life of the state. What Tocqueville discovered is that in a democracy, under certain conditions, it is easier to be a good man than a good citizen: “True, democratic societies which are not free may well be prosperous, cultured, pleasing to the eye, and even magnificent, such is the sense of power implicit in their massive uniformity; in them may flourish many private virtues [qualiti?s], good

fathers, honest merchants, exemplary landowners, and good Christians too…But, I make bold to say, never shall we find under such conditions a great citizen, still less than a great nation…” Furthermore, the decline of citizenship is not to be associated only with the appearance of the new despotism. One of the thoughts that Tocqueville makes most explicit in his work is that of all the democratic devices, he believes freedom of association to be most important. As in years gone by, the “aristocracy protected the liberties of the people against the encroachments of the sovereign, so in a democracy associations protect the rights of minorities against the tyranny of the majority.” The major thesis of “Democracy In America” is that the spread of democracy is a