• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

What, in de Tocqueville's view, are the virtues and what are the vices of democratic government?

Extracts from this document...


What, in de Tocqueville's view, are the virtues and what are the vices of democratic government? Democracy in America was written by Tocqueville to see how such a stable and prosperous democracy as America worked and to see why attempts at democratic government in France had failed so disastrously. The theme of the (often disorganised) book that emerges is how liberty is best preserved in the midst of the growing equality of conditions present in America. Tocqueville outlines many of the advantages he sees in democracy from the point of view of a French liberal. On the other hand, he also warns of the dangers of democratic government which manifests itself in many ways. Elements exist, however, within the American political system, that act against these dangerous democratic tendencies, and that is why, on the whole, Tocqueville is so admiring of American democracy. "Democratic laws tend to promote the welfare of the greatest number."1 It is clear that giving each citizen (which does not include certain groups, for example, slaves) the ability to choose the government that their interests will be served, rather than interests of an aristocracy or other minority. Therefore, from a utilitarian point of view, democracy helps establish what the interests of the majority are in society, and helps put those interests at the forefront of decision-making. Tocqueville refutes the claim made by some that democracy favours the prosperity of all. It does not do so, but merely "contributes to the well-being of the greatest number"2. ...read more.


The moral force that the opinion of the majority has on society is extremely powerful. As all are equal, no one opinion is greater than another; the opinion held by the majority must be the best one and this leads to a tendency to a abandon freedom of thought in democratic societies. Indeed, to go against it is contradictory to the principle of equality. In Tocqueville's view, this form of tyranny can be seen as even worse than past tyrannies: "Formerly tyranny used the clumsy weapons of chains and hangmen; nowadays even despotism, though it seemed to have nothing to learn, has been perfected by civilisation."9 There are two further intangible dangers of democracy. Firstly, democracy encourages individualism: "Individualism is of democratic origin, and threatens to grow as conditions get more equal."10 Equality tends to make people's interests focus in on themselves. Without the societal bonds/duties present as in aristocracy, people do not realise their dependence on each other. Secondly, democracy encourages materialism. The passion for equality results in citizens thinking that they ought to be able to have as much wealth as everyone else. Indirectly, materialism also comes from the philosophical tendency fostered by democracies to disdain lofty ideas or thoughts of eternity. Therefore, people may neglect to use their political freedom which may lead to people willingly abandoning freedom for benevolent despotism on the promise that this better provides and ensures an orderly society with material prosperity. ...read more.


Above all, he has a passionate love for liberty, and this is why he writes about the beauty of democracy as found in America. But his work also serves as a warning of the dangerous trends within some forms of democracy that threaten liberty, as well as some of the means by which liberty can be preserved, which France lacked institutionally and intangibly. These ideas are summarised by Tocqueville in the last few lines of the book: "The nations of our day cannot prevent conditions of equality from spreading in their midst. But it depends upon themselves whether equality is to lead to servitude or freedom, knowledge or barbarism, prosperity or wretchedness."16 1 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America 2 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America 3 Jack Lively, Social and Political Thought of Alexis de Tocqueville 4 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America 5 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America 6 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America 7 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America 8 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America 9 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America 10 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America 11 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America 12 Alexis de Tocqueville, Journeys to England and Ireland 13 Siedentrop, Two Liberal Traditions 14 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America 15 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America 16 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America ?? ?? ?? ?? Theodore Roos 07/05/2007 Page 1 of 4 ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our AS and A Level Pressure Groups section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related AS and A Level Pressure Groups essays

  1. Assess the contribution of interest groups to democratic government

    Thus, Interests groups and corporations with large amounts of resources and a great number of access points allow them to exert more influence, which reduces participation amongst other aspects of society and leads to the assertion of plutocracy. Following this view, the fact that certain groups have greater influence means that sectional interests may impede on the greater good.

  2. DETAINING TERRORIST SUSPECTS Democracy and judicial review:The main opposition to judicial review is that ...

    * For the most part the article is against democracy-it suggests that democracy often steps on its own feet-" liberal democracies adopt measures infringing human rights in ways that are wholly disproportionate to the crisis"- this suggests that democracy is not working as it should.

  1. Cuban Government structure.

    The council of ministers consists of a president, who is head of government, a vice president, and heads of major ministries and government agencies. Council of state The council of state is a permanent committee of the People's power' system (ANPP). It can issue laws, propose legislation, and constitutional reforms.

  2. In what ways, if at all, might it be said that democracy ensures power ...

    A pluralist democracy is a form of democracy that 'operates through the capacity of organised groups and interests to articulate popular demands and ensure government responsiveness.'(Heywood,2002). This means that people are able to ensure their power through interest groups such as trade unions and pressure groups, pressure groups are one of they main groups that ensure this.

  1. This house believes that democracy is undesirable for a good society".

    * Some people, it is argued, will always feel left out, as the majority rule means that minority groups are not always provided for. There cannot always be laws that are in everyone's interests. * Democracy can be very dangerous, as in representative democracies, there is a huge amount of

  2. Analyse whether Britain is a true democracy

    o Charismatic ~ A person who seems charming or captivating, possessing an extraordinary ability to attract; "a charismatic leader"; "a magnetic personality" who can have the ability to lead and influence large numbers of people. Example: Nelson Mandela As a democratised Britain we have the power to exercise and influence our rights as citizens.

  1. What was the importance of the Pisistratid tyranny for the development of Athens?

    Then the huge festival called Great Dimysia where there were tragic plays brought in as an entertainment for the Athenian people. The reason that these are good things is because Pisistratus tried to encourage the arts to come into Athenian life, he was also fairly religious, and this favoured well with the people.

  2. We Are The 100%. Many agree with the cause and consider the Occupy ...

    economic recovery, Americans lost their hope that his presidency would result in change. Bradley Schiller of the Los Angeles Times wrote: Our frustrations are more the product of Washington than Wall Street. We have been promised a lot and received little.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work