report on Alexis de Tocqueville and his work “Democracy in America


Alexis de Tocqueville



Say that Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) was a philosopher or a scientist is decrease. Tocqueville was, primarily, a "man of letters" who observes the social reality, He works with ideas and cultivates the word. He was born into an aristocratic family who suffered from the flood of the revolution. They were not little guys, cousins ​​and relatives of Alexis de Tocqueville who died at that time.

As a man of letters, the author of Democracy in America, I could appreciate all. In all his writings we found a strong dislike for the all-encompassing philosophical systems. In his notebooks is this reflection:


For me, detest these absolute systems that represent all events in history as dependent on large main causes linked by the chain of doom, and extracting the man in the history of the human race. I seem narrow under the pretense of generality and under false air of mathematical exactness. I believe (…) many important historical facts can only be explained by accidental circumstances and that many others remain totally unexplained. Even more, luck, seeking knowledge that decrypting, plays an important role in everything that happens on the world stage; although firmly I believe that luck does nothing that has not been prepared in advance. The foregoing facts, the nature of institutions, the height of the minds and the condition of morality are the materials that make those accidents that astonish and alarm us.[1]

Tocqueville is not enclosed within the braces of determinism. The story is not inevitable, but neither is the product of individual caprice. The policy swings between necessity and freedom. exposes Tocqueville:

Providence has not created mankind or the entirely dependent entirely free. It is true that around every man a fatal circle that can never happen is drawn; but within the wide margin of the circle it is powerful and free; and as it is with a man it is with communities.[2]

In the other great work of Tocqueville, The old regime and revolution, He stresses this point: there are forces that can not be ignored but can be regulated. The metaphor that defines this view is the boat at sea. The captain is unable to eliminate the storm, but you can read the sign of the winds and tides to drive the boat to safety. That fits together is the idea that democracy Tocqueville. It is an irresistible force. Wanting to stop it is absurd. The book was written, as he himself, with a conviction: "The irresistible and universal advent of democracy in the world." That is the fate of humanity. At least France, France where always think. Tocqueville noted in the foreword to the twelfth edition:

It is no longer, It is true, whether we in France royalty or the republic; but we question remains whether we will have a hectic republic or a quiet republic, a regular or irregular republic republic, a peaceful republic or a bellicose republic, a liberal republic or an oppressive republic, a republic that threatens the sacred rights of property and the family or a republic that recognizes and enshrines.

Democracy in America this is, as its name indicates, a reflection on democracy. Seeks to build a "new political science to a whole new world." The United States is the material in which Tocqueville cultivates his intuitions. But it is clear that there is a book on democracyof America. Tocqueville observed the United States, but I thought every moment in your country. In a letter he wrote that, although they spoke very little French in that work, He did not write a single page without thinking about it. points, also, observing that the United States is not intended to slavishly copy their institutions. It is borrow its principles, not to translate its laws thoughtlessly.

The word "democracy" is in the title of the work and throughout the book. However, as some authors have analyzed, there is no clear conception of democracy in this text. Tocqueville is conceptualizing, rather, confused. The sense in which the term is generally used social. A structure of equality, a social form that opposes the aristocratic structure of the world. More than just a political notion, a form of government, democracy is a sociological category.

There is a model that is behind the writings of Tocqueville: Montesquieu. The author of Law spirit He had analyzed the forms of moderate government. He concluded that freedom could be secured in different political regimes: in republics and monarchies. In a system of constitutional monarchy where inequality prevails may have a wide margin of freedom.

Equality is, under this background, a problem, unknown. Nothing surprised both his visit to the United States as a level playing field. The absence of an order hierarchically ordered: that's the big news. The Americans they were born the same can not have become equal. It "gives the public spirit certain direction, turn certain laws; the new maximum rulers, and particular habits to the governed. "This equality is the" creative principle "of all American life: custom, language, laws and political institutions. The strength of social equality is the force –and danger– of democracy. First of all, Democracy is a form of relationship between men.

And democracy that seen in the United States has a force that will sweep the world. This is, following the marine metaphor, an inevitable storm. Men must live with it, therefore they must regulate or be overwhelmed by it. But in no way can ignore. Thus, you need to know your strength and direction to try to iron out their sharp points.

For large and sudden that are the events that have just taken place at a time before our eyes, the author of this work has the right to say they have not surprised. This book was written fifteen years ago, under the constant concern and one thought: the irresistible and universal advent of democracy in the world. Who read it will find in it, on each page, a solemn warning to remind men that society changes its ways, humanity and great destinations condition approach.[3]

Before the "irresistible advent of" democracy, you need to make a "warning." That is the tone that runs through the work of Tocqueville: a call for caution, a cry that urges caution against the inevitable. In the United States Tocqueville found that the principle of popular sovereignty is a principle in action. It is no "buried" as in other societies. "It is recognized by the customs, proclaimed by the laws, It extends freely and unhindered reaches its logical conclusion. "

The central question that Tocqueville, that he saw himself as a liberal new type, It is why the US democracy is liberal? Your answer points in three directions: 1) Accidents and the particular situation of American society; 2) laws, and 3) customs.[4]

As incidental elements, Tocqueville, After the student of Montesquieu, It highlights the geographic data. The United States has the blessing of lack of threatening neighbors; military confronts virtually no risks or have to bleed its economy by war spending. It would seem that nature works in favor of democracy.

The second point is the legal element. In this area Tocqueville highlighted the impact of the federal character of the US Constitution. The federal regime fortunately combined the advantages of small states and big states. Under this complex mechanism of constitutional engineering the strength of a powerful state that can defend itself from external threats and vitality of small states that allow government adaptation to the circumstances of the locations combined. American decentralization capture the traveler's attention: "The administrative power (…) It offers nothing hierarchical center or anything. (…) Power exists but do not know where to find your representative. "And in another paragraph warns that there is in the United States" any center which rays converge to come. "[5] This has healthy administrative purposes, political and, especially, morales: "In the United States the country is felt everywhere."

Also within the constitutional field, Tocqueville analyzes the functions of the US judiciary is, undoubtedly, a weight essential in democratic balance. Highlights the power of judges to review the constitutionality of laws. "The Americans have recognized the right of judges base their decisions on the Constitution rather than on laws. In other words, They have allowed them to not enforce laws that they consider unconstitutional. "In short, "Americans have entrusted their courts an immense political power; but, by forcing them to not attack the laws but by judicial means, They have greatly diminished the dangers of that power. "[6] Paragraphs that were read and reread by several generations of Mexican liberals of the nineteenth century. Mariano Otero, among themselves.

The US Constitution also allowed a very free movement of properties, people and capital. It is notable in this regard the reflection that makes the French sociologist on rules governing inheritance in the United States.

Perhaps one of the aspects of American society that caught the attention of the French traveler was his association exhuberancia. In the United States there is full freedom of association and a culture of self-organization that has no parallel in the old world. In each place, for every problem, to defend all interest, any project to promote voluntary associations gestate. What makes Tocqueville to emphasize the importance and impact of this associative practice is to modernize the republican tradition, incorporating it into the universe of commercial society. The United States points the way to fruitfully project the private interests to the political world.

There's a noticeable difference between the old regime and the new democracy. While aristocratic society is ruled by harsh social categories that are not the product of individual will, but inheritance or a series of legal provisions, in liberal society associations are born, grow, They multiply and die by voluntary action of individuals. It is about, course, a way to enhance citizen power. Also a brake to the despotic power of government and a democratic school. This associative effervescence becomes an essential practice of democracy: the regime does not fear the autonomous organization of its citizens.

Tocqueville also studies the customs, the ways of American democracy. The stability of democracy imported three causes. But they do not have the same weight: "I would say that the physical causes contribute to it unless the laws and laws infinitely less than the customs."[7]

Clearly reading Democracy in America Tocqueville's feelings against democratization are as ambiguous as his use of the word. In a letter Tocqueville saw himself as a character between two worlds. I was born, He said in a letter, not yet died when the old world, I lived when still not implemented the new world. Thus, concluded, I could not feel attached to any of those times. In equalizing conditions Tocqueville saw positive things but also sensed the vulgarization of social life, the hint of a new despotic forms. Its basic intention, it's been said, is the liberalization of democracy far more than the democratization of liberalism.

Threats of equality are repeated: "During my stay in the United States, I observed that a democratic social state such as Americans, It offered a unique facility for the establishment of despotism. "[8] Equal conditions can lead to what Tocqueville called "tyranny of the majority." The tyranny of the majority is a consequence of equality as it leads to the idea that "there is more light and wisdom in many men gathered in one. "Warns Tocqueville who does not know any other country where less creativity and freedom where there is more superficial than the United States. Most bullies by imposing a code of conformity and homogeneity. "I know of no country where there are, in general, less independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America. "It's that there" most trace a formidable circle around thought. Within these limits the writer is free, but, Oh if you dare to leave it! You not are having to fear an act of faith, but it is embittered vexations of all kinds of persecution every day. Her political career is closed; He offended the only power that has the power to abrírsela. "[9] Therefore there has been great writers in the United States, Tocqueville. This perspective synthesizes with great precision Norberto Bobbio:

For a liberal like Tocqueville power is always harmful, no matter whether it is real or popular. The political problem par excellence is referring not so much who holds power, but how to control it and limit.[10]

Tocqueville also discusses the impact of equality in human relations and the emergence of a consumerist individualism. American democracy has also eroded the traditional ties that bound men in a community. The notion of parental melts, man focuses on his selfish interests and ignores neighbor.

In one of the last chapters of the Democracy in America, Tocqueville draws the profile of the new despotism approaching.

I can only imagine under what novel features despotism may be known in the world; I see an innumerable multitude of men equal and similar, endlessly rotating over themselves to procurare vile and vulgar pleasures with which fill his soul.

Retired each other, lives as strange fate of all other, and their children and their particular friends form for him the entire human species: It is next to his fellow citizens, but not see; the touch and not feel; It exists only in himself and he just, and while her family is, it can be said that no country.

On these immense power rises and protect in charge of assuring their enjoyments and watching over their fate. Absolute, thorough, regular, warned and benign, it resembles the paternal power, if as he had intended to prepare men for manhood; but, on the contrary, it seeks only to keep them fixed irrevocably in childhood and wants citizens enjoy, provided they do not think but enjoy. He works on your happiness, but it claims to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that, It provides your security and your needs, facilitates their pleasures, conducts its main business, He directs their industry, regulates their estates, He divides their inheritances and laments not being able to spare them the work of thinking and the pain of living.

In this way, every day less useful and rarer makes use of free will, encloses the action of freedom in a narrower space, and gradually remove every citizen to use self. Equality prepares men for all these things, It has to suffer from the often even look at them as a benefit.

He is having taken so forth between his powerful hands to each individual and of having formed at will, the sovereign extends its arms over society as a whole and covers the surface of a swarm of complex laws, detailed uniform y, through which the rarest spirits and the most vigorous souls can not break through and get ahead of the crowd: does not destroy the wills, but softens, the subject and directs; rarely requires to work, but it constantly opposes that Obre; not destroy, but prevents creating; the Bullies, but oppresses; mortifies, embrutece, extinguishes, weakens and reduces, in order to every nation a flock of timid and industrious animals, whose pastor is the ruler.[11]

The value of freedom is imposed on all things: "I suppose I would have loved freedom at all times, but in which we are inclined to worship me. "But understand that freedom can no longer rely on the privileges and the aristocracy. It is necessary to cultivate in the middle of equality. "It is not to rebuild an aristocratic society, but to flush out the freedom within the democratic society. "[12] By this swing between the old and the new society has been called Tocqueville's "Hamlet of political science."

[1] Alexis de Tocqueville, Recollections, p. 64.

[2] Democracy in America, p. ..

[3] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, p. 42.

[4] I will continue in these paragraphs reading Raymond Aron in the work cited above. Ps 248 ff.

[5] Democracy in America, p. 88.

[6] Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Chapter VI of Part One.

[7] The same work, p. 304

[8] Tocqueville, p. 632.

[9] The same work, p. 260.

[10] Norberto Bobbio, Liberalism and democracy, Mexico, Fondo de Cultura Economica, p. 64-65.

[11] same work, p. 633

[12] same work, p. 636


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