Dangers of Despotism in a Democratic Age
In his book, Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville expresses his concerns regarding the emergence of despotism in the new democratic age of New England. For Tocqueville, despotism does not solely reside in one man. Despotism is a form of power that does not abide by the laws or rules. According to Tocqueville, despotism is not the rule of a single person; it does not lead to the rise of a single tyrant. Rather, despotism is an arbitrary form of power, which exists to oppose popular sovereignty. From where does despotism rise? The root cause of despotism, in the new democratic age, is the spreading of the idea of equality.
The promising new democratic age gave birth to the concept of equality. Equality is a concept cherished by the New England Americans. Unfortunately, equality is also the reason why the citizens are separated from one another. This separation breaks bonds formed by man. Where on the one hand, aristocracy linked the citizens to the past and the future. On the other hand democracy cuts off the link between the past and the future. In democracy each is for himself. There are two tendencies of equality. The first tendency “leads every man’s thought into new paths” and the other is “would force him willingly to cease thinking at all” (502). Through these tendencies intellectual liberty would be suppressed and the people of the state would be tied down by the general wish of the majority. Equality sets people side by side without a common link. Each man is isolated and is left to think solely for himself. Once isolated, the man’s “children and personal friends are for him the whole of the human race” (805). Once the seed of equality has been planted in the mind of man, it does not take long for the idea of equality to grow into the desire for isolation.
Equality paves the way for isolation; isolation is the road to despotism. The groups of men, who consider themselves equal to the rest, are all in...
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