“Democracy in America” by Tocqueville (Book 1, Part 2, Chapter 8) (1835)

Chapter 8: What Tempers the Tyranny of the Majority in the United States

  • I – Absence of Administrative Centralization
    • 2 types of centralization – government & administrative
      • Only government centralization in the US
      • If directing power had both, there’s be no freedom because it have the right to command, & the faculty & habit to perform everything
      • US lacks the tools of tyrants
    • Central government only occupied with small number of matters & doesn’t regulate secondary concerns, nor has the desire to do so
      • wouldn’t expand absolute authority of central government
      • majority can’t make all citizens obey in everything & at anytime
    • Central government’s commands carried out by agents but retarded by city & county governments, who divide the popular will so that even with oppressive laws, enforcement is difficult because of decentralization
  • II – The Temper of the American Legal Profession and How it Serves to Counterbalance Democracy
    • Prestige & influence of lawyers are strongest barriers against the faults of Democracy
      • European political movements are led by lawyers either against authorities or on behalf of authorities
        • Extends power of the king or aristocracy
      • Lawyers have habits & tastes for formality, not the revolutionary spirit, & have privilege of intellectual class with aristocratic tastes
    • In free governments, lawyers are in the leading ranks of the parties, along with aristocracy
      • All democratic movements are led by lawyers
      • Aristocracy & lawyers make natural allies but lawyers have the ability to overthrow governments
        • Love ordered life -> authority is the guarantor of order
        • Less afraid of tyranny than arbitrariness
    • Democracy favors political power for lawyers because when the rich, noble & prince are excluded from government, lawyers take over
    • If they gravitate toward aristocracy & prince, the people can bring them back with the promise of powers
      • Lawyers don’t want to overthrow Democracies but to try to guide it with familiar methods
      • One with the people but aristocratic in habits – make natural liaison between the two
        • Aristocratic nature of the legal mind is largest in the UK & US due to common law & legal procedures
      • UK & US lawyers look at what’s been done while French lawyers look at what’s wished to be done.
      • French lawyers more interested in their own opinions than US & UK lawyers who defer to ancestors, tradition & precedents
        • French laws are opaque but clearly available for all to read.
        • US & UK laws require reading precedents & interpreting them like Egyptian priests
    • In UK, lawyers are the cadet branch of aristocracy. They value laws not because they’re good but because they are old, & don’t want to innovate
    • In the US, people distrust the rich but lawyers effectively make up the political & intellectual upper class & only stand to lose from innovation – making them fairly conservative
      • US’s form of aristocracy
    • Lawyers apply a brake to public passions & ideas
      • Judges are lawyers who like the stability of their office, where their knowledge gives them high standing among peers & political power gives him privilege
        • Judges can be removed by the legislature & some are even elected
          • May lead to bad results someday
    • Americans are reluctant to change civil laws
    • Hardly a political question that doesn’t turn into a judicial one
      • Legal language has been introduced into common speech because it infiltrates society
  • III – The Jury in the United States Considered as a Political Institution
    • Judicial Aspect – English started juries when they were barbarians & have grown attached to it, especially with Enlightenment & have spread it all around the world
    • Political institution – a jury is made of citizens selected by chance & given the right to judge. May have aristocratic members but juries have a republican element – real control is in people’s hands, not the rulers’.
      • True sanction of political law is penal sanction & when that’s missing, law loses power.
      • Man who’s judge in a criminal trial is true master of society
        • Jury puts control into people’s hands
        • UK uses aristocratic juries making it an aristocratic society
        • US – any citizen who votes can be a jury member -> sovereignty of the people as universal suffrage.
          • Responsible for execution of laws along with legislature who has the duty of making laws
    • Laws unsteady if unsupported by mores, which are the only tough & durable power in a nation.
      • Criminal & civil juries -> System infiltrates into business of life & has influence on national character by instilling habits of judicial on everyone’s minds & are the best way to prepare a people to be free
      • Spreads respect for court decisions & idea of right throughout all classes, teaching equity in practice & invests each citizen with magisterial office & a duty toward society & share in government
    • Greatest Advantage – effective in shaping a nation’s judgment & increasing its natural rights
      • it is a free school, always open, where the juror learns his own rights & comes in contact with the best educated & most enlightened members with practical lessons in laws
      • Judges & lawyers only aristocratic body to check people’s movements but without physical power & only influence on people’s mind
      • Civil suits – judge acts a disinterested arbiter but the jury is mostly incompetent & useless.

“Democracy in America” by Tocqueville (Book 1, Part 2, Chapter 7)

Chapter 7: The Omnipotence of the Majority in the United States and Its Effects

  • Democratic government’s essence is absolute sovereignty of the will of the majority
    • Legislature is chose to represent the majority directly for short terms – almost all government power is here
    • Laws weaken the executive to the point where it has no stability
    • Moral authority of majority rule is the number of representations is more important than how they’re chosen & there’s more wisdom in an elected body than in one man
      • power seems more legitimate it by majority
    • vs. ancien régime France – king could do no wrong & any blame was put on advisers, making obedience easier by exonerating the king of responsibility for outcome
    • Parties affect respect for majority because if nation is divided by irreconcilable differences, majority is disregarded as unpleasant to submit to
      • Aristocracy would have to give up its privileges to rule like a majority
  • I – How in America the Omnipotence of the Majority Increases the Legislative and Administrative Instability Natural to Democracies
    • Instability comes from turnover of representatives & Democracy is only applied to most important matters
      • laws & constitutions change, but activity never slows down which causes instability
      • omnipotence of majority & quick execution of laws make laws unstable because improvements are being made all the time
        • e.g. Prison reform was brought up, public got excited, prisoners & prisons were reformed due to the majority wanting it. Penitentiaries compared to old prisons & it became obvious new system was better.
  • II – Tyranny of the Majority
    • Majority shouldn’t have complete control
      • Justice forms boundary to people’s rights & majority is merely a representation of society – can’t go beyond justice & reason
      • Juxtapose majority to minority – no difference in character, only number
    • No such thing as a “mixed government” – society has some principle of action which dominates others
      • When contrary principles occur, revolutions happen & society crumbles
    • Necessary to place one social power over others but freedom is in trouble if that power can’t be restrained & moderated
    • When omnipotence in an authority, seeds of tyranny planted
      • in US, there’s a shortage of guarantees against tyranny
    • If you suffer injustice in US, where do you turn to?
      • All institutions are represented by majority
  • III – Effect of the Omnipotence of the Majority on the Arbitrary Power of the American Public Officials
    • Tyranny can use law as an instrument – no longer arbitrary but usually makes use of arbitrariness, can do without it
    • Arbitrary power can be non-tyrannical if used in public interest
    • Omnipotence of majority favors legal despotism of legislators & arbitrary power & magistrate
      • public functionaries passive agents – freer but rarely abuse power
  • IV – The Power Exercised by the Majority in America over Thought
    • Absolute monarchy can’t completely control thoughts hostile to it from circulating in courts & public
    • King’s power is physical, controlling actions not desires
    • People in US talk when majority is in doubt & then shut up when it’s clear, & act accordingly
      • Less independence of mind & freedom of discussion in the US
      • Only one authority & source of strength/success – nothing outside of it
    • Democracy restrains the intellectual area, threatening those outside of what’s acceptable it with ostracism & persecution
      • Bruyère & Molière criticized government of Louis XIV. As dangerous as this was in France, it would never happen in the US
      • Majority in US lives in perpetual state of self-adoration
    • No literary geniuses because there’s no freedom of spirit – absolutely necessary for them to arise
      • Even Spain under the Inquisition had opposition in public arena
  • V – Effects of the Majority’s Tyranny on American National Character; the Courtier Spirit in the United States
    • Outstanding politicians are rare due to despotism of majority in the US
      • A ton of them during the Revolution to guide men without tyrannizing them
      • Intellectual movement & their greatness brought honor to the nation
    • Courtiers flattered absolute monarchs but majority don’t, & only submitted out of weakness, rather than to abase themselves in bootlicking
      • In democracy, all opinions are given, & public & private life is mingled
        • As in the spirit of the court, put within the reach of all classes to participate
    • Majority having absolute & irresistible sway causes many to renounce their rights if they diverge from it
    • Not many willing to stray from public opinion – which is completely different to the generation of the Revolution
    • Despotism corrupts a man who submits to it than the man who imposes it. The absolute monarch may have virtues but courtiers are always vile.
    • American moralists excuse this by appealing to the majority’s vanity
  • VI – The Greatest Danger to the American Republics Comes from the Omnipotence of the Majority
    • governments collapse from impotence or tyranny – either power slips from its grasp or is taken from it
    • Anarchy in Democracy seen as nature of a democratic state to be weak but really, government influence stops during a war between 2 factions
      • Always abuse of strength & ill use of resources brings the government down
      • Usually from tyranny or inability – not impotence
    • Governments of US more energetic than absolute monarchs of Europe
    • If freedom is lost in America, it’ll be due to omnipotence of the majority making minorities resort to desperation & physical force
      • Madison – justice is the purpose of government & civil society. When a majority can oppress the weaker, anarchy reigns & we go back to a state of nature
      • Jefferson – tyranny exists in the executive but mostly in the legislative. Keep an eye on both

“Democracy in America” by Tocqueville (Book 1, Part 2, Chapter 6) (1835)

Chapter 6: The Real Advantages Derived by American Society From Democratic Government

  • I – The General Tendency of Laws Under the Sway of American Democracy and the Instincts of Those Who Apply Them
    • defects of Democracy are obvious but the benefits are only seen in the long run
      • laws can be defective & incomplete
      • most of them violate rights or sanction dangerous ones
    • If a legislator wants to favor one at the expense of many he has to propose it quickly & without much attention to it
      • efficiency of passage makes it dangerous
    • Aristocracy is more skillful in legislating then Democracy, not subject to transitory impulses, & moves with intelligence & efficiency
    • Democracy’s laws are defective or untimely but often unintentionally works against itself
      • If a society organized by nature or Constitution, can tolerate passing effect of bad laws & the general tendency of laws without disaster
        • In America, great privilege is to be able to make retrievable mistakes
    • American democracy often makes mistakes in choice of men it entrusts power
    • Democracy’s rulers are less honest & capable but the governed are more enlightened & more alert
      • People more occupied with own affairs, jealous of their rights & prevent representatives from deviating from public’s interests
      • Democratic magistrates may abuse power but only have it for a short time
    • Rulers should have virtues & talents but shouldn’t have interests contrary to the governed
    • Political structure equally favors growth & prosperity for all classes
      • Classes like distinct nations within a nation
      • It’s dangerous to entrust the fate of all to one class just as it is to entrust one nation’s fate to another
    • When rich alone rule, poor’s interests are in danger
      • When poor alone rule, rich’s interests are in danger
    • Advantage to Democracy to serve the well-being for the greatest number
      • Those entrusted are often inferior in capacity & morality
      • interest is mingled & identified with the majority
      • Power is untrustworthy & mistake-prone but will never systematically follow a tendency hostile to the majority
    • Bad administration’s effect small due to terms of office being short
      • corruption & incapacity not in common interests of men
      • Won’t work in concert – vices of magistrates are personal & hardly shared
    • Aristocracy is distinct from majority’s interest
      • Aristocratic magistrates think in the long term, sees class spirit & unconsciously shapes society to convenience of their descendants
    • Only England has a liberal aristocracy with Enlightenment but the welfare of the poor has been sacrificed for that of the rich
    • US officials have no class interest to promote
      • government is beneficial even if rulers are inept & contemptible
      • tends to promote general prosperity in spite of vices & mistakes
      • aristocratic institutions have secret bias to contribute to afflictions of the country
        • Good men do evil without intending it
      • US – brings good results without thinking
  • II – Public Spirit in the United States
    • Older form of Patriotism from feeling tying a man to where he was born
      • habits, ancestors, memories, tradition
      • similar to religious zeal – doesn’t reason – feels & acts
      • Can be personified in a monarch & people are proud of his power
      • decays in peace & grows in a crisis
      • When mores are simple, society rests & legitimacy is not contested
    • New for of Patriotism – more rational, less generous, more creative, less ardent, longer lasting, enlightened, grows with help from laws, rights are mingled with personal interest
    • Man understands the country’s well-being influences his own & laws allow him to contribute to it.
      • Gives him an interest in its prosperity
      • At first, it just seems useful, then he thinks he’s created it
    • Maybe the best way to interest people in the fate of their country is to give them a stake in it
    • The newly arrived take such an interest in new country because they are actively taking part in it
    • Common man understands influence of general prosperity because it’s his responsibility
    • Americans feel duty to defend what’s criticized
      • But sometimes Patriotism turns into national pride, childishness & vanity
  • III – The Idea of Rights in the United States
    • Virtues & rights are mingled
      • Rights have defined the nature of license & tyranny
      • with them we can be independent without arrogance & obedient without servility
    • Submission to force debases a man because he knows a fellow mortal has the right to give him orders
    • No man can be great without virtue & no nation can be great without respect for rights
    • Children grab what they can & must be taught to respect property & that it can be taken from them too
      • Eventually learns to respect others’ property
    • America has no proletarians – everybody’s got some possession to defend
      • High idea of political rights because they all have some & don’t want to be violated themselves
    • Democracy – political rights to benefit the least of the citizens & property is within the reach of all
    • New form of Patriotism
      • beliefs giving way to arguments & feelings giving way to calculations
    • Links idea of rights to personal interest
    • Despotism presents itself as repairer of all ills, support of just rights, defender of oppressed & founder of order
      • People are lulled to sleep by its temporary prosperity & when they wake up, they are wretched
      • Liberty is born in stormy weather, growing with difficulty in civil discord & only when it’s old do we see its blessings
  • IV – Respect for Laws in the United States
    • Parties are aware expression of the will of the whole can’t easily be smothered
      • Often cast doubts on majority’s validity
      • Without majority, they claim it from those who abstained from voting or that the majority have no right to vote.
      • Those who want to attack laws must either
        • 1 – Change the nation’s opinion, or
        • 2 – Trample its wishes underfoot
    • Americans feel a person interest in obeying laws – majority may one day become minority, minority may one day become majority & will demand laws of its own
      • Americans will submit as the work of the majority is of his own choosing
    • No numerous or perpetually turbulent crowd regarding the law as a natural enemy to fear or suspect
  • V – Activity Prevailing in All Parts of the Political Body in the United States; the Influence Thereby Exerted on Society
    • In free countries, lots of activity
      • In unfree countries, not much activity
    • Democracies are in a rush to attain happiness
      • the state of society is the concern of the whole nation – including all classes
    • As soon as you show up in America, things are happening
      • noises, voices, movement, plans being made & carried out
      • choosing representatives & talking about morals, values & laws
    • With legislatures, agitation comes from all classes
      • to take hand in the government & talk about it is important
      • even women get involved
    • In some countries, political rights are seen as burdensome – worrying about communal interest is annoying
      • If an American did this, he’d lose all reason for living
    • Renews agitation goes into civil society
      • People manage public affairs badly but concern keeps the government going
      • A man of the people gets his self-esteem from listening to proposals & acting on them
    • Enemies of Democracy claim that a single man can do a better job than a government for all.
      • Correct, BUT
      • It provides a social & civic energy never seen before
    • WHAT DEMOCRACY WON’T DO
      • raise mankind
      • cause scorn for material goods
      • engender devotion & conviction
      • refine manners
    • WHAT DEMOCRACY WILL DO
      • turn man’s intellect & moral activity toward the necessities of physical life & use the to produce well-being for all
      • create tranquil habits
      • fewer crimes, vices & greater deeds
      • prosperous society
      • not build glory for the nation but the well-being of individuals

“The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent” by John Erskine

  • Ask: “What are modern virtues?”
    • You might answer things we like: meekness, humility, renunciation of world
    • Would you answer, “Intelligence”?
  • Old idea that intelligence is dangerous
    • Anglo-Saxons have derided the idea of intelligence being important
      • As if you have to choose between being good & intelligent
      • As if stupidity is a cousin to morality, and reason & God are not on good terms w/ each other
        • As if you mind is full, your heart is empty
  • Shakespeare often portrays intelligent men as villains or tragic victims
    • Iago, Prospero, Richard, Edmund, Hamlet
      • Best characters are moral but not intelligent
      • English portrayal of humility often accompanied by stupidity
  • Milon’s “Paradise Lost” puts high intelligence to the devil trying to trick God & Job
    • Liberty-loving Satan, always persistent
    • God’s angel cautions Adam not to wander the earth & eat from the Tree of Knowledge
    • Theologians & scientists like Satan
  • Fielding, Scott, Thackeray, Dickens
    • Hero is a well-meaning blunderer saved by the grace of god from his mess of a life
      • Often needs rescue
      • His wife is good but even simpler than he is
  • French authors, especially Balzac, would show us the tragedy of goodness being tied to stupidity
    • would also be incomprehensible to the Greeks
  • Some English writers, Shelley, Byron & Spencer believed in intelligence
    • Spencer may confuse readers because he demands the reader to have a mind & a heart in order to understand
    • English attitude may have come from Germany brought by Saxon invaders
    • No use for craft or strategy
      • just fighting & self-reliance
    • A man was only as good as his word & was ready to back it up with force
    • Germans didn’t enter into public or private business without a sword on them
      • Social emphasis on honor, integrity
        • word more important than deed
      • Words & deeds said something about the man behind them – not good & evil
      • Idea was that without thinking:
        • A good man does good things
        • A bad man does bad things
  • Moral obligation of an intelligent creature to learn if an action leads to a good end or a bad end
    • only a system that excuses him from that is a vicious one
  • Bad acts may be done by bad intentions or our of neglect
    • You must feel responsibility not to neglect learning the consequences of your actions
  • Matthew Arnold said:
    • The purpose of culture is to make reason & will of God prevail
    • Before we can make the will of God prevail, we must find out what it is
  • America has assimilated other cultures apart from English
    • Greek love of knowledge & idea that sin & misery come from ignorance & scientific spirit
  • Need courage & steadfastness
    • But need to recognize when old virtues leave us with something missing
    • Often social & economic problems are about intelligence
      • seems ignoble to admit this
    • Matters of faith
      • seek knowledge not for answers but b/c we think knowledge is life itself
        • not to make God prevail but to know the will of God
        • Love knowledge for its own sake – like virtue
      • If we don’t hand thieves anymore, it’s not because we don’t think any less of thieving
        • it’s because intelligence usually leads to virtue & enterprise
  • Religion
    • Intelligence is the master of virtue
      • decrease fear & increase opportunity
      • outward effect is to rob the altar of its sacrifices & the priest of his mysteries
        • Because we know so much more, the altar is abandoned & the religion becomes revised when it’s clear that sacrifices didn’t work & knowledge is power
        • Then one hypothesis supplants another
    • Religion reacted violently because Darwinism & the like inundated society with knowledge & changed our views so quickly & violently
  • Be patient with those who don’t agree with this idea
    • Dividing – We are rooted by languages, places & customs
    • Uniting – Intelligence unites us after roots of prejudice are pulled up
      • Jesus – he that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me
    • Intelligence begins with a pang & turns into a vision to make a life of opportunity, make goodness articulated & make virtue a fact
      • Liberation of human spirit & uniting force

Federalist No. 71 – Alexander Hamilton

Federalist No. 71 – Alexander Hamilton

  • The President’s term should be four years.
  • Some think that it’s too long and he could amass power.
  • In this span, he has time to counteract temporary passions or influences of factions in the public and their representatives.
  • His duty is to protect the interests of the people and greater good of the nation especially when the people want a bad policy.
  • He’ll have enough time to pursue the best policies
    • If this time is too short, he might not be bold and controversial actions with reelection looming will be afraid of electoral repercussions.

Federalist No. 70 – Alexander Hamilton

Federalist No. 70 – Alexander Hamilton

  • A single executive is necessary for accountability, “executive energy” and defense against legislative encroachment on his power.
  • One is enough to ensure secrecy, fewer fights and allowing decisions to be made quickly.
  • Congress will have time to deliberate and listen to open discussion to prevent tyranny of the majority. Its function is to pass laws and once passed. Then opposition must end.
  • The Executive there to execute laws and once they’ve been passed, it’s important to start enforcing them straight away.
  • War demands a strong executive because divisiveness can be a killer.
  • With more than one President, (i.e. council), no one person is responsible.
  • He must not be immune to censure, accountability or punishment.
  • Councils often act as a cushion between kings and make it so that the people don’t matter.
  • Councils are expensive to maintain à the best model is the New York state governor.

Federalist No. 69 – Alexander Hamilton (1787-1788)

Federalist No. 69 – Alexander Hamilton

  • The President won’t be an elected monarch.
  • He can only negate acts, not pass them.
  • He can have a veto overturned but a king can’t.
  • Both the President and King serve as commander and chief.
  • A King can raise and maintain an army but the Congress alone can do that under the Constitution.
  • The President can make treaties with the Senate’s approval but the King can do it alone.
  • The President’s officers also need Senate approval but the King’s officers don’t.
  • The President is limited with respect to commerce and currency.
  • The President will have less power than a state governor.