Tocqueville and democracy

Essay by sunsunsun2000University, Bachelor'sB-, June 2004

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Tocqueville is best known for "Democracy in America" (1835-40), which was a perceptive analysis of the U.S. political and social system in the early 19th century. Tocqueville's study analysed the vitality, the excesses and the potential future of American democracy. Tocqueville focused on his of the 'tyranny of majority' as he began his description of American democratic practices; it is also perhaps the best-known concept of democratic despotism Tocqueville introduced in his work (Schleifer, 1980; Zetterbaum, 1967). Tyranny of majority, as viewed by Tocqueville outlined several risks and problems within a democratic paradigm that we will further explore in this essay. Tocqueville also believed that USA had formed mechanisms that stopped the 'tyranny' from developing, which this essay will also investigate as well as evaluating the value of those mechanisms for contemporary New Zealand.

For Tocqueville, the primary meaning of tyranny of majority was shunning and silencing the individual and minority ideas to result in conformity of opinion- the opinion of the majority (Schleifer, 1980, p.211).

"The moral authority of the majority is based on the notion that there is much more enlightenment and wisdom in a numerous assembly than in a single man" (Tocqueville, 1969, p.247). Perhaps the most noteworthy was the overwhelming authority which public opinion in America had not over just judges, legislators, and other public official, but also over minorities and private nonconforming individuals. But what most troubled Tocqueville was the "subtle but irresistible moral pressure, which the majority could bring to bear, rather than any political, legal, or even physical coercion." (Schleifer, 1980, p. 196)

"In America the majority has enclosed thought within a formidable fence.

A writer is free inside that area, but woe to the man, who goes beyond it."

(Tocqueville, 1969, p.255)

Tocqueville emphasized equality as the problem of democracy.