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Democracy in America > Week 6: DIA Vol 1 Part 2 Ch. 6(XIV) - Ch. 8(XVI)

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message 1: by David (last edited Apr 11, 2019 07:54AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

David | 2489 comments Vol 1: Part 2: Chapter 6
WHAT ARE THE REAL ADVANTAGES TO AMERICAN SOCIETY OF DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT?

We are reminded of our confusion early on of the different types of democratic institutions, of which American is but one expression:
The political constitution of the United States is in my view one form that democracy can give to its government. But I do not believe that American institutions are the only or best ones that a democratic people may adopt.



message 2: by David (last edited Apr 09, 2019 07:00PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

David | 2489 comments Vol 1: Part 2: Chapter 6
ON THE GENERAL TENDENCY OF THE LAWS UNDER AMERICAN DEMOCRACY AND THE INSTINCTS OF THE PEOPLE WHO APPLY THEM

I thought I would try to really break apart one of his arguments. His argument from the opening paragraph here seems somewhat pseudoscientific for lack of supporting detail. His premises therefore take on qualities of conclusions themselves:
[1] The laws of American democracy are often defective or incomplete. [what nation's laws are not this way?]
[2] Some of them violate established rights or sanction dangerous ones.
[what of British rights before the revolution?]
[3] Even if all the laws were good, the frequency of new legislation would still be a great evil.
[4] They can be demonstrated by obvious facts, while the salutary influence of democratic government is exerted in an imperceptible, not to say occult, manner.
His conclusion:
The flaws and weaknesses of democratic government are easy to see. Its defects are striking at first glance, but its virtues reveal themselves only over the long run. All this is apparent at a glance.
I would like to think it is true, but I do not understand how he concludes the virtues of American Democracy reveal themselves over the long run from this.

He then tries to support this argument, not with details or example observations but with more conjecture:
The laws of democracy generally tend toward the good of the many, for they emanate from the majority of all citizens, who may be mistaken but cannot be in conflict of interest with themselves.

. . .the aim of legislation in a democracy is more useful to humanity than that of legislation in an aristocracy.

. . . of democracy: its laws are almost always defective or ill-timed.

. . . elsewhere: the great privilege of the Americans is the ability to make errors that can be corrected.

. . . Note first that if government officials in a democratic state are less honest or less capable, the people they govern are more enlightened and more alert.

. . . that if the democratic official makes poorer use of power than others, he generally holds power for a shorter time.

. . . What, then, is the advantage of democracy? The real advantage of democracy is not, as some say, to promote the prosperity of all but merely to foster the well-being of the greater number.

. . . In the United States, where public officials have no class interest to vindicate, the general and constant process of government is beneficial, though government officials are often inept and sometimes contemptible. Underlying democratic institutions there is thus a hidden tendency that often leads men to contribute, despite their faults and errors, to the general prosperity, while in aristocratic institutions there is at times a secret proclivity that encourages them, for all their talents and virtues, to contribute to the miseries of mankind. Public men in aristocratic governments may do harm without intending to, while in democracies they may do good without recognizing it.
In the end it sounds agreeable. But is it true?


David | 2489 comments Vol 1: Part 2: Chapter 6
PUBLIC SPIRIT IN THE UNITED STATES

He describes the “patriotism” felt toward monarchies and aristocracies as somewhat manic with high highs and low lows likely to kick in during times of crisis but fail during peacetime. He then describes democratic patriotism that is paradoxically less but more: less intense, less volatile, but more stable and more durable. Tocqueville indicates this condition is born from the belief that individual and national prosperity are directly proportional.


message 4: by Rafael (last edited Apr 10, 2019 12:52PM) (new)

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 325 comments Those charged, in the United States, with leading public affairs are often [381] inferior in capacity and morality to the men whom aristocracy would bring to power; but their interest merges and is identified with that of the majorityh of their fellow citizens. So they can commit frequent infidelities and serious errors, but they will never systematically follow a tendency hostile to this majority; and they can never impart an exclusive and dangerous direction to the government.

Chapter 6


Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America. English Edition. Edited by Eduardo Nolla. Translated from the French by James T. Schleifer. (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2012). Vol. 1. 10/04/2019. https://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/27...

I am not so sure that he is right about it. Sometimes people from lower strata will took side with the upper classes for the benefit of their own. As Paulo Freire stated "When education is not liberating, the dream of the oppressed is to become the oppressor".


Lily (joy1) | 4981 comments Rafael wrote: "...As Paulo Freire stated "When education is not liberating, the dream of the oppressed is to become the oppressor". "

Rafael -- thank you for providing the name of "Paulo Freire." I was not familiar with it or his work.

For others who may be curious, Wiki is an obvious starting place:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paulo_F...

I even found myself pursing the definition of "pedagogy" -- the art, science, or profession of teaching.

This quotation along the way caught my eye in relationship to our discussion here of DIA:

"There is no such thing as a neutral education process. Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate the integration of generations into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes the 'practice of freedom', the means by which men and women deal critically with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world." — Richard Shaull, drawing on Paulo Freire


message 6: by Roger (last edited Apr 11, 2019 06:06AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Roger Burk | 1716 comments I also raised my eyebrows at the lack of any support, even an anecdote, to support AdT's low opinion of the quality of democratic laws and leaders. Maybe it was such a common opinion in the France of his day that he thought it didn't need support.

Certainly democracy can sometimes produce bad laws and raise buffoons and scoundrels to high office. But I think AdT underestimates the number of times aristocratic scoundrels and buffoons also make laws or hold power. He seems to be rather aristocratic in temperament; I suppose we should be mildly surprised that his opinion of democracy is as favorable as it is.

Anyway, I wonder if subsequent history hasn't shown that democracy can also produce excellent leaders and wise laws too, perhaps in as great a proportion as other forms of government. And as AdT is fair enough to note, the great advantage of democracy is that bad laws and bad men can be removed with the least amount of trouble.


David | 2489 comments Roger wrote: "But I think AdT underestimates the number of times aristocratic scoundrels and buffoons also make laws or hold power.

Too bad Tocqueville never got to speak with Jefferson about this matter. To Jefferson it was clear that the preferred pool of virtue and talent was to be found in a natural aristocracy and that artificial aristocracy should be prevented from holding power.
There is also an artificial aristocracy founded on wealth and birth, without either virtue or talents; for with these it would belong to the first class. The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society. And indeed it would have been inconsistent in creation to have formed man for the social state, and not to have provided virtue and wisdom enough to manage the concerns of the society. May we not even say that that form of government is the best which provides the most effectually for a pure selection of these natural aristoi into the offices of government? The artificial aristocracy is a mischievous ingredient in government, and provision should be made to prevent it's ascendancy.
Thomas Jeffeson to John Adams, 28 Oct. 1813 http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founde...



David | 2489 comments Vol1: Part 2: Chapter 7
ON THE OMNIPOTENCE OF THE MAJORITY IN THE UNITED STATES AND ITS EFFECTS

From the footnote here I have to wonder about this statement:
the federal government is concerned with little other than foreign affairs; American society is really ruled by the state governments.
Tocqueville concludes in this section that all are prepared to recognize the rights of the majority because all hope to exercise those same rights themselves, one day. I do not think most people think that far ahead.

HOW THE OMNIPOTENCE OF THE MAJORITY IN AMERICA INCREASES THE LEGISLATIVE AND ADMINISTRATIVE INSTABILITY THAT IS NATURAL IN DEMOCRACIES
The main point of this section for me is that laws, lawmakers, and public administration, as well as public works are intense, but unstable and likely to be either abandoned, unenforced, or uncompleted depending on the whims of the majority:
The omnipotence of the majority and the rapid and absolute way in which its wishes are carried out in the United States not only make the law unstable but exert a similar influence on the execution of the law and the actions of the public administration.
TYRANNY OF THE MAJORITY
Tocqueville here claims that justice sets a limit to the right of each people, however what he finds most repugnant in America is that if an injustice is suffered there is no arbitrating source available with whom to redress grievances that is not controlled by the majority, be it public opinion, the legislature, the executive, juries, or judges.

EFFECTS OF THE OMNIPOTENCE OF THE MAJORITY ON THE ARBITRARINESS OF AMERICAN PUBLIC OFFICIALS
Tocqueville contends the omnipotence of the majority both encourages legal despotism and favors arbitrariness in the magistrate and that the majority wills its public magistrates to their ends by whatever means, unrestrained.

ON THE POWER THAT THE MAJORITY IN AMERICA EXERCISES OVER THOUGHT
First Tocqueville says of thought:
Thought is an invisible, almost intangible power that makes a mockery of tyranny in all its forms.
Then Tocqueville rather damningly declares:
A king’s only power is material, moreover: it affects actions but has no way of influencing wills. In the majority, however, is vested a force that is moral as well as material, which shapes wills as much as actions and inhibits not only deeds but also the desire to do them. I know of no country where there is in general less independence of mind and true freedom of discussion than in America.
Have the Puritans have figured out a way to enforce their Puritanical law beyond the threat of seldom enforcing them? Tocqueville seems to concede at the end of this section that [so far] power is no doubt used to good effect, why does this assessment of the thought police not make me feel better?

EFFECTS OF THE TYRANNY OF THE MAJORITY ON THE NATIONAL CHARACTER OF THE AMERICANS; ON THE COURTLY SPIRIT IN THE UNITED STATES
I found this the saddest part of the book so far, and one which also helps further explain Tocqueville’s choice in keeping his sources anonymous:
If these lines are ever read in America, I am sure of two things: first, that all of my readers, to a man, will speak out to condemn me, and second, that in the depths of their conscience many of them will absolve me of any wrong.



David | 2489 comments Vol1 Part 2 Chapter 8
Opposing the tyranny of the majority are:
1. Lawyers, the closest thing America has to aristocracy. Is Tocqueville a bit biased here, being both a lawyer and an aristocrat?
2. Juries, especially civil ones since they most affect ordinary citizens.


Roger Burk | 1716 comments AdT certainly gives support to the common idea (in conservative circles) that the New Deal's great extension of Federal power over individual lives has been antidemocratic in effect.


message 11: by Rafael (new)

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 325 comments Lily wrote: "Rafael wrote: "...As Paulo Freire stated "When education is not liberating, the dream of the oppressed is to become the oppressor". "

Rafael -- thank you for providing the name of "Paulo Freire." ..."


You're welcome and this quote that you had picked up is a good one too. Freire's ideas for education were implemented in several places around the world. He was a great brazilian educator.


David | 2489 comments I am surpised Tocqueville has not mentioned Article 5 of the Constitution of the United States as a check on the mutability of laws as well as another curb on tyranny of the majority.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Article...

James Madison (writing in The Federalist No. 43):
It guards equally against that extreme facility which would render the Constitution too mutable; and that extreme difficulty which might perpetuate its discovered faults. It moreover equally enables the General and the State Governments to originate the amendment of errors, as they may be pointed out by the experience on one side, or on the other.
All totaled, approximately 11,539 measures to amend the Constitution have been proposed in Congress since 1789 (through December 16, 2014) but only 27 have been ratified. All that and the president does not have an official say in the matter.


message 13: by David (last edited Apr 12, 2019 01:18PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

David | 2489 comments What did everyone think of Tocqueville's matching personal goals with the choice of democracy with equal conditions vs. other choices?

If these are your goals, equal conditions under a democracy is the best choice:
1. If it is useful to turn man’s intellectual and more efforts to the necessities of material life and use them to improve his well being.
2. If you value reason more than genius.
3. If you value tranquil habits over heroic habits.
4. If you tolerate vice more than crime.
5. If you accept fewer great deeds in exchange for fewer atrocities.
6. If you value a prosperous stage over a brilliant one.
7. To make the nation as a whole as glorious or powerful as can be but to achieve for each individual the greatest possible well-being while avoiding misery as much as possible.

If these are your goals, democracy is not the best choice:
1. To impart a certain loftiness to the human mind.
2. A generous way of looking at things of this world.
3. To inspire in men a kind of contempt for material goods.
4. Hope to foster or develop profound convictions and lay the groundwork for deep devotion.
5. To refine mores and 6. elevate manners.
6. Promote brilliance in the arts.
7, to desire poetry, renown, and glory
8. To organize a people so as to act powerfully on all other peoples.
9. To have the people embark on enterprises so great that no matter what comes of their efforts they will leave a deep imprint on history.


message 14: by Lily (last edited Apr 12, 2019 01:44PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 4981 comments David wrote: "....To make the nation as a whole as glorious or powerful as can be but to achieve for each individual the greatest possible well-being while avoiding misery as much as possible...."

More a reaction than a considered position: Certainly the commercial success of the U.S. and its capitalistic system of economic support has generated a plethora of products, from medicines to autos to computers to ... that have changed the face of the earth. Somehow, "products" feel greater/more significant than the men (and women) who created them. (Do I too glibly fail to name Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Jonas Salk, the pharmaceutical industry, ...?)

But, distribution systems are as important as products per se.


David | 2489 comments Lily wrote: "David wrote: ". a plethora of products, from medicines to autos to computers to ... that have changed the face of the earth..."

A reaction to your reaction: Why then do we go to Japan for autos, and Asia for computers, and Canada for medicines?


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

Lily (joy1) | 4981 comments David wrote: "...Why then do we go to Japan for autos, and Asia for computers, and Canada for medicines? ..."

I've never really studied the histories, whether of ancient Silk Roads across Asia or (Dutch) Trading Companies or English and Spanish colonization or modern multinational trade agreements. Certainly, transportation modes, commercial infrastructures--including risk management, and technology, along with factors I haven't thought of or named, have played roles in globalization of supply chains. Has political type, e.g., democracy versus authoritarian played a role? Clearly, my earlier reaction was limited to "original?" invention phase in suggesting that the (democratic) U.S. had been a prolific contributor.


message 17: by Michele (new)

Michele | 40 comments the federal government is concerned with little other than foreign affairs; American society is really ruled by the state governments.

I think we see this playing out today in everything from gun control to climate change to abortion to immigration. States that disagree with the federal government are passing laws in accordance with their own views. Think of things like the "hearbeat bill" recently passed in Ohio, the higher auto emissions standards passed in California, the "sanctuary cities" in various states. (Of course, whether those laws will stand up if challenged is another question.)


message 18: by Gary (last edited Apr 13, 2019 08:54AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gary | 202 comments David wrote: "What did everyone think of Tocqueville's matching personal goals with the choice of democracy with equal conditions vs. other choices?..."

I think T is setting up some false dichotomies here. To say things on his lists are either this or that, up or down, white or black is a gross oversimplification. Although there is not always a one-to-one match between line items on the lists, T's method here is to compare and contrast. But what's on one of his lists does not necessarily foreclose what's on the other. Frankly, these lists strike me as sophomoric.


message 19: by Gary (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gary | 202 comments Speaking of comparing and contrasting, that technique seems to be essential to T's writing style. It's also what makes him so quotable.


message 20: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1404 comments Gary wrote: "I think T is setting up some false dichotomies here. To say things on his lists are either this or that, up or down, white or black is a gross oversimplification..."

I agree. For example, I don't see why you can't have democracy while promoting brilliance in the arts or a generous way of looking at things of this world. The goals he has attributed to democracy seem to foster mediocrity.


David | 2489 comments Tamara wrote: "Gary wrote: "I think T is setting up some false dichotomies here. To say things on his lists are either this or that, up or down, white or black is a gross oversimplification..."

Are some of these points on his lists results of a personal bias, or ignorance on Tocqueville's part, or are they justifiable? For example, America had not produced any great poets by this time, or at least any of world renown. This would come later with Whitman (Leaves of Grass, 1855) or perhaps somewhat earlier with Longfellow.


David | 2489 comments Tamara wrote: "The goals he has attributed to democracy seem to foster mediocrity."

Is it possible what is being deemed mediocrity here is in fact a desired end based on Aristotle's golden mean between the extremes of deficiency and excess? Or like Glaucon, are relishes in demand? http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/plato...


message 23: by Kyle (last edited Apr 14, 2019 02:45PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kyle | 78 comments From early on in Ch. 7, AT states that "The moral empire of the majority is also founded on the principle that the interests of the greatest number ought to be preferred to those of the few." (ed. Mansfield & Winthrop, p. 237).

Still relevant 150 years later in one of the most powerful scenes from a science fiction film (Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, 1982).


message 24: by Gary (last edited Apr 14, 2019 03:34PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gary | 202 comments David wrote: "TIs it possible what is being deemed mediocrity here is in fact a desired end based on Aristotle's golden mean between the extremes of deficiency and excess? Or like Glaucon, are relishes in demand?"

Relishes indeed! One of T's reservations about democracy is that it tends toward a common denominator, and that great artists, great writers, even outstanding political leaders (excepting during a crisis) will be in short supply. T's ideal society, I think, is not one of the golden mean, but rather one home to philosophers, artists, wise leaders, and these, he believes, are more likely to arise in an aristocracy.


message 25: by Gary (last edited Apr 14, 2019 03:33PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gary | 202 comments I found T's comments in Chapter 8 about lawyers and their role in American democracy intriguing.
“Lawyers in the United States constitute a power that arouses little fear, that is barely perceived, that flies no banner of its own, that supplely bends to the exigencies of the times and surrenders without resistance to every movement of the social body. Yet it envelopes the whole of society, worms its way into each of the constituent classes, works on the society in secret, influences it constantly without its knowledge, and in the end shapes it to its own desires.”
Lawyers, he says, "bend to the exigencies of the times" and work on society "in secret." I wonder if the number of lawyer jokes in circulation suggests that at some level we know this and are not really comfortable with it.

Lawyer jokes go way back. Here are four from Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack.
"God works wonders now and then: Behold a lawyer, an honest man."
"A countryman between two lawyers is like a fish between two cats."
"Necessity knows no law. I know some attorneys of the same."
"Lawyers, Preachers and Tomits Eggs, there are more of them hatched than come to perfection."



message 26: by Kyle (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kyle | 78 comments Patrice wrote: "kyle, that scares me. i live in an area with many Assyrian christian refugees. they tell me that saadam protected the minorities and they lived well under him. when we took him out the moslem major..."

A point well taken, especially by Captain Kirk in this response toward Spock in the follow-up film (The Search For Spock, 1983).


Alexey | 288 comments Patrice wrote: "kyle, that scares me. i live in an area with many Assyrian christian refugees. they tell me that saadam protected the minorities and they lived well under him. when we took him out the moslem major..."

Though agree with your point, some thoughts about strong hand and minority.

Hussein protected some minorities and annihilated others; when he was gone, minor minorities (especially once protected) suffered more than others.

The same, with less violence, was true for USSR. Though officially all people and all ethnic groups were equal some was more equal than others. There was an unofficial hierarchy of the ethnic groups. When the system collapsed, all this problem sprang up. In Orenburg where I live, there are (still) many Russian* refugees from Central Asia. In the Caucasus, it was even worse. Georgia had it in all stage through hierarchy Georgians against USSR and then Georgians against its own national minorities. In Azerbaijan Azeri massacred Armenian and they responded in the regions with Armenian majority, Armenia came to the rescue. All these conflicts are still there.

What I want to say, a strong hand may curb conflicts but does not solve them. and once it is gone, all the problem return, and because there was not any dialogue, they only multiplied by the time of 'peace'. Peace is when people have learned to live together, not forced to. As they say, if you want peace, let people trade with each other.

*Russian include also Ukrainian, German, Mordva etc.


Alexey | 288 comments Patrice wrote: "omg, please don’t misunderstand. saadam was no model. my point was only that majority rule doesnt necessarily mean moral rule. i know saadam was a monster. he gassed the kurds, etc. i guess i thoug..."

I was not to argue, only to add some thought of minority protection in an authoritarian regime. They can cause more problem than before.

'the only way to make democracy moral is to protect minority rights.' - can't agree more. De Tocqueville also was not happy with the tyranny of the majority but thought there can not be any restriction on it in democracy. it seems that democracies have found the way to do this or... have they?


Alexey | 288 comments Patrice wrote: "alexey, how is it that you know english so well?"

education, education... and some practice (unfortunately not as much as I would like)


message 30: by Lily (last edited Apr 16, 2019 05:20PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 4981 comments Patrice wrote: "...so they quickly passed a law that such information must not be made public. now, the same people are fighting for the mueller report to be made public. its against the law! ..."

You will have to be more specific for me to understand which law or aspect of law to which you refer. (It is my understanding that several different statutes have been impacting what has been being redacted in the Mueller report -- with differing legal guidelines for different audiences/users, e.g., legislative bodies with relevant administrative responsibilities versus broader public.)


message 31: by Michele (new)

Michele | 40 comments Patrice wrote: "this constant shifting of laws in reaction to political forces results in poorly thought out laws that only serve the desires of the moment. and apparently even congress cant or wont remember and abide by them. "

Very true.


David | 2489 comments Mutability of the law examples:

Under one administration we got new healthcare laws, pre-existing conditions, etc.. or new banking laws designed to hold banks and lending institutions more accountable and to protect consumers. Four years later, another administration tries to wipe all those away. After that, the next administration may try and put things back, or not.


message 33: by Michele (new)

Michele | 40 comments Yes, and this uncertainty has economic impacts - banks and most businesses can't operate effectively in such a small window as four years. They plan in terms of decades.


message 34: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4404 comments Patrice wrote: "sorry for not being clearer. as i understand it, following the Starr report, congress passed a law that prevents the release of grand jury proceedings. they were reacting to the lurid reporting of ..."

Just to clarify, the doctrine of grand jury privacy has been around since the 17th century. The current law preventing disclosure is actually a court rule -- federal criminal rule 6(e). The court can authorize release under certain exceptions, and of course lawyers argue for release of info under the 1st amendment all the time, but it isn't easy to do.


Bryan--Pumpkin Connoisseur (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 304 comments I am continually playing catch-up here, only now getting to chapter 8. Probably the most interesting aspects of the book to me so far has been the comparison of what T saw of American society and how I see it now. For instance, it seems strange to think that there was a time when the Presidency could be considered relatively weak, or that the States held more power than the Federal gov't. The truth or falsity of those perceptions aren't the point so much--just the fact that someone could see it that way indicates a huge change.

But there are aspects in chapter 7 that seem remarkably similar to our times--especially the idea of the thought police. I think it is interesting though to compare T's fear of oppression of the minority with life as it exists now. One's attitude toward this probably depends on one's circumstances. Is it possible to have a tyranny of the minority? If a minority opinion switches over to a majority opinion, how soon does it become recognizable.? If it is not possible to keep advancing as a majority on the gains made as a minority, then groups would either have to retrench or put off claiming a majority status.


Alexey | 288 comments Bryan wrote: "Is it possible to have a tyranny of the minority? If a minority opinion switches over to a majority opinion, how soon does it become recognizable.? If it is not possible to keep advancing as a majority on the gains made as a minority, then groups would either have to retrench or put off claiming a majority status. "

The post is not exactly an answer to your question but rather some related observation from Russia.

First, the situation with the orthodox church - a long time oppressed minority, now a majority (claim 80 per cent of the population), which for more than twenty years has tried to guide policy and for fifteen years has guided. The example of Catholic-nationalists in Poland is even more relevant for discussion because they have more stable democratic institutions, and they have the same transformation in post-communist times.

Second, ethnical minority and majority. We in Russia have a vast Russian majority (around 80 per cent) and many minorities which are majorities in some regions (so-called Republics). And less than in a day you can change from majority status to minority. What changes - for example in Orenburg region (Russian majority) there are Tatar school, in Tatarstan, there is no Russian school (what it means - Russian children have Tatar language classes, their parents prefer to have other classes instead), also in the Russian majority regions there are no limits for career in Civil Services for minorities, but in Tatarstan non-Tatars has very limited opportunities in Civil Service or state-related organisations.

So I think that the minority turned into a majority is very likely to overuse majority power to dictate its will.


Alexey | 288 comments Patrice wrote: "T does surprise me with his opinion of aristocratic government. he is an aristocrat himself so perhaps his ego tells him that he could run things better than the common man. that feeling exists to ..."

Though agree with you in general, I want to draw attention to the fact monarchy is not identical with the aristocracy. There were aristocratic republics (de Tocqueville presumably meant them) and monarchies without aristocracy (less often). And when they coexist their interests are not always identical.


Alexey | 288 comments Patrice wrote: "thank you Alexey, i was wondering about that. can you give an example? i always think of a monarch surrounded by a court. but i did sense that
T might have been thinking of something else."


As I understand he thought mostly of aristocratic republics like Venice or old Swiss when he wrote about the aristocracy.

As for the monarchy without an aristocracy. Yes, most monarchies have court and the court includes (only) aristocrats on the higher levels (at least in his time). But even then was exception e.g. Greece. Though courts (used to) produce aristocracy in course of time, if the monarchy is not well established and stable it would not create aristocracy.


Roger Burk | 1716 comments Doesn't it stand to reason that smarter, more educated individuals will make better leaders? What's not obvious is that they're sometimes not so good, and then they're much harder to get rid of than democratic leaders.


message 40: by Rafael (last edited May 07, 2019 12:01PM) (new)

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 325 comments Aristocrats don't need to work. They can spare their time reading, discussing politics and economics, attending to operas, travelling to learn about other people. Commoners have not this luxury. So for aristocrats it's easy to see how they are more equipped to lead than a commoner. What is not the same as to be really a able leader.


message 41: by Rafael (new)

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 325 comments I am not defending this idea. I said that for an aristocrat would be natural to believe that they are superior than us commoners. Aristorats are only good in Disney movies. They are all a burden to the State and to the people.


Roger Burk | 1716 comments In AdT's time most people did not finish high school, and many of them could neither read nor write. I'm not surprised that he thought them unfit to govern.


Alexey | 288 comments I could not imagine I would defend aristocracy but this is exactly what I am to do now.

First, no civilization has evolved without creating a ‘leisure class.’ Cause and consequence there is highly arguable. In the most straightforward way, it goes like this. The growth of population demand more sophisticated ways of production and division of labour. Thus created complex social institutions management of which demanded abstract knowledge. We can not get this knowledge through apprenticeship, it demand systemic education. Thus created philosophy, science, etc. These demands the existence of leisure people.

Second, the division of labour allowed the existence of a professional military class, which usually was the source of the aristocracy. We can argue that it was a bad consequence, but the existence of such a class usually was a competitive advantage.

Third, even if the aristocracy was not good in war and did not make researches, their leisure spurs technological progress - steam power, programming and many others began as toys in salons.

Last, the aristocracy was essential for creating the most sophisticated forms and examples of arts and literature.

So they were not only ‘a burden to the State and to the people’, aristocracy, super-rich, and ‘leisure class’ are an essential part of civilization, though all have their drawbacks. 


message 44: by David (last edited May 08, 2019 08:16AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

David | 2489 comments Alexey wrote: "aristocracy, super-rich, and ‘leisure class’ are an essential part of civilization, though all have their drawbacks..."

Aristocracy seems to be a recipe for making James Bond villains. :)

The main problem with Aristocracy was the primogeniture and inheritance that goes along with it. Jefferson referred to this as an "artificial" aristocracy that was perpetuated by birth and not merit. Jefferson preferred a "natural" aristocracy where merit rose to the top, albeit sometimes by brief periods of trial and error. Aristocracy in private life is one thing, but aristocracy in government was mischievous.


Roger Burk | 1716 comments All men are obviously NOT created equal, as far as their natural intellectual, moral, and physical abilities are concerned. But are those abilities heritable? In part, at the most.


message 46: by Rafael (new)

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 325 comments I prefer the civilization without the aristocracy, even if we, as group, demands more time to achieve the same that a civilization achieves having an aristocracy. The idea that people should work (or starve) to other people be able to attend balls, build palaces and live at them is imoral. Specially if the first ones were not asked what they think about it.


Alexey | 288 comments Unfortunately, there is no complex social systems (aka civilization) without inequality and social differentiation, neither progress without super rich. So always someone is working for the basic living standard (though it varies greatly in time, thanks to progress) and someone is attending balls.

For clarity: not always elite is aristocracy and there is great difference between theoretical role of aristocracy (de Tocqueville's view) and its actual role. Nevertheless, as far as I can see this theoretical 'aristocracy' is (may be was) sufficient for normal development, even the U.S. (not to say about USSR) developed some form of it.


message 48: by Lily (last edited May 09, 2019 07:20AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 4981 comments Alexey wrote: "there is great difference between theoretical role of aristocracy (de Tocqueville's view) and its actual role. Nevertheless, ... even the U.S. ... developed some form of it. ..."

Tocqueville's DIA has so much entwined that I'm not certain his observations, thoughts, opinions, ... can always be neatly sorted out, nor probably should they be. But, for fun: Alexy, minutes before I read your comment above, on my way from DIA open on my Kindle to find a quotation from Melymbrosia, I found myself reading these words of Tocqueville:

"Nothing can be more aristocratic than this system of legislation. Yet in America it is the poor who make the law, and they usually reserve the greatest social advantages to themselves. The explanation of the phenomenon is to be found in England; the laws of which I speak are English, and the Americans have retained them, however repugnant they may be to the tenor of their legislation and the mass of their ideas. Next to its habits, the thing which a nation is least apt to change is its civil legislation. Civil laws are only familiarly known to legal men, whose direct interest it is to maintain them as they are, whether good or bad, simply because they themselves are conversant with them. The body of the nation is scarcely acquainted with them; it merely perceives their action in particular cases; but it has some difficulty in seizing their tendency, and obeys them without premeditation. I have quoted one instance where it would have been easy to adduce a great number of others. The surface of American society is, if I may use the expression, covered with a layer of democracy, from beneath which the old aristocratic colors sometimes peep.

(Page 61).

(The context is talking about the fairness of bail -- a topic in current debate in U.S. justice-related laws. But the comment on aristocracy seems more general? Images of Jefferson, Washington, Madison, and other English gentlemen come to mind, despite Tocqueville's disparagement elsewhere of the "Southern aristocracy roots"? Bold was added to make comment quick to locate.)


message 49: by Wendel (last edited May 30, 2019 01:02PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Wendel (wendelman) | 609 comments At last, there it is, the tyranny of the majority. A great soundbite, but what does it mean?

After all T. wrote earlier about the American constitution and its checks and balances, it may come as a surprise that apparently there is nothing to stop the majority in the legislature. And T. feels that whenever democracy will master the tricks of administrative centralisation a tyranny comparable only with 'Asian despotism' is inevitable.

But even in the state T. observed it, in its small-government form, the tyranny of the majority was bad enough:

… what I find most repulsive in America is not the extreme freedom that prevails there but the shortage of any guarantee against tyranny.

I think that the presence of the small number of remarkable men upon the political scene has to be due to the ever-increasing despotism of the American majority.

I know of no country where there is generally less independence of thought and real freedom of debate than in America.


Strong statements. Emotional statements. We need some context to understand them. That context is the presidency of Andrew Jackson, a time when the opposition was indeed very weak - and when T’s conservative American friends were very isolated. Also personally the polished T. must have resented Jacksons simplistic ideas and rude style. A populist*.

This background makes it easier to understand T’s gloomy picture - but it does not make it correct. He clearly overstates his case. But still ... the social pressure to conform is real, and emotionally it may be more difficult (though much less dangerous) to dissent in a democracy than in a dictatureship.

* The main tenets of populism is indeed that democracy is about the rule of 50%+1 and that minorities should shut up.


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