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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Tocqueville's Democracy in America Essays

The dangers facing American democracy as interpreted by Alexis De Tocqueville

            Written by Alexis De Tocqueville, the Democracy in America is a highly ambitious book that studies the deeper context of the state of democracy in America during the 19th century. He wanted to gain additional insights on how a democratic country actually works, after having witnessed the failed attempts of France to maintain and uphold a democratic form of government. But because the 19th century has seen an increasing trend towards the shift to democracy, De Tocqueville travelled to America to uncover how democracy works – including its strengths – and what are the dangers faced by these kinds of government.

            The book is divided into two parts. The first volume provides a general and more positive insight about democracy, including the structure of the government and the various institutions that help maintain democracy, freedom and equality among the population. The second volume, on the other hand, delves into the individual effects of democracy on the mores and thoughts prevalent in the society. Taking the entire work as a whole, there are several problems that a democratic country faces and these include the following: selfishness and individualism.

            Materialism, selfishness and individualism, therefore, are three side-effects that could increase the chance of having a despotic government. According to De Tocqueville, individualism has a democratic origin, but as the condition of the government grows more stable and progressive, it could become an inevitable threat. The main reason for this is that individualism resulting from equality could make the people more focused on themselves and not on the larger society that governs them. When this happens, there would be no more societal duties or bonds that hold people together; unlike in an aristocratic government, where people are obliged and forced to realize that they are dependent and reliant with one another. This means that too much materialism, selfishness and individualism could contribute to the development of despotism, because once citizens grow too individualistic, they will never fulfill or perform their duties and even exercise their freedom and liberty. This passion for materialism and selfishness means that people want to obtain more wealth and power as everyone else does. From this, despotism could grow and become more dangerous eventually disregarding the teachings and mores of democracy. 

The effect of this, according to De Tocqueville, is that people could become so absorbed with materialistic things and individual power in pursuit of wealth and comfort, neglecting or abandoning their roles and duties as members of the democratic society. They may even realize that democracy should be abandoned, because aristocracy is more favorable for them to preserve their wealth, which means that benevolent despotism is born from the selfishness, materialism and individualism that satisfy the interest of the people. These are just some of the despotic tendencies that threaten to ruin the progress of a democratic government, and these are the observations that De Tocqueville had during his travel to the United States.

            In this paper, we have discussed the various dangers faced by a democratic country, as outlined by Alexis De Tocqueville. But even if there are several disadvantages that democracy could bring, it could be combated through successful implementation of the following – influential and independent judiciary branches; local self-government, well-educated minorities including women, freedom of the press and association, and de-centralization of administrative powers. Through these strategies, De Tocqueville imagines a utopian government where “equality is to lead to servitude or freedom, knowledge and prosperity” (226). Through his ambitious work, De Tocqueville hoped to instill the ideals of freedom and equality to direct people into a balanced and harmonious democracy.

Works Cited

De Tocqueville, Alexis. Democracy in America. 1969. New York: Anchor. Print.

More Essays on Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America:
1. Individualism and Self-Interest for Alexis de Tocqueville
2. Freedom and Equality for De Tocqueville

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