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Alexis de Tocqueville

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Charity Schmidt

on 17 May 2014

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Transcript of Alexis de Tocqueville

Alexis de Tocqueville
Born to a noble French family that escaped the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution (1789-1799)
Political career in First Republic, under Louis-Philippe's monarchy
Helped to draft the constitution of the Second Republic after the (second) French Revolution in 1848
Political career ended when he opposed Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte
The Guillotine
The Old Regime and the French Revolution (1856)
The Crisis of Rising Expectations:
Periods of economic and social progress, instead of satisfying the public, increases public discontent
"A grievance comes to appear intolerable once the possibility of removing it crosses men's minds"
Intellectual Radicalism: learned the ideals of the enlightenment yet excluded from government and high society

The Old Regime and the French Revolution (1856)
Aims of Revolution
Destroy the old order of feudalism and aristocracy
Increase power of the central authority (not anarchy or disorder)
Build a new social and political order based on the equality of men
Why France?
Society was divided, compartmentalized
Yet, had "the same laws for all"
Easier to tear down old social structure and build new one
Education made the bourgeois as cultivated as the nobleman (differed only in rights)
Known as a liberal reformer
A voice for the abolition of slavery, the promotion of free trade, and indirect rule in colony of Algeria
Pioneered Historical Sociology with his work
The Old Regime and the French Revolution
French theorists wanted to replace traditional customs with simple rules deriving from human reason and natural law
The bourgeois (rentiers, merchants, manufacturers, businessmen and financiers) were the most determined advocates of reform
The average Frenchman "... hardly understood what "the people" meant, thus revolution informed by abstract principles
The Result
France replaced its monarchy with a central authority that had more absolute power than any French king.
Democracy in America
1835, 1840

Research trip on the American 'prison system'
Methodology: Ethnography
The challenge of reading Democracy

Equality of conditions
Political Freedom
General Themes
Democracy irresistible force; political and social equality were the issues of the age
Strengths of American republic: limited scope of government, decentralization, egalitarianism, local civil society
Egalitarianism would lead to anti-intellectualism
Concerned that rapid economic growth would increase material inequality

The Dilemma of Democracy

"Self-interest is a basic feature of the sort of progressive, market-oriented society that is the foundation for democratic politics but the spirit of possessive individualism easily fosters egoism and selfish preferences that make management of common affairs difficult"
~Calhoun, p. 88

The Benefit of Aristocracy

Society is based on a hierarchy of status groups, but the groups have mutual obligations
Influence of Democracy on the
Feelings of the Americans (1840)

"The principles of equality may be established in civil society, without prevailing in the political world"
Equality=indulging in the same pleasures, entering same professions, frequenting same places, and seeking wealth and living in the same manner
Equality is the distinguishing feature of democracies, whereas...
Freedom can be found in any conditions, and is fleeting
Equality is self-evident, whereas...
Political Liberty requires sacrifice

"They call for equality in freedom; if they cannot obtain that, they still call for equality in slavery. They will endure poverty, servitude, barbarism- but they will not endure aristocracy"
Severs himself from the community
Forms his own circle of family and friends
Leaves society at large alone

Will spread at same ratio as the equality of conditions
More and more people will have the education and fortune to satisfy their needs..."they are apt to imagine that their whole destiny is in their own hands"
p. 107
"The vices which despotism engenders are precisely those which equality fosters"
p. 108
But Americans Combat this Trend

Those who govern are elected
Local Freedom: administration of minor affairs
Political rights: "remind every citizen, and in a thousand ways, that he lives in a society"
Where's the Social Obligation?

The rich know that they need the poor. But in democracy, "you attach a poor man to you more by your manner than by benefits conferred"
"The very essence of democratic government consists in the absolute sovereignty of the majority"
Tyranny of the Majority

The moral authority of the majority stems from the idea that "there is more intelligence and more wisdom in a great number of men collected together than in a single individual"
Based on the principle that the interests of the many are preferred to the interests of the few
Applies to the U.S. because our country was colonized by men of equal rank
The Legislature is the political institution most swayed by the majority... and entrusted with the most authority
"The main evil of the present democratic institutions of the United States does not arise, as is so often asserted in Europe, from their weakness, but from there overpowering strength, p. 125"
Why is Tocqueville worried about the strength of democratic institutions in the U.S.?
According to Tocqueville, is there true freedom of discussion and liberty of opinion in 19th century America? Why or why not?
In democratic societies, "the body is left free, and the soul is enslaved (p. 127)." What does he mean by that?
So... what about the minority?
Tocqueville Quotes Hamilton
p. 130

"Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society.... In a society, under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature, where the weaker individual is not secured against the violence of the stronger.... even the stronger individuals are prompted by the uncertainty of their condition to submit to a government which may protect the weak as well as themselves"
Tocqueville and Associations

Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions, constantly form associations"
Entertainment, education,schools, churches, books, missionaries, hospitals, prisons
Voluntary; "pursuing in common the object of their common desires"
"The only means they have of acting"
Is there a "connection between the principle of association and that of equality?"
Because all citizens are independent and "feeble," they would be incapacitated if they didn't voluntarily help each other"
Need great numbers to have any power
Prediction: As individuals become less self-sufficient, the need for governing power will increase...

... As governing power replaces associations and the notion of coming together fades, the more people will need government.

Therefore, associations are necessary to avoid tyranny and remain, or become "civilized"

Must appeal to the self interest of your fellow man to get him to join with you in a common purpose; and persuade them
As men become more equal, newspapers become more necessary
"They maintain civilization"
America has the most associations and the most newspapers
Question: Do our "newspapers" (the way we communicate and share information with others today) serve the same purpose that Tocqueville promotes?
The Principle of
Interest Rightly Understood

Men combine their own advantage with that of their fellow citizens
Every man may follow his own interest, but it is in the interest of everyman to be virtuous

Is organizing civil society based on The Principle of Interest Rightly Understood an effective basis for association towards public goods?
Why or why not?
Age of self sacrifice and and virtue giving way to age of freedom, public peace, and social order
The Principle of Interest Rightly Understood can only be maintained through education
1) Make a list of associations and groups you belong to
2) What is the common purpose of your group? What Social Capital do you receive by virtue of your membership in each group?
3) Get into groups of three and compare your lists. Do you share associations?
4) What would Tocqueville say about your civil life and that of your generation's?
Tocqueville to Putnam

Capital: What you know
Capital: Who you know
Capital: Social assets

Bowling Alone

Social Capital: networks of interaction wherein individuals develop qualities needed for community, collective action, and democratic participation
Social Capital key to
Making Democracy Work
America has experienced a sharp decline in Social capital since the 1960s
Talib Kweli
Get By
Why, According to Putnam...

Generational shift
Electronic entertainment (mostly television)
Pressures of time and money
Impact of suburbanization and sprawl
Bogg's Critique

"Can he be insisting that Americans after 1965 became more disengaged, less aware, less politically active than they were at the height of the placid fifties, when McCarthyism filled the air, when social movements and third parties were nowhere to be seen, when racism, sexism, and homo- phobia were part of the taken-for-granted ideological discourse? Or is Putnam indeed coming from another planet?" p. 283-284
Putnam claims that associations create habits of cooperation and public spiritedness, but never makes a case for this generalization
Leaves out small groups overflowing with SC: urban gangs, cults, paramilitary militias, Brotherhood of Aryan Nations...
Political Decline
He is against individualism, materialism, and privatized retreat, but ignores the impact of an economic order designed to reproduce such tendencies
Has an elitist concept of Social Capital
What is really happening in American civil society?
Meyer and Tarrow (1998) suggest social protest and popular movements have become an integral feature of contemporary civil society and, to a lesser extent, the institutional order
Narrowing public sphere in which political debates and election campaigns have become largely meaningless, the major parties have converged on vital issues of the day, and big money has hijacked virtually every realm of governmental activity, while urgent social problems go unsolved
Disengagement originates
in the late 1970s or early 1980s
rather than the 1960s

"No thoughtful person can question that the American economic system is under broad attack... Strength lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations."
~The Powell Memo, 1971

One such organization:
What is really happening in
American civil society? Cont...

An ideological shift in the early 1980s favoring "free market" principles,
Globalization: Capital has increased flexibility relative to labor
Capital has become more organized
Who has a stronger argument, Putnam or Boggs?

In the last decade, a lot has happened in civil and political society... (Obama, the Wisconsin Uprising, The Occupy movement, Fast Food worker strikes, and so on). How have these events impacted American civil society of today?
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