Front Page Titles (by Subject) Absence of Administrative Centralization - Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition, vol. 2
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Absence of Administrative Centralization - Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition, vol. 2 
Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition of De la démocratie en Amérique, ed. Eduardo Nolla, translated from the French by James T. Schleifer. A Bilingual French-English editions, (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2010). Vol. 2.
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This bilingual edition of Tocqueville’s work contains a new English translation of the French critical edition published in 1990. The copyright to the French version is held by J. Vrin and it is not available online. The copyright to the English translation, the translator’s note, and index is held by Liberty Fund.
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Absence of Administrative Centralization
The national majority does not have the idea of doing everything.—It is forced to use town and county magistrates in order to carry out its sovereign will.
Previously I distinguished two types of centralization; one, I called governmental, and the other administrative. a
Only the first exists in America; the second is almost unknown there.
If the power that directs American societies found these two means of government at its disposal, and combined, with the right to command everything, the ability and the habit of carrying out everything by itself; if, after establishing the general principles of government, it entered into the details of application, and after regulating the great interests of the country, it could reach as far as individual interests, liberty would soon be banished from the New World.b
But, in the United States, the majority, which often has the tastes and instincts of a despot, still lacks the most advanced instruments of tyranny.
In none of the American republics has the central government ever taken charge of anything other than a small number of objects whose importance attracted its attention. It has never undertaken to regulate the secondary things of society. Nothing indicates that it has ever even conceived the desire to do so. The majority, while becoming more and more absolute, has not increased the attributions of the central power; it has only made it omnipotent in its sphere. Thus despotism can be very heavy at one point, but it cannot extend to all.c
Besides, however carried away the national majority may be by its passions; however ardent it is in its projects, it cannot in all places, in the same way, and in the same moment, make all citizens yield to its desires.d When the central government that represents the national majority has given orders as a sovereign, it must rely, for the execution of its command, on agents who often do not depend on it and that it cannot direct at every moment. So the municipal bodies and county administrations form like so many hidden reefs that slow or divide the tide of popular will. Were the law oppressive, liberty would still find a refuge in the way in which the law would be executed; the majority cannot get into the details, and, if I dare say so, into the puerilities of administrative tyranny. The majority does not even imagine that it can do so, for it is not entirely aware of its power. It still knows only its natural strength and is unaware of how far art could extend its limits.
This merits reflection.e If a democratic republic like that of the United States ever came to be established in a country where the power of one man had already established administrative centralization and introduced it into habits, as well as into laws, I am not afraid to say that, in such a republic, despotism would become more intolerable than in any of the absolute monarchies of Europe. It would be necessary to look to Asia in order to find something comparable.
[a. ] In America, there are a thousand natural causes that so to speak work by themselves toward moderating the omnipotence of the majority. The extreme similarity that reigns in the United States among all the interests, the material prosperity of the country, the diffusion of enlightenment and the mildness of mores, which is the necessary consequence of the progress of civilization, greatly favor the leniency of government.
I have already pointed out the different causes; the time has come to examine what barriers the institutions themselves have carefully raised against the power from which they derive.
Previously I distinguished . . . (YTC, CVh, 4, p. 15).
[b. ] In the manuscript, the paragraph is written as follows: “The Americans must consider themselves fortunate that this is so: if the majority in the United States found the one, like the other, in its hands in order to compel obedience to its will, and if it combined, with the right to do everything, the ability and the habit of carrying everything out by its agents, its power would be, so to speak, without limits.”
[c. ] In notes taken by Beaumont for the writing of Marie, this is found in Tocqueville’s hand:
In the American republics the central government has never taken charge except of a small number of objects whose importance attracted its attention. It has never undertaken to direct the administration of the towns and counties [v: secondary things]. It does not seem ever to have conceived the desire to do so. Becoming more and more absolute has allowed the rule of the majority to regulate these objects with more sovereign authority, but has not increased the number of objects in its sphere. So despotism can be great, but it cannot extend to everything (YTC, Beaumont, CIX).
[d. ] Two causes.
1. Splitting up of sovereignty.
2. Splitting up of administration.
Tyranny can be very great but it cannot be popular.
The Union cannot present a tyrannical majority. Each state could do it, but town administrations (illegible word).
The national majority finding itself opposed in its designs in this way by the majority of the inhabitants of a city or of a district, and tyranny [v: despotism] which can be very great at some points cannot become general.
If the majority rules the state, it also rules the town and the county; and since these two majorities can be opposed in their designs, liberty always finds some refuge, and despotism which can be irresistibly exercised at several points of the territory cannot become general, however (YTC, CVh, 3, pp. 53-54).
Tocqueville here is quite close to the idea that Madison expresses in Number 10 of the Federalist, that the best barrier against tyranny is the great extent of the republic. Nonetheless there is no reference to this Number of the Federalist in the drafts.
[e. ] Hervé de Tocqueville: “I observe generally that in the whole work the author makes extremely frequent use of this way of expressing himself.
“This chapter needs to be reviewed. I would in addition like the author to put there what he said about associations as barriers to omnipotence. That would be better placed here than in the chapter on associations where you speak about the remedy before indicating the malady” (YTC, CIIIb, 1, p. 71).