Jason Wong Social Studies 10b Nicolas Prevelakis

Relational Paradox: That of the Individual and Society Alexis de Tocqueville enjoyed paradoxes. In his visit to the United States, Tocqueville remarked that “No novelty in the United States struck me more vividly during my stay there than the equality of conditions.”1 Tocqueville was awed by what he observed in his trip, and he believed that the relatively young country represented a new modern society that would replace an aging aristocratic one. To Tocqueville, it was the basic premise of equality and egalitarianism that gave rise to a more improved society. Tocqueville continued his remarks on the United States’ ‘equality of conditions’ in his introduction, where he wrote “It is easy to see the immense influence of this basic fact on the whole course of society. It gives a particular turn to public opinion and a particular twist to the new laws, new maxims to those who govern and particular habits to the governed.”2 On the other hand, especially in volume two of his great work Democracy in America, Tocqueville paradoxically wrote about the dangers of the country’s egalitarianism. Notably, Tocqueville feared individualism, as well as the tyranny of the majority. The perfect state, in Tocqueville’s mind, was a delicate balance of individual freedoms and collective cohesion that seems impossible for any state to practically attain. Although this paper is primarily concerned with Tocqueville’s vision of modern societies, this paper also utilizes other notable thinkers and ideas in
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Tocqueville, Alexis de Democracy in America translated by George Lawrence edited by J.P. Mayer; published by Perennial Classics 2000, New York NY Page 9 2 Tocqueville, Alexis de Democracy in America translated by George Lawrence edited by J.P. Mayer; published by Perennial Classics 2000, New York NY Page 9

Jason Wong Social Studies 10b Nicolas Prevelakis

an attempt to critique Tocqueville’s observations and theories. We begin with the idea that Tocqueville, who is interested in the development of the democratic social state, seems to inaccurately emphasize religion’s ability to preserve mores that are essential to the maintenance of freedom. History has shown that in reality religion can be divisive, encourage self-segregation, and emphasize differences among individuals rather than encourage unity among all peoples. The development of social mores that stem from equality are also a great concern for Tocqueville, who believed that equality begot individualism and encouraged self-centered individuals. But this paper argues that Tocqueville is unnecessarily concerned about the ramifications of the self-centered individual who, as Adam Smith and Friedrich A. von Hayek would argue, can still be both self-centered and at the same time serve society’s needs. Smith and Hayek would argue that these two points are not mutually exclusive, whereas Tocqueville seems to imply that they are. Furthermore, this essay looks at a possible solution to the Tocqueville’s other problem of the “tyranny of the majority” by utilizing associations as havens for dissent and debate. Finally, this essay goes back to Tocqueville’s major point about the importance of equality in the modern society attempts to piece together a coherent philosophy behind the concept of the individual in modern society. Additionally, it is important to note that all references to American democracy refer to republican democracy.

Jason Wong Social Studies 10b Nicolas Prevelakis

For Tocqueville, the origins of United States egalitarian society is founded upon a complex interaction of the physical geography of North America, the history of the colonies, and the religious beliefs of its people. Inevitably, these major influences on American society assisted in its development into an egalitarian society by helping to determine the country’s social state. The American social state allowed individual Americans a suitable participatory role in local and national politics that was mutually beneficial to both individuals and the state. Tocqueville supported this idea when he wrote that “The social state is commonly the result of circumstances, sometimes of laws, but most often of a combination of the two.”3 Tocqueville emphasized two factors, however, that are primarily responsible for the culture of democracy that pervaded the country: the interaction between the religious and political ideals among all members of United States society. In the religious/moral world, Tocqueville wrote, everything was ordered, coordinated and organized while everything in the political world was chaotic, disordered and confused. “Far from harming each other,” Tocqueville wrote, “these two apparently opposed tendencies work in harmony and seem to lend mutual support.”4 Tocqueville explained this idea of mutual benefit by describing religion as the “guardian of mores” and the companion of freedom in its struggle to maintain itself.

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Tocqueville, Alexis de Democracy in America translated by George Lawrence edited by J.P. Mayer; published by Perennial Classics 2000, New York NY Page 50 4 Tocqueville, Alexis de Democracy in America translated by George Lawrence edited by J.P. Mayer; published by Perennial Classics 2000, New York NY Page 47

Jason Wong Social Studies 10b Nicolas Prevelakis

It is important to note, however, that during Tocqueville’s visit the entire country (excluding Native American and African Americans), was almost entirely Christian. More specifically, most of America at that time was Protestant. Since this is the case, Tocqueville’s observation that religion and freedom mutually supported one another was in actually an observation that Protestantism (rather than religion overall) and freedom are only mutually beneficial to each other. He wrote that “For Americans the idea of Christianity and liberty are so completely mingled that it is almost impossible to get them to conceive of the one without the other.”5 But, if Tocqueville is correct to assume that religion and freedom are mutually beneficial to each other, then his conception of the development of democratic mores is almost useless in a society that consists of different and/or several religions and belief systems—assuming that everyone doesn’t or won’t convert to become Protestants. Tocqueville doesn’t seem to disagree. On page 445 Tocqueville writes how Islamic beliefs and egalitarian mores are inherently incompatible, and therefore, Islamic countries are less susceptible to democratizing:
Mohammed brought down from heaven and put into the Koran not religious doctrines only, but political maxims, criminal and civil laws, and scientific theories. The Gospels, on the other hand, deal only with the relations between man and God and between man and man. Beyond that, they teach nothing and do not oblige people to believe anything. That alone, among a thousand reasons, is enough to show that Islam will not be able to hold its power long in ages of enlightenment and democracy, while Christianity is destined to reign in such ages, as in all others.6
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Tocqueville, Alexis de Democracy in America translated by George Lawrence edited by J.P. Mayer; published by Perennial Classics 2000, New York NY Page 293 6 Tocqueville, Alexis de Democracy in America translated by George Lawrence edited by J.P. Mayer; published by Perennial Classics 2000, New York NY Page 445

Jason Wong Social Studies 10b Nicolas Prevelakis

Tocqueville, an imperialist, would argue that other societies and cultures have to emulate Protestantism if they didn’t convert outright, in order to remain competitive and/or not be conquered by Christian democratic societies. If this is the case, that societies should first convert into

Protestantism in order to craft a workable democratic society, then Tocqueville doesn’t explain the rise of other great democracies since his time in Japan, India, and South Africa. Each has their own set of beliefs and religious values that are different from Protestantism, and none of these countries adopted Protestantism or another form of Christianity as a major religion. If Christianity were so important to the development of democratic culture, then why did America’s founding fathers purposefully separate the roles of church and state in society? History has shown that even if all of one society or country has similar beliefs, there are times and cases from which religion is divisive, and encourages self-destructive social behavior. For example, modern American society is currently extremely conflicted over abortion and gay rights issues. Even within the Protestant religious umbrella, people are fragmented on their stances on these two issues. Some have taken to militant action, such as the bombing of abortion clinics, or the assassination of gay rights activists (i.e. Harvey Milk). Some churches, such as the Episcopal Church, have adopted amended rules and/or split and formed other organizations in order to recognize gay couples, or to allow women a place in religious organizational

Jason Wong Social Studies 10b Nicolas Prevelakis

leadership. These destructive social behaviors and divisions can sometimes be primarily fueled by religious fervor. In these cases, religion can emphasize differences among individuals rather than encourage unity, as extremely polarized issues remain unresolved as long as opposing beliefs exist. These conditions can make it difficult for associations to develop and/or foster. For Toqueville, associations are the bonds that are created among individuals in order to utilize their collective power to influence government and society. Associations are an important aspect of American culture because associations help develop fellow-feeling and solidarity. Tocqueville observed that forming and belonging to associations was one of the more pronounced activities of American citizens. Tocqueville noted that “Americans of all ages, all stations in life, and all types of disposition are forever forming associations.”7 He emphasized associations because they provide a necessary service in fighting against the problems of individualism. “If men are to remain civilized or to become civilized,” Tocqueville wrote, “the art of association must develop and improve among them at the same speed as equality of conditions spreads.”8 The ramifications of the equality of conditions are a paramount concern for Tocqueville, who believed that equality encouraged individualism. Tocqueville had the belief that because

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Tocqueville, Alexis de Democracy in America translated by George Lawrence edited by J.P. Mayer; published by Perennial Classics 2000, New York NY Page 513 8 Tocqueville, Alexis de Democracy in America translated by George Lawrence edited by J.P. Mayer; published by Perennial Classics 2000, New York NY Page 515

Jason Wong Social Studies 10b Nicolas Prevelakis

equality enables each person to serve their individual self interests, then individuals were susceptible to harmful individualist tendencies that could prove destructive. “Individualism” is an evolution from egoism, which Tocqueville claims is “a passionate and exaggerated love of self which leads a man to think of all things in terms of himself and to prefer himself to all.”9 Each citizen, then, is isolated from (or isolates himself from) the rest of society into the society of his or her limited social circle of family and friends. The individual “gladly leaves the greater society to look after itself”10 and recuses him or herself from a responsibility to contribute back to society. Equality of conditions demolishes human fellowship, and according to Tocqueville, is of democratic origin and threatens to grow as conditions get more equal.”11 However, there is no reason that individual self-interest and the interests of society are mutually exclusive. By all accounts, Tocqueville would prefer a kind of political man over the family man (or woman) when in reality in a modern society they can be one and the same, or at least share similar interests. While individualism and social isolation is a worry, it is not as pronounced as Tocqueville believes. Smith notes that "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not
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Tocqueville, Alexis de Democracy in America translated by George Lawrence edited by J.P. Mayer; published by Perennial Classics 2000, New York NY Page 506 10 Tocqueville, Alexis de Democracy in America translated by George Lawrence edited by J.P. Mayer; published by Perennial Classics 2000, New York NY Page 506 11 Tocqueville, Alexis de Democracy in America translated by George Lawrence edited by J.P. Mayer; published by Perennial Classics 2000, New York NY Page 507

Jason Wong Social Studies 10b Nicolas Prevelakis

to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages." Therefore, individual self-interest and collective social interests can be intertwined. The family man can still serve society by serving his family’s interests. In Smith’s example, the family man would help provide bread, meat, or beer for society. In addition, there is little reason for men and women to isolate themselves from politics or their fellowbeings when most businesses and occupations require some form of social interaction and in many cases men and women of all interests are affected by various state legislation concerning suitable business practices, taxation, driver’s licenses, etc. Tocqueville’s other great concern for the individual was the tyranny of the majority. A big question for Tocqueville was to whom individuals can turn to when conflicts arise between the individual and the rest of society. On page 252 of Democracy in America, Tocqueville pondered:
When a man or a party suffers an injustice in the United States, to whom can he turn? To public opinion? That is what forms the majority. To the legislative body? It represents the majority and obeys it blindly. To the executive power? It is appointed by the majority and serves as its passive instrument. To the police? They are nothing but the majority under arms. A jury? The jury is the majority vested with the right to pronounce judgment; even the judges in certain states are elected by the majority. So, however iniquitous or unreasonable the measure which hurts you, you must submit.12

James Madison, an American politician who helped oversee the development of the United States, had a similar concern. In his editorial, Federalist #10,

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Tocqueville, Alexis de Democracy in America translated by George Lawrence edited by J.P. Mayer; published by Perennial Classics 2000, New York NY Page 252

Jason Wong Social Studies 10b Nicolas Prevelakis

Madison wrote that “Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, […] that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.”13 But Madison responded to this question by stating that the only way to combat this tyranny was to encourage associations, which he called factions, to increase so that they could combat one another when individual associations become too powerful. Eventually, Madison assumed, if one faction was becoming too powerful, then that would encourage many of the other smaller factions to work together to negate the effects of the large faction. Madison concludes Federalist #10 by stating:
The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States. A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source.14

Thus, associations, which already constitute a major part of American culture, can serve to both divide the interests of the majority, and also serve to unite smaller associations against the overwhelming power of the majority. Tocqueville believed that equality of conditions was an important component of any modern society. He believed the egalitarian social state of
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Madison, James Federalist #10 http://www.constitution.org/fed/federa10.htm Madison, James Federalist #10 http://www.constitution.org/fed/federa10.htm

Jason Wong Social Studies 10b Nicolas Prevelakis

America helped develop American characteristics of industriousness and the desire to accumulate wealth. Tocqueville, however, may have used observations which were too general in order to craft his theory on American society. Tocqueville seems to have confused the effects of democracy and egalitarianism with the effects of commercial society. Furthermore, Tocqueville’s analysis of religion in America is incomplete; his analysis doesn’t explain what might happen if America suddenly became less religious, or more religious with different beliefs, and what effects these might have on society. Tocqueville rightly concentrates on the power of the individual in modern society, but Tocqueville fears both individualism, and paradoxically, the tyranny of the majority. Tocqueville’s individualism is grounded on the idea that the goals and activities political man, as opposed to those of the family man, are mutually exclusive. In actuality I have tried to show that this isn’t the case, and there are many instances in business and politics that directly affect the political and family man at the same time. Tocqueville’s concern over the tyranny of the majority is a valid concern, and can be seen even today in the majority’s denial of equal rights for gays and lesbians. Madison’s solution would be to encourage the development of more factions and associations to limit any individual association’s power. Tocqueville himself noted that associations were an enormous part of American life. Ultimately, even though he expresses some reservations about, and an incomplete understanding of

Jason Wong Social Studies 10b Nicolas Prevelakis

commercial society, Tocqueville raises two penetrating concerns of the modern era: the risk of the individual isolating him/herself from the rest of his/her fellows, and the risk to the individual from the tyranny of society.

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