Influence of Democratic Ideas and Feelings on Politics

Democracy In America, Alexis de Tocqueville, 1831

Volume 2, Section 4, Chapter 1, Influence of Democratic Ideas and Feelings on Political Society

Equality Naturally Gives Men A Taste For Free Institutions

The Principle Of Equality, Which Makes Men Independent Of Each Other, Gives Them A Habit And A Taste For Following In Their Private Actions No Other Guide Than Their Own Will. This Complete Independence, Which They Constantly Enjoy In Regard To Their Equals And In The Intercourse Of Private Life, Tends To Make Them Look Upon All Authority With A Jealous Eye And Speedily Suggests To Them The Notion And The Love Of Political Freedom. Men Living At Such Times Have A Natural Bias Towards Free Institutions. Take Any One Of Them At A Venture And Search If You Can His Most Deepseated Instincts, And You Will Find That, Of All Governments, He Will Soonest Conceive And Most Highly Value That Government Whose Head He Has Himself Elected And Whose Administration He May Control. 

Of All The Political Effects Produced By The Equality Of Conditions, This Love Of Independence Is The First To Strike The Observing And To Alarm The Timid; Nor Can It Be Said That Their Alarm Is Wholly Misplaced, For Anarchy Has A More Formidable Aspect In Democratic Countries Than Elsewhere. As The Citizens Have No Direct Influence On Each Other, As Soon As The Supreme Power Of The Nation Fails, Which Kept Them All In Their Several Stations, It Would Seem That Disorder Must Instantly Reach Its Utmost Pitch And That, Every Man Drawing Aside In A Different Direction, The Fabric Of Society Must At Once Crumble Away. I Am Convinced, However, That Anarchy Is Not The Principal Evil That Democratic Ages Have To Fear, But The Least. For The Principle Of Equality Begets Two Tendencies: The One Leads Men Straight To Independence And May Suddenly Drive Them Into Anarchy; The Other Conducts Them By A Longer, More Secret, But More Certain Road To Servitude. Nations Readily Discern The Former Tendency And Are Prepared To Resist It; They Are Led Away By The Latter, Without Perceiving Its Drift; Hence It Is Peculiarly Important To Point It Out. Personally, Far From Finding Fault With Equality Because It Inspires A Spirit Of Independence, I Praise It Primarily For That Very Reason. I Admire It Because It Lodges In The Very Depths Of Each Man’s Mind And Heart That Indefinable Feeling, The Instinctive Inclination For Political Independence, And Thus Prepares The Remedy For The Ill Which It Engenders. It Is Precisely For This Reason That I Cling To It.

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The original copyright for Alexis de Tocqueville’s, “Democracy In America,” Translated by Henry Reeve, 1899, is held in the Public Domain because its copyright has expired. Formatting of this digital copy of Democracy In America Copyright © 2011 Steve Farrell and The Moral Liberal. Non-commercial, educational use of individual chapters is encouraged with a live link back to the original copy at The Moral Liberal and a courtesy note to the editors.