Alexis de Tocqueville and James Madison

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Alexis de Tocqueville and James Madison had two distinctly different philosophical views when it came to the problem of “majority tyranny.” In Tocqueville and the Tyranny of the Majority, Morton J. Horwitz discusses in length the writings of the Frenchman when he came to and became fascinated by America. Horowitz argues each man believes the public’s best interests and freedoms were being terrorized. The former (de Tocqueville) believed that society itself is a monster, but the latter (Madison) believed danger came from a temporarily impassioned majority making lasting decisions in government. The problem that has prevented us from solving tyranny in government is the lingering ignorance combined with the open interpretation of each person’s and each branch of government’s role. Madison was more partial to the belief that the size of the growing nation would also allow for growth of more separate interests to prevent one majority. The encompassing social pressure, however, is something that Madison didn’t account for. What Madison hoped was, “…that no common interest or passion will be likely to unite a majority of the whole number in an unjust pursuit.” (Kernell, pg.349) “ Madison's conception was basically "political" while Tocqueville's was fundamentally "social" or "cultural." Where Madison was worried about tyranny of a majority through the instrument of government and law, Tocqueville pondered the oppressions of a democratic society that did not need to use political institutions as instruments of coercion. If they both feared tyrannical majorities, then, they were, nevertheless, thinking about very different kinds of majorities.” While Madison was somewhat of an elitist and very distrusting of the knowledge of the people, in Federalist #68 he and his comrades, outlined in a less insulting way that the point of the Electoral College is to preserve "the sense of the people," while at the same time ensuring that a president is chosen "by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice." (Jefferson, #68) This is the most important and still very relevant way that Madison established a protection against the majority that he so feared with an institutional solution. While the public might be, for the most part, ignorant of smaller issues and offices, many believe it is way past due that the Electoral College is replaced when it comes to the supreme responsibility of electing the president. The 2000 election was definitely a turning point in that view, especially with the conservative leaning court confirming what many feel was a cheat in the system that doesn’t really account for the popular vote. Countering the winner-take-all Electoral College system, however, would be Tocqueville who would feel that it is a blatant suppression of one man’s The problem isn’t that American’s face a numerical majority politically; it’s that they face manipulation from society, which is just as influential as political institutions. Mr. Alexis Tocqueville’s whole analyzation, consciously or subconsciously, was trying to find a means to use in this information and apply it to his home country of France. According to Horwitz, Tocqueville believed, “The attainment of freedom was not simply a matter of restraining governors or of making government ultimately responsible to the people, for it depended on the habits and traditions of the people as well.” The problem when a person is restrained in such a way, as Tocqueville feared was the case in America, is that the problem cannot be dealt with in terms of institutional solutions. (pg. 302) The problem is society, not government. The great tyranny in America is that men can lose the ability to form and act on their own opinions because of the majority. Honestly, a new page has turned from those days, in modern...
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