Approaches to Tocqueville (Tocqueville's "Democracy in…
Approaches to Tocqueville
Tocqueville's Comparative Perspectives (S. Drescher)
United States as Example or Exception?
1835: France and US principle targets of comparison, England large secondary role
1840: Comparative approach less obvious
1835: Purpose of America's political example facilitating France's escape from cycle of revolution and despotism --> Democracy in America calls on French readers to become free and equal political association of citizens
1835: Tocqueville used America to imagine the future of the West, as "empirical benchmark" for impact of "equality of conditions"
1835 --> 1840: Methodological step of shifting America from the category of the best model of the future to that of the best exception to the rule
The Role of Tyranny
1835: Tyranny of the majority as principal threat to political freedom in US
1840: Focus on moral weight of the majority to inhibit intellectual political novelty, not direct political abuse of majoritarian power
New topic in 1840: Concept of
= democracy's central thrust towards civic apathy, withdrawal and self-imposed powerlessness (opposite of self-government)
"Americans have fought the individualism to which equality gave birth, and they have conquered it" --> Individuality in the US is the counter-example to individualisme
"For Tocqueville, comparison lay at the heart of clear thought and informed action"
Tocqueville, Political Philosopher (P. Manet)
Defining Equality of Conditions
What is democratic social state? "equality of conditions" --> What is equality of conditions? "the original fact"
Tocqueville explains what democracy does/produces without achieving a clear definition of what it is
Shows that democracy transforms every aspect of human life
The original fact is not so much equality of conditions, but
equalisation of conditions
(= constant movement toward greater equality of conditions)
Democracy and Aristocracy
Tocqueville's interpretation of European history based on polarity between equality and inequality of conditions, or between "democracy" and "aristocracy"
Tocqueville uses terms "democracy" and "aristocracy" differently than Plato and Aristotle
Tocqueville included Athens under heading "aristocracy"
Tocqueville's use of terms actually refers to two different types of human beings
Tocqueville's "Democracy in America" Reconsidered (J. T. Schleifer)
Sense of movement, which T. observed in US = one of the essential elements of his understanding and definition of democracy
A democratic society is a society in motion, a society open to change, to the new, to the future
Tocqueville tries to reassure those disturbed by the advent of democracy
"Democracy doesn't destroy, but instead transforms; it bestows another character, gives things a new twist"
Tocqueville on Threats to Liberty in Democracies (M. Richter)
Tocqueville conflates the concepts of "despotism" and "tyranny"
1835: Depicts a tyranny of the majority over though and expression --> Concludes that there are political and legal means for minimizing such constraints (e.g. decentralization)
1840: Dystopia of a paternal state that reduces it's citizens to sheep incapable of even conceiving the possibility of governing themselves ("democratic despotism")
"Tocqueville, by his thick descriptions of actual and potential dangers to liberty in democracies, often compensated for the lack of precision in his definitions and political language"