Alexis de Tocqueville was a French aristocrat and the author of a book that every American should read. Democracy in America was the result of his work for the French government. In 1831 he was sent to the U.S. to inspect the prison systems, but he used his nine-month trip to study all aspects of American life. His study became the first volume in 1835 and the second volume five years later, in 1840.
Tocqueville’s genius was in his ability to recognize the inherent dangers of American democratic tendencies. He accepted American democracy but was skeptical of what this modern democratic nation-state may become. Tocqueville’s study in America’s social science examines the virtues of democracy and its vices.
Tyranny of the Majority
Of particular concern is what Tocqueville calls the “tyranny of the majority.” In a democracy, the majority tends to suppress the interests and opinions of the minority. In effect, the tyranny of the majority tramples on the rights and interests of the minority.
Tocqueville worried about the potential of such a sinister tyranny when exercised over thoughts and opinions. Tocqueville points at political correctness as an example of this danger. He warns that those that protest will be isolated and afraid to speak or think because of the influence of the majority.
Today, social issues dominate the ether. Activists, usually university-educated with an unhealthy focus on equality, have seized control of the airwaves. With dreams of racial justice and agendas related to race, gender, sexuality, and a host of other issues, cancel criticism and levy personal attacks on the infidel.
This social outcasting has dismantled individual opinion and choice. Any divergence from groupthink becomes intolerable as all substance in dissent is lost. The result is that vetted politically acceptable thought becomes shallow, simplistic dogmas.
Love of Equality
Tocqueville argues that in a democratic country, the love of equality becomes a passion that tends to override the love of liberty. The more equal and alike men become, the more they are bothered by inequalities the equality of opportunity becomes extinct.
The love of equality is so strong that men will readily sacrifice their freedom to achieve it. As Tocqueville puts it, democracy awakens “a depraved taste for equality in the human heart … that reduces men to preferring equality in servitude to inequality in freedom.” With this, Tocqueville predicted that the ardent love of equality leads to socialism and the rise of a new despotism.
A New Despotism
Tocqueville describes this new type of despotism as “an innumerable crowd of like and equal men procuring the small and vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls. An immense tutelary power takes charge of assuring their enjoyments and watching over their fate. An absolute paternal power motivated not to prepare men for manhood, but on the contrary in childhood.”
This power seeks to keep the crowd fixed irrevocably. The power promoted its citizens to enjoy themselves provided that they think only of enjoying themselves. So, this power willingly works for their happiness and wants to be the unique agent and sole judge. It will provide for their security, foresees and secures their needs, facilitates their pleasures, conducts their principal affairs, directs their industry, regulates their estates, divides their inheritances. It medicates its constituents from the trouble of thinking and the pain of living.
Government expansion and dominance prevail to monitor and enforce equality and fairness within social society. This legislation creates a government leveling system. These laws and regulations bring about an equality of conditions that makes ideas and opinions more uniform. Tocqueville calls it tyranny because an expansive, irresistible government is not in the citizen’s best interest.
The governmental bureaucrats understand the relationship between irresistible paternal government and the vulnerable public. When opportunities arise, they have to be ready and able to comfort the insecurities of the masses. All it takes is action and good marketing. John Madden described this reaction, “It does not matter if the horses are blind just load up the wagons.” Although cavalier, I find this procedure lacking critical thought.
New Herd Immunity – Conformity
When unknown or threatening occurrences appear, many of us submit to a primal natural human instinct, herding. Thus a shepherd is needed to influence the herd. The role of government, as a shepherd, is what Tocqueville calls tutelary power. When people feel insecure, they abdicate freedom for safety, a mass abdication of responsibility to authority occurs.
Too little herding becomes anarchism, while excessive herding is totalitarianism. The gatekeepers of society must keep their flock within the submissive boundaries without applying excessive force. Covid impingements and the vaccine issue have become the barometer to measure where that boundary is.
Erich Fromm described automaton conformity as changing one’s ideal self to conform to a perception of society’s preferred type of personality, losing one’s true self in the process. He goes on to describe this process. ‘Most people are not aware of their need to conform. They live under the illusion that they follow their ideas and inclinations, that they are individualists. That they have arrived at their opinions as to the result of their thinking – and that it just happens that their ideas are the same as those of the majority.’
Henry David Thoreau prescribed individualism as, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however, measured or far away.” Thoreau insists that mavericks need space to dance; they dance to a different tune. Reckless conformists hear only one note mavericks hear the whole range.