Tocqueville on centralization as the natural form of government for democracies (1835)

Alexis de Tocqueville

Found in Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition, vol. 1

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) believed that the natural form of government for a democratic people was one which was centralized, uniform and strong:

I have shown that equality suggested to men the thought of a unique, uniform and strong government. I have just shown that it gives them the taste for it; so today nations are tending toward a government of this type. The natural inclination of their mind and heart leads them to it, and it is enough for them not to hold themselves back in order to reach it.

I think that, in the democratic centuries that are going to open up, individual independence and local liberties will always be a product of art. Centralization will be the natural government.

It is significant that Tocqueville did not call his book “Liberty in America” but “Democracy in America”. [The economist Michel Chevalier did however write a short book called just this in 1849.] He believed that centralized government with uniformity of legislation was the “natural” form of government for a democracy. To protect liberty, whether individual or local, required a careful separation and balancing of political powers which was a difficult task to achieve and which had to be learned. He called it “a product of art” as it did not come naturally to a democratic people. Tocqueville also noted that a democratic people were also very forgiving of the leaders they elected to office because there is “a secret and permanent sympathy” between them. They may end up “hat(ing) the agents of the central power; but they always love this power itself” because ultimately they believe it comes from them.