Democracyis defined as a government system wherein, all persons participate indecision making regarding the state’s affairs (Khan, 2003).Generally, such engagement takes place in way of voting in thegeneral elections. Through this, all people are able to chooseleaders who would represent them in the parliament or other settings.According to Janara (2002), democracy entails a “government by thepeople”, or a government wherein the highest power is given to thecitizens and they have the capability to exercise it eitherindirectly or directly. They achieve this by participating inoccasionally held free and fair elections. Diamond Larry, a politicalscientist from America, pointed out that democracy comprises formajor components. The first component is a political system employedin electing and substituting the government by holding elections.Secondly, is the active engagement of citizens both in civic life, aswell as in political realm. Thirdly is protecting the rights of allpeople with regard to human rights. The last component is rule oflaw that ensures that all citizens are governed in the same way byset laws and regulations (Khan, 2003).
Althoughsome states claimed to be democratic during the early times, it wasclear that the democratic systems only favored the elite in thesociety. For instance, in Athens, the aspect “rule of the people”simply meant “rule of the selected few” (Janara, 2002). It wasevidenced by the fact that the political system of Athens gavedemocratic citizenship only to the influential class in the society.The same was denied to women and slaves, who were not permitted totake part in political participation (Dahl, 2000). Practically, theentire democratic governments in the early and contemporary historygave citizenship to the influential class until the nineteenth andtwentieth century. These periods were characterized by completeenfranchisement for adults, making them eligible to equallyparticipate in the state affairs. The American society is democraticin nature, evidenced by how people are engaged in the state’saffairs among other aspects. The current paper explores the aspect ofdemocracy. In particular, it investigates the views of Alexis deTocqueville on democracy, providing the readers with a deeperunderstanding of the term.
TocquevilleViews on Democracy
Tocquevillewas a political theorist as well as a sociologist. Born in 1805,Tocqueville was one of the most renowned political theorists of thetime, particularly for his contribution in on the issue of democracy. He wrote the book, “Democracy in America” where he featured hisperceptions on America society. The book basically focused onindividualism and equality, and it was among the most significantworks of the nineteenth century. According to Tocqueville, theAmerican society was exceptional in the globe, considering that itlacked a feudalism, monarch, as well as other advantaged groups orclasses (Tocqueville, 2000). The lack of such conditions, togetherwith the presence of large quantity of land made democracy achievablein America.
DuringTocqueville’s time, America was a vast middle class characterizedby intense poverty and prosperity. However, such aspects wereextremely uncommon. According to Tocqueville, being a democraticsociety does not mean the lack of massive wealth, but such affluenceshould be distributed in the society in equal measures. It is to saythat, such fortune should not be in the hands of a few people. Itimplies that although there are affluent people in the society, thedo not form a specific elite class. Tocqueville puts forth that thedemocratic nature of America was contributed by the fact that theAmerican Revolution generated a high level of social equity amongstdifferent social classes (Welch, 2006). In particular, the lower andmiddle classes were given significant power. In democracy, citizensare also permitted to move about the social ladder that is becomingaffluent or poor with regard to their efforts as well as capability.Tocqueville considered that the progress in democracy was inevitable(Wolin, 2001). Such progress was a component of modernization.Democracy removes the legal diversities that exist in a society suchas title, noble categories and hereditary opportunities. As a result,equality is achieved.
Accordingto Tocqueville, a democratic system offers more equal opportunitiesto its citizens in terms of culture, education, as well asprosperity. However, the advancement in equality yields bothpositives and negatives (Tocqueville, 2000). Tocqueville evidencedthis by observing every-day lives of Americans. In employmentrelationships, employees have the freedom to work with the employerof their choice. He considered equality as the key social andpolitical ideology of his time. According to him, America was anexample of a society that evidenced equality practically.
Theissue of materialism and individualism was also addressed byTocqueville. He argued that a democratic society is free ofindividualism and materialism. However, considering such aspects areinevitable in any society, Tocqueville used the principle of“self-interest well explained” and asserted that to some extentit can be used to mitigate individualism (Wolin, 2001). In explainingthe issue of individualism and materialism, he argued that the twoaspects generate a society of individuals who only focuses onthemselves and their own well-being. Such a society is deficient ofintermediary social structures, to arbitrate relationships with thegovernment. This is detrimental as it creates a “tyranny ordomination of the majority” that compromises individuals’ rights(Welch, 2006). With regard to this, the principle of self-interesthelps people to care for the well-fare of others. It means that theirown interests become integrated to the interests of the public, asnecessitated by a democratic system.
Itis important noting that the political and legal aspects of democracycontrast one another. Though Tocqueville employed the notion to implydifferent things, this was different with reference to France. Whileexplaining French ideology of democracy, he failed to incorporate thegeneral aspect of “government of the people by the people”(Tocqueville, 2000). Rather, the kind of democracy evidenced inFrance entailed the removal of classes and opportunities, whichexisted during the ancient times. With regard to this, the majorityof French citizens viewed democracy as a novel social order that wascharacterized by the elimination of inflexible hierarchic order. Itincluded distributing power as well as privileges to ensure equalityand rights for all people were attained. In this case, Tocquevilleconsidered social mobility, wherein people were permitted to move upthe social ladder as characterizing democracy (Schleifer, 2012).
Tocqueville’snotion of democracy modified with time. For instance, during the1830s, he termed it as a dynamic process that necessitated equalconditions for all (Wolin, 2001). He defined the democratic procedureas the modification of social order, which he believed could come tostop after the elimination of political privileges (Tocqueville,2000). After Tocqueville published his book during the 1940s, hisperception of democracy seemed to modify. The book contained a morepessimistic illustration of democracy that entailed leveling power.What was so peculiar was that such power could not be limited tosocial order however, it challenged the right to owning materialpossessions (Schleifer, 2012). It was evidenced in his explanation ofmaterialism, which he believed could harm a democratic society.Besides, he anticipated the risks which democracy could bring aboutto individualistic differences.
Accordingto Tocqueville, the issues of tyranny and anarchy result ofdemocratic equality (Tocqueville, 2000). He explained that there isan elevated probability of democratic equality degenerating into ananarchical system and eventually into a tyrannical one. While he waswriting this, he considered the French Revolution, as well as theReign of Terror that ultimately resulted into the Napoleon(Schleifer, 2012). With regard to this, Tocqueville preferred thecreation of a central government, but with defined and restrictedpowers. Such powers, which should be separated, should be given tothe local and state authorities. Freedom of religion that isexhibited in a democratic system should also prevail. In fact,religion is one of the factors that work in creating a democraticstate that is free of such issues as individualism and materialism(Tocqueville, 2000).
Thestatus of women in the American society was another area thatTocqueville focused on while explaining the aspect of democracy. Infact, he was among the foremost social critics of his time toinvestigate the status of women in the American society as well asthe concept of Separate Spheres (Welch, 2006). According toTocqueville, America is an exceptional society that drew the linebetween men and women while making them move on the same pace, butinto different pathways (Welch, 2006). He claims that the rise ofdemocracy reduced the patriarchal rule that existed in most families.The result was that fathers were no longer in the position ofcontrolling their daughter’s marriages while the latter couldchoose to remain unmarried. In this case, democracy brought about ahigh level of sovereignty among women. Nevertheless, this did notapply to married women who lost their autonomy in the matrimonybonds. With respect to the Separate Spheres, Tocqueville believedthat they were developing in a positive way. To support his point, heargued that though American women were restricted in the constrictedsphere of domestic life with total dependence, the trend was the samein many societies where women did not occupy loftier positions. Ademocratic society exposes people to a state of independence, wherepeople rely on themselves rather than being dependent.
Theissue of democracy is well investigated by most scholars particularlyin the early times. One such scholar is Tocqueville, who exploreddemocracy in much a wider perspective. For a democratic system toexist, all people in the society must be included in decision making,particularly by way of election. According to Tocqueville, exercisingindividual rights, offering equal opportunities to all, ensuringequality, eliminating individualism and materialism are some of thecharacteristics of a democratic society. Though democracy is admiredby many, Tocqueville argues that democratic equality may result in ananarchical and tyrannical system.
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