Alexis de Tocqueville: American Democracy and the Price of Freedom

Topics: Sociology, Tyranny of the majority, Democracy Pages: 7 (2226 words) Published: November 11, 2013
General Introduction
At the time of De Tocqueville’s departure from France and his visit to democratic America in 1831, social and political issues were on the rise in France. In the early 19th century, the methodological approach was developing, along with theories that had the potential to improve political policy, the status of women, and the conditions of labour. In a time of great political turmoil, the French regime had shifted from a monarchy state of power to a dictatorship and again to a monarchial state through a short span of time (Sage, 2010:11-13) This not only lead to political confusion and social conflicts in French society, but also led De Tocqueville to fear that democracy would lead to the deterioration of his valued aristocratic institutions and principles (Zeitlin, 2001:87). At the same time that France was in a state of political turmoil, America had successfully developed a democratic state in which they could live. The predisposition for a dictatorial regime was not seen in the American revolution as it was in the French, and democracy allowed the country to grow and keep their individual freedom (Zeitlin, 2001:87). However, freedom was not found in all parts of America, as the institution of slavery, particularly in the Southern regions of America, was abundant (Zeitlin, 2001:91), along with oppression of women and Native American persons. Overall, the early 19th century brought about methodology concerning social change, political turmoil in France, and democratic growth. General Intents and Purposes of the Author

In the famous works Democracy in America, Alexis De Tocqueville attempts to address the success of the democratic state in America in comparison to France, and the dangers observed in democracy in terms of the situation of women and lower class societies. When observing the democratic state of America, De Tocqueville discovered three core attributes of the political regime that set it apart from other countries’ states like France; the right of association, freedom of press, and religion; these factors of American democracy allow for true freedom in America (Elazar, 1999:209). According to Tocqueville (1889), right of association entitles having the freedom to associate with any political party as an individual, the power to establish political movement centers anywhere in the country, and the right for a party to elect a leader to represent their values and views. Freedom of press entitles that the media, (in De Tocqueville’s case newspapers and the printing press) are free to print political views and communicate aspects of the political world to society, contributing to the freedom of information. In Democracy in America, De Tocqueville states that “The press is the chiefest democratic instrument of freedom” (De Toqueville, 1889) meaning that the political freedom in America is primarily mobilized through the press. The final aspect of successful democratic society in America is religion, which both provides a sense of order and satisfies a primordial human need of eternal life (Tishman, 2004). Religion indirectly sets moral rules (rather than outright laws) that the democratic state are unable to set due to the freedom they have imposed on their societies, allowing for the democratics to influence some control without the state becoming aware of its actions (De Tocqueville, 1889). Comparing these themes of freedom to 19th century despotic France, individuals would be prevented from mobilizing political parties or speaking of political views, and the press would not have been allowed to print any political views, for fear of being imprisoned. Overall, De Tocqueville states the factors of the right of association, freedom of the press, and religion allow democratic states like America to be free. In Democracy in America, De Tocqueville attempts to inform readers of the potential dangers he anticipated in the political context of democracy. Aside from the dangers associated with...

References: De Tocqueville, Alexis, trans. Frohen, Bruce. (2002 [1889]). Democracy in America. London: Regenery Publishing.
Elazar, Daniel J. (1999). Tocqueville and the cultural basis of American democracy. Ps, Political Science and Politics, 32(2): 207-210. Retrieved from
Sage, Elizabeth M. (2010). A dubious science; political economy and the social question in 19th century France. Reference and Research Book News, 25(1): 1-170. Retrieved from
Tishman, Primrose P. (2004). The role of religion in Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America”. Retrieved from ProQuest Digital Dissertations (AAT 3152655)
Turner, Jack. (2008). American individualism and structural injustice: Tocqueville, gender, and race. Polity, 40(2): 197-215. doi:10.1057/palgrave.polity.2300088
Zeitlin, Irving M. (2001). Ideology and the development of sociological theory, 7th edition. Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall Inc.
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