The Prescience of Alexis de Tocqueville

1 posts

Bob Dylan Roof

I have never read Democracy in America , nor any of Alexis de Tocqueville's works, and yet I am routinely astounded by his prescience when I encounter his ideas in other texts. So I dedicate this thread to that great 19th-century prophet of democratic nihilism, Alexis de Tocqueville. His insights are too penetrating to be left in the general quotes thread. The following were found in Erik Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddin's Liberty or Equality .

On equality

Equality is a slogan based on envy. It signifies in the heart of every republican: "Nobody is going to occupy a place higher than I."
- Conversation with Nassau William Senior​

On the contrast between ancient and modern tyranny

[Ancient] tyranny rested very heavily on a few but did not extend to a great number; it was focused on a few main objects and neglected the rest; it was violent but limited in its scope

It seems to me that if despotism were to be established among the democratic nations of our days, it would have different characteristics: it would be more extensive and more mild, it would degrade men without tormenting them.
- From Democracy in America

On modern tyranny

Above this race of men [the modern masses where all are alike and equal] stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications, and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent, if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labours, but it chooses to be the sole agent and arbiter of that happiness: it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances -- what remains but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?

The principle of equality has prepared men for these things: it has predisposed men to endure them, and oftentimes to look on them as benefits.
- From Democracy in America

On the modern absolutist constitution

A constitution which would be republican in its head and ultra-monarchical in all its other parts has always seemed to me to be a monstrosity of short duration. The vices of the governors and the imbecility of the subjects could not fail to bring about its ruin. And the people, tired of its representatives and of itself, would create freer institutions or would soon give up and prostrate itself at the feet of a single master.
- From Democracy in America

On democracy in America

I do not know a country where there is in general less intellectual independence and less freedom of discussion than in America. . . . In America the majority builds an impregnable wall around the process of thinking.

The Inquisition was never able to prevent the circulation in Spain of books opposed to the religion of the majority. The majestic rule of the majority does better in the United States; it has removed even the thought of publishing them.
- From Democracy in America