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Political Thinking POL 161. D&B 38-52. Alexis de Tocqueville - Democracy in America. Tocqueville was a French aristocrat that traveled the US in the early 1830’s When he returned to France he wrote about his experiences in a 2 volume work titled Democracy in America

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Political thinking pol 161

Political ThinkingPOL 161

D&B 38-52


Alexis de tocqueville democracy in america
Alexis de Tocqueville - Democracy in America

  • Tocqueville was a French aristocrat that traveled the US in the early 1830’s

  • When he returned to France he wrote about his experiences in a 2 volume work titled Democracy in America

  • Saw democracy as an irresistible force, and felt that it was basically a good thing

  • He also warned that democracy promotes mediocrity

  • It promotes mediocrity because it celebrates equality

  • When everyone is equal there will be pressures to conform

  • Called this pressure to conform “the tyranny of the majority”


Alexis de tocqueville democracy in america1
Alexis de Tocqueville Democracy in America

  • Common people are easily swayed by strong leaders who mislead the masses leading to tyranny or despotism

  • An aristocracy would help prevent this because a class of people with elevated property and privileges will protect against this

  • Once democracy and equality overcome the aristocracy there is nothing to stop despotism from destroying liberty


Alexis de tocqueville democracy in america2
Alexis de Tocqueville Democracy in America

  • Tocqueville did see a positive in democracy

    • One that joined republicanism to the democratic ideal

  • He felt civic virtue could be promoted through participation

  • When neighbors begin to work together to solve problems they get attached to their community

  • This then allows the individuals to think about community before themselves

  • This massive participation could lead to a deep rooted devotion to the common good

  • Tocqueville specifically loved New England Town Hall meetings and shared responsibility of jury duty


Democratic participation and political education j s mill
Democratic Participation and Political Education- J.S. Mill

  • In 19th century England, the discussion favoring democracy centered on two concerns

    • Self-protection

    • Self-development

  • The “philosophical radicals” know as the Utilitarian's, the duty of the government is “to promote the greatest happiness of the greatest number”

  • They figured the best way to do this was through a representative democracy

  • This will have elected men that will look out for citizens best interests


Democratic participation and political education j s mill1
Democratic Participation and Political Education- J.S. Mill

  • Mill feels that political participation is valuable because it allows for self-development

  • Like Tocqueville, Mill feels democracy strengthens the virtue of common people

  • For Mill it is political participation not merely voting for representatives that will educate and improve people

  • This will teach them discipline, sharpen their intelligence, and shape their morality


Democratic participation and political education j s mill2
Democratic Participation and Political Education- J.S. Mill

  • Pg. 52 (Still more salutatory…He is made to feel himself one of the public, and whatever is for their benefit to be for his benefit.)

  • This quote shows the gradual extension of the democratic franchise in the last 150 years.

  • The right to vote for all males was not accomplished until 1885 in Britain

  • The US did not see the vote extend to all citizens until the passing of the 19th amendment

  • Switzerland, the world’s oldest democracy did not grant women the right to vote until 1971


Democratic participation and political education j s mill3
Democratic Participation and Political Education- J.S. Mill

  • As late as the 1960’s blacks in the US saw huge obstacles to voting such as poll taxes and literacy tests

  • Are we over this obstacle, have we achieved full democratic participation?

  • All and all almost everyone in the so –called Western democracies accepts democracy as the best from of government

  • But those countries that are not democratic claim it is the worst kind of evil

  • Do you agree?


The democratic ideal review
The Democratic Ideal Review

  • Democracy is now so popular that most ideologies claim to favor it

  • However they all interpret the word differently and tend to compete with others

  • Democracy is not a single thing, as our brief history makes painstakingly clear

  • Democracy is a lot like “true love”, most all desire it, and it is definitely defined differently by each person

  • We all agree that democracy is “rule by the people” but exactly what that means is vague

    • Who are people? Common people? Land Owners? Adult Males? Everyone? Felons?


The democratic ideal review1
The Democratic Ideal Review

  • How are they to rule?

    • Direct? Indirect?

  • If others vote for you do you cease to govern yourself?

  • Should we follow majority rule?

    • How then do you protect minority rights when they offend the majority?

  • If we limit majority rule, are we retreating from democracy?

  • Term limits- are these good?

    • Do they actually help make the government responsive to the people?

    • Do they make America less democratic because we are not allowed to vote for those representatives we like, time and again?


The democratic ideal review2
The Democratic Ideal Review

  • Sick of questions yet? (wow, that was a question too!)

  • The obvious point is that we even in this class, much like our government have multiple answers to these questions

  • Do all these questions prove how unstable democracy is?

  • This is generally the reason that the United States is a republic

  • Which one do you think cares more power with the American people?

    • This is why we have created our hybrid of Democratic Republicanism


The democratic ideal review3
The Democratic Ideal Review

  • Democracy does remain attractive because of its connection to freedom and equality

  • Does it imply that everyone will be free and equal to each other?


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