Classics and the Western Canon discussion

Democracy in America
This topic is about Democracy in America
35 views
Democracy in America > Week 5: DIA Vol 1 Part 2 Ch. 5(XIII)

Comments Showing 1-48 of 48 (48 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

David | 2489 comments Chapter 5 ON THE GOVERNMENT OF DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA
What is Tocqueville so afraid of here? What does he mean when he says:
Things are different in America. There, the people rule unimpeded. They need fear no danger nor avenge any insult.
ON UNIVERSAL SUFFRAGE
Before now he seemed to rely upon a mostly homogeneous population to support a democracy, but here he says:
I had the opportunity to observe [universal suffrage’s] effects in various places and among races of men made virtual strangers to one another by language, religion, and mores. . .
CONCERNING THE PEOPLE’S CHOICES AND THE INSTINCTIVE PREFERENCES OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY
Tocqueville observes that:
. . .over the past half century the race of American statesmen has singularly shrunk in stature.
The reasons he sees for this are:
1. There are limits to time they can devote to study. Interestingly he adds that because people need to judge hastily, they can be easily fooled.
2. What democracy lacks, moreover, is not always the capacity to choose men of merit but the desire and taste to do so.
3. Equality in a democracy causes people to avoid those who are their betters.
4. Those who are better avoid careers in politics to avoid “lowering themselves”.
He concludes that: . . .anyone who looks upon universal suffrage as a guarantee of good choices is operating under a total illusion. Universal suffrage has other advantages, but not that one. He then counterbalances these defects with:

FACTORS THAT MAY PARTIALLY CORRECT THESE INSTINCTS OF DEMOCRACY
Tocqueville beautifully asserts that, In nations as well as individuals, however, it is more common to see the very imminence of danger act as midwife to extraordinary virtues. and this is the reason why America saw so many outstanding men in leading the break with Britain. The opposite is true during Influence of enlightenment and mores on the people’s choices. He goes on to observe that the further South and West from New England the more rudimentary the implementation of government institutions are. He describes the House of Representatives as vulgar, yet the Senate is more refined due to its two-stage election process. As previously noted, senators have been directly elected by the people with the passing of the 17th Amendment in 1913. I wonder why was this changed if Tocqueville thought these two-stage elections produced such a superior class statesmen?


message 2: by Michele (new)

Michele | 40 comments "2. What democracy lacks, moreover, is not always the capacity to choose men of merit but the desire and taste to do so."

Sad but true.


message 3: by Borum (last edited Apr 03, 2019 06:17PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Borum | 443 comments David wrote: "Chapter 5 ON THE GOVERNMENT OF DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA
What is Tocqueville so afraid of here? What does he mean when he says:
Things are different in America. There, the people rule unimpeded. They need fear no danger nor avenge any insult. "


In my Nolla/Schleifer version it says:
It is not the same in America. There, the people dominate without obstacles; there are no dangers to fear or wrongs to revenge. and the preceding paragraphs right before that says:
I know that I am walking here on fiery ground. Each of the words of this chapter must in some respects offend the different parties dividing my country ....
.... in Europe there is a struggle between two opposite principles. And we do note know precisely what should be attributed to the principles themselves or to the passions that the conflict has produced.


I think that considering the political turmoil of France and Tocqueville's precarious position as standing between both the democratic and aristocratic sides, he and everyone in France had some cause to fear from not just the opposing principle but also from inciting the passion of the opposing party.

Because I have the footnotes of how his father's comments and advices on his writing, I noticed how his father is always very careful in every nuance and wording that Alexis's manuscript so that he doesn't offhandedly touch on a controversial subject or offend any of the opposing parties or possible critics. Understandable concern from a father.
As a noblesse d'epee married to a family of noblesse de robe, Herve de Tocqueville must have had walked on some fine lines himself and Alexis must have been reminded time and again of the danger of insulting any of the opposing parties.


Borum | 443 comments David wrote: "
ON UNIVERSAL SUFFRAGE
Before now he seemed to rely upon a mostly homogeneous population to support a democracy, but here he says:
I had the opportunity to observe [universal suffrage’s] effects in various places and among races of men made virtual strangers to one another by language, religion, and mores. . .


I know! Do you think he's only talking about the homogeneous effect in New England being conducive to democracy? Whereas he sees that the Union encompassing the various nature of the different states (Louisiana, New England, Georgia, etc.) is the reason why universal suffrage is having unexpected effects on the democracy in America.


message 5: by Borum (last edited Apr 03, 2019 06:49PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Borum | 443 comments David wrote: " senators have been directly elected by the people with the passing of the 17th Amendment in 1913. I wonder why was this changed if Tocqueville thought these two-stage elections produced such a superior class statesmen? ..."

I found that odd, too. It seemed to run against the original intention of countering the populism of the House of Representatives. I looked up the wikipedia on the 17th amendment:
" According to Judge Jay Bybee of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, those in favor of popular elections for senators believed that two primary problems were caused by the original provisions: legislative corruption and electoral deadlocks.[11]
There was a sense that senatorial elections were "bought and sold", changing hands for favors and sums of money rather than because of the competence of the candidate. Between 1857 and 1900, the Senate investigated three elections over corruption.."

... Electoral deadlocks were another issue. Because state legislatures were charged with deciding whom to appoint as senators, the system relied on their ability to agree. Some states could not, and thus delayed sending representatives to Congress; in a few cases, the system broke down to the point where states completely lacked representation in the Senate.[14] Deadlocks started to become an issue in the 1850s, with a deadlocked Indiana legislature allowing a Senate seat to sit vacant for two years.[15] Between 1891 and 1905, 46 elections were deadlocked across 20 states"


David | 2489 comments Michele wrote: ""2. What democracy lacks, moreover, is not always the capacity to choose men of merit but the desire and taste to do so."

Sad but true."


I suppose the desire part of this encompasses what is termed every election in America as "poor voter turnout".

To shorten a long train of thought here, my question is that if Tocqueville is right when he says universal suffrage is not a guarantee of good choices, would mandatory participation make a better choice? Or is that where taste comes into play?

I know Brazil has mandatory voting and we have some Brazilian members. I am interested to hear their thoughts on this.


David | 2489 comments FACTORS THAT MAY PARTIALLY CORRECT THESE INSTINCTS OF DEMOCRACY
Tocqueville beautifully asserts that, In nations as well as individuals, however, it is more common to see the very imminence of danger act as midwife to extraordinary virtues. and this is the reason why America saw so many outstanding men in leading the break with Britain. The opposite is true during
Influence of enlightenment and mores on the people’s choices. He goes on to observe that the further South and West from New England the more rudimentary the implementation of government institutions are. He describes the House of Representatives as vulgar, yet the Senate is more refined due to its two-stage election process. Note, senators are now directly elected. Why was this changed if Tocqueville thought it produced such superior Senators?

THE INFLUENCE OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY ON ELECTION LAWS
The takeaway for me in this chapter was
The Americans chose to brave the first evil [frequent elections] rather than the second [infrequent elections]. In this choice they were guided far more by instinct than by reason, because democracy stimulates the taste for variety to the point of passion. The result of this is a singular mutability in legislation.
I like Jefferson’s suggestion of waiting period before enacting a law, but maybe a year is too long?

ON PUBLIC OFFICIALS UNDER THE CONTROL OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY
Tocqueville’s opinion here seems to be paradoxically both favorable but not without its drawbacks.
I can imagine no one more straightforward in his actions, more accessible to all the world, more attentive to requests, or more civil in his answers than a public man in the United States. I like this natural style in the government of democracy; in the inner strength that attaches more to the office than to the official, more to the man than to outward signs of power, I see something virile, which I admire.
But he seems to contradict himself when he answers his own question, What results from this? with:
Men of great talent and towering passions generally avoid power in order to pursue wealth. And often a man will assume responsibility for the state only if he feels he has little gift for managing his own affairs. It is to these causes as much as to poor choices by the voters that one must attribute the large number of very ordinary men in public office. I do not know if the people of the United States would vote for superior men if they ran for office, but there can be no doubt that such men do not run.



David | 2489 comments Borum wrote: "I know! Do you think he's only talking about the homogeneous effect in New England being conducive to democracy? Whereas he sees that the Union encompassing the various nature of the different states (Louisiana, New England, Georgia, etc.) is the reason why universal suffrage is having unexpected effects on the democracy in America."

That prompts the question, does a homogeneous population make the same choices and would they would then naturally see as good choices? Is that begging the question?


Borum | 443 comments David wrote: "Borum wrote: "I know! Do you think he's only talking about the homogeneous effect in New England being conducive to democracy? Whereas he sees that the Union encompassing the various nature of the ..."

It might generally make similiar choices but even identical twins who have always lived in the same house can have different opinions, and even if the majority of the population 'thought' of their choices as good, it wouldn't necessarily make them truly 'good'.


message 10: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4404 comments David wrote: "

What democracy lacks, moreover, is not always the capacity to choose men of merit but the desire and taste to do so

I suppose the desire part of this encompasses what is termed every election in America as "poor voter turnout"."


And the capacity part suggests that Americans as a whole are none too bright.

The 17th amendment, on the other hand, was passed, in part, to counter the corruption that developed in the millionaire's club that was the Senate.

I sometimes get the feeling that Tocqueville is a bit too hard on average everyday American citizens, and that he lets the aristocracy off a little too easy. Certainly the upper classes enjoyed the benefit of better education and easier access to information, but they weren't always for that reason better or more moral leaders.


Alexey | 288 comments Thomas wrote: "David wrote: "

What democracy lacks, moreover, is not always the capacity to choose men of merit but the desire and taste to do so

I suppose the desire part of this encompasses what is termed eve..."


As I understand in de Tocqueville’s time they were more interested in how to get the best government than in how to get rid of the bad one. Democracy is valued as the form of government in which you can easily change a government that did not work well. Aristocratic and quasi-aristocratic or broadly oligarchic bodies, on the other hand, are famous for their persistent corruption caused by irremovability of their members. Ans I think the case with the Senate is a good example. I always wonder how they have got two third of senators and of legislatures… 

From his analysis of the political institutions, I have concluded de Tocqueville followed some political theory and did not pay much attention to the facts, that were against it. Perhaps, I see it from another historical perspective.


Roger Burk | 1716 comments AdT predicts that democracies will not be able to rise to the needs of great and extended wars and other struggles. Judging by the experiences of the Civil War, the World Wars, and the Cold War, it seems he was wrong. And he forgets that aristocratic and despotic governments are also sometimes weak and vacillating. But I think Alexey is right--it's not so much that democracy results in choosing better leaders, it's that democracy provides a ready way to get rid of poor ones.


David | 2489 comments ON THE ARBITRARY POWER OF MAGISTRATES2 UNDER THE RULE OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY
On arbitrary laws Tocqueville says:
Nowhere has the law left more room for arbitrariness than in democratic republics, because there seems to be no need to be afraid of it. Indeed, it is fair to say that magistrates in democratic republics become freer as voting rights are extended down the social scale and terms of office made briefer.
Wouldn’t the mutability of law in a democracy eventually self-correct some of these arbitrary laws?

ADMINISTRATIVE INSTABILITY IN THE UNITED STATES
It seems Tocqueville did not think much of early America’s record keeping habits, or political mentoring capabilities. I wonder what he would think about Big Data and the career politicians of today?

ON PUBLIC EXPENDITURES UNDER AMERICAN DEMOCRACY
We seem to get a little bit of everything here based on the three classes. Trickle down economics favoring the wealthy, exemptions and increased spending favoring the poor, and the middle class who he pronounces the most economical. I found this quote an interesting one that seems to have some truth to it, but I don’t know why:
In democratic societies, moreover, there exists an urge to do something even when the goal is not precise, a sort of permanent fever that turns to innovation of every kind. And innovations are almost always costly.
In addition he suggests that democracies fail to economize because they lack the art of thrift. How did Tocqueville know about the $37 screws, a $7,622 coffee maker, $640 toilet seats?


David | 2489 comments ON THE INSTINCTS OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY IN SETTING THE SALARY OF PUBLIC OFFICIALS
Something tells me Tocqueville did not stick around long enough to observe everything and some conjectures were merely theoretical on paper conjectures, like this one:
In democracies, high salaries are authorized by a very large number of people, few of whom will ever have the opportunity to receive such generous compensation. In aristocracies, on the other hand, the people who authorize high salaries almost always entertain vague hopes of profiting from them.
DIFFICULTY OF DISCERNING THE FACTORS THAT ENCOURAGE ECONOMY IN THE AMERICAN GOVERNMENT
I didn’t quite know what he was getting at here.

CAN PUBLIC EXPENDITURES IN THE UNITED STATES BE COMPARED WITH PUBLIC EXPENDITURES IN FRANCE?
He goes through a lot of possibilities here but decides American and European expenditures cannot be properly compared. However, he does decide that the inevitable times of crisis will drive America’s taxes up level with other nations.


message 15: by David (last edited Apr 05, 2019 01:59PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

David | 2489 comments ON CORRUPTION AND VICES IN THE PEOPLE WHO GOVERN DEMOCRACY AND THEIR EFFECTS ON PUBLIC MORALITY
In aristocracies, rulers sometimes seek to corrupt.
In democracies they are often corrupt themselves.
In the former, their vices corrode the morality of the people directly.
In the latter, they exert an indirect influence that is even more to be feared.

I am not sure I understand the discrimination here. It seems to me any corrupt leader can both seduce or disgust depending on the virtues or moral proclivities of the various elements of the population at the time.

EFFORTS OF WHICH DEMOCRACY IS CAPABLE
He categorizes democracies capabilities at war as a weakness. I think history has shown this to be false.

ON AMERICAN DEMOCRACY’S POWER OVER ITSELF
Tocqueville concludes that American’s have the ability to correct errors over time.

HOW AMERICAN DEMOCRACY CONDUCTS FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Washington promoted commercial connections and warned against political connections and not to squander their peculiar situation, i.e., away from Europe. Jefferson advised that Americans should never put themselves in a situation to obtain privileges from foreign nations at the cost of obligations in return. Tocqueville states flat out that democracies are too provincial, lack worldly sophistication and are thus decidedly inferior when it comes to foreign interests. Democracies are also too easily influenced by the popular passions that it takes a great leader, such as Washington to restrain them from errors seen only in hindsight.


message 16: by Lily (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 4981 comments Borum wrote: "As a noblesse d'epee married to a family of noblesse de robe, Herve de Tocqueville must have had walked on some fine lines himself and Alexis must have been reminded time and again of the danger of insulting any of the opposing parties...."

Another tidbit from T's biography that feels relevant to understanding the postures he assumes in his writing:

(view spoiler)


David | 2489 comments We seem to keep wanting to conflate equality with merit. By betters I am going with those who are better able for whatever reason.

Would you rather take a chance on one of those first 400 people in the Boston telephone book performing your next major surgery, or someone who has been made better able and vetted to perform that major surgery through time, resources, education, and practical experience?


message 18: by David (last edited Apr 04, 2019 02:14PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

David | 2489 comments Patrice wrote: "what holds true for democratic representation does not hold true for skilled surgery."

I am not so sure about that.

Patrice wrote: "what do you think about T statement? do you think we don’t like to vote for our betters?

I guess I see it as a tendancy that can be overcome. I recall being told people in the 1930's were initially turned off by FDR's status as a wealthy elitist, until he developed his common touch and made himself more relatable to the majority of a population that was less well off than himself.


message 19: by Lily (last edited Apr 04, 2019 06:22PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 4981 comments David wrote: "...until he developed his common touch and made himself more relatable to the majority of a population that was less well off than himself. ..."

In the marketing world, that's called brand creation....

(Of course, those were the days, for better or for worse, when wheelchairs and affairs could be subdued in the flow of news information.)


David | 2489 comments A short but interesting aside on wealth and privilege being overcome by the common touch: Presidential History Blog: The Common Touch: Presidential Style

It seems there is some resistance to wealth and privilege, but it can be mitigated. I wonder if Tocqueville had heard the story of John Quincy Adams taking off his coat?


Roger Burk | 1716 comments AdT makes an interesting point about support for an active government. The rich favor it because they can afford the required taxes. The poor favor it because they are not asked to pay the required taxes. The middle class will be asked to pay taxes but will feel the pinch, so they oppose it. So I guess that can lead to a natural alliance between the upper and lower classes against the middle.


Alexey | 288 comments Roger, my mind immediately produced Disraeli as an example of such alliance, but I think many politicians have played this card.


message 23: by Monica (new)

Monica | 46 comments David wrote: "...I know Brazil has mandatory voting and we have have some Brazilian members. I am interested to hear their thoughts on this."

David, I personally believe that mandatory voting makes for worst choices as many people vote not because they are interested nor because they have studied the candidates' ideas but simply because they have to. So they choose based on poor criteria, sometimes simply because "this candidate is handsome" or "my neighbor recommended this one"... I feel that if voting was a choice then only people really interested in the process would participate and that would make for better choices. There is no guarantee, off course, as it could result that a small but articulated group can influence the result for the whole country.


message 24: by David (last edited Apr 05, 2019 03:39PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

David | 2489 comments Monica wrote: " I feel that if voting was a choice then only people really interested in the process would participate and that would make for better choices. There is no guarantee, off course. . ."

I agree. Just because someone has to vote, doesn't mean they are going to make a worthwhile effort to provide an informed ones which are "supposed" to lead to better choices.

I suppose now we will have to discriminate between voter participation and the critical importance he gives to participating in democracy, perhaps in other ways. Tocqueville, I believe, has already touched on this subject and will most likely, somewhere in Volume II, have to coin a new term to describe the "meh" attitude that democracy itself creates that must be overcome to motivate participation in a democracy.

Bragging rights to whoever finds it and posts it first WHEN WE GET TO IT - No Spoilers. :)


message 25: by Gary (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gary | 202 comments The thing about voting in America is that very few people study the positions and background of individual candidates and issues, and then make a deliberate choice in each instance. Instead we rely upon our political parties. The great majority of voters vote a straight party ticket. Yes, voters sometimes cross party lines to vote for a particular candidate or issue, but those are exceptions.

Very few of us have the time or are willing to make the effort to make a truly informed vote. Instead, voters say "I am a XXX and that's how I vote." Even if voters change their party affiliation, which happens, they still, as a general rule, vote the party ticket. It's not really the democracy T envisioned, but it's the one we got.


message 26: by Michele (new)

Michele | 40 comments It's enlightening to run through the questions at isidewith.com and see where one comes out. Sometimes it's surprising, especially if you go into the extra level of detail on the issues.


David | 2489 comments Michele wrote: "It's enlightening to run through the questions at isidewith.com and see where one comes out. Sometimes it's surprising, especially if you go into the extra level of detail on the issues."

What is even more amazing about that, as Tocqueville seems to constantly be pointing out, the consequences of certain choices or conditions seems to rarely be known in advance, or properly guessed at even when in effect.

Since fortune telling and even proper assessment over certain choices and conditions seem doubtful or difficult to asses, whatever self-correcting features democracy has seem to be even more critical.


message 28: by Kyle (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kyle | 78 comments From AT's section "On Public Officials Under the Empire of American Democracy", he states that "In the eyes of democracy, government is not a good; it is a necessary evil."

Wondering what folks think of this?


Alexey | 288 comments David wrote: "Since fortune telling and even proper assessment over certain choices and conditions seem doubtful or difficult to asses, whatever self-correcting features democracy has seem to be even more critical."

And this critical role should be played by the minority of swing-voters.

As I understand in de Tocqueville's time there is a party system (the second, I guess) and people also vote for the party according to their ethno-religious and social groups. I have not noticed that he paid attention to these facts.


David | 2489 comments Kyle wrote: "From AT's section "On Public Officials Under the Empire of American Democracy", he states that "In the eyes of democracy, government is not a good; it is a necessary evil."

Wondering what folks think of this?"


Good question, Kyle. I will share some of Jefferson's thoughts on this.
. . .humans, following Aristotle, were social animals. “Man was destined for society,” he wrote to nephew Peter Carr (August 10, 1787). “His morality therefore was to be transformed to this object.”
Government is not only a necessity, it is clearly a moral one. Calling government evil is like calling the playground supervisors evil because they are necessary. Of course we must concede that some governments, and I can imagine some playground supervisors, can appear evil by their actions.

The opposite is more true at least it should be. Governments can have advantageous effects if they foster conditions that allow its population to flourish.
. . .that is, it aims at all citizens being as happy as possible. Yet it is not the function of government to make< citizens flourish by promoting any one vision of the good life, but merely to allow citizens abundant space to pursue their own course to happiness.>/b>
We go a bit beyond necessity when we realize that negative and positive liberty are not mutually exclusive and try to strike a balance.
It is not sufficient for happiness that one is left alone. It is, for Jefferson, in some measure the task of government to secure citizens’ happiness through allowing the creation of social settings in which citizens can thrive.

Holowchak, M. Andrew. Thomas Jefferson: Uncovering His Unique Philosophy and Vision . Prometheus Books. Kindle Edition.



Roger Burk | 1716 comments Kyle wrote: "From AT's section "On Public Officials Under the Empire of American Democracy", he states that "In the eyes of democracy, government is not a good; it is a necessary evil."

Wondering what folks th..."


Even if men were angels, we would need a government to set rules for common life--like what side of the road to drive on, what constitutes a contract, etc. So I don't buy the idea that government is a necessary evil. But maybe it's true that many in democracies have that idea, at least until they think it through carefully.


message 32: by Lily (last edited Apr 08, 2019 12:05PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 4981 comments Roger wrote: "Even if men were angels, we would need a government to set rules for common life--like what side of the road to drive on ..."

Roger -- exactly the example that came floating to my thoughts, out of a not entirely forgotten college sociology text and professor! Democracy may lend its citizens to believe in the goodness of their individuality and unlikelihood of infringing upon others, but let us not forget the original states agreed to a confederation and then a republic out of needs for rules supporting self-interests. Even in the early days of our history many of the key laws (and "creeping federalism") came in the areas of interstate commerce, i.e., often mercantile concerns and interests. Today, a continuous jockeying occurs between commercial, societal, and individual self interests, whether speed limits to provide safety for entering roadways (a recent issue in my development), or labeling of transported meats and vegetables, or rules regarding vaccinations or other aspects of public health, or the hours a trucker may travel continuously, or .... For better or worse, humans are social animals who find rules useful for "governing" interactions, even if, like some of those strict early Puritan laws, the rules may not be uniformly enforced.


message 33: by Rafael (last edited Apr 09, 2019 11:45AM) (new)

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 325 comments David wrote: "Michele wrote: ""2. What democracy lacks, moreover, is not always the capacity to choose men of merit but the desire and taste to do so."

Sad but true."

I suppose the desire part of this encompas..."


Well, this is a problematic topic. You is right. here we have mandatory voting and some people think that the vote should be optional, not by the reason that de Tocqueville thinks it should be optional but because of liberalism. No one should be obliged to vote if they don't want to. Some people even advocates for optional voting because they think that the poor people would not vote if not required.

The ones that advocate for mandatory voting says that it being mandatory give to the process legitimacy. For you be elected to the executive offices (and to the Senate) you should have 50% of the total votes plus 1 (except when we elect 2 senators, in this case the 2 most voted are elected), to legislative offices the math is more complex. If you don't have 50% plus 1 there's a second round with the two most voted. So if you win at the first round you have legitimacy. The majority of the voters elected you for the office. The same for the second round. For the latter mandatory voting is safer for democracy. It's considered a duty to vote. These ones believe that mandatory voting give people more political awareness. The first ones discredit these statements. To them to vote is a right not a duty and believing that mandatoty voting gives people political awareness is a myth.

I am with the latter ones. I believe that people should vote, for the good of society.

I hope my comment is not confuse. I always struggle with the english language when I have to produce something.


message 34: by Kyle (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kyle | 78 comments Gary wrote: "The thing about voting in America is that very few people study the positions and background of individual candidates and issues, and then make a deliberate choice in each instance. Instead we rely..."

Which means that a successful candidacy is not really about changing folks' minds, but galvanizing your base to get out to the polls on election day.


message 35: by David (last edited Apr 11, 2019 09:38AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

David | 2489 comments I totally get that. Maybe that makes the playground supervisors less necessary, but they still are not evil.


message 36: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1404 comments Patrice wrote: "it occurs to me that this is how we learn about freedom and self rule. having a supervisor stops the process. suddenly everyone looks to an authority to decide right from wrong. this creates a different kind of citizen. it prepares us to be obedient..."

To pick up on your playground analogy, we wouldn't need supervisors if all children are raised with a shared sense of right and wrong, ethical behavior, fairness, etc. etc. This may have been the case in the past. But it is not necessarily the case any more.

Not all children are raised in the same way. Some are bullies; some will grab what belongs to others; some will cheat and lie. And the parents are either absent, indifferent, or might even encourage these behaviors. Isn't that why supervisors were needed in the first place--to ensure that play is fair and that no one child infringes on the rights of others?

Individualism, liberty, and self-sufficiency are great as long as we all have a common understanding of right and wrong, justice, respect for others' rights, etc. etc. The trouble is we don't share that common understanding because we're not all raised the same way. Some of us have been raised to believe that it's ok to violate the basic rights of others and that liberty, individualism, self-sufficiency is a right for some but not for others. And so we need laws, we need authorities to govern us. Otherwise, society will run amok.

And that holds true even in the playground.


message 37: by David (last edited Apr 11, 2019 11:02AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

David | 2489 comments And in the discussion on playground supervisors, there it is. Tocqueville's secret instincts behind every set of opposing parties. Less governance vs. more governance.
But when one begins to study closely the secret instincts that govern factions in America, it is easy to see that most of them can be more or less accurately described as belonging to one of the two great parties that have always existed in free societies. The more deeply one enters into the intimate thoughts of these two parties, the clearer it becomes that one wants to limit the use of public power and the other to extend it.

Alexis de Tocqueville: Democracy in America (LOA #147) (Library of America) (p. 202 Vol1: Part 1, Ch 2 Parties in The United States). Library of America. Kindle Edition.



message 38: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1404 comments Patrice wrote: some want freedom and some want a power to protect them. the problem with that is no power is so wise or good, so incorruptible, that it will always be fair.

Patrice, I'm not sure I understand what you're saying.

Isn't there a middle road between absolute freedom and corrupt leaders who demand absolute obedience from the masses too afraid or too ignorant to oppose them?

Or are you suggesting that because power has the potential to be corrupt and unfair we should do away with it entirely and trust individuals to hammer out what is fair and just on their own?

What about a balance? What about a freedom balanced with an authority that ensures the rights of all individuals are protected, an authority that is accountable to the people when it fails in its obligations?

When you were physically and emotionally beaten up as a child, wouldn't you have wanted an authority figure to intervene to protect you? Or do you consider that to be an infringement on your autonomy?


David | 2489 comments I think most of the time parents looked in, or meant to look in, on the kids enough that they were not so totally unsupervised that a good loud yell would not bring someone to check in on them. I would not let my kids go to a school that let the kids out on the playground unsupervised while the entire staff went to lunch.

From Chapter 7
President James Madison expressed the same thought (see Federalist 51). “It is of great importance in a republic,” he says, “not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. . . . Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society.
Thus while it seems necessary, it is not the necessary evil Tocqueville claims the "eyes of democracy" says it is, per Kyle's post 32.


David | 2489 comments Patrice wrote: "kids are very adept at making sure rules are followed, without needing an adult to keep score. "

Do you mean like the kids in Lord of the Flies did?

That seems an extreme example so I will be fair and also say that Tocqueville seems to agree with you, at least to some degree:
Americans are taught from birth that they must overcome life’s woes and impediments on their own. Social authority makes them mistrustful and anxious, and they rely upon its power only when they cannot do without it. This first becomes apparent in the schools, where children play by their own rules and punish infractions they define themselves.
Vol1: Part 2: Chapter 4On Politcal Association in the United States



Alexey | 288 comments Tamara wrote: "Patrice wrote: "it occurs to me that this is how we learn about freedom and self rule. having a supervisor stops the process. suddenly everyone looks to an authority to decide right from wrong. thi..."

De Tocqueville also emphasize the importance of homogeneous population for creating a democracy (not so necessary to prolong it). But I think that people have innate ability to get along well and to create common rules, however different they are in the beginning. The question is, how much pain and time it will it require.


message 42: by Lily (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 4981 comments Alexey wrote: "But I think that people have innate ability to get along well and to create common rules, however different they are in the beginning. The question is, how much pain and time it will it require..."

It seems to me that issues of diversity have been better addressed in the commercial worlds of large corporations, but far less well so in social and political domains. I want to reject Tocqueville's emphasis on homogeneity, whether language or ethnicity or ..., but I do still feel, as he apparently did, that there are strong "birds of a feather flock together" phenomena.


message 43: by Rafael (new)

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 325 comments Patrice wrote: "but it was my choice to get his mother or i could have gone home"

Those are not the only options. Why you have to go home? This is not the lesson that we want to teach to our children.


message 44: by Michele (new)

Michele | 40 comments Tamara wrote: "What about a balance? What about a freedom balanced with an authority that ensures the rights of all individuals are protected, an authority that is accountable to the people when it fails in its obligations?"

I think this is key. A society where everyone was raised to respect others, and did so, would be lovely but that isn't reality. There will always be those who can't, or don't want, or fail, to respect the rights of others and behave in a civilized manner. That's where authority comes in. The key is to build in safeguards so that that authority does not overstep.

Even a child who is raised "right" will test the lessons their parents taught them as they move away from the parental circle to school, college, work. External authorities -- teachers, managers, policemen, and yes, playground monitors -- they all play a role in reinforcing those lessons a child was raised with. Without that external reinforcement, a child might think, "Well, those behaviours are just for family; I can do as I like with people who aren't family."

As someone once said, it takes a village.


Chris | 360 comments Have just finished this section. Have to say that my most favorite quote from T is: Democratic institutions awaken & foster a passion for equality which they can never satisfy entirely.
It may be true but it keeps those institutions constantly striving to improve. At least I hope it does. Right now, I know, many of our institutions in the U.S. are just trying to stay firm!


Chris | 360 comments David said: In addition he suggests that democracies fail to economize because they lack the art of thrift. How did Tocqueville know about the $37 screws, a $7,622 coffee maker, $640 toilet seats?

this made me LOL!


message 47: by Michele (new)

Michele | 40 comments Patrice wrote: "i love the way he points out the great sacrifice Americans made during the revolution by giving up tea. yes they fought and were killed and lost property, but giving up tea! there is something nobl..."

Today it would be having to sacrifice Starbucks...


Wendel (wendelman) | 609 comments At last I finished chapter 5! To me both T’s remaining aristocratic prejudices and his limited experience of democratic institutions stand out.

The basic assumption is that in his America the power of the people was both real and direct. And that this, moreover, constitutes the essence of democracy. However, today’s democracies are dominated by a class of professional politicians, bureaucrats and quasi entrepeneurs, 'translating' the percieved or alleged wishes and wants of the people into policies. To me this rather reduces the topicality of T’s arguments.

Though of course his work is a milestone, and some questions still remain the same. The debate between the proponents of big versus small government for instance may be understood as a discussion on the necessity/legitimacy of the new political elite. In Europe its existence was nothing new, and the debate therefore less principled. T's position: a little less democracy and a little more administrative expertise.

But in this chapter he puts too much stress on the drawbacks of democracy. Its low level of leadership, its high costs and incapacity to maintain long term diplomatic aims and if necessary, to continue these with other means in war (to what ends, one may ask). I wonder, is there any indication at all in France’s 1000 year track record of aristocratic and monarchical practices that democratic politics are less effective or efficient?

T. may see the selfishness of the aristocracy, but still he overrates its intelligence and its culture (from my utterly bourgeois perpective, that is). Another surprising thing is his remark that of course the French had to pay more taxes because the country was recently twice invaded - given that the first time it was in an attempt to rescue T’s parents and the second time occured after Napoleon tried to conquer all of Europe.


back to top