Studying the Equality of Condition
In his book “democracy in America”, Alexis de Tocqueville provides a thorough study of the equality of condition as a distinctive feature of the democratic America and discusses some of the consequences it might have. He begins his writing by introducing the reader that during his stay in America the equality of condition struck his attention the most. In America, the democracy has reached another level that has never been seen before or experienced in any of the European countries but that are slowly progressing towards it. This level of democracy has created a society in which all persons are legally understood to be socially and politically equal. Despite all the benefits that the equality of condition brings to the society, it also tends to isolate people from one another and cut them off from the social beliefs and values. When this form of isolation is transformed into an extreme form of individualism, it creates selfishness and egoism among people. When these people come together to form a majority which in a democratic society enjoys a great amount of power, it might cause the tyranny of majority – de Tocqueville’s main concern. The concept of equality of condition is more complex than it first seems and a society based on this fact poses a threat to freedom. De Tocqueville argues that “the influence of the equality of condition extends far beyond the political character and the laws of the country and it has no less empire over the civil society than over the government, it creates opinions, gives birth to new sentiments, founds novel customs and modifies whatever it does not produce” (“Democracy in America” Heffner ed., 26). It is important to depict from this quote that a society based on the equality of condition, above all, creates the common opinion. In an equal society, the fact that all the members are resembled enables them to trust and support the common judgment and opinion. Furthermore, de Tocqueville argues that all the inhabitants of the democratic society are individually equal and independent to each other but if one individual alone tends to contrast the “totality of his fellows”, he will find himself insignificant and weak. Therefore in a democratic society, the public has, as de Tocqueville calls, “a singular power” where it enforces certain opinions and infuses such opinions in the intellect of their mind. Considering that in a democratic society, it is the majority that takes decisions, the public opinion will then become the law creating political omnipotence. Therefore, de Tocqueville claims that in the US the majority comes up with opinions and the individuals although they develop their personal thoughts have to adopt those that the majority offers since they, alone, are unable to contrast them. This, in turn, discourages and in a way prohibits them from developing their own intellectual thoughts. Thus, the equality of condition that gives rise to the majority opinion poses a great threat to the individual freedom of thought.
During his stay in America, de Tocqueville discovered that the American people appeal only to their own individual effort of its own understanding. He has found that in America the tie which unites generation is broken and that nobody traces or cares about the ideas of their forefathers. In a society where everybody is equal and classes tend to disappear, no man can have an intellectual influence in the mind of another man since nobody looks at his fellows as being superior. Therefore, de Tocqueville argues that in a society based on the equality of condition, not only the trust of one man on another is destroyed but also the intellectual authority on any man. In absence of such intellectual authority, people develop their own believes and judgments within themselves different from the rest of the society. In the absence of an intellectual trustworthy authority capable of imposing social beliefs and values, people are left...
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