Chapter 28: Alexis De Tocqueville and Democracy in America
Chapter 28: Alexis De Tocqueville and Democracy in America POLS 1336
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Chapter 28 Alexis De Tocqueville and Democracy in America Alexis de Tocqueville a b c d e f Journeyed to America Company of Gustave de Beaumont Study of American penal institutions I used it as a passport to make it possible for me to penetrate everywhere in the United States Democracy in America Looked to America because he thought that he could best study here a central question regarding modern democracy i Whether the inevitable march to equality associated with the advent and progress of democracy as the governing power in the world was compatible with liberty ii Set out to investigate both the specific character of American democracy and general character of democracy s progress in the world iii Sacred character as if rise of democracy is part of God s plan for the human race Thinks that democratic revolution could use some guidance i Needs new science of politics Equality of conditions i Central problem of modern democracy will be the tension between the passion for equality for equality it feeds and the spirit of liberty it wishes to preserve Book is divided into two volumes i Vol 1 is focused on the laws and political customs of American democracy ii Studies sentiments and opinions that its democratic conditions have produced Key parts of Tocqueville s account of the causes of the American republic i The particular and accidental situation in which providence has placed the Americans ii The laws iii The habits and customs of the people Republican Government and the Tyranny of the Majority a Operation of republican government in the United States according to Tocqueville is distinguished by the Tranquil reign of the majority which has time to recognize itself and to certify its existence and is the common source of powers b Tocqueville insists that in America the enlightened will of the people the true expression of the popular will is not the same as the will of the majority This enlightened will acknowledges moral and political limits that protect interests other than that of the majority including the common interest and preserve the liberty of all c Tocqueville agrees with James Madison in Federalist 10 that the goal of republican government is to secure the public good and private rights against an overbearing majority and at the same time to preserve the spirit and form of popular government i Thinks that the constant threat to republican institutions is the tendency of the majority to overstep the barriers intended to thwart the tyrannical imposition of its will ii Believes that the failure of a democratic republic would result not from a weakness of its government and an inability to act but from the irresistible force of its democratic institutions d Tyranny would characterize the failure of modern republics Ill The Laws and the Perpetuation of Republican Government 0 Tocqueville distinguishes three categories of laws as contributing more than all others to the maintenance of the republic The federal form of govt The township institutions The constitution of the judicial power 0 Tocqueville is fully aware of the Constitution s singular importance a The Federal Form of Government i Advantage of a federal system is that is combines the power of a great republic and the security of a small one i Small republics are the seat of tranquility and freedom i Federalist 51 1 Madison points to the threat of the reiterated oppressions of factious majorities within the narrow limits of small states iv Federalist IO 1 Speaks of the advantage of large republics concerning this problem because of their greater multiplicity of interests v Tocqueville thinks that small republics offer few incentives and many barriers to despotic power with the result that freedom is their natural condition b Intermediary Institutions The Township i New England townships constitute the type of provincial institutions in which the people acquire the ability to govern themselves ii Because these intermediary institutions townships municipal bodies and counties are primarily loyal to the interests of the smaller circle of their community they serve to protect their localities against oppressive interference by the state legislature iii The township system is the basis of republican government at its highest level iv The township system is thus the basis of republican government at its highest level c The Constitution of Judicial Power i Although the American judicial power is very similar to that of the other countries Tocqueville argues that it has a decidedly greater political influence on society ii Although the American judicial power is very similar to that of the other countries Tocqueville argues that it has a decidedly greater political influence on society 1 It provides an important arena in which the people may educate themselves and refine their judgment as to the responsible government of their society iii Moreover the judicial power not only must administer justice but also must encourage the people s reverence for the law since such reverence is crucial to the stability of the Union IV The Roots of American Constitutional Principles a b Most important law is the Federal Constitution itself In constituting the legislative power the architects of the federal Constitution created a bicameral legislature comprising a House of Representatives elected by the people and with a short term of office and a Senate indirectly elected through the State legislatures and with a long term of office The Federal Constitution ensures that the executive branch has the authority and the power to fulfill the duties of an executive nature and although in America the executive is ultimately limited by the legislative branch it has been armed with weapons such as the suspensive veto by which it can assert some significant independence Constitution reflects the wisdom and integrity of its makers who perceiving the only real threat to America would stem from the abuse of freedom had the courage to say what they believed to be true because they were animated by a warm and sincere love of liberty and they ventured to propose restrictions because they were resolutely opposed to destruction Necessary to consider Tocqueville s view that the federal system and the principles of the Constitution generally are the natural outgrowth of the development of republican govt in the states and of the roots of this govt in the townships V Conclusion a American democracy can be traced to two foundings i Puritanism of original New England townships ii Constitutional principles of Enlightenment thought