Knowledge Boost #3: Democracy In America, Part One
"By contrast, the wealthy man always evades prison in civil matters. Furthermore, if he has committed an offense, he has no difficulty in wriggling out of the punishment which should come his way. After providing bail money, he vanishes. Therefore, it can be stated that the only penality inflicted upon him by the law boils down to a fine. Could there be any legislation more aristocratic than that?"
"Liberty looks upon religion as its companion in its struggles and triumphs, as the cradle of its young life, as the divine source of its claims. It considers religion as the guardian or morality, morality as the guarantee of law and the security that freedom will last."
"they have achieved huge undertakings as long as they saw the triumph of the religion of Mohammed in the conquest of the sultans. Today their religion is disappearing, despotism alone remains and they are declining."
"By preventing political courts from pronouncing judicial penalties, Americans seem to me to have thus provided against the most terrible consequences of legal tyranny rather than tyranny itself. Everything considered I wonder whether political jurisdiction as understood in the United States, is not the most fearsome weapon ever lodged in the hands of the majority. Once the American republics begin to degenerate, I believe we shall easily recognize that to be so; it will be enough to notice whether the number of political judgments increasing."
"We shall see further on that in America, real power resides in provincial government rather more than in federal government."
"The policy of Americans toward the world at large is simple; it might almost be said that no one needs them and they need no one."
"The history of the world affords no example of a great nation which has remained for long time a republic."
"You have, therefore, to change the people en masse, not simply the President, if you wish to alter the guiding political principles."
"Political parties know this well enough. Therefore, they challenge the validity of the majority whenever possible. When they fail to gain a majority of those who voted, they claim it among those who abstained from voting, when that fails, they seek a majority among those who have no right to vote."
"If freedom is lost in America, blame will be laid at the door of the omnipotence of the majority, which will have driven minorities to despair and will have forced them to appeal to physical force. Then one will anarchy which will come as a consequence of despotism."
"Since the first human societies, I do not think that one single example can be cited of a nation which, left to its own devices and by its own exertions, has ever created an aristocracy within its boundaries."
"In contrast, if an American were to be reduced to minding only his own business, he would be deprived of half his existence, he would experience it as a gaping void in his life and would become unbelievably unhappy."
OK, let's unpack these bad boys. The first one could be seen as underlining the tired old saw about how we should avoid the whole 'tyranny of the majority' thing-- but really, in this day and age, you have to question just how many majorities there actually are. There's a perceived majority in this country and then there's the rest of us- if the latter can organize around some political principles the Establishment (which is very much made up of a cross-party, multi-racial, usually upper-class clerisy/gentry) will no longer be perceived as a majority, but a minority. This is what they don't want- really, his quote becomes more apt if you switch majority and minority around.
The second quote underlines this: I think we are creating an aristocracy in our borders. I've seen persuasive arguments on this time and time again. Education is becoming a status symbol and a self-sorting mechanism for our societies. If your parents don't have college degrees you're less likely to get one- if you have one, you're more likely to marry someone with a college degree as well. Now, the hitch here is that higher education right now is a complete mess. So it could be that this self-sorting mechanism is sort of an artificially inflated bubble if you like, that will fade out over time, especially as the Zoomers and Millennials start having kids and if their attitudes on higher education shift. (Which they might be shifting already- it'd be fascinating to dig up some information on that either way.)
The third quote is just hilarious. Long have I thought that this country would be vastly improved if people would just mind their own fucking business even if it's just for say 50% more of the time than they do now. A Frenchman writing one hundred and eighty-eight years ago sure had our number (as a country anyway) even then.
Overall: Okay I get it now, all the fuss about Tocqueville that is. A fascinating read- it's long and very very dense in parts- which is why I'm breaking it up into two posts. I'll be taking an extended hiatus from Democracy In America for a while and then coming back to finish volume two when my brain isn't so overloaded. I would say though that if you haven't, for whatever reason, sat down and read this yet- and you're doing anything in political science or even history that's remotely relevant to the time period or this country, you should take some time to read this one.