Front Page Titles (by Subject) PART IV: Democracy, Centralization, and Democratic Despotisms - The Making of Tocqueville's Democracy in America
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PART IV: Democracy, Centralization, and Democratic Despotisms - James T. Schleifer, The Making of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America 
The Making of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, Foreword by George W. Pierson (2nd edition) (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).
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Democracy, Centralization, and Democratic Despotisms
Centralization and Local Liberties
For the great majority of readers, Tocqueville is at his most original and provocative when he struggles with the fundamental concepts of centralization, despotism, liberty, individualism, and democracy itself. These are ideas crucial not only to the American experiment, but also to the broader “democratic” experiment of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; here questions raised in the New World merge with those raised in the Old.
In recent decades, few issues have been more troublesome and important than the connection between centralization and freedom. Political, economic, educational, social, and other opportunities have been seen as prerequisites for meaningful freedom in the United States, and the federal government has been cast as the guarantor of those opportunities. Yet the enormous increase in the power and size of the federal government has raised doubts about the reality of citizen participation, the responsiveness of the centers of authority, and the ultimate effect of such pervasive (and always expanding) influence on the lives of individuals. Very different segments of the political spectrum have raised slogans about a New Federalism, about dismantling the Washington bureaucracy, about returning authority and responsibility to the states and localities, about reviving neighborhood control, about empowering the people.
Are centralization and freedom compatible? This uncomfortable dilemma is one which Tocqueville faced, and his insights, warnings, and suggestions continue to have value in the latter part of the twentieth century. He came early to see that démocratie fostered a major threat to liberty: the concentration of power. By the late 1830s, the closely intertwined themes of centralization and despotism became two of the major organizational threads of his book.
During the years of Tocqueville’s American journey and the making of his book, criticisms of excessive centralization and proposals for greater local or provincial freedom of action were a familiar part of French political life. In fact throughout the entire period of the parliamentary monarchy—the Restoration and the July regime (1814–48)—thoughtful Frenchmen turned repeatedly to consideration of the possible dangers and benefits of decentralization.1 In 1831, for example, Le Peletier d’Aunay, a prominent political figure and cousin to Tocqueville, on hearing belatedly of Alexis’s and Gustave’s actual departure for America, wrote a long letter of advice about what particularly to notice in the United States. He singled out centralization for attention.
Above all examine—as much in regard to the [national] government as in regard to the local administration—the effects of the small degree of centralization. Either in how it can be favorable by speeding the expedition of private affairs and by generating interest in the townhalls of all the cities and villages; or in how it can be unfavorable by a lack of harmony in affairs which concern security and by the opening that it gives to passions in each locality. Be assured that such discussions will most occupy France during the coming years and set about to show yourself [in those discussions] with the advantage given by examining the question from two points of comparison.2
It should be no surprise therefore that Tocqueville in America was very quick to notice signs of the relative authority of general and local governments and began almost immediately to examine the causes and results of the apparent lack of centralized power.
Several of Tocqueville’s and Beaumont’s earliest letters home reflected their amazement at the seeming absence of government in America. This appearance of nongovernment, they realized, arose from extreme decentralization, and Tocqueville’s epistles of June and July often indicated frustration and irritation at the inefficient results. “In general,” he told his father on 3 June 1831, “this country, as for administration, seems to me to have gone to precisely the opposite extreme as France. With us the government is involved in everything. [Here] there is no, or at least there doesn’t appear to be any government at all. All that is good in centralization seems to be as unknown as what is bad. No central idea whatsoever seems to regulate the movement of the machine.”3
Additional complaints surfaced while the companions visited the prison at Auburn. Temporarily exasperated by the lack of any uniform penal administration, Tocqueville remarked in a letter to Chabrol that only special circumstances permitted the thorough decentralization which prevailed in the United States. He implied that nations like France which found themselves surrounded by powerful potential enemies and beset by complex external pressures needed more centralized authority, if they hoped to survive, than the American republic required.4 And even then, American local government exhibited certain distinct disadvantages when specific projects like prisons or other reform proposals were involved.
By September, however, conversations with prominent Bostonians, such as Josiah Quincy and Francis Lieber, began to divert Tocqueville’s attention from the inconveniences to the benefits of decentralization.
One of the happiest consequences of the absence of government (when a people is happy enough to be able to do without it, a rare event) is the ripening of individual strength which never fails to follow therefrom. Each man learns to think and to act for himself without counting on the support of any outside power which, however watchful it be, can never answer all the needs of man in society. The man thus used to seeking his well-being by his own efforts alone stands the higher in his own esteem as well as in that of others; he grows both stronger and greater of soul. Mr. Quincy gave an example of that state of things when he spoke of the man who sued the town that had let the public road fall into disrepair; the same goes for all the rest. If a man gets the idea of any social improvement whatsoever, a school, a hospital, a road, he does not think of turning to the authorities. He announces his plan, offers to carry it out, calls for the strength of other individuals to aid his efforts, and fights hand to hand against each obstacle. I admit that in fact he often is less successful than the authorities would have been in his place, but, in the total, the general result of all these individual strivings amounts to much more than any administration could undertake; and moreover the influence of such a state of affairs on the moral and political character of a people, would more than make up for all the inadequacies if there were any. But one must say it again, there are but few people who can manage like that without government.... The most important care of a good government should be to get people used little by little to managing without it.5
The locality, as an arena for individual and group efforts, was thus a superb place for political education and for development among the people of a sense of responsibility and capacity in public affairs. This focus on the moral, social, and political rather than the administrative effects of decentralization would remain fundamental in all of Tocqueville’s future discussions of centralization.
The very next day he asked State Senator Francis Gray more about local government in Massachusetts and learned another basic feature of American administration. “The general principle is that the whole people by its representatives has the right to look after all local affairs, but it should refrain from exercising that right in everything that relates to the internal management of the localities.... The rule agreed is that as long as the local authority is acting only on its own account and does not injure anybody’s rights, it is all-powerful in its sphere.”6
Gray also warned about the difficulty of maintaining this local independence and alerted Tocqueville to a certain “spirit” which helped to support self-government in the United States. “I think it is even harder to establish municipal institutions among a people than great political assemblies. When I say municipal institutions I speak not of the forms but of the very spirit that animates them. The habit of dealing with all matters by discussion, and deciding them all, even the smallest, by means of majorities, that is the hardest habit of all to acquire. But it is only that habit that shapes governments that are truly free.”7
The value and uniqueness of this attitude was particularly praised by Jared Sparks, who informed the visitors that, in Massachusetts at least, local government predated any central authority. “Almost all societies, even in America, have begun with one place where the government was concentrated, and have then spread out around that central point. Our forefathers on the contrary founded the locality before the State. Plymouth, Salem, Charlestown existed before one could speak of a government of Massachusetts; they only became united later and by an act of deliberate will. You can see what strength such a point of departure must have given to the spirit of locality which so eminently distinguishes us even among other Americans.”8
Tocqueville’s travel diaries quickly disclosed his enthusiastic reaction to these ideas. “Every individual, private person, society, community, or nation, is the only lawful judge of its own interest, and, provided it does not harm the interests of others, nobody has the right to interfere. I think that one must never lose sight of this point.”9
“Another principle of American society of which one must never lose sight,” he continued the day after talking with Sparks: “every individual being the most competent judge of his own interest, society must not carry its solicitude on his behalf too far, for fear that in the end he might come to count on society, and so a duty might be laid on society which it is incapable of performing.... But the useful mean between these theories is hard to grasp. In America free morals (moeurs) have made free political institutions; in France it is for free political institutions to mould morals. That is the end towards which we must strive but without forgetting the point of departure.”10
So Quincy’s and Lieber’s descriptions of town activities (both official and private), and Gray’s rule about local responsibility for local matters, and Sparks’s concept of the “spirit of locality” combined to carry Tocqueville to two ideas that would become permanent parts of his views on decentralization. During the next nine years and beyond, he would consistently attribute the success of decentralization in the United States primarily to American moeurs and repeatedly prescribe vigorous local institutions for France as an essential way to develop habits favorable to liberty.11
These provocative conversations had also encouraged Tocqueville to pursue further the whole troublesome question of centralization. Several persons were now requested to furnish additional details and commentary. On 1 October, Jared Sparks was left with a long list of questions about New England’s towns, one of which touched on the relative merits of centralization and local control. Joseph Tuckerman, while discussing the supervision of schools, had reminded Tocqueville only three days before that the lack of any central authority entailed certain inevitable defects.12 The Frenchman now asked Sparks: “In town affairs have you sometimes felt the need or the utility of a central administration, of what we call centralization? Have you not noticed that this independence of the parts injured the cohesion of the nation, hindered the uniformity of the state, and prevented national enterprises? In a word, what is the bad side of your system, for the best systems have one?”13
Sparks’s journal revealed the specific motives of the visitors. “[Beaumont and Tocqueville] have been very desirous to get some ideas of the municipal or town governments in New England.... The principles are important in regard to any changes that may be contemplated in the municipal establishments of France.”14
Even more significantly, within two weeks of leaving Boston Tocqueville dispatched letters to his father, to Chabrol, and to Ernest de Blosseville asking each for information and his views on the French system of administration. Tocqueville’s objective was to repair gaps in his own knowledge, to compare France and America, and to gain a better understanding of what now became a primary concern: “ce mot de centralisation.”15
It has sometimes been assumed that Tocqueville’s intense interest in American administration and its implications concerning centralization arose largely in response to the Boston experience of September and October.16 His introduction by Quincy, Gray, Sparks, and others to the wonders of town government had clearly stimulated his inquiries to his father, Chabrol, and Blosseville and helped to start him on the road that led by 1835 to an original and fully developed rationale for local liberties. But this interpretation can be overstated. Thoughtful Frenchmen of the times were almost inevitably attracted to the subject. And as early as the beginning of June, some of Tocqueville’s letters from America had touched briefly on centralization and disclosed his interest in the topic. An even more complete and surprising demonstration of his pre-Boston commitment to municipal freedom had appeared in a long missive to Louis de Kergolay dated “Yonkers, 29 June 1831.” In that letter-essay he had unveiled some early impressions about America and discussed the pervasive trend toward démocratie. He had also quite pointedly applied some of his observations to France.
We are going toward a démocratie without limits. I am not saying that this is a good thing, what I see in this country convinces me on the contrary that France will adapt itself poorly; but we are going there [toward démocratie] pushed by an irresistible force....
To refuse to embrace these consequences seems to me a weakness and I am led inevitably to think that the Bourbons, instead of seeking to reinforce openly an aristocratic principle which is dying among us, should have worked with all their power to give interests of order and of stability to the démocratie.
In my opinion the communal and departmental system should have drawn all their attention from the outset. Instead of living from day to day with the communal institutions of Bonaparte, they should have hastened to modify them, to initiate the inhabitants little by little into their affairs, to interest them there with time; to create local interests and above all to lay the foundation, if possible, of those habits and those legal ideas which are in my opinion the only possible counterweight to démocratie.17
This passage strongly foreshadows the themes and even the language of the 1835 and 1840 Democracy. It demonstrates that at a very early stage in his American journey Tocqueville had already come to see local liberties as an invaluable countermeasure to the dangers of démocratie. This program and this hope predated the visit to Massachusetts by three months and apparently arose more out of current French concerns than out of Tocqueville’s American experience.
In the autumn of 1831, Tocqueville continued to ruminate upon the lessons of Boston and to weigh the value of local liberties. On 25 October, for example, he observed in his diaries: “When the detractors of popular governments claim that in many points of internal administration, the government of one man is better than the government of all, they are, in my view, incontestably right. It is in fact rare for a strong government not to show more consistency in its undertakings, more perseverance, more sense of the whole, more accuracy in detail, and more discretion even in the choice of men, than the multitude. So a republic is less well administered than an enlightened monarchy; republicans who deny that, miss the point; but if they said that it was there that one must look for the advantages of democracy, they would win back the initiative. The wonderful effect of republican governments (where they can subsist) is not in presenting a picture of regularity and methodical order in a people’s administration, but in the way of life. Liberty does not carry out each of its undertakings with the same perfection as an intelligent despotism, but in the long run it produces more than the latter. It does not always and in all circumstances give the peoples a more skillful and faultless government; but it infuses throughout the body social an activity, a force, and an energy which never exist without it, and which bring forth wonders.... It is there that one must look for its advantages.”18
He still could not forget his frustrations as a prison investigator or the warnings of men like Tuckerman; but these administrative defects, though undeniable, had clearly become secondary to the larger benefits of local control, especially the broader social and moral advantages.
These reflections of 25 October also revealed Tocqueville’s increasing awareness of the possible economic fruits of decentralization; the lack of central administration apparently helped to stimulate prosperity (at least in America). And on New Year’s Day, 1832, he asked Mr. Guillemin, French consul at New Orleans, whether that city owed its prosperity to free institutions. His countryman’s response was ambiguous. Guillemin began by insisting “that prosperity is not due to political institutions, but is independent of them,” but ended by declaring that: “This government ... has the merit of being very weak, and of not hampering any freedom. But here and now there is nothing to fear from freedom. That does not apply only to Louisiana but to the whole of the United States.”19
Three days later Tocqueville wrote: “The greatest merit of the government of the United States is that it is powerless and passive. In the actual state of things, in order to prosper America has no need of skillful direction, profound designs, or great efforts. But need of liberty and still more liberty. It is to nobody’s interest to abuse it. What point of comparison is there between such a state of affairs and our own?”20 And soon he composed the essay entitled “Means of Increasing Public Prosperity” in which he not only highlighted the transportation and communication revolution then taking place in America, but also described the role played in that transformation by decentralization: “The activity of companies, of [towns], and of private people is in a thousand ways in competition with that of the State.... Everything adapts itself to the nature of men and places, without any pretension to bend them to the strictness of an inflexible rule. From this variety springs a universal prosperity spread throughout the whole nation and over each of its parts.”21
Most Americans cherished local control as the bedrock of liberty, and Tocqueville quickly accepted this view. Local self-government seemed an unsurpassed school for politics and for developing an understanding of private and public responsibilities. It helped not only to secure freedom but also to stimulate social energy and to promote prosperity. Tocqueville was now persuaded that such a “spirit of locality” was something for France to emulate. “In America free morals (moeurs) have made free political institutions; in France it is for free political institutions to mould morals.”22
In January 1832, the first lengthy response to Tocqueville’s questions of October about the administration in France came into his hands. “I want to thank you my dear father. Your work has been of great use to me for grasping the nuances which can make the administration of this country understandable. The mind, as you know, becomes clear only by comparison. Your memoir has already been for me the basis for a crowd of highly useful questions.”23 But opportunities for fully digesting his father’s answer and those from Chabrol and Blosseville would not present themselves until the return to France.
Of the three papers, by far the longest, most thoughtful, and stimulating was that of Alexis’s father, the Count Hervé de Tocqueville, who had been a singularly able prefect during the Restoration. His essay, entitled “A Glance at the French Administration,” began grandly (and apparently in a tradition common to father and son) by announcing the underlying rule. “The principle in France is that the King is the head of the administration and directs it.... The Royalty exercises a general tutelage over all the branches of the administration. It appoints, it directs, it approves, it prevents.”24
From there, M. le Comte proceeded to survey the various parts of the French administrative machine and then to present his personal evaluations under the telling phrase: “Centralization. Abuses to reform.” “We see by what precedes that the various branches of the administration form a chain which ends at a principal link which is the Government, and one cannot fail to recognize the regularity and order which result from this whole. In a Monarchy surrounded by powerful and jealous States, a center of unity is necessary. For centuries our Kings have worked to establish this unity.”
The need (recognized by both father and son) for some degree of centralization given the particular geographical situation of France made the Count critical of extreme proposals, such as those made by the legitimist press, for the reestablishment of the old provinces and the creation of provincial assemblies. “It is probable that these assemblies would tend continually to increase their own power and that France would soon be nothing more than a vast federation, the weakest of governments, in the midst of the compact monarchies which surround her.”
So a too thoroughgoing decentralization was dangerous and unacceptable. But the question remained whether the French administration was not perhaps overly centralized, whether “the protective and tutelary power of the Crown has not in certain respects gone beyond the limit of attributions which it must retain for the maintenance of good order and the prosperity of the whole.”
The former prefect felt that it had. A primary fault seemed to be that officials appointed by the King were frequently unacquainted with the regions under their jurisdiction and thus all too often misunderstood local interests and problems. Moreover, even the smallest affairs were wastefully, but inexorably, shunted upward to the Ministry of the Interior for decision. “[Centralization] becomes particularly painful to endure when it is exerted on the portion of private interests which are debated and regulated administratively.”
Clearly some modification or limited dismantling of the system was needed, but the nobleman remained pessimistic about the possibility of reform. “There exist too many persons for whom centralization is profitable, or who hold a position [in the centralized bureaucracy] that they would seek in vain elsewhere, for these abuses to be uprooted for a long time. These people have established as an article of faith that nothing is done well except by the government itself, and they will defend this dogma with obstinacy.”
On several crucial points this essay matched the positions which Tocqueville would later take. First, the Count implied a key distinction between government and administration. And father and son would share, as well, both the view that history had long driven France toward centralization and the conviction that no federal system, however admirable, was suitable for France. The feature of American decentralization which captivated Tocqueville would always be more the vigor of the localities than the prerogatives of the states; he apparently believed that American federalism, despite its originality, was too bound to the peculiar historical and physical situation of the United States to be of much use to France. Father and son would also insist, nonetheless, that France was now overly centralized and that some moderate reform—probably involving more local responsibility—was essential for the greater good and prosperity of all. Finally, Alexis would agree with his father’s pessimistic assessment that, despite arguments for change, government bureaucrats would strive doggedly to preserve their swollen prerogatives.
The papers by Chabrol and Blosseville contained fewer generalizations and judgments. (Blosseville, in particular, offered little more than an unorganized catalogue of details.) But both friends criticized the degree of centralization which existed and voiced support for reform. Chabrol called more specifically for the simplification of bureaucratic procedures and recommended the good example of England. He also illustrated his complaint that red tape often damaged local interests by including an amusing hypothetical example.
A commune wants to make some repairs to its church or its town hall. It cannot do it de plano. The request must be made to the subprefect, then transmitted by him to the prefect, and then to the Ministry of the Interior with a long report which perhaps required the work of two or three clerks; at the Ministry of the Interior the report is examined, discussed, then finally passed along to a special council called Conseil des bâtiments civils. This council deliberates further, gives its opinion, and at last the Ministry orders the repairs, returns [the order] to the prefect who transmits to the sub-prefect who forwards to the Mayor. And during all these delays which are, it would seem, immense, the buildings have delapidated further, the repairs have become more considerable, and finally the funds allowed no longer suffice. Imagine that for everything it is the same thing. Add that the employees of the Interior and of all the Ministries only arrive at their offices at 11 o’clock and leave at 4, that chats and newspaper reading take yet another part of their time; add again that a letter is first written by a rédacteur, then copied by an expéditionnaire, then submitted to the office manager who corrects it, then to the assistant manager of the division, and finally to the manager of the division who also make their corrections. Imagine all this and the number of clerks in this Ministry will cease to astonish you. You will then understand the long delays that this process causes.25
The contrast between this portrait of how town buildings were repaired in France and the descriptions given by Quincy and Lieber of how local projects were undertaken in America could not have been more complete. After reading Chabrol’s letter Tocqueville must have marveled even more at the advantages of American local independence and private initiative.
In 1833 a chapter from Du système pénitentiaire aux Etats-Unis et de son application en France surveyed some of the difficulties which the authors feared would hinder any effort to apply the American prison system to France. Among hindrances cited was “the too great extent to which the principle of centralization has been carried [among us], forming the basis of our political society.” Beaumont, presumably reflecting ideas common to the two companions, argued further:
There are, no doubt, general interests, for the conservation of which the central power ought to retain all its strength and unity of action.
Every time that a question arises concerning the defense of the country, its dignity abroad, and its tranquillity within, government ought to give a uniform impulse to all parts of the social body. This is a right which could not be dispensed with, without compromising public safety and national independence.
But however necessary this central direction respecting all subjects of general interest may be to the strength of a country like ours, it is as contrary, it seems to us, to the development of internal prosperity, if this same centralization is applied to objects of local interest....
Our departments possess no political individuality; their circumscription has been to this day of a purely administrative character. Accustomed to the yoke of centralization, they have no local life.... but it is to be hoped that “political life” will enter more into the habits of the departments, and that the cares of government will have, more and more, a tendency to become local.26
This attempt by Beaumont to draw some logical limit to centralization, this call for greater local responsibility and initiative amounted to another faithful preview of Tocqueville’s 1835 Democracy.
After helping to complete the Penitentiary System but before beginning the composition of his other American book, Tocqueville visited England for the first time. There he saw for himself the English system of decentralization. On 24 August 1833, John Bowring offered a long explanation of the English approach and possibly also helped to lead Tocqueville toward a distinction which would become crucial in the 1835 Democracy.
“Dr. Bowring said to me today ... ‘England is the country of decentralization. We have got a government, but we have not got a central administration. Each county, each town, each parish looks after its own interests.... I consider that nothing is more difficult than to accustom men to govern themselves. There however is the great problem of your future. Your centralization is a magnificent idea, but it cannot be carried out. It is not in the nature of things that a central government should be able to watch over all the needs of a great nation. Decentralization is the chief cause of the substantial progress we have made in civilization. You will never be able to decentralize. Centralization is too good a bait for the greed of the rulers; even those who once preached decentralization, always abandon their doctrine on coming into power. You can be sure of that.’ ”27
The gentleman thus deepened earlier impressions about both the link between decentralization and prosperity and the unlikelihood that centralization, once done, could ever be undone. He also criticized the failure of France to realize that a system good in the abstract did not necessarily fit the reality of a large and varied country. Finally, Bowring distinguished between government and administration and so probably helped to keep Tocqueville thinking in those terms.
After the discussion, Tocqueville mused: “England illustrates a truth I had often noticed before; that the uniformity of petty legislation instead of being an advantage is almost always a great evil, for there are few countries all of whose parts can put up with legislation which is the same right down to its details. Beneath this apparent diversity which strikes the view of the superficial observer and shocks him so strongly, is to be found real political harmony derived from government appropriate to the needs of each locality.
“But in France this is not appreciated in the least. The French genius demands uniformity even in the smallest details.... We should thank heaven for being free, for we have all the passions needed to smooth the path to tyranny.”28
This was not the first or the last time that Tocqueville speculated about the connection between excessive administrative centralization and despotism.
At home in Paris, Tocqueville plunged into further study of American administrative and governmental structures, taking additional notes from various collections of state laws, Goodwin’s Town Officer, Sparks’s essay on towns, the Federalist Papers, and other works.29 As already noted, he soon resolved to begin with an examination of the New England town, then to turn to the states, and finally to consider the American federal system. A perusal and comparison of the histories, laws, and constitutions of many of the states eventually led to a decision to take five as models or types: Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Ohio.30 From a thorough examination of these five, and especially of Massachusetts, Tocqueville attempted to grasp the fundamentals of American administration.
So in the United States, local governments and officials enjoyed great authority and independence, and everywhere in America administrative authority was distributed among as many hands as possible. The result was not chaos, but a social and political wonder. That such a fragmentation of power worked (without undue costs) testified not only to the unique position of the United States, but also to something in the American spirit. “It is obvious that the political and administrative laws of the towns [in America] assume other moeurs than our own.”34
After distilling these and other essential principles, Tocqueville penned a brief three-point outline to guide his thoughts and composition.
Expanding on his first point he wrote: “When we speak of centralization we are always fighting in the shadows because of a failure to make the distinction between governmental and administrative centralization.”36
In another draft, he elaborated: “Governmental centralization and administrative centralization attract one another. But one can consider them as separate however. Indeed they often have been (under Louis XIV for example). What I call governmental centralization is the concentration of great social powers in a single hand or in a single place. The power to make the laws and the force to compel obedience to them. What I call administrative centralization is the concentration in the same hand or in the same place of a power to regulate the ordinary affairs of the society, to dictate and to direct the everyday details of its existence.... The first however is far more necessary to the society than the other. And I can not believe that they are inseparable. That seems to me [to be] the problem of a strong government reigning over a free people.... In the United States, there is a government; there is not any administration as we understand it.”37
How had Tocqueville arrived at this notion of the two centralizations? Both Hervé de Tocqueville and Bowring had distinguished between administration and government. But the peculiarities of American centralization and decentralization also clearly had a part in Tocqueville’s musings. It was not that the United States had no government (as he had too hastily declared in some early letters), or that there was simply less centralization in the New World republic than in France. The concentration of powers which existed in America tended to be legislative in nature. The authority which was so relentlessly divided tended to be executive. “Division of administrative power; concentration of legislative power. American principle (important).” So Tocqueville was at times inclined to explain the crucial difference not as governmental versus administrative, but as legislative versus executive (or administrative).
When Tocqueville defined administrative and governmental in his 1835 book, he would emphasize not who or what branch held power, but which powers were exercised. If an assembly passed statutes dealing with the everyday details of local affairs, that was administrative centralization, even though legislative in origin. And if an executive (like Louis XIV) determined all issues of general importance but was unable to rule in detail, a high degree of governmental centralization prevailed with relatively little administrative centralization. Apparently, however, his perception of certain unusual American attitudes toward executive and legislative functions had helped to stimulate his theoretical insight about the two different sorts of centralization.
The draft definitions of the two centralizations quoted above also echoed Tocqueville’s simultaneous efforts, while considering the future of the Union, to distinguish two types of sovereignty. “Sovereignty is nothing other than the right of free will applied to a society instead of being applied to an individual. A people, like a man, can do all to itself. Every time that a people acts, it thus undertakes an act of sovereignty.... What one can do is to designate among the habitual actions of the sovereign the most important and the least. The most important acts of the sovereign will are those that directly touch the interests of all the members of the society, such as peace, war, treaties, taxes, civil and political rights, justice. The lesser acts are those that directly touch only a part of the members of the group, such as the direction of provincial and local affairs or finally, in the last instance, individual affairs.”38
The major acts of sovereignty cited here were apparently nothing more than the powers exercised under governmental centralization, called in his drafts “great social powers” and mentioned in the 1835 text as “Certain interests, such as the enactment of general laws and the nation’s relations with foreigners,... common to all parts of the nation.” And a centralized administration might be identified, in turn, by its control over even the lesser acts of sovereignty: “interests of special concern to certain parts of the nation, such, for instance, as local enterprises.”39 So possibly this brief examination of the old puzzle of sovereignty had also helped to lead the author toward his distinction between governmental and administrative centralization.40
Some commentators have chided Tocqueville for the ultimately unsatisfactory nature of his concept of two centralizations.41 But it is instructive to recognize that distinctions between legislative and executive functions and between lesser and greater acts of sovereignty also went into the final definitions of the 1835 text. Tocqueville had wrestled not only with centralization, but also with the equally profound issues of sovereignty and the separation of powers. Any lack of precision in the Democracy’s descriptions may thus presumably be laid, in part, to an intellectual boldness which shaded into foolhardiness.
Both the second point in Tocqueville’s brief outline and his draft discussion of the two types of centralization repeated an observation made by the Count de Tocqueville and by John Bowring and demonstrated by the history of France as Tocqueville understood it: “prove for Europe that it is always easy to centralize the administration and almost impossible to decentralize it, even though that seems easy.”42
In a passage stricken from the original working manuscript and therefore unpublished until now, he elaborated:
Moreover, like nearly all the harmful things of this world, administrative centralization is easily established and once constituted can hardly thereafter be destroyed except with the social body itself.
When all the governmental strength of a nation is collected at one point, it is always easy enough for an enterprising genius to create administrative centralization. We ourselves saw this phenomenon produced under our very eyes. The Convention had centralized the government to the highest degree. Bonaparte had only to will it in order to centralize the administration. It is true that for centuries in France our habits, our moeurs, and our laws have always united simultaneously to favor the establishment of an intelligent and enlightened despotism.
Once administrative centralization has lasted for a while, the same power that founded it, were it later to want to destroy it, is always incapable of bringing about its ruin.
As a matter of fact administrative centralization assumes a skillful organization of authority; it forms a complicated machine of which all the gears engage each other and lend each other mutual support.
When the legislator undertakes to scatter this administrative force that he had concentrated at one point, he does not know where to start or begin because he can not remove a piece of the work without putting the whole thing into disorder. At every moment he notices that it is necessary to change either all or nothing. But what hand, bold enough, would dare to break with a single blow the administrative machine of a great people? To attempt it would be to want to introduce disorder and confusion in the state.43
In the margin, Tocqueville debated: “Perhaps delete all that as not related.” For whatever reason, the piece would be cut in the later stages of revision.
Tocqueville’s designation between 1833 and 1835 of two varieties of centralization helped immensely to clarify his thoughts about the future. He now came to the third point in his outline: “Advantages of [administrative] decentralization when it exists.” By 1835 the Democracy would propose a bold program of local liberties as part of Tocqueville’s hopes for France.44
In the small section entitled “The American System of Townships” Tocqueville would rhapsodize “The strength of free peoples resides in the local community. Local institutions are to liberty what primary schools are to science; they put it within the people’s reach; they teach people to appreciate its peaceful enjoyment and accustom them to make use of it. Without local institutions a nation may give itself a free government, but it has not got the spirit of liberty. Passing passions, momentary interest, or chance circumstances may give it the external shape of independence, but the despotic tendencies which have been driven into the interior of the body social will sooner or later break out on the surface.45 ...
“It often happens in Europe that governments themselves regret the absence of municipal spirit, for everyone agrees that municipal spirit is an important element in order and public tranquillity, but they do not know how to produce it. In making municipalities strong and independent, they fear sharing their social power and exposing the state to risks of anarchy. However, if you take power and independence from a municipality, you may have docile subjects but you will not have citizens.”46
He would summarize: “For my part, I cannot conceive that a nation can live, much less prosper, without a high degree of centralization of government. But I think that administrative centralization only serves to enervate the peoples that submit to it, because it constantly tends to diminish their civic spirit (esprit de cité).”47
Administrative centralization, Tocqueville insisted, was pernicious; it opened the doors to tyranny and eventually destroyed both individual and national strength. But local liberties, in contrast, nurtured both “a taste for freedom and the art of being free.”48 It was there that Tocqueville placed his hopes for France.
Still facing Tocqueville as he shaped the first volumes of his book was the difficult problem of the relationship between centralization and démocratie. In America he had seen full democracy side by side with extreme administrative decentralization, and one draft fragment seemed to indicate that he would portray centralization and démocratie as mutually antagonistic. As he considered the nature of the Union and the forces which bound or splintered federations, he stated that two basic principles undergirded American political society: “The first, Sovereignty of the people, Democracy, the principle of which divides and dissolves; the second, Federation, the principle of which unites and conserves.”49
This view of démocratie as a force for social disintegration and, by implication, for decentralization apparently arose from Tocqueville’s understanding of the corrosive rivalry between the American states and the federal government. The pressures and jealousies which had weakened and threatened eventually to destroy the Union were especially potent in the western and southwestern states where excessive democracy flourished.
But such an analysis was short-lived. In another draft Tocqueville declared: “One must not be deceived on this. It is democratic governments which arrive the fastest at administrative centralization while losing their political liberty.”50
One probable source of this conviction was once again the Federalist Papers. While reading Paper Number 51, Tocqueville had apparently been captivated by Madison’s exposition of the connection between democracy, centralization, and despotism. “How démocratie leads to tyranny and will happen to destroy liberty in America. See the beautiful theory on this point exposed in the Federalist. [p.] 225. It is not because powers are not concentrated; it is because they are too much so that the American republics will perish.”51
The 1835 Democracy would read:
I am convinced that no nations are more liable to fall under the yoke of administrative centralization than those with a democratic social condition....
It is a permanent tendency in such nations to concentrate all governmental power in the hands of the only power which directly represents the people....
Now, when one sole authority is already armed with all the attributes of government, it is very difficult for it not to try and penetrate into all the details of administration, and in the long run it hardly ever fails to find occasion to do so.52
So the drafts and text of the 1835 Democracy would clearly argue that democracy and centralization went forward together. Even early versions of the 1835 Democracy expressed the conviction that democracy encouraged centralization—both governmental and administrative—and this thesis would run throughout both halves of Tocqueville’s masterpiece.53
As Frenchmen, Tocqueville and Beaumont came to the New World already concerned about the issue of centralization and therefore strongly predisposed to examine the details of the governmental and administrative structures in the United States. Unlike some other ideas which arose primarily from the stimulus of the American experience, the question of centralization seems to have occupied Tocqueville’s thoughts primarily because of preexistent French concerns. France both stimulated his awareness of the disadvantages of excessive centralization and persuaded him of the wisdom of limited reforms which, though utopian to some, seemed moderate enough to Tocqueville. Given the French context, it should also be noted that his praise for local liberties was not in itself remarkable; what made his views new and refreshing to Frenchmen in the 1830s was his bold theory that such decentralization could serve, not as the final refuge of aristocratic privilege, but as a primary means of furthering popular participation and of reconciling advancing equality with social and political stability.54
But Tocqueville’s fascination with decentralization, his original effort to distinguish two fundamental types of centralized authority, and his continuing examination of the links between démocratie and centralization also resulted from the inherently interesting nature of the American experiment. (How strange for a European to behold a large nation apparently running itself.) It was the American journey, and particularly his stay in Boston, that so irrevocably fixed Tocqueville’s attention on the benefits—especially political, social, and moral—of local liberty and taught him about the subtle, fragile, and crucial nature of the “spirit of locality.” The New World republic introduced him to a novel approach to political authority: “The Americans do not decrease power but divide it (important). Division of administrative power; concentration of legislative power. American principle (important).” And Madison’s “beautiful theory” apparently helped him to see the way in which democracy, by encouraging centralization, might lead to despotism. By 1833 or 1834, as he composed the first half of his work, Tocqueville had already captured a sense of one of the most significant tensions of démocratie: the very local liberties which could help to avoid democratic flaws were discouraged by democracy’s affinity for concentrated power.
Where Would Power Accumulate?
Tocqueville’s knowledge of events in France since 1789 made him acutely aware of the variety of tyrannies which men were able to fashion. In January 1832, after observing the well-ordered American republic, he would recall: “What we [in France] have called the republic has never been anything but a monstrosity that one does not know how to classify ... and what does it matter to me whether tyranny is clothed in a royal mantle or in a Tribune’s toga? If I feel its hand heavy on me? When Danton had wretched men, whose only crime was not to think as he did, slaughtered in the prisons, was that liberty? ... When the majority of the Convention proscribed the minority,... when an opinion was a crime,... was that liberty? But some one might say, I am looking into the blood-stained annals of the Terror. Let us pass over the time of necessary severities, shall I see liberty reign in the time when the Directory destroyed the newspapers ... ? When Bonaparte as Consul substituted the power, the tyranny of one man for the tyranny of factions? Again was that liberty, was that a republic? No, in France we have seen anarchy and despotism in all its forms, but nothing that looked like a republic.”1
His catalogue of abuses might easily have included more recent personal observations of the reactionary and oppressive policies of Charles X during the last years of the Restoration and the troubling transformation undergone by the “men of 1830” who had apparently abandoned their liberal principles upon coming to power. His experiences with the mob during the July Revolution had also made a strong impression. In a letter of 1837 to Henry Reeve, he would react with skepticism to accounts of the enthusiasm shown in England for the new Queen, Victoria, and would soberly remind his friend of the totally contrasting emotions of the crowds towards Charles X in 1825 and 1830. “I confess to you that that has given me a natural and lasting coldness for popular demonstrations.”2
During the early nineteenth century, political theorists like Benjamin Constant, Pierre-Paul Royer-Collard, François Guizot, and others also repeatedly attempted to alert their countrymen to the dangers of arbitrary government whether under the guise of royal prerogative, popular sovereignty, or whatever. One of the common themes of liberals and doctrinaires alike was the limitation and balancing of powers so as to avoid any absolute authority.3
So Tocqueville arrived in America already mindful of the dangers of consolidated authority and of the oppressive potential of capricious governments of any sort, whether of assemblies, factions, individuals, or the mob. Looking back over forty years, he wondered whether France was destined to endless episodes of social and political upheaval. When and where would the cycle of revolution end? In a letter written from Cincinnati in December 1831, he speculated about this question and for the first time posed a dilemma that would lie at the heart of the making of the Democracy. “The clearest fact is that we live in an epoch of transition; but are we going toward liberty? are we heading for despotism? God alone knows exactly what to believe on this point.”4
One of the curiosities that first struck Tocqueville and Beaumont in the United States—and a feature also related to the theme of centralization—was the peculiar status of American public officials, especially of the chief executives of states and nation. By the first of June, he observed: “They [public officials] are absolutely on the same footing as the rest of the citizens. They are dressed the same, stay at the same inn when away from home, are accessible at every moment, and shake everybody by the hand. They exercise a certain power defined by the law; beyond that they are not at all above the rest.”5
At first this official humility only reinforced the impression of general social equality which so captivated the two aristocrats. Familiarity between citizen and government officer seemed merely one of the most telling features of America’s unique social condition. But during the autumn and winter, Tocqueville began to see another meaning in this low executive profile. American executives often were, in fact, relatively powerless and had little political stature. The governor of New York spent half of each year supervising his farm. The governor of Massachusetts, Jared Sparks told him, “has but little power.” And the governor of Ohio apparently also counted “for absolutely nothing.”6
The only substantial qualification of this opinion came in October when Tocqueville read Isaac Goodwin’s Town Officer and noticed with surprise the extensive authority of certain local magistrates within their allotted areas of competence. “When the social state allows a people to choose its magistrates, the magistrates so elected can without disadvantage be clothed in a power which no despotic authority would dare to confer on them. So it is that the selectmen in New England have ... a power of censorship [that] would be found revolting under the most absolute monarchy. People submit to it easily here. When once things are organized on that basis, the lower the qualification to vote and the shorter the time for which a magistrate holds office, by so much greater is the magistrate’s power.”7
But local leaders apparently benefited from this republican trait far more than did the chief officers of states and nation. Even the President apparently shared the weakness characteristic of major executives. Joel Poinsett told Tocqueville in January that “The President in fact has ... little influence on [the people’s] happiness. It is in very truth Congress that rules.” The Chief Executive, Tocqueville summarized, was “without power.”8
As Tocqueville traveled to the West and South, he began to learn why major executives had so little authority. In these sections, his acquaintances began more frequently and passionately to mention the various dangers of democratic rule. Talk of “democratic excesses” became increasingly common. Several leading citizens of Ohio complained, for instance, that “we have granted too much to democracy here,” or that “our [state] Constitution tends toward too unlimited a democracy.”9 And two gentlemen from Cincinnati were particularly distressed by the legislature’s new power to appoint judges.10 On 3 December 1831, Timothy Walker expanded upon these feelings:
Our [state] Constitution was drafted at a time when the democratic party represented by Jefferson was triumphing throughout the Union. One cannot fail to recognize the political feelings under the power of which it was drafted. It is democratic. The government is a very great deal weaker beyond bounds than any other. The Governor counts for absolutely nothing and is paid only 1,200 dollars. The people appoint the Justices of the Peace and control(?) the ordinary judges. The Legislature and the Senate change every year....
At the moment we are making the experiment of a democracy without limits; everything tends that way; but can we make it work? No one can yet assert that.11
In January, the lawyer from Montgomery, Alabama, agreed. “The erroneous opinion is spreading daily more and more among us that the people can do anything and is capable of ruling almost directly. From that springs an unbelievable weakening of anything that could look like executive power; it is the outstanding characteristic and the capital defect of our [state] Constitution, and of those of all the new States in the South-West of the Union.”12
The tendency was apparently to strip the executive of all real power, to undermine the independence of the judiciary by introducing election (either directly by the electorate or indirectly by the legislature), and to submit the legislature to the immediate control of the people through “universal” suffrage, frequent election, and mandates.13 The result was more and more direct rule by “the people.” And the legislature, as the instrument of the will of the majority, increasingly overshadowed the other two branches of government. One of the hallmarks of the American system appeared to be an almost mandatory combination of executive weakness and legislative supremacy. The only exception to this rule seemed to be the troubling arbitrariness of certain local officers.
Tocqueville believed that despotism would result from extreme centralization. But which hands would wield this consolidated authority? Who or what would the probable tyrant be? The drafts of the Democracy offered several answers. Tocqueville’s knowledge of the Convention, his observations in America, and his readings of the Federalist Papers combined to suggest an initial type of democratic despotism: legislative omnipotence.
“Tyrannie de la démocratie. Confusion of all powers in the hands of the assemblies. Weakness of the executive power for reacting against these assemblies to which it is only an instrument. See the very curious article of the Federalist on this subject. p. 213. id. 215. id. 224. Moreover that is a necessary result of the reign of democracy. There is force only in the people; there can be force only in the constitutional power which represents them.
“In America the executive and judiciary powers depend absolutely on the legislative power. It fixes their salaries in general, modifies their organization, and nothing is provided so that they might resist its encroachments. Feder. p. 205 [sic: 215?].”14
In Number 48 of the Federalist, Madison discussed the best means for rendering the three branches of government mutually independent. In his argument he criticized the makers of previous American state constitutions for overlooking the threat of legislative preponderance.
I shall undertake ... to show that unless [the legislative, executive, and judiciary] departments be so far connected and blended as to give to each a constitutional control over the others, the degree of separation which the maxim requires, as essential to a free government, can never in practice be duly maintained....
Will it be sufficient to mark, with precision, the boundaries of these departments in the constitution of the government, and to trust to these parchment barriers against the encroaching spirit of power? This is the security which appears to have been principally relied on by the compilers of most of the American constitutions. But experience assures us that the efficacy of the provision has been greatly overrated; ... The legislative department is everywhere extending the sphere of its activity and drawing all power into its impetuous vortex.
The founders of our republics have so much merit for the wisdom which they have displayed that no task can be less pleasing than that of pointing out the errors into which they have fallen. A respect for truth, however, obliges us to remark that they seem never for a moment to have turned their eyes from the danger, to liberty, from the overgrown and all-grasping prerogative of an hereditary magistrate.... They seem never to have recollected the danger from legislative usurpations, which, by assembling all power in the same hands, must lead to the same tyranny as is threatened by executive usurpations.”15
American constitution-makers had apparently been so concerned since the 1770s about avoiding repetitions of what they saw as the executive oppression and corruption of George III and his various agents that they had failed to grant their own executives power enough to withstand the equally dangerous pretensions of assemblies.
To seal his argument, Madison offered the examples of Virginia and Pennsylvania and, for the former, quoted at length from Jefferson’s Notes On the State of Virginia. While criticizing the constitution of his state Jefferson had observed: “All the powers of government, legislative, executive, and judiciary, result to the legislative body. The concentrating of these in the same hands is precisely the definition of despotic government. It will be no alleviation that these powers will be exercised by a plurality of hands, and not by a single one. One hundred and seventy three despots would surely be as oppressive as one.”16
In Number 51, Madison returned to the same point and once again joined a statement of the principle of departmental balance with a critique of state constitutions for failing in most cases to provide the necessary safeguards. “But it is not possible to give each department an equal power of self-defense. In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates.” (The essay then offered several remedies for this “inconveniency,” including bicameralism, the qualified veto, and some specific connection between the executive and the upper house of the legislature.) “If the principles on which these observations are founded be just,... and they be applied as a criterion to the several State constitutions, and to the federal Constitution, it will be found that if the latter does not perfectly correspond with them, the former are infinitely less able to bear such a test.”17
In accord with Madison, Tocqueville’s drafts also assumed that power in democratic societies concentrated naturally in the assembly (as the body representing the people) and, recalling the states of the West and Southwest, maintained that the American states had artificially heightened this and other tendencies.18 His manuscripts also agreed, therefore, that in democracies (and particularly in the individual American states) legislative despotism was a primary threat to liberty. In 1835 all of these ideas would emerge.
Democracies are naturally inclined to concentrate all the power of society in the hands of the legislative power. That being the authority which springs most directly from the people, it is also that which shares its all-embracing power most.
Hence one notes its habitual tendency to gather every kind of authority in its hands....
Two main dangers threaten the existence of democracies:
Complete subjection of the legislative power to the will of the electoral body.
Concentration of all the other powers of government in the hands of the legislative power.
The lawgivers of the states favored the growth of these dangers. The lawgivers of the Union did what they could to render them less formidable.19
Elsewhere in the 1835 Democracy Tocqueville would observe:
In America the legislature of each state is faced by no power capable of resisting it. Nothing can check its progress, neither privileges, nor local immunities, nor personal influence, nor even the authority of reason, for it represents the majority, which claims to be the unique organ of reason. So its own will sets the sole limits of its action....
The republics of the New World are not going to perish, as is often asserted, for lack of centralization; so far from being inadequately centralized, one can assert that the American governments carry it much too far [Cf. the “beautiful theory” of Madison];... The legislative assemblies are constantly absorbing various remnants of governmental powers; they tend to appropriate them all to themselves, as the French Convention did.20
Once again Tocqueville’s drafts, as we have observed, credited an idea to a specific source which would not be cited in the printed text. Even in the margin of his working manuscript, next to this last sentence about legislative usurpations and the Convention, Tocqueville observed: “Moreover this is a defect inherent in a government of democratic form. See the Federalist. page 213.”21 Only the published work would fail to indicate Madison’s considerable contribution.
As a final witness to the truth of this analysis, Tocqueville—like Madison—would call upon Jefferson: “The executive, in our government is not the sole, it is scarcely the principal, object of my jealousy. The tyranny of the legislature is the most formidable dread at present and will be for many years. That of the executive will come in its turn, but it will be at a remote period.”22
As these excerpts indicate, the unlimited power of the “people” underlay any possible legislative tyranny in a democracy. So between 1832 and 1835, as the first two volumes of the Democracy took shape, a vision of a second type of democratic despotism emerged: Tocqueville’s famous notion of the tyranny of the majority, which we will later take up separately.23
A third possible democratic despot in 1835 would be the state. Administrative (or bureaucratic), rather than legislative or popular, consolidation of power would be the means; but tyranny would still be the end.24 We have seen how, in both America and England, Tocqueville frequently speculated on the possible links between an overly centralized administration and tyranny. Vigorous local institutions, he repeatedly observed, seemed essential to a truly free society. But the concept of local liberties went beyond the mere power of municipalities to manage their own affairs. As the New England town demonstrated, local initiative, by fostering citizen interest in public affairs, also encouraged the birth of all sorts of private associations, organizations highly desirable in democratic nations. An undated draft observed: “Aristocracies are natural associations which need neither enlightenment, nor planning to resist the great national association that we call the government. Because of that they are more favorable to liberty than democracy is. Associations can also form in a democracy, but only by means of enlightenment and talents and they are never lasting. In general when an oppressive government has been able to form in a democracy, it encounters only isolated men, not any collective forces. Thus its irresistible strength.”25
Precisely this stimulus to the individual’s public participation and sense of responsibility was the most valuable function of local liberties. “Administrative centralization works toward despotism and destroys civic virtue. People get used to living as strangers, as settlers (colons) in their own country, to saying: ‘That does not concern me. Let the government look after that.’ ”26 In these brief remarks, probably dating from 1833, Tocqueville for the first time explicitly wove together three themes that would later become fundamental: centralization, despotism, and individualisme.27
These remarks also indicated more broadly that what left democratic societies so vulnerable to the usurpations of the state was, in part, the lack of intermediate social and political groupings—such as local governments, associations, families, or classes—which might serve as buffers between the individual and the nation as a whole.28 Another analysis warned more pointedly that consolidated nations, like France, tended naturally “to concentrate social forces indefinitely until pure administrative despotism is reached.”29
The 1835 Democracy would offer at least one portrait of this centralized and bureaucratic tyranny:
What good is it to me, after all, if there is an authority always busy to see to the tranquil enjoyment of my pleasures and going ahead to brush all dangers away from my path without giving me even the trouble to think about it, if that authority, which protects me from the smallest thorn on my journey, is also the absolute master of my liberty and of my life? ...
There are countries in Europe where the inhabitant feels like some sort of farm laborer (colon) indifferent to the fate of the place where he dwells. The greatest changes may take place in his country without his concurrence; he does not even know precisely what has happened; he is in doubt; he has heard tell by chance of what goes on. Worse still, the condition of his village, the policing of his road, and the repair of his church and parsonage do not concern him; he thinks that all those things have nothing to do with him at all, but belong to a powerful stranger called the government.30
Elsewhere Tocqueville would add: “One appreciates that centralization of government acquires immense strength when it is combined with administrative centralization. In that way it accustoms men to set aside their own wills constantly and completely, to obey not just once and in one respect, but always in everything. Then they are not only tamed by force, but their habits too are trained; they are isolated and then dropped one by one into the common mass.”31
These passages would announce the ultimate danger in the democratic tendency toward administrative centralization and would strikingly foreshadow the final section of the 1840 Democracy.32 Democratic nations would slide inexorably toward the concentration of power in the hands of the state. Under centralization, individuals would grow accustomed to obedience. Each person would begin to feel isolated and weak and become lost in the crowd. All authority would accumulate at some center. And liberty would finally succumb to despotism. Yet relatively little other than these few passages in the first two volumes of Tocqueville’s book would point to the possibility of administrative or bureaucratic tyranny. This third vision of democratic despotism would not become primary until five more years of reflection had passed.
Still another, a fourth possible embodiment of democratic tyranny was of a more traditional sort: the gathering of all power into the hands of a single despot (le despotisme d’un seul). Given increasing equality of conditions, men could either strive to combine equality and liberty or they could accept equality alone and fall under “the yoke of a single man.”33 “How can we believe that the lower classes of society, nearly equal to the others in knowledge, more energetic than they, will put up with remaining excluded from the government? Can that possibly be imagined? Perhaps this will lead to the establishment of tyranny. Why democracy endures a tyrant rather than superiority of ranks and a hierarchy. Equality, dominant passion of democracies. Finish by this piece, men have only one way to be free, but they have two to be equal.”34
And in 1835 he would declare: “Now, I know of only two ways of making equality prevail in the political sphere; rights must be given either to every citizen or to nobody. So, for a people who have reached the Anglo-Americans’ social state, it is hard to see any middle course between the sovereignty of all and the absolute power of one man.”35
To Tocqueville this danger seemed particularly acute if the potential tyrant was a military hero (le despotisme d’un seul militaire). The principal inspiration for this fear was almost certainly Napoleon, but America had clearly reinforced Tocqueville’s view. During the American journey, he had heard about Andrew Jackson’s incompetence and corruption and read about his demagogic attitudes.36 But Jared Sparks had told him that, although most informed persons opposed Jackson, “the majority is still at the General’s disposal.”37 The riddle of Jackson’s attraction had not been solved by a January 1832 meeting in the White House; Tocqueville and Beaumont had left Old Hickory’s presence singularly unimpressed.38
How then did a man so seemingly undistinguished in character or ability maintain such a hold on the emotions of the American people? Reflecting upon his knowledge of history (especially of Bonaparte’s career) Tocqueville thought he saw an answer. “How can one be in doubt about the pernicious influence of military glory in a republic? What determines the people’s choice in favor of General Jackson who, as it would seem, is a very mediocre man? What still guarantees him the votes of the people in spite of the opposition of the enlightened classes? The battle of New Orleans.”39
Here essentially was the glib and one-sided answer which he would confidently offer his readers in 1835. After declaring that military glory was the most terrible scourge for republics, he would observe:
How can one deny the incredible influence military glory has over a nation’s spirit? General Jackson, whom the Americans have for the second time chosen to be at their head, is a man of violent character and middling capacities; nothing in the whole of his career indicated him to have the qualities needed for governing a free people; moreover, a majority of the enlightened classes in the Union have always been against him. Who, then, put him on the President’s chair and keeps him there still? It is all due to the memory of a victory he won twenty years ago under the walls of New Orleans. But that New Orleans victory was a very commonplace feat of arms which could attract prolonged attention only in a country where there are no battles; and the nation who thus let itself be carried away by the prestige of glory is, most assuredly, the coldest, most calculating, the least militaristic, and if one may put it so, the most prosaic in all the world.40
As if to drive his point home, Tocqueville would add an illustration later deleted from his working manuscript. “During our stay in America a medal was struck in honor of General Jackson which had for its inscription: ‘What Caesar did Jackson surpassed.’ ”41 This sensitivity to the danger of new Caesars (or Napoleons) would remain with Tocqueville throughout his life, influencing the shape of the Democracy and becoming especially acute after the painful experiences of 1848–51.42
In 1835 the Democracy would especially emphasize this threat of the despotism of a single man.
If it is true that there will soon be nothing intermediate between the sway of democracy and the yoke of a single man, should we not rather steer toward the former than voluntarily submit to the latter? And if we must finally reach a state of complete equality, is it not better to let ourselves be leveled down by freedom rather than by a despot? ...
... I do think that if we do not succeed in gradually introducing democratic institutions among us, and if we despair of imparting to all citizens those ideas and sentiments which first prepare them for freedom and then allow them to enjoy it, there will be no independence left for anybody, neither for the middle classes nor for the nobility, neither for the poor nor for the rich, but only an equal tyranny for all; and I foresee that if the peaceful dominion of the majority is not established among us in good time, we shall sooner or later fall under the unlimited authority of a single man.43
Shortly after the publication of the first part of the Democracy, Tocqueville, in an effort to clarify his views to Kergolay, would more precisely if less eloquently restate his opinions. Louis had apparently been deeply troubled by what he had understood to be certain implications of Alexis’s book. So Tocqueville would explain:
Conditions once equal, I admit that I no longer see any intermediary between a democratic government ... and the government of an individual (d’un seul) operating without control. I do not doubt for an instant that we will arrive with time at the one or at the other. But, I do not want the second; if an absolute government ever managed to establish itself in a country democratic in its social condition and demoralized like France, we can not imagine what the limits of tyranny would be; we have already seen some fine examples of this regime under Bonaparte and if Louis Philippe were free, he would make us see many even more perfect ones. There remains then the first. I hardly like that one any better, but I prefer it to the other, moreover if I fail to reach the former, I am certain that I will never escape the other. So between two evils, I choose the lesser. But it is very difficult to establish a democratic government among us? Agreed. Also, I would not attempt it if I had a choice. Is it impossible to succeed at it? I doubt very much that it is impossible, for apart from political reasons which I have not the time to develop, I can not believe that for several centuries God has pushed two or three hundred million men toward equality of conditions in order to bring them in the end to the despotism of Tiberius or Claudius.44
So something (someone) like the worst of the Roman emperors, le despotisme d’un seul, was the fourth and most frequently mentioned despotism that Tocqueville would foresee in 1835. In these passages, the options were: a democratic government in harmony with the developing equality of conditions (either a monarchy or a republic) or a tyrant. Tocqueville’s moral presuppositions encouraged him to hope for the first. For him it was morally inconceivable that the mighty labors of God in the world were directed toward a long night of tyranny.
One basis for Tocqueville’s continuing reputation is his perceptive recognition of new developments and his conscientious call for new names and understandings. In his drafts, he now demonstrated these talents while musing about democratic despotism. “Here a portrait of the new tyranny, without counterbalance in the institutions, in the moeurs.”45 His published text would repeat: “If absolute power were to be established again among the democratic nations of Europe, I have no doubt that it would take a new form and display features unknown to our fathers.”46 But, as we have just noticed, when he attempted in 1835 to describe this new despotism, he would search for analogies in ancient history and end by writing of despotisme d’un seul and by specifically portraying a military tyrant modeled on the Roman emperors.
“To find anything analogous to what might happen now with us, it is not in our history that we must seek. Perhaps it is better to delve into the memorials of antiquity and carry our minds back to the terrible centuries of Roman tyranny, when mores (moeurs) had been corrupted, memories obliterated, customs destroyed; when opinions became changeable and freedom, driven out from the laws, was uncertain where it could find asylum....
“I find those very blind who think to rediscover the monarchy of Henry IV or Louis XIV. For my part, when I consider the state already reached by several European nations and that toward which all are tending, I am led to believe that there will soon be no room except for either democratic freedom or the tyranny of the Caesars.”47
So, despite Tocqueville’s recognition that something very different was possibly at hand, no truly original image of the “new tyranny,” of the supposedly novel democratic despotism, would emerge in 1835. Although Tocqueville would present a theory and even a brief portrait of administrative tyranny, he would not identify it in 1835 as the new despotism. Instead, his efforts to describe the possible coming oppression would draw upon examples from the distant past and emphasize the tyrant rather than the all-powerful bureaucracy. The centralized bureaucratic state would have to await its prominent place until the publication of the 1840 Democracy.
So at least four major despotisms appeared in Tocqueville’s notes, drafts, and manuscripts between 1831 and 1835: legislative omnipotence, tyranny of the majority, administrative (or bureaucratic) despotism, and the rule of a tyrant (especially a military hero). Ambiguities persisted, however. Although in America legislatures by far overshadowed the other two branches, democratic executives (especially on the local level) had amazingly arbitrary authority. And was not legislative power itself merely the shadow of popular rule? Furthermore, how were “direct rule by the people” and “tyranny of the majority” to be distinguished? Did “administrative” and “bureaucratic” mean the same thing? Might not a tyrant (military or civilian) exert his will through the administration (or bureaucracy) rather than through direct, personal rule? And finally, was not a democratic tyrant possible? Despite these issues, Tocqueville had begun to analyze the many possible meanings of “democratic despotism.”
Of Tocqueville’s several 1835 visions of despotism, legislative tyranny may be said to have turned out to be the least real (for America). Tocqueville understood the presidency well enough to predict accurately the growing stature of the Chief Executive once the United States became entangled in major wars or momentous foreign affairs.48 But his awareness of the potential power of the President was not enough to overcome his belief—reinforced by “Publius”—in the inherent tendency of legislatures to usurp authority. One reason for this was probably his conviction that, in a democracy, it was the legislator who truly represented the people and who therefore wielded the power and spoke with the moral authority of the people. Here his failure to notice one of the major symbolic changes of Jackson’s presidency cost him dearly; a recognition of how the President might be seen as the only representative of all of the people would perhaps have dramatically altered his sense of where the greater danger resided in America. Here again his reliance on the Federalist Papers, with their effort to downplay the prerogatives of the President to a populace wary of executive power, probably helped to lead him astray. It also seems likely, in this case, that his knowledge of the French Revolution and especially his sensitivity to the excesses of the Convention influenced his perceptions of the American situation far too much.49 Moreover, despite his astute analysis of the functions of the American judiciary and of the extraordinary roles in American politics and society played by lawyers, judges, juries, and courts, he apparently could not imagine a judicial branch so independent and powerful that it might, in itself, ever become an effective instrument of oppression. So in his 1835 Democracy, Tocqueville ended by projecting an image of a possible legislative despotism in the United States that turned out to be largely illusory.
Administrative Centralization and Some Remedies
We have observed that Tocqueville’s 1835 volumes advocated the political, moral, social, and economic benefits of local liberties; lamented democracy’s encouragement of centralization; distinguished between two types of centralization, governmental and administrative; and warned that the administrative variety undermined freedom. Between 1835 and 1840 Tocqueville continued to be haunted by “ce mot de centralisation,” and the longer he revolved the idea, the more meanings he discovered.
Shortly after the first part of the Democracy appeared, Tocqueville journeyed for a second time to England where centralization again became one of the major themes of his travel notes.1 On 11 May 1835, Henry Reeve confirmed Tocqueville’s impression that “a strong tendency to centralization” existed in England. The exchange led Tocqueville to a brief but key summation of ideas. In a few brief sentences he sketched much of the last part of his famous work.
“Centralization, a democratic instinct; instinct of a society which has succeeded in escaping from the individualistic system of the Middle Ages. Preparation for despotism. Why is centralization dear to the habits of democracy? Great question to delve into in the third volume of my work, if I can fit it in. A fundamental question.”2
Two weeks later Tocqueville asked another English friend, John Stuart Mill, whether he also believed that England was moving toward centralization, and, if so, whether he was worried by the tendency. Mill admitted the movement, but denied any great concern.
Up to now centralization has been the thing most foreign to the English temperament.
(1) Our habits or the nature of our temperament do not in the least draw us towards general ideas;... So we have divided administrative functions up infinitely and have made them independent of one another. We have not done this deliberately, but from our sheer inability to comprehend general ideas on the subject of government or anything else.
(2)... The taste for making others submit to a way of life which one thinks more useful to them than they do themselves, is not a common taste in England. We are attacking the present parochial and provincial institutions because they serve as tools of the aristocracy. Taking power from our adversaries we naturally hope to vest it in the government, because nothing is prepared within the present institutions for inheriting some of this power. But if democracy was organized in our parishes and our counties so that it could take over the tasks of government, I am sure that we would leave them quite independent of the central government. Perhaps we will try to do it too late, and by a compromise the government will be enriched with the chief spoils from the aristocracy.
But Tocqueville did not find Mill’s explanation entirely convincing, and he suggested another idea to the Englishman. “Could it not be that what you call the English temperament, is the aristocratic temperament? Would it not be part of the aristocratic temperament to isolate oneself and, as each enjoys a fine estate, to be more afraid of being disturbed in one’s own domain, than wishful to extend it over others? Is not the instinct of democracy exactly the opposite, and may it not be that the present tendency which you consider as an accident, is an almost necessary consequence of the basic cause?”3
Both men agreed that there was a trend toward greater centralized supervision of individual and local affairs, but what Mill understood as an historical circumstance, Tocqueville perceived as characteristic of the advance of démocratie. Beyond this, their conversation also reminded Tocqueville of a basic structural principle that he had noticed in America nearly four years earlier: the division or fragmentation of administrative power. Mill’s remarks reemphasized as well a lesson of special importance for France: the need to prepare localities for eventual responsibility.
On three later occasions, Tocqueville filled several pages of his English travel diaries with long and significant reflections on centralization, each of which anticipated sections of the last part of his book.
Ideas concerning centralization.... How one should conceive of society’s obligations to its members.
Is society obliged, as we think in France, to guarantee the individual and to create his well-being? Or is not its only duty rather to give the individual easy and sure means to guarantee it for himself and to create his own well-being?
The first notion; simpler, more general, more uniform, more easily grasped by half-enlightened and superficial minds.
The second; more complicated, not uniform in its application, harder to grasp; but the only one that is true, the only one compatible with the existence of political liberty, the only one that can make citizens or even men.
Application of this idea to public administration. Centralization, division within the administrative power. That is an aspect of the matter that I do not want to deal with at the moment, but on which what I see in England and have seen in America casts a flood of light and allows one to form general ideas. The English themselves do not realize the excellence of their system. There is a mania for centralization which has got hold of the democratic party. Why? Passions analogous to those of France in ’89 and from much the same motives. Ridiculousness of medieval institutions. Hate for the aristocracy which has superstitiously preserved them, and uses them to its profit. Spirit of innovation, revolutionary tendency to see abuses only of the present state; general tendency of democracies.
Lucky difficulties which obstruct centralization in England; laws, habits, manners, English spirit rebellious against general or uniform ideas, but fond of peculiarities. Stay-at-home tastes introduced into political life....
Principles of the English4 in questions of public administration.... Division of the local administrative authorities. No hierarchy among them. Continual intervention of the judicial power to make them obey....
Why the English government is strong although the localities are independent. Special and often hierarchic administration for matters of importance to the whole Empire....
Application of these ideas to France. That the future of political liberty depends on the solution of the problem.... We are working towards the independence of the provinces, or to their complete subordination and the destruction of municipal life....
Practical discussion on this subject. Gradual introduction of the English and American principle which, in truth, is only the general principle of free peoples. Precautions that must be taken to preserve a strong central power. Perhaps that is the only way by which it can continue to be.5
Tocqueville touched briefly in these paragraphs on a theme that would become a separate chapter in his work: the fortuitous causes that hinder or hasten centralization in various nations.6 He also explicitly returned here to his search for first principles of public administration. Throughout the passage—sometimes directly, sometimes only by implication—he compared the English and American systems of decentralization and contrasted the structures of both of these “free peoples” with that of France. “The future of political liberty” at home, he was vividly aware, depended greatly on what the French were willing to learn from the English-speaking nations. This type of three-cornered analysis would be frequently applied to a wide variety of issues in the 1840 Democracy and would be another major reason for the “less American” nature of his last two volumes.
Within a week, his thoughts returned to the topic at hand, and his jottings revealed that once again he was wondering where power would accumulate and was connecting the two types of centralization with particular branches of government.
There is a great deal of centralization in England; but of what sort? Legislative and not administrative; governmental rather than administrative; but as with us it sometimes extends down to very small, puerile details. The mania for regimentation, which is not a French mania, but one of men and of power, is found here as elsewhere. But it can only have a single, passing effect, and can only imperfectly achieve its object.
That is because the centralizing power is in the hands of the legislature, not of the executive.
Annoying consequences: Delays, expenses, impossibility of certain measures, impossibility of inspection.
Lucky consequences: Publicity, respect for rights, obligation to refer to local authorities for the execution of the law; natural tendency to divide administrative authority so as not to create too strong a rival power. Centralization very incomplete since it is carried out by a legislative body; principles rather than facts; general in spite of a wish to be detailed.
Greatness and strength of England, which is explained by the power of centralization in certain matters.
Prosperity, wealth, liberty of England, which is explained by its weakness in a thousand others.
Principle of centralization and principle of election of local authorities: principles in direct opposition ... the one is essential to the power and existence of the State, the second to its prosperity and liberty. England has found no other secret. The whole future of free institutions in France depends on the application of these same ideas to the genius of our laws.”7
Though exceedingly compressed, these reflections of 3 July 1835 were fundamental. He repeated his conviction that the “mania for regimentation” was pervasive and returned explicitly once again to the crucial distinction between governmental and administrative centralization (which he significantly linked to the difference between legislative and executive authority). A summary of the benefits and disadvantages of decentralization then followed. And prominent among advantages were the economic ones. Finally, while maintaining that decentralization was essential for “prosperity and liberty,” Tocqueville recognized that nations like France and England needed some degree of centralization to preserve “the power and existence of the State.” A proper combination of these two principles was the basic problem. France needed to move toward some balance between effective national government and independent local authorities.
In still another passage, Tocqueville mulled over at length the possible influence of free institutions on prosperity.
I think it is above all the spirit and habits of liberty which inspire the spirit and habits of trade....
To be free one must have the capacity to plan and persevere in a difficult undertaking, and be accustomed to act on one’s own; to live in freedom one must grow used to a life full of agitation, change and danger; to keep alert the whole time with a restless eye on everything around; that is the price of freedom. All those qualities are equally needed for success in commerce....
Looking at the turn given to the human spirit in England by political life; seeing the Englishman, certain of the support of his laws, relying on himself and unaware of any obstacle except the limit of his own powers, acting without constraint; seeing him, inspired by the sense that he can do anything, look restlessly at what now is, always in search of the best, seeing him like that, I am in no hurry to inquire whether nature has scooped out ports for him, and given him coal and iron. The reason for his commercial prosperity is not there at all: it is in himself.
Do you want to test whether a people is given to industry and commerce? Do not sound its ports, or examine the wood from its forests or the produce of its soil. The spirit of trade will get all those things and, without it, they are useless. Examine whether a people’s laws give men the courage to seek prosperity, freedom to follow it up, the sense and habits to find it, and the assurance of reaping the benefit.8
The essence of this discussion would eventually be transferred directly to the pages of the 1840 Democracy.9 But we should note two striking portions. In the passage above, Tocqueville eloquently enumerated the requirements of freedom: foresight, perseverance, self-reliance, adaptability, courage, vigilance, and a touch of discontent. He also could not prevent the old question of environment from poking through once again. He asserted yet another time that the moral dimension, the “human spirit,” was a more powerful force than physical setting in shaping a society.
The voyage to England in 1835 was an important addition to what Tocqueville had seen and learned in America during 1831 and 1832. On the topic of centralization, much was simply a covering of old ground, but significant details were added by English stimulations to further thought and particularly by a new point of comparison. England served especially as confirmation of certain earlier judgments about the benefits of vigorous localities, the varieties of centralization, the dangers of administrative consolidation of power, and, above all, democracy’s “mania for centralization.”
The theme of centralization would reappear in many parts of Tocqueville’s 1840 volumes. In the second section, “The Influence of Democracy on the Sentiments of the Americans,” for example, he would argue at length that local liberties were essential to citizen participation in public affairs and that freedom of association and liberty of the press were important safeguards against administrative centralization.10
But Tocqueville’s major treatment of centralization in 1840 would come in the final segment of his work: “On the Influence of Democratic Ideas and Feelings on Political Society.” According to the author, this last part of his book, which ultimately proved so difficult to write, would be its culmination: both the most eloquent statement of his “doctrine” and the best possible presentation of his recommendations for the future of France.11 His brother Edouard received an outline of the section in July 1838, just as four months of intensive work got under way.
I will tell you first of all, to speak to you immediately of my grande affaire, that I am back at work and that for the past eight days I am finally busy again; I am resolved not to let go again until these last chapters are finished. I have already sketched the plan; here it is; you will understand me even though I say only a few words because you are abreast of all of my ideas. The idée-mère of the first of the two chapters which remain for me to do (for I have felt the necessity to do two) is on “The General Influence of the Democratic Ideas and Sentiments Which the Book Has Just Exposed on the Form of Government.” I begin by showing how, theoretically, these ideas and sentiments must facilitate the concentration12 of powers. Then I indicate what special and accidental circumstances can hasten or retard this tendency; which leads me to show that the greater part of these circumstances do not exist in America and exist in Europe. So I get to speaking about Europe and showing by facts how all European governments centralize constantly; how the power of the State always grows and that of individuals always diminishes. That leads me to define the type of democratic despotism which could arrive in Europe, and finally to examine in a general way what the tendencies of legislation must be to struggle against this tendency of the social condition. There is the next-to-last chapter, in the middle of which I find myself at this moment. I hope that, like me, you will find something of richness and grandeur there.
The last chapter which, in my plan, must be very short, will be a résumé oratoire of the diverse tendencies of equality, of the necessity of not wanting to compete with this very equality, but of making use of it. This will be something which will tie the end of the book to its introduction. All of that has loftiness; and I get excited looking at it. But the difficulty is immense, and days slip by in a way that makes me despair.13
So Tocqueville now planned two chapters: one, a long discussion of centralization and despotism; the other, a brief summation of the entire book.14 His letter also stated explicitly what his 1840 text would only imply: this final section of his work—perhaps more than any other portion—would speak primarily of Europe, rather than America. The United States, he reiterated, was singularly free from many of the special forces which in Europe tended to hasten the concentration of power and the possible decline into democratic despotism.
A short outline of the proposed major chapter was scribbled into a draft.
And a sketch of plans and ideas for the proposed résumé oratoire again highlighted his (relative) abandonment of America and revealed the elevated tone which he hoped to achieve as he concluded his work.
“Ideas to see again.... Last chapter. General survey of the subject. General estimate of the effects of equality. I can only tackle this summary in an open and noble manner, otherwise it would seem out of place and incomplete. I must appear [as] wanting to compress into a narrow frame the whole picture that I have just painted, [as] brushing aside details by closing my eyes to them, [as] no longer being interested in America which opened the way for me.... Begin by recalling the course of the four volumes....
“Finish the book by a grand chapter which attempts to summarize the whole democratic theme and to draw out oratorically the consequences for the world and in particular for Europe and France. Maxims of conciliation, of resignation, of union with the course of Providence, of complete impartiality. A movement simple and solemn like the subject. Essential idea. I must attempt to get away from particular points of view in order to take a position, if possible, among the general points of view which depend neither on time nor place. See as much as possible through the thought of God and judge from there.”16
So Tocqueville’s professed strategy, from the “Introduction” of 1835 to the final summary of 1840, was always to remain ostensibly neutral, to avoid becoming a spokesman for any party, and to assume a posture of dignified detachment. He hoped to place himself on the side of what he perceived as providential necessity and to persuade readers of all political descriptions that they too should use their God-given freedom to shape the best possible democratic future.17
Another letter, written to Royer-Collard about a month after the one to Edouard, again underscored the importance which Tocqueville attached to this final effort and disclosed some of the problems which he was then encountering. “It is true that I am now at the most difficult and delicate place in the whole work. After having examined throughout the course of the book how the fact of equality influences the opinions and sentiments of men, which is an idea more philosophical than political, I am finally at the point of inquiring how these opinions and sentiments, thus modified, influence the working of society and of government. This chapter [the entire last section of the 1840 Democracy] which must terminate the work gives me all sorts of difficulties. One of the greatest is to be concise. I have more things to say than space. I am perpetually stuck between the fear of being too long and that of being too general because of wanting to limit myself. That is the form. The substance gives me plenty of other concerns: I sense that I am treating there the most important idea of our time; its grandeur raises me up, but my own inadequacy weights me down. I catch sight of all that could be said concerning such a subject, and I know that it is not I who will say it.”18
These remarks to Royer-Collard revealed yet another facet of Tocqueville’s own conception of his book. This last segment was meant, in part, to bring both author and reader back to the problems of political reality. While, on the one hand, this section was designed to be lofty and impartial, it was, on the other, equally intended to counteract the unrelentingly philosophical level of the previous parts of the 1840 volumes. Tocqueville wanted finally to put his feet firmly on the ground and to recommend some specific proposals for the reform of French government and society. The letter also exposed an acute anxiety that he might not measure up to his vision of the task at hand. As time passed, as his ideas expanded, and as his hopes for the second half of his book grew, Tocqueville’s doubts about his own capacities also multiplied.
As he worked there were some false starts. Tocqueville’s penchant for making distinctions, for example, led him to declare in a fragment found in the “Rubish” entitled “That Centralization Is the Greatest Peril Facing the Democratic Nations of Europe”: “And I, I say to you: the world is turning toward tyranny. Two tendencies to distinguish: 1. one which tends to concentrate all powers in the state. 2. the other which tends to concentrate the exercise of all powers in the executive.”19 He was presumably attempting here a fuller analysis of administrative centralization. But the distinction between “state” and “executive” concentrations of power apparently struck him as unsatisfactory, for he never elaborated more fully.
The comment remained an important mark of distance traveled, however, for it contrasted sharply with a statement written nearly five years before. “Two main dangers threaten the existence of democracies: Complete subjection of the legislative power to the will of the electoral body. Concentration of all the other powers of government in the hands of the legislative power.”20 Although while writing the 1835 Democracy he had at times been especially concerned about popular and legislative concentrations of power, he now worried not about legislative (or even primarily about executive) power, but about the increasing accumulation of authority in the hands of the State (and its bureaucracy).21 A noteworthy feature of the 1840 volumes would be the near disappearance of any expressed concern about legislative usurpation. The identity of the dreaded center of power had changed drastically.
In the last part of his work Tocqueville would also attempt to identify several significant “particular causes” which hastened centralization in democratic times. One of these would be industrialization.22 In both America and England Tocqueville had witnessed the beneficial effects of decentralization on the economic life of nations, and in 1840 he would discuss this connection briefly.23 But in 1837 and 1838, other relationships began to capture his attention. In a passage from one draft, for example, he tentatively explored the complex connection between industry and démocratie. Note the changes in emphasis from his earlier discussion, written in England, of the links between liberty and trade.
I demonstrated in this chapter how democracy was useful to the development of industry. I would have been able to show as well how industry, in turn, hastened the development of democracy. For these two things work together and react upon one another. Democracy gives birth to the taste for material pleasures which push men toward industry and industry creates a multitude of mediocre fortunes and forms in the very heart of aristocratic nations a class apart where ranks are poorly defined and poorly preserved, where people constantly rise and fall, where they do not enjoy leisure, and where instincts are all democratic. (This class long forms in the heart of aristocratic nations a sort of small democracy which has its separate instincts, opinions, and laws.) As a people expands its commerce and its industry, this democratic class becomes more numerous and more influential; little by little its opinions pass into the moeurs and its ideas into the laws, until finally having become preponderant and, so to speak, unique, it takes hold of power, directs everything as it likes, and establishes democracy.24
In the margin of this paragraph he wondered: “I do not know if I should include this fragment or where I should put it.” Ultimately he decided to delete it.
Events in France during 1837 and 1838 also helped to suggest to Tocqueville that industrial development, stimulated by democracy, in turn greatly encouraged not only democracy, but also the rise of the centralized bureaucracy. During these years Frenchmen debated government proposals concerning the regulation of mines and the construction of a railroad system. The drafts of the Democracy contained repeated mention of these issues and indicated that the general direction of developments troubled Tocqueville. “M. Thiers told me today (27 May 1837) concerning the commission for the railroad from Lyon to Marseilles that he had finished by persuading all the members of this commission that great public works must always be done in France at the expense of the State and by its agents. Do not forget that when I speak of the ultra-centralizing tendency in our time.”25
The following year Tocqueville stated in another fragment that the discussions concerning mines had suggested several ideas to him, especially that the State would inevitably become the great industrial proprietor, in control of all important enterprises, and so would also eventually become the master and director of the entire society.26
On 6 April 1838, he observed to Royer-Collard, again with current government proposals in mind: “In the present century, to deliver to the government the direction of industry is to surrender to it the very heart of the next generations.... It is one more great link added to the long chain that already envelops and presses the existence of the individual on all sides.”27
In the “Rubish” of the chapter concerning centralization as the greatest peril, Tocqueville put his apprehensions even more strongly. “Equality is the great fact of our time. Industrial development [is] the second. Both augment the power of the government or rather the two are only one.”28
And in his working manuscript, at the end of his discussion of the influence of industry on centralization, he wrote: “Perhaps readers will find that I have dwelt too much on this last part. Its importance will be my excuse: the progress of equality and the development of industry are the two great facts of our time. I wanted to show how the one and the other contribute to enlarge the sphere of the central power and each day to restrict individual independence within narrower limits.”29
So in his drafts and working manuscript Tocqueville for a time boldly ranked the industrial revolution with the advance of démocratie (in these places defined as equality) as the two great social developments of modern Western culture. But his 1840 text would back away from that assertion and declare instead: “In the modern nations of Europe there is one great [particular] cause, apart from those already indicated, which constantly aids the growth of government activity and extends its prerogatives, and it is one which has not attracted sufficient attention. I refer to the development of industry, which is favored by the progress of equality.... Governments ... appropriate to themselves and put to their own use the greater part of the new force which industry has created in the world of our time. Industry leads us along, and they lead industry.”30
Tocqueville’s penultimate chapter would also attempt to present his political program for maximizing the benefits of démocratie and minimizing its dangers,31 but not without causing some misgivings about his presumption. The proposed title of this important chapter was simply “Continuation of the Preceding Chapters,” and Tocqueville admitted on the title page in his working manuscript: “This title means nothing at all, but all those that I want to put in its place imply too much. The only [illegible word] title would be: ‘What must be done to avoid the evils that are indicated in the preceding chapters.’ But such a title would announce much more than the chapter can bear.... In such cases, it is better to be meaningless than ambitious.”32 Always modest and still afraid that his elephantine labors might produce only a mouse, he hesitated to affirm that he had the needed answers. He consoled himself by observing elsewhere: “Remedies to the perils which I have just indicated. That it is necessary to direct all efforts against centralization. Even if I could not point out remedies, it would be something just to indicate the perils.”33 But one of Tocqueville’s major purposes for writing was to relate his reflections and warnings to the future of France. So obviously he could not now refrain from offering some recommendations to his readers.
Decentralize. Develop this idea practically, demonstrate clearly that I do not want to decentralize beyond a certain limit.... that I understand that one proceeds in that direction slowly, prudently, but sincerely and firmly. I know of a strong, speedy, agile government in a decentralized country and I understand that it will show these characteristics even more as its wheels become more free of the minute details of administrative centralization.
Give common interests to men, join them in common affairs, facilitate their association, give a practical and simple character to this development, constantly draw them closer together, elevate their spirits and their hearts as much as possible. Govern them honestly and prudently. I can imagine making ourselves guardians to the communes if we want to emancipate them. That the government, if it wishes, may treat the local powers like children, I allow; but not like fools. Only fools are kept under supervision throughout their lives.34
A sketch on an extra sheet enclosed in the working manuscript put his argument more succinctly:
Begin by a sentence indicating that what is going to follow will be a sort of summary; the moral of what precedes.
Danger of democratic peoples without liberty.
Necessity for liberty greater for these peoples than for all others. Those who desire liberty in democratic times must not be enemies of equality but only seek to make the most of it.
One must resign oneself to having a more centralized government in these times than in others.
Means of preventing excessive centralization. Secondary bodies. Aristocratic persons.
If these means should prove worthless, let us find others, but let us find them in order to save human dignity. Seek such means; direct attention to this aspect. The most general idea of the whole book.35
These summaries and outlines reasserted several familiar themes. In 1840 as in 1833, Tocqueville recognized the folly of too radical a reform of the French administrative machine. Nothing that would weaken France in the face of unified and potentially hostile neighbors gained his support. Instead he aimed for limited changes, prudently and gradually achieved. What he proposed specifically was the distribution of more independence and wider responsibilities to the localities and the introduction of greater ease and freedom of association for individuals. Above all he sought to check the tendency toward administrative centralization. If his recommendations smacked of paternalism, of the privileged aristocrat helping out his inferiors, and seemed overly moderate and resigned, Tocqueville was nonetheless still intent on his one fundamental purpose: the preservation of human freedom and dignity.
Tocqueville realized early that the United States benefited from two major levels of political decentralization, the local liberties so lauded by Sparks and others and the unique American system of federalism. But he also recognized from a very early date in his journey that only the first of these types of decentralization could be safely imitated in France. Federalism too closely reflected the American situation physique to be a viable remedy for democratic flaws at home. So although one of the unchanging messages of his entire book was a call for administrative decentralization, what he preached more specifically was the need for more vigorous local government.
From another point of view, however, Tocqueville’s recommendation for decentralization went far beyond support for active municipal government. “Give common interests to men, join them in common affairs, facilitate their association,... constantly draw them closer.”36 In the broadest sense what he urged when he praised decentralization was a pluralistic society. Local liberties were to be supplemented by groups of all sorts. “An association, be it political, industrial, commercial, or even literary or scientific, is an educated and powerful body of citizens which cannot be twisted to any man’s will or quietly trodden down, and by defending its private interests against the encroachments of power, it saves the common liberties.”37
Tocqueville supported any institutions that might become centers for bringing together otherwise isolated individuals and encouraging them to participate in public life. He desired the re-creation of whatever corps secondaires and personnes aristocratiques might serve as “artificial” substitutes for the “natural” groupings that had once served as buffers between the solitary person and the whole nation. To decentralize, in these terms, meant to disperse power in the society. And Tocqueville was quick to offer more ways to achieve this scattering of authority than merely the empowerment of the localities.
As illustrated by the maturation of his ideas on centralization, much more went into the making of the Democracy than the American experiences of 1831 to 1832. French interests, needs, and possibilities helped significantly to shape Tocqueville’s attitudes. Long before the journey to the New World, debate over the governmental proposals of 1828 had already alerted him to the value of local initiative.38 And the observations of his father and others knowledgeable about the administrative situation at home also greatly influenced his evaluation of the prospects for reform and especially his rejection of any plans for extreme decentralization. It was also primarily because of developments in France that he gradually came to recognize that democracy had helped to spawn another fundamental force in the modern world, industrialization, and that the rise of industry, in turn, encouraged some of the harmful effects of democracy. Indeed his insight that democracy (defined as equality) and industrialization were the two major forces at work in the world is another intriguing example of an idea which grew long enough to work its way into Tocqueville’s drafts and even his working manuscript, but then (because it would have blurred the focus of his book?) was uprooted and discarded.
The two voyages to England also contributed to the enrichment of his thought by providing important examples and new points of comparison. England in 1833 apparently helped to lead him to the notion of the two centralizations, and in 1835 it almost certainly sharpened his awareness of industry. Across the channel he also found reinforcement for his key idea that democracy bred centralization.
Very early, Tocqueville focused on the twin issues of the advantages of decentralization and the severe disadvantages of administrative centralization, and throughout both parts of his book he continued to explore these two themes. Most important, during the entire period of the writing of the Democracy—with only one or two brief hesitations—Tocqueville never swerved from his conviction that one of the greatest dangers of démocratie was the trend toward the concentration of power.
Tocqueville’s Changing Visions of Democratic Despotism
While shaping the last part of his book, Tocqueville also continued to weigh the chances for despotism and to examine its various forms. Sometime after 1835, he decided to consult some earlier definitions of despotism, and he turned to the famous Encyclopédie ou dictionnaire raisonné by Diderot, D’Alembert, and others. He copied the definition which he found there into his drafts, but not without a significant amendment.
“ ‘Despotism. Tyrannical, arbitrary, and absolute government of a single man.* The principle of despotic states is that a single person ... governs everything there according to his wishes, having absolutely no other laws than those of his caprices.’ Encyclopédie.” To this Tocqueville added: “This was written before we saw the despotism of an assembly under the Republic. *It is necessary to add ‘of a single power.’ ”1
The excesses of the Convention during the Revolution still so vividly reminded Tocqueville of possible legislative usurpations that he felt obliged to add his qualification to the definition of the Encyclopédie. Curiously, however, such an apprehension would rarely appear in the 1840 Democracy. His general distrust of assemblies would surface at least once,2 and on one occasion in his working manuscript, when returning to a specific description of America, he would mention the omnipotence of legislatures there.3
But the final text would delete even this reference to legislative power, and the warnings of incipient legislative despotism which had been so strong in 1835 would almost disappear in 1840. Perhaps in Tocqueville’s mind that tyranny was primarily associated with the democratic excesses of the American states.4 Its relative disappearance may be still another measure of Tocqueville’s shift between 1835 and 1840 from America in particular to démocratie in general.
The second part of the Democracy would discuss the tyranny of the majority, though with an emphasis somewhat different from that of 1835.5 And Tocqueville’s last two volumes would also not neglect the risk of the “tyrannical, arbitrary, and absolute government of a single man.” The 1840 text would revive the idea that there were two ways to be equal, in liberty or in servitude; and one possible master would be identified as the despot. “There can even be a sort of equality in the world of politics without any political freedom. A man may be the equal of all his fellows save one, who is the master of all without distinction.”6
For a time between 1835 and 1838, a particular version of this despot, the military tyrant modeled after Caesar and Napoleon, apparently captured Tocqueville’s imagination. He recognized that, in general, war played a significant role in undermining the liberty of nations.
“The first tyrant is about to come; what will he be called? I do not know, but he approaches. What is still lacking for this false image [?] of public order to disappear and for a profound, frightful, and incurable disorder to come into sight? What more is needed for this sublime authority, this visible providence that we have established among us, to trample under foot the most sacred laws, to violate at will our hearts, and to march over our heads? War. Peace has prepared despotism, war will establish it. Not only as a consequence of victory, but war simply by the need for power and concentration that it creates.”7
He added elsewhere: “In order to make war it is necessary to create a very energetic and almost tyrannical central power; it is necessary to permit it many acts of violence and arbitrariness. The result of war can deliver over to this power the liberty of the nation [which is] always poorly guaranteed in democracies, especially newly born democracies.”8
But Tocqueville’s heightened interest in the possibility of the general turned dictator went beyond these reflections on the wider influence of war. As he wrote, he began to develop a particular image of military despotism. Again, Louis de Kergolay probably served as a source of inspiration.
During the last months of 1836 and the first months of 1837, Louis was in Germany for travel, study, and observation. Alexis, who had advised him about topics worthy of investigation and methods of information gathering, was kept well informed of his progress and reflections.9 On one occasion Louis wrote:
I see democracy in the process of advancing not only in France, but also in many other countries. In America you witnessed the spectacle of democracy managing its own affairs or at least having at its head intriguers so dispersed that none were dangerous. But what will we say of democracy if, in Europe, we see it grounding itself in the government of a single person (d’un seul) ...; but we will then find that men have strangely forgotten all the ideas of personal independence about which they have made so much noise. I tremble to see all of Europe in the near future governed in the name of equality by armies and their leaders (hereditary or not), with this duty to maintain order (détail de police) which exists in a regiment, in a classroom, in a prison. After each man, even the least, wanted to be somebody, I picture to myself all turned into small boys that one spanks. Have you noticed how there are demagogues who are very little frightened by this outlook? Many of them are sharp fellows capable of leading their band of disciples to complete equality, of then putting their followers into the hands of whatever government to do with them as it pleases, of getting good positions for themselves, and of saying afterwards to this band: “My friends, you should be content because you are now all equal; now get yourselves out of this by yourselves; good-by.”
It makes little difference to me whether I live in a country more or less democratic; but I feel myself a decided enemy, an enemy by nature, taste, and conscience, of a situation such as I have just depicted to you.10
Kergolay here described a somewhat different sort of democratic despotism: rule of a nation by the military as though the entire society were a regiment.
In drafts of Part III of the 1840 Democracy, almost certainly written after receiving this letter, Tocqueville mused: “To reflect—if instead of the disordered despotism of the soldatesque, idea already known, it would not be better to introduce here the portrait of a methodical despotism where everything happens with as much order, detail, and tyranny as in a barracks.” And he prophesied reluctantly: “If I were permitted to raise the veil which hides the future from us, I would not dare to do it. I would be afraid to see all of society in the hands of soldiers. A bureaucratic, military organization, the soldier and the clerk. Symbol of the future society.”11
He also observed on one occasion: “The new aristocracy of soldiers is the only one which still seems practicable to me.”12 Even as late as July 1838, a brief outline of the last portion of the 1840 work would include the idea of the “Aristocracy of the men of war.”13
But eventually these visions would be largely shunted into footnotes. Only his general remarks about war opening the door to despotism would survive in the main body of the text.14 His deepest apprehensions would focus elsewhere. By 1840 a renewed dread of administrative despotism (and the rule of clerks) would largely displace his fear of military tyranny (and the aristocracy of soldiers). Nevertheless, Louis’s portrait of military dictatorship would contribute important elements to Tocqueville’s developing image of the Leviathan State.
The final part of the Democracy15 would contain the major portion of Tocqueville’s 1840 observations on despotism. He apparently accomplished most of the work on this important section between July and October 1838, while living at the château in Normandy.
One somewhat puzzling outline of this last segment, dated 28 July 1838, suggested a focus for the entire section quite different from the emphasis of 1840.
This outline, though incomplete, combined themes from several of Tocqueville’s last chapters, but departed substantially from the order in which these ideas would finally appear and concluded by emphasizing a pessimistic vision of social chaos and military despotism. What is most striking about this résumé, however, is the explicit use of despotism as the organizing thread. In 1840 the stated focus of the last section would be the concentration of power; despotism would be the inevitable but (almost) silent companion to the centralized state.
Since at least 1831, Tocqueville had worried that the trend toward equality might end in despotism. But between 1835 and 1840, just as he changed his mind about the center of the consolidated power which democracy entailed, so he now envisioned a different sort of despotism. What he had then briefly described, he now thoroughly developed. “I noticed during my stay in the United States that a democratic state of society similar to that found there could lay itself peculiarly open to the establishment of a despotism. And on my return to Europe I saw how far most of our princes had made use of the ideas, feelings, and needs engendered by such a state of society to enlarge the sphere of their power. I was thus led to think that the nations of Christendom might perhaps in the end fall victims to the same sort of oppression as formerly lay heavy on several of the peoples of antiquity.” In 1835 he had specifically cited the tyranny of the Caesars and had prophesied a future of despotisme d’un seul. But now he would declare: “More detailed study of the subject and the new ideas which came into my mind during five years of meditation have not lessened my fears but have changed their object.”18
After describing how democratic ideas and sentiments naturally favored the concentration of power and the establishment of a unified, ubiquitous, and omnipotent government19 and how various accidental causes exaggerated this tendency in Europe,20 Tocqueville would observe that this multiplication of governmental prerogatives threatened a totally new type of tyranny. “I think that the type of oppression which threatens democracies is different from anything there has ever been in the world before. Our contemporaries will find no prototype of it in their memories. I have myself vainly searched for a word which will exactly express the whole of the conception I have formed. Such old words as ‘despotism’ and ‘tyranny’ do not fit. The thing is new.”21
What he now foresaw more clearly was the possibility of the dictatorship of the centralized and bureaucratic state. “The social power is constantly increasing its prerogatives; it is becoming more centralized, more enterprising, more absolute, and more widespread. The citizens are perpetually falling under the control of the public administration. They are led insensibly, and perhaps against their will, daily to give up fresh portions of their individual independence to the government, and those same men who from time to time have upset a throne and trampled kings beneath their feet bend without resistance to the slightest wishes of some clerk.”22
His readers would be offered several elaborate descriptions of this New Despotism, including the following chilling portrait:
I see an innumerable multitude of men, alike and equal, constantly circling around in pursuit of the petty and banal pleasures with which they glut their souls. Each of them, withdrawn into himself, is almost unaware of the fate of the rest. Mankind, for him, consists in his children and his personal friends. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, they are near enough, but he does not notice them. He touches them but feels nothing. He exists in and for himself, and though he still may have a family, one can at least say that he has not got a fatherland.
Over this kind of man stands an immense, protective power which is alone responsible for securing their enjoyment and watching over their fate. That power is absolute, thoughtful of detail, orderly, provident, and gentle. It would resemble parental authority if, father-like, it tried to prepare its charges for a man’s life, but on the contrary, it only tries to keep them in perpetual childhood. It likes to see the citizens enjoy themselves, provided that they think of nothing but enjoyment. It gladly works for their happiness but wants to be sole agent and judge of it. It provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, makes rules for their testaments, and divides their inheritances. Why should it not entirely relieve them from the trouble of thinking and all the cares of living?
Thus it daily makes the exercise of free choice less useful and rarer, restricts the activity of free will within a narrower compass, and little by little robs each citizen of the proper use of his own faculties. Equality has prepared men for all this, predisposing them to endure it and often even regard it as beneficial.
Having thus taken each citizen in turn in its powerful grasp and shaped men to its will, government then extends its embrace to include the whole of society. It covers the whole of social life with a network of petty, complicated rules that are both minute and uniform, through which even men of the greatest originality and the most vigorous temperament cannot force their heads above the crowd. It does not break men’s will, but softens, bends, and guides it; it seldom enjoins, but often inhibits, action; it does not destroy anything, but prevents much being born; it is not at all tyrannical, but it hinders, restrains, enervates, stifles, and stultifies so much that in the end each nation is no more than a flock of timid and hardworking animals with the government as its shepherd.23
The omnipresence and apparent gentleness of this new tyranny were two of its most significant features. Unlike despotisms of old, it avoided violence and obvious brutality. But even though mild and benign, it, too, labored incessantly to render entire populations docile; it, too, enervated first individuals and then the entire nation.
Tocqueville described another important characteristic of the possible new despotism on an extra sheet in his working manuscript dated May 1838. “Show clearly that the administrative despotism which I am talking about is independent of representative, liberal, or revolutionary institutions, in a word of political power; whether the political world is led by an absolute king, by one or several assemblies, whether it is contested in the name of liberty or of order, whether it even falls into anarchy, whether it grows weaker and splits apart, the action of the administrative power will be neither less restrained, nor less strong, nor less overwhelming. It is a true distinction.... The man or the power [?] which puts the administrative machine in motion can change without the machine changing.”24
So the dictatorship of the state was different from and immune to most political changes, even seemingly fundamental ones. In the face of political upheavals the public bureaucracy would quietly continue to gather power and subjugate the nation.
By demonstrating that administrative tyranny did not necessarily mean an end to political confusion, Tocqueville hoped to disabuse many of his compatriots of a popular misconception about despotism. “Idea to introduce somewhere in this chapter, because my contemporaries fear disorder much more than servitude and because to get through to them it is necessary to use that fear. I know that the world in our time is full of people who lightly value human dignity and who would willingly buy, with all the liberty of the human species, the right to sell their harvest in peace.”25
People who would not respond to appeals for freedom had to be persuaded that their bargain for peace would be a bad one; the oppression which they initiated would be no guarantee of the social or political order they desired.
This insight about the peculiarly insulated nature of administrative tyranny also led Tocqueville to chastise his countrymen for their short-sighted concerns. “When, from the point where the natural development of my subject has led me, I notice all that happens in the world, I cannot keep myself from thinking that men are strangely preoccupied there by secondary interests and that they forget the principal need of the times in which they live. As a matter of fact, it is much less the business of our contemporaries to regulate the exterior forms of the society, to found or destroy dynasties, to establish republics or maintain monarchies, than it is to know if each one among them will retain the most precious privileges of their race and if they will fall below the level of humanity.”26
How far Tocqueville himself had come from his earlier concerns about legislative usurpations or new Caesars! He now saw that the greatest danger in democratic ages came from a much more fundamental trend toward the suffocation of individual liberties by the state, whatever its structural characteristics or its philosophical attachments. “We can quarrel over who will hold the instrument of tyranny, but the instrument remains the same.”27
This subtle ability of administrative despotism to flourish under many different political structures troubled Tocqueville for still another reason. He saw the grim possibility that such an adaptable tyranny could also clothe itself in the outward forms of liberty and rule in the name of the people.28 Of particular concern was the attempt by some of his contemporaries to legitimize centralization by appealing to the sovereignty of the people; they risked falling even more quickly into despotism.
“I listen to those among my contemporaries who are the greatest enemies of popular forces and I see that, according to them, the public administration must get involved in almost everything and that it must impose the same rules on all.... To direct, to restrain citizens constantly in principal as well as in minor affairs, such is for them its role. I go [?] from there to those who think that all authority must emanate directly from the people and I hear them maintain the same discourse. And I finally return doubting myself whether the exclusive friends of liberty are not more favorable to the centralization of power than its most violent adversaries.”29
Some men apparently believed that popular control, especially through elections, would sanitize the growing power of the state. So they mistakenly encouraged administrative centralization as democratic forms advanced. Tocqueville realized, however, that such procedures would only legitimize the despotism which he most feared.30 Even in 1835, remembering the increasing “democratic excesses” of certain American states, he had observed: “There is nothing as irresistible as a tyrannical power commanding in the name of the people, for while being clothed in the moral strength derived from the will of the greatest number, it also acts with the decision, speed, and tenacity of a single man.”31
On an extra sheet from the working manuscript of the chapter on “What Sort of Despotism Democratic Nations Have to Fear,” Tocqueville finally summarized his forebodings about what later came to be called plebiscite democracy. “We tend toward liberty and servitude at the same time. We want to combine them even though they can not be joined. Not being able to be free, we at least want to be oppressed in the name of the people. Perhaps begin all this part of the chapter in this manner, in a harsh and abrupt manner, instead of letting myself run as I do. We rebel at having a class or a man for a guardian, but we are willing for the state to be one. Provided that one has the right to choose his master, that is sufficient.”32
Tocqueville had also once written in his working manuscript for the 1835 volumes that “one of the greatest miseries of despotism is that it creates in the souls of men who are subjected to it a type of depraved taste for tranquillity and obedience and a sort of contempt of themselves which end by rendering them indifferent to their interests and enemies to their own rights.”33 But now he wondered whether an elective tyranny might not be less degrading, at least in the short run. There the citizenry could at least embrace the myth that it submitted only to itself. In a gloomy moment, he even suggested in a margin of his 1840 working manuscript that such hollow freedom was all that people in democratic times could expect. “I do not know if, considering everything, this isn’t still the best ... that one can reasonably hope from equality and the only type of liberty it is capable of leaving to men.”34 But such deep pessimism would not last.
During times of démocratie the road to tyranny seemed alarmingly broad and easy. “As for me,” Tocqueville declared, “I see clearly what must be done to subject the world to tyranny in the name of democracy.”35 And the 1840 text would observe: “The chief and, in a sense, the only condition necessary in order to succeed in centralizing the supreme power in a democratic society is to love equality or to make believe that you do so. Thus the art of despotism, once so complicated, has been simplified; one may almost say that it has been reduced to a single principle.”36
To Tocqueville the successful strategy for any would-be despot or despotism seemed simple: offer equality in return for liberty. As early as January 1837, he wrote: “What it is necessary to do in order to take hold of despotic power among democratic peoples and during the centuries of democratic transitions. Ease of turning democratic passions against their object, of sacrificing liberty to the blind love of equality and to the revolutionary passions that it brings forth.”37 Elsewhere he queried: “What is the danger? To flatter the feelings of hate and democratic envy, and in this way to obtain power. To ladle out equality by the handful; to take liberty in return.”38
As a countermeasure, Tocqueville recommended an ardent attachment to political liberties. Here was the best hope for escaping the New Despotism. “Political liberty is the greatest remedy for nearly all the evils with which equality menaces man.”39 In various draft fragments he explained his position more fully.
Equality of conditions, the absence of classes ... are evils you say. It makes human nature smaller, establishes mediocrity in all things. Perhaps you are right.
Do you know a way to cure the evil by its opposite, that is by the establishment or even the maintenance of inequality, the permanent classification of men? No, at the very bottom of your heart you do not believe in the possibility of all these things.
But admitting that equality of conditions is an invincible fact, you contest its consequences in the political world; and you blame liberty and you call despotism to your aid; and you seek to assure present security at the expense of future races. And it is here that you are certainly wrong. For there is only Democracy (by this word I understand self-government)40 which can lessen and make bearable the inevitable evils of a democratic social state. 5 September 1837....
How will we be able to understand each other? I seek to live with dignity and honor and you, you seek only to live. What you fear the most from the democratic social condition are the political troubles that it brings forth, and I, that is what I fear the least from it. You dread democratic liberty and I, democratic despotism.
Many people consider democratic civil laws as an evil and democratic political laws as another and greater evil; as for me, I say that the one is the only remedy that one can apply to the other.
The whole idea of my politics is here.41 ...
I want to make it understood to all that a democratic social state is an invincible necessity of our times.
Then, dividing my readers into enemies and friends of democracy, I want to make it understood to the first that in order for a democratic social state to be tolerable, in order for it to produce order, progress, in a word, in order to avoid all, [or] at least the greatest of the evils that they foresee, it is necessary with all one’s might to hasten to give enlightenment and liberty to people who already have such a social state.
To the second, I want to make it understood that Democracy can not give the happy fruits that they await except by combining it with morality, spirituality, beliefs....
Thus I try to gather together all honest and generous minds under a small number of common ideas.
As for the question of knowing if a similar social state is or is not the best that humanity can have, leave that to God. Only God is able to say.42
Tocqueville summarized his position in yet another fragment: “Use Democracy to moderate Democracy. It is the only path to salvation that is open to us. To discern the feelings, the ideas, the laws which, without being hostile to the principle of Democracy, without having a natural incompatibility with Democracy, can nonetheless correct its troublesome tendencies and will blend with it while modifying it. Beyond that all is foolish and imprudent.”43
Thus centralization and despotism were both possible or, as Tocqueville believed at times, even probable results of démocratie. And whatever the possible democratic tyranny, Tocqueville saw centralization as the fundamental cause. Accumulated and unchecked power anywhere carried the seeds of oppression.44
Different probabilities about the establishment of one or the other of the various types of despotism resulted primarily from the question of who or what would gather power. If the legislature, then legislative despotism; if the people, then tyranny of the majority; if a leader (especially a military one), then despotisme d’un seul (militaire); if the administration or bureaucracy, then the Leviathan State.
But the chances for each of these despotisms also depended on two other major issues: Did the oppression result from the excesses of popular government, or from an effort, despite advancing equality, to resist political democracy? And probably more important, did the example concern Europe or America?
Tocqueville’s notions of despotism, especially in 1835, seemed essentially to be of two sorts. He began by assuming advancing equality of conditions and reasoned that two basic responses were possible. Social equality might be met with political democracy, that is, with some degree of popular participation, or, more broadly still, political liberty. In that case, the primary danger was excessive power delivered in the name of the whole people to the legislature, majority, or administration. And of these possible democratic despotisms, the most fundamental and threatening, because it usually served as the foundation for either legislative or bureaucratic authority, was the tyranny of the majority.
But the second response, instead of self-government, was a retreat to the authority of some leader who would offer himself as a refuge from the confusion of social democracy. Here the danger was the coming of a tyrant in the name of order. Some of the democratic despotisms described by Tocqueville arose from the coupling of political and social democracy, and some from a frantic effort to escape the political consequences of advancing equality.
The other important question about possible tyrannies involved the setting; was the Old or the New World meant? America had a peculiar but strong bias against powerful executives. And, as Tocqueville repeatedly made clear in 1840, the United States was also largely immune to several factors which hastened the coming of the Leviathan. In the New World, therefore, despotisms other than administrative or individual seemed more likely, at least for the near future. Tocqueville believed that the immediate danger in America was rather majoritarian tyranny, particularly as exercised through the state legislatures.
In Europe, however, a different fate threatened. Especially in France, the traditions of administrative centralization and Bonapartism enhanced the probability of other democratic despotisms. So what most frightened Tocqueville when he considered the future of his own country in 1835 was despotisme d’un seul and by 1840 the centralized and bureaucratic state.
The basic trend of Tocqueville’s thinking between the early 1830s and 1840 was toward an ever greater focus on administrative despotism. The 1835 text offered a theory and even the beginnings of a portrait of such a tyranny, but the 1840 volumes presented a fully developed vision of the New Despotism of the state. By 1840 Tocqueville’s image of the Leviathan, especially for Europe, had eclipsed most of his other notions of democratic despotisms. Just as his attention turned increasingly from the more “American” despotism—majoritarian—to the more “European”—bureaucratic—so too his entire book shifted, between 1835 and 1840, from what was more concretely American to what was more theoretically “democratic.”
Two other special changes in emphasis also occurred between 1835 and 1840. The first half of the Democracy stressed the despotisms of the society as a whole (the people or the majority) and the more traditional governmental or political despotisms of the assembly or the tyrant. The second part emphasized instead a novel vision of the democratic tyranny of the state. The concept of the Leviathan was not new with Tocqueville, but his idea that démocratie especially fostered this particular kind of oppression was much more original.
Moreover, Tocqueville in his 1835 volumes was still seeking to identify the potential agents of despotism in democratic societies. But by 1840 his thinking had pushed far beyond these earlier anxieties. He had now come to believe that the relentless concentration of power in the hands of the public administration was a far more fundamental threat to liberty than any potential usurpation of democratic authority by legislatures, factions, military heroes, or other individuals. By 1840, the threat of the New Despotism had, in some senses, made his concern about most other possible democratic tyrannies somewhat beside the point.
Still another measure of the link in Tocqueville’s mind between centralization and despotism in democratic times was the almost identical list of remedies which he offered for both. Although the 1840 volumes presented a somewhat more detailed political program, both halves of the Democracy made essentially the same recommendations for combating these twin dangers of democracy. Among the many possible antidotes prescribed in his book, Tocqueville especially urged local liberties, freedom of association, liberty of the press, an independent judiciary, and individual civil and political rights.45 The ultimate check on any threatened democratic despotism, he still insisted, rested with the opinions and moeurs of a people.46 Once again the crucial nature of moeurs in Tocqueville’s thinking was underscored.
At times during the making of the Democracy, as Tocqueville reflected on the threat of the various democratic despotisms, he was driven almost to the point of despair. Sometimes he “trembled” for liberty;47 sometimes he gave himself over to the idea that a sort of hollow, symbolic freedom was the best that democratic nations could expect. He reluctantly recognized that in many ways démocratie was more compatible with tyranny than with liberty.
But ultimately he backed away from such pessimism. He could not bring himself to believe that the prognosis, even for France, could be so bleak as to make despotism an almost inevitable result of advancing equality. Once again, personal moral presuppositions about human freedom and the benevolence of God led Tocqueville to the side of hope.48
One of the abiding attractions of Tocqueville’s work is the gallery of despotisms which he presented as the possible results of démocratie. Particularly for his contemporaries, one of the more intriguing of his ideas was the assertion that what men had to fear from democracy was not anarchy—the collapse of authority and social and political disintegration—but despotism—the gathering of all power into the hands of some symbol of democracy, whether the majority, the legislature, a leader, or the state itself. For the twentieth century, his fears about bureaucratic regimentation and militarism and his visions of plebiscitarian “democracy” and the Leviathan state have proved only too prophetic. As a draft of his 1840 volumes put the dilemma facing modern man: “Two questions to resolve. Despotism with equality. Liberty with equality. The whole question of the future rests there.”49
[1. ]For elaboration, consult the standard works by Felix Ponteil, Les Institutions de la France de 1814 à 1870, hereafter cited as Ponteil, Institutions; F. Ponteil, La Monarchie parlementaire: 1815–1848, hereafter cited as Ponteil, Monarchie parlementaire; and Dominique Bagge, Le Conflit des idées politiques en France sous la Restauration, hereafter cited as Bagge, Idées politiques. Also see in an old but still valuable work, Edouard Laboulaye, L’Etat et ses limites, the essay entitled “Alexis de Tocqueville,” pp. 138–201, especially pp. 160–71 where Laboulaye discusses the originality of Tocqueville’s ideas on centralization; hereafter cited as Laboulaye, L’Etat.
[2. ]Le Peletier d’Aunay to Tocqueville, August 1831, copy, Letters from French Friends: 1831–32, Yale Toc. Ms., BId.
[3. ]Toc. to M. le Comte de Tocqueville, Sing Sing, 3 June 1831, Toc. letters, Yale, BIa1, Paquet 15, pp. 2–3. Also see Tocqueville’s letter to Ernest de Chabrol, New York, 20 June 1831, Toc. letters, Yale, BIa2. And compare the 1835 text: Democracy (Mayer), p. 72.
[4. ]Toc. to Ernest de Chabrol, Auburn, 16 July 1831, Toc. letters, Yale, BIa1. Also see a similar comment by Beaumont, Beaumont to his father, New York, 16 May 1831, Bt. Lettres, pp. 39–46.
[5. ]“Note” to a conversation with Mr. Quincy, 20 September 1831, Non-Alphabetic Notebooks 2 and 3, Mayer, Journey, pp. 51–52. See in the 1835 Democracy an almost exact reproduction of these remarks, Democracy (Mayer), p. 95. Also compare a conversation with Mr. Lieber, 22 September 1831, Non-Alph. Notebooks 2 and 3, Mayer, Journey, pp. 51–52, and its echo in the 1835 Democracy, Democracy (Mayer), p. 189.
[6. ]Conversation with Mr. Gray, 21 September 1831, Non-Alph. Notebooks 2 and 3, Mayer, Journey, p. 52.
[7. ]28 September 1831, ibid., p. 57. Compare the 1835 volumes, Democracy (Mayer), p. 189.
[8. ]29 September 1831 (date in Yale copy), Mayer, Journey, p. 59. Cf. the 1835 portion of Tocqueville’s book, Democracy (Mayer), pp. 67, 68–70.
[9. ]30 September 1831, Pocket Notebook 3, Mayer, Journey, p. 149.
[10. ][1 October 1831], ibid., p. 150. Cf. 1835 volumes, Democracy (Mayer), p. 96.
[11. ]During discussion of the 1848 Constitution, for example, Tocqueville would again call for greater local liberties; consult Edward Gargan, Alexis de Tocqueville: The Critical Years, 1848–1851, pp. 98–99; hereafter cited as Gargan, Critical Years.
[12. ]“Centralization,” 27 September 1831, Alphabetic Notebook 2, Mayer, Journey, p. 213.
[13. ]“Questions left by MM. Beaumont and Tocqueville,” 1 October 1831, Relations with Americans, 1831–32, Yale, BIc.
[14. ]Quoted from Herbert Baxter Adams, “Jared Sparks and Alexis de Tocqueville,” p. 570.
[15. ]Toc. to his father, Hartford, 7 October 1831, Toc. letters, Yale, BIa2. Also see inquiries to Chabrol, Hartford, 7 October 1831, and to Blosseville, New York, 10 October 1831, Toc. letters, Yale, BIa2.
[16. ]For example, see Pierson, Toc. and Bt., pp. 397–416; and André Jardin, “Tocqueville et la décentralisation,” pp. 91–92; hereafter cited as Jardin, “Décentralisation.”
[17. ]Toc. to Louis de Kergolay, Yonkers, 29 June 1831, O.C. (Mayer), Jardin and Lesourd, 13:1, pp. 233–34.
[18. ]Philadelphia, 25 October 1831, Pocket Notebook 3, Mayer, Journey, pp. 155–56. Cf. the 1835 volumes, Democracy (Mayer), pp. 92–93.
[19. ]Conversation with Mr. Guillemin, New Orleans, 1 January 1832, Non-Alph. Notebooks 2 and 3, Mayer, Journey, pp. 104–5; also see “Coup d’oeil of New Orleans,” ibid., pp. 381–83.
[20. ]4 January 1832, Pocket Notebook 3, ibid., p. 166.
[21. ]“Means of Increasing Public Prosperity,” Notebook E, ibid., p. 272.
[22. ][1 October 1831], Pocket Notebook 3, ibid., p. 150. An additional American attitude should also be noted here. Repeatedly Tocqueville and Beaumont noticed a deep American fear of centralized power and especially of great cities or political capitals. For elaboration see chapter 8 above.
[23. ]Toc. to M. le Comte de Tocqueville (father), Washington, 24 January 1832, Toc. letters, Yale, BIa1, Paquet 15, pp. 72–73.
[24. ]This and following passages from “Coup d’oeil sur l’administration française,” Essays by Father, Chabrol, and Blosseville, Yale Toc. Ms., CIIIa, Paquet 16, pp. 23–47.
[25. ]Letter-essay from Chabrol, Yale, CIIIa, Paquet 16, pp. 57–58. The complete contributions from Chabrol and Blosseville are found on pp. 48–59 and pp. 59–69, respectively.
[26. ]On the Penitentiary System in the United States and Its Application in France, pp. 125, 128; hereafter cited as Penitentiary System. This is another excellent illustration of how closely Tocqueville and Beaumont worked as an intellectual team.
[27. ]My emphasis; “Centralization,” 24 August 1833, Mayer, Journeys to England, pp. 61–62. Also see Conversation with Lord Radnor, Longford Castle, 1 September 1833, ibid., p. 58.
[28. ]“Uniformity,” undated, ibid., pp. 65–66. Compare these remarks to the 1835 volumes, Democracy (Mayer), pp. 91–92, 161–63.
[29. ]At one time he planned a single large chapter entitled “Du gouvernement et de l’administration aux Etats-Unis.” See Drafts, Yale, CVb, Paquet 13.
[30. ]For his study of the states, see Drafts, Yale, CVh, Paquet 3, cahier 1, pp. 27–28, where he listed various titles of state histories, and pp. 97–114, where he discussed some other sources and ideas on administration. For his decision about five models, consult pp. 85 and 91. This choice had obvious dangers; it was unbalanced in terms of old/new, east/west, and north/south. Only one of the five was not among the original thirteen states, yet eleven new states had joined the Union. And Tocqueville included no state from the deep South or from the Southwest. In the 1835 work, Tocqueville would particularly single out Massachusetts; see Democracy (Mayer), p. 63.
[31. ]Nos. 1 and 2, drafts, Yale, CVb, Paquet 13, pp. 1–2.
[32. ]Nos. 3 and 4, ibid., pp. 16–17. Compare Democracy (Mayer), pp. 69, 72.
[33. ]Drafts, Yale, CVb, Paquet 13, p. 15; also see p. 12. Cf. Democracy (Mayer), pp. 71, 72.
[34. ]Drafts, Yale, CVb, Paquet 13, p. 15.
[35. ]Ibid., p. 24.
[36. ]Drafts, Yale, CVe, Paquet 17, pp. 57–58. Cf. in the 1835 volumes, Democracy (Mayer), p. 87.
[37. ]Drafts, Yale, CVb, Paquet 13, pp. 11–12; compare in the 1835 work, Democracy (Mayer), pp. 87–88.
[38. ]Drafts, Yale, CVh, Paquet 3, cahier 1, pp. 78–79. Cf. Democracy (Mayer), pp. 363–68, especially pp. 364–65.
[39. ]Democracy (Mayer), p. 87.
[40. ]Ponteil, Institutions, pp. 159–64, demonstrates the particularly high level of interest, during the early and mid-1830s, in the issue of decentralization and notes that by the middle of the decade several participants in the literary debate were writing about two types of centralization, administrative and governmental. Whether Tocqueville’s 1835 Democracy influenced these theorists or whether the distinction was already fairly common among French political thinkers (and merely borrowed by Tocqueville) is not entirely clear.
[41. ]See, for example, Jardin’s criticism about how Tocqueville’s distinction remains imprecise, Jardin, “Décentralisation,” pp. 105 note, 105–6.
[42. ]Drafts, Yale, CVb, Paquet 13, pp. 11–12. Compare Democracy (Mayer), pp. 87–89.
[43. ]“Political Effects of Administrative Decentralization,” Original Working Ms., Yale, CVIa, tome 1. See Democracy (Mayer), pp. 88–89. Also compare pp. 97, 723–24.
[44. ]Later Laboulaye would describe Tocqueville’s call for greater freedom for the French commune as utopian for the year 1835; see Laboulaye, L’Etat, pp. 166–70.
[45. ]Democracy (Mayer), pp. 62–63.
[46. ]Ibid., pp. 68–69.
[47. ]Ibid., p. 88.
[48. ]Democracy (Bradley), 1:310.
[49. ]Drafts, Yale, CVh, Paquet 3, cahier 1, p. 24; also see pp. 23–26.
[50. ]Drafts, Yale, CVe, Paquet 17, p. 60.
[51. ]Drafts, Yale, CVb, Paquet 13, p. 26.
[52. ]Democracy (Mayer), pp. 96–97. Also consult Drafts, Yale, CVh, Paquet 3, cahier 1, p. 77, and cahier 2, pp. 48–49.
[53. ]For a different opinion on this question, see Seymour Drescher, Tocqueville and England, p. 78, and “Tocqueville’s Two Démocraties.”
[54. ]On the originality of Tocqueville’s views, consult particularly J.-J. Chevallier, “De la Distinction des sociétés aristocratiques et des sociétés démocratiques,” p. 18. Also see Laboulaye, L’Etat, pp. 160–71.
[1. ]12 January , Mayer, Journey, Pocket Notebooks 4 and 5, p. 176.
[2. ]Tocqueville to Reeve, Tocqueville par St. Pierre Eglise, 24 July , Correspondance anglaise, O.C. (Mayer), 6:1, p. 40.
[3. ]For elaboration, see particularly Bagge, Idées politiques, and Ponteil, Institutions.
[4. ]Tocqueville to Hippolyte (?), Cincinnati, 4 December 1831, Toc. letters, Yale, BIa2.
[5. ]“Public Officials,” 1 June 1831, Alphabetic Notebook 1, Mayer, Journey, p. 195. Also see “American Mores,” Notebook E, ibid., p. 273; and “Public Officials,” Auburn, 12 July 1831, Alphabetic Notebook 1, ibid., p. 195.
[6. ]New York: “Public Officials,” Auburn, 12 July 1831, ibid.; Massachusetts: conversation with Mr. Sparks, Non-Alphabetic Notebooks 2 and 3, ibid., p. 58; Ohio: Second conversation with Mr. Walker: important, 3 December 1831, Non-Alphabetic Notebooks 2 and 3, ibid., p. 94.
[7. ]14 October 1831, Pocket Notebook 3, Mayer, Journey, pp. 154–55. Cf. Democracy (Mayer), pp. 253–54.
[8. ]Conversations with Mr. Poinsett, Mayer, Journey, pp. 118, 178. In the 1835 volumes, see especially “The Executive Power,” Democracy (Mayer), pp. 121–22; various sections on the presidency, ibid., pp. 122–38; and a brief comparison of executive power on the state and federal levels, ibid., p. 154.
[9. ]Conversation with Mr. Storer, Cincinnati, 2 December 1831, Non-Alph. Notebooks 2 and 3, Mayer, Journey, p. 90; conversation with Mr. Walker, 2 December 1831, ibid., p. 90.
[10. ]Conversation with Mr. Storer, Cincinnati, 2 December 1831, ibid., p. 90; and conversation with Mr. Chase, 2 December 1831, ibid., p. 93.
[11. ]Second conversation with Mr. Walker: important, 3 December 1831, ibid., pp. 94–95.
[12. ]Conversation with a lawyer from Montgomery, Alabama, 6 January 1832, ibid., p. 108.
[13. ]Concerning mandates, see remarks of 27 December 1831, Notebook E, Mayer, Journey, p. 255; also consult chapter 14 below on tyranny of the majority.
[14. ]Drafts, Yale, CVb, Paquet 13, p. 25; cf. ibid., p. 26.
[15. ]Federalist (Mentor), pp. 308–9. Also consult Papers 47 and 49 which treat the same subject.
[16. ]Ibid., pp. 310–11. Cf. a similar opinion by Tocqueville in his 1840 volumes, Democracy (Mayer), p. 436.
[17. ]Federalist (Mentor), pp. 322–23. Cf. the 1835 volumes, Democracy (Mayer), p. 260, where Tocqueville quotes other excerpts from Number 51.
[18. ]See for example, Drafts, Yale, CVh, Paquet 3, cahier 4, pp. 81–82.
[19. ]Democracy (Mayer), pp. 154–55. Cf. ibid., pp. 121–22.
[20. ]Ibid., pp. 89–90. For further mention of possible legislative tyranny, see ibid., pp. 104, 110–11, 137.
[21. ]“Political Effects of Administrative Decentralization,” Original Working Ms., Yale, CVIa, tome 1.
[22. ]Democracy (Mayer), pp. 260–61.
[23. ]See chapters 14 and 15 below.
[24. ]Consult Drafts, Yale, CVb, Paquet 13, p. 25. Also cf. Democracy (Mayer), pp. 88–89, 96–97.
[25. ]Drafts, Yale, CVh, Paquet 3, cahier 1, p. 82. Cf. Tocqueville’s 1835 chapter on associations, Democracy (Mayer), pp. 189–95.
[26. ]Drafts, Yale, CVb, p. 1. Cf. Democracy (Mayer), pp. 93–94.
[27. ]For elaboration, see chapters 17 and 18 below on individualisme.
[28. ]This concept of the need for intermediate groupings is a striking echo of some of the ideas of Royer-Collard, who called for the recognition of libertés-résistances (including individual liberties, freedom of the press, freedom of education, and separation of religion and politics) and especially advocated the reconstitution of corps intermédiaires, specifically local liberties and associations, as buffers for the individual in face of the state. The many close parallels as well as the numerous important differences between the ideas of Royer-Collard and Tocqueville are intriguing. A thorough comparative analysis of the two theorists would be well worthwhile.
[29. ]Drafts, Yale, CVh, Paquet 3, cahier 1, p. 78. Cf. the chapters above on the nature and future of the American Union where this phrase is already quoted.
[30. ]Democracy (Mayer), p. 93. Also see pp. 90–98.
[31. ]Ibid., p. 87.
[32. ]“On the Influence of Democratic Ideas and Feelings on Political Society,” ibid., pp. 665–705.
[33. ]Ibid., p. 315.
[34. ]Drafts, Yale, CVb, Paquet 13, p. 28. Concerning this choice between despotism or a republic, also see remarks of 30 November 1831, Notebook E, Mayer, Journey, p. 258.
[35. ]Democracy (Mayer), pp. 56–57. Cf. in the 1840 work the chapter entitled “Why Democratic Nations Show a More Ardent and Enduring Love for Equality Than for Liberty,” pp. 503–6, and the final eloquent passage, p. 705.
[36. ]See the following examples from Mayer, Journey: conversation with Mr. Sparks, 19 September 1831, Non-Alphabetic Notebooks 2 and 3, p. 50; “Public Functions,” Daily New York Advertiser, 30 June 1830 (?), Alphabetic Notebook 1, pp. 194–95; “Second Conversation with Mr. Walker: important, 3 December 1831, Non-Alphabetic Notebooks 2 and 3, pp. 96–97; and Vincennes Gazette, 12 November 1831, Pocket Notebook 3, p. 161.
[37. ]Conversation with Mr. Sparks, 19 September 1831, Non-Alphabetic Notebooks 2 and 3, Mayer, Journey, p. 50. Cf. remarks dated 25 October 1831, Pocket Notebook 3, ibid., p. 156; and conversation with Mr. Biddle, Philadelphia, 18 November 1831, Non-Alphabetic Notebooks 2 and 3, ibid., pp. 88–89.
[38. ]Concerning the encounter with Jackson, consult Pierson, Toc. and Bt., pp. 663–66.
[39. ]Remarks of 1 November 1831, Pocket Notebook 3, Mayer, Journey, pp. 157–58. Also see some miscellaneous ideas dated 14 January , Pocket Notebooks 4 and 5, ibid., pp. 179–80.
[40. ]Democracy (Mayer), p. 278.
[41. ]“Accidental or Providential Causes Helping to Maintain a Democratic Republic,” Original Working Ms., Yale, CVIa, tome 2. Cf. Democracy (Mayer), p. 278.
[42. ]See Gargan, Critical Years, pp. 81 note, 198–99, 215, 218–19.
[43. ]Democracy (Mayer), pp. 314–15.
[44. ]Toc. to Kergolay, undated letter, O.C. (Mayer), Jardin and Lesourd, 13:1, p. 373. Compare an outline from the working manuscript:
[45. ]My emphasis. Drafts, Yale, CVh, Paquet 3, cahier 4, pp. 10–11. Other examples of Tocqueville’s sensitivity to “new” things include his discussion of individualisme (see the chapters below), his desire for a new science of politics, his claim to be a liberal of a new type, and his sense that society in the early nineteenth century was new.
[46. ]My emphasis; Democracy (Mayer), p. 312.
[47. ]Ibid., p. 314. Cf. p. 263.
[48. ]Consult the 1835 work, Democracy (Mayer), p. 312.
[49. ]During the early nineteenth century the memory of the Convention and its excesses amounted almost to a fixation with many French political theorists; consult, for example, Bagge, Idées politiques, pp. 141–44. Gargan has remarked specifically on Tocqueville’s deep fear of legislative tyranny in 1848 when he served on the committee charged with drawing up a new constitution for France; Gargan, Critical Years, pp. 100–101.
[1. ]For further discussion of this visit, consult Drescher, Tocqueville and England, and Mayer, Journeys to England, especially Mayer’s “Introduction,” pp. 13–19.
[2. ]The reader will recall that at this time Tocqueville planned only one additional volume for the second half of his work. Conversation with Reeve, 11 May 1835, Mayer, Journeys to England, pp. 77–78.
[3. ]“Same subject [centralization]. Conversation with John Stuart Mill,” 26 May 1835, ibid., pp. 81–82. Concerning the question of the relationship between democracy and centralization, consult Mill’s reviews of the 1835 and 1840 portions of Tocqueville’s book which appeared in the London Review, October 1835, and the Edinburgh Review, October 1840, respectively. For a stimulating essay comparing and contrasting many of the ideas of Tocqueville and Mill, see Joseph Hamburger, “Mill and Tocqueville on Liberty.”
[4. ]Cf. Tocqueville’s own note here: “I must re-examine the Americans in the light of this question. Analogous principle perhaps more simple and more rational.”
[5. ]“Ideas concerning centralization ...,” “Deduction of Ideas,” Birmingham, 29 June 1835, Mayer, Journeys to England, pp. 95–98.
[6. ]See Democracy (Mayer), pp. 674–79.
[7. ]“Centralization,” Manchester, 3 July 1835, Mayer, Journeys to England, pp. 109–10.
[8. ]“Liberty. Trade.” Dublin, 7 July 1835, Mayer, Journeys to England, pp. 115–16; also see pp. 114–15.
[9. ]Democracy (Mayer), p. 539.
[10. ]See especially, Democracy (Mayer), “How the Americans Combat the Effects of Individualism by Free Institutions,” pp. 509–13; “On the Use Which the Americans Make of Associations in Civil Life,” pp. 513–17; and “On the Connection between Associations and Newspapers,” pp. 517–20.
[11. ]For this section, see Democracy (Mayer), pp. 665–705.
[12. ]Beaumont’s edition has the obviously incorrect reading “construction.”
[13. ]Tocqueville to Baron Edouard de Tocqueville, “Tocqueville, 10 July 1838,” O.C. (Bt.), 7:166–68.
[14. ]The long chapter was to have been most of the final portion of the book, Democracy (Mayer), pp. 665–705; for the summary, see “General Survey of the Subject,” pp. 702–5.
[15. ]Drafts, Yale, CVk, Paquet 7, cahier 1, pp. 73–74.
[16. ]Drafts, Yale, CVk, Paquet 7, cahier 2, pp. 50–52.
[17. ]Cf. the eloquent, final passage of the 1840 text, Democracy (Mayer), p. 705.
[18. ]My translation; Tocqueville to Royer-Collard, “Tocqueville, 15 August 1838,” O.C. (Mayer), Jardin, 11:67. Also see De Lanzac de Laborie, “L’Amitié de Tocqueville et de Royer-Collard: D’après une correspondance inédite,” pp. 885–86.
[19. ]Original Working Ms., Yale, CVIa, tome 4. Cf. Drafts, Yale, CVg, Paquet 9, cahier 2, pp. 68–69.
[20. ]Democracy (Mayer), p. 155. Cf. chapter 10 above.
[21. ]The last section of Tocqueville’s 1840 volumes would be replete with references to the “public administration” and the “State.” For examples, see Democracy (Mayer), pp. 675–76, 682, 688, 693, and 694, and pp. 671, 673, 677, 680, 682, 683, 684, 686, and 696, respectively.
[22. ]Consult Democracy (Mayer), pp. 674–89; on industrialization, see especially pp. 684–87.
[23. ]Ibid., p. 539. Cf. pp. 514–15.
[24. ]Drafts, Yale, CVj, Paquet 2, cahier 2, pp. 16–17.
[25. ]Drafts, Yale, CVd, Paquet 5, p. 30; also see p. 15.
[26. ]Drafts, Yale, CVg, Paquet 9, cahier 2, p. 124; for further discussion of ideas suggested by the mining issue, consult pp. 122–25. Also see Democracy (Mayer), p. 685, footnote 5.
[27. ]Tocqueville to Royer-Collard, “Baugy, this 6 April 1838,” O.C. (Mayer), Jardin, 11:60.
[28. ]“Rubish of the chapter: that centralization is the greatest peril of the democratic nations of Europe,” Original Working Ms., Yale, CVIa, tome 4; cf. Drafts, CVg, Paquet 9, cahier 2, p. 145. In the 1840 volumes this chapter would be titled: “How the Sovereign Power Is Increasing among the European Nations of Our Time, Although the Sovereigns Are Less Stable,” Democracy (Mayer), pp. 679–89.
[29. ]“How the Sovereign Power Is Increasing Among the European Nations,” Original Working Ms., Yale, CVIa, tome 4. Cf. Democracy (Mayer), p. 687.
[30. ]Democracy (Mayer), pp. 684, 687.
[31. ]“Continuation of the Preceding Chapters,” ibid., pp. 695–702.
[32. ]Original Working Ms., Yale, CVIa, tome 4.
[33. ]Drafts, Yale, CVk, Paquet 7, cahier 2, pp. 42–43.
[34. ]Drafts, Yale, CVg, Paquet 9, cahier 2, p. 139.
[35. ]“Continuation of the Preceding Chapters,” Original Working Ms., Yale, CVIa, tome 4. Cf. Democracy (Mayer), pp. 695–96.
[36. ]Drafts, Yale, CVg, Paquet 9, cahier 2, p. 139.
[37. ]Democracy (Mayer), p. 697. Also see the 1835 portion, ibid., p. 192.
[38. ]In 1828 Martignac proposed some limited reorganization of administration on the local level (certain local officials were to be elected rather than appointed). After prolonged debate the proposals, which would have slightly lessened French administrative centralization, were defeated in 1829. For further details consult Ponteil, Monarchie parlementaire; Ponteil, Institutions; and J.-J. Chevallier, Histoire des institutions des régimes politiques de la France moderne, 1789–1958.
[1. ]“Rubish of section 4 entitled: ‘What [Sort] of Despotism Democratic Nations Have to Fear,’ ” Drafts, Yale, CVg, “Rubish,” tome 4; cf. CVg, copy, Paquet 9, cahier 2, p. 79.
[2. ]See Democracy (Mayer), pp. 697–98.
[3. ]“Why the Ideas of Democratic Peoples About Government Naturally Favor the Concentration of Power,” Original Working Ms., Yale, CVIa, tome 4. Cf. Democracy (Mayer), p. 669.
[4. ]Also, in France during the late 1830s any legislative despotism was a remote possibility; what Tocqueville and others worried about was, instead, the threat of personal rule by Louis-Philippe.
[5. ]For elaboration, consult the two chapters on tyranny of the majority below.
[6. ]Democracy (Mayer), p. 503.
[7. ]Drafts, Yale, CVd, Paquet 5, p. 4. Cf. Democracy (Mayer), pp. 649–50; also see, in the 1835 volumes, ibid., p. 168.
[8. ]Drafts, Yale, CVd, Paquet 5, pp. 14–15.
[9. ]Concerning Tocqueville’s advice to Kergolay and especially his suggestion that Louis pay particular attention to local and provincial government in Prussia, see a letter from Alexis to Louis, Nacqueville, 10 October 1836, O.C. (Mayer), Jardin and Lesourd, 13:1, pp. 407–12.
[10. ]Kergolay to Tocqueville, undated letter, O.C. (Mayer), Jardin and Lesourd, 13:1, pp. 426–27.
[11. ]Drafts, Yale, CVa, cahier unique, p. 50; cf. Democracy (Mayer), p. 735. Tocqueville worked on his chapters on war and armies in democratic nations during late 1837 or early 1838.
[12. ]Drafts, Yale, CVd, Paquet 5, p. 4. Cf. Tocqueville’s own notes, Democracy (Mayer), pp. 681, 735. In addition to “aristocracies” of soldiers and bureaucrats, of course, Tocqueville would also predict an aristocracy of captains of industry; see his famous chapter, “How an Aristocracy May Be Created by Industry,” ibid., pp. 555–58.
[13. ]Drafts, Yale, CVd, Paquet 5, pp. 1–3.
[14. ]Democracy (Mayer), pp. 649–51, 677.
[15. ]Part IV, entitled “On the Influence of Democratic Ideas and Feelings on Political Society,” ibid., pp. 665–705.
[16. ]At first, Tocqueville had planned to make his final section a single, long chapter.
[17. ]Drafts, Yale, CVd, Paquet 5, pp. 1–3.
[18. ]Democracy (Mayer), p. 690.
[19. ]Ibid., pp. 665–74.
[20. ]Ibid., pp. 674–79.
[21. ]Ibid., p. 691.
[22. ]Ibid., p. 688; compare pp. 688–89.
[23. ]Ibid., pp. 691–92; cf. in chapter 11 above, Tocqueville’s earlier 1835 description of administrative despotism.
[24. ]Final long section on political society, Original Working Ms., Yale, CVIa, tome 4; cf. Democracy (Mayer), pp. 694–95.
[25. ]Final long section on political society, Original Working Ms., Yale, CVIa, tome 4; cf. Democracy (Mayer), pp. 687–89.
[26. ]Final long section on political society, Original Working Ms., Yale, CVIa, tome 4; cf. Democracy (Mayer), p. 702.
[27. ]Final long section on political society, Original Working Ms., Yale, CVIa, tome 4.
[28. ]See Democracy (Mayer), pp. 693–95; also pp. 687–89.
[29. ]Final long section on political society, Original Working Ms., Yale, CVIa, tome 4; cf. Democracy (Mayer), p. 670.
[30. ]Democracy (Mayer), p. 693.
[31. ]Ibid., p. 222; cf. also from the 1835 volumes, pp. 253–54, 396.
[32. ]Final long section on political society, Original Working Ms., Yale, CVIa, tome 4. Cf. Democracy (Mayer), pp. 690–95.
[33. ]“Political Effects of Administrative Decentralization,” Original Working Ms., Yale, CVIa, tome 1; cf. Democracy (Mayer), pp. 88–89.
[34. ]Final long section on political society, Original Working Ms., Yale, CVIa, tome 4; cf. Democracy (Mayer), p. 693.
[35. ]Drafts, Yale, CVc, Paquet 6, p. 60.
[36. ]Democracy (Mayer), pp. 678–79.
[37. ]Drafts, Yale, CVk, Paquet 7, cahier 2, p. 56.
[38. ]Ibid., CVc, Paquet 6, p. 58; compare Democracy (Mayer), pp. 673–74.
[39. ]Final long section on political society, Original Working Ms., Yale, CVIa, tome 4.
[40. ]In Tocqueville’s draft, “self-government” appears in English.
[41. ]Drafts, Yale, CVk, Paquet 7, cahier 2, pp. 53–54.
[42. ]Ibid., pp. 55–56. Cf. Democracy (Mayer), pp. 700–705.
[43. ]Drafts, Yale, CVk, Paquet 7, cahier 2, p. 52.
[44. ]See in the 1835 work, Democracy (Mayer), p. 252.
[45. ]In the 1835 portion, consult ibid., pp. 314–15; for 1840, pp. 695–702 (especially p. 701), 702–5.
[46. ]For 1835, see, for example, ibid., pp. 311–15; for 1840, pp. 693–95, 735. Another major safeguard was, of course, religion. For an excellent discussion of the importance of religion in Tocqueville’s thinking, consult Doris Goldstein, Trial of Faith.
[47. ]See Tocqueville’s comment: “As for me, ... I tremble for tomorrow’s freedom.” Drafts, Yale, CVh, Paquet 3, cahier 3, p. 29.
[48. ]Consult Tocqueville’s famous concluding passage, Democracy (Mayer), p. 705. On the issue of Tocqueville’s optimism or pessimism, also compare the viewpoint of Cushing Strout, who asserts that Tocqueville made an essentially “optimistic assessment” of America’s future, but an essentially “pessimistic assessment” of Europe’s; see Cushing Strout, “Tocqueville’s Duality: Describing America and Thinking of Europe.”
[49. ]Drafts, Yale, CVc, Paquet 6, p. 55. Cf. Democracy (Mayer), p. 705.