The Dangers of Despotism in Tocqueville's America Open Access

Flint, Laura Elizabeth (2016)

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In his book Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville looks at many different kinds of despotism that democracies, and America in particular, are susceptible to. But how are these forms of despotism alike? How are they different? Does Tocqueville believe one regime to be more threatening to democracy than another? What do Tocqueville's conceptions of despotism reveal about his conceptions of liberty? Did he believe a descent into despotism could be prevented? I will argue that all of these regimes can be classified as either forms of traditional despotism or forms of new despotism. He believes freedom to be the source of all moral good, and while soft despotism poses the most dangerous threat to democracy, Tocqueville believes it is not inevitable.

Table of Contents


I. The Threat of Hard Despotism

i. Military Tyranny

ii. Legislative Tyranny of the Majority

iii. Slavery and Treatment of the Native Americans: An Extreme Example of Majority Tyranny

II. Tendencies that Make Democracy Vulnerable to Both Despotisms

i. Secularization

ii. Individualism

iii. Materialism

iv. Freedom vs. Individualism and Materialism

III. The Threat of New Despotism

i. Love of Equality Over Freedom

ii. Centralization

iii. Majority Tyranny of Thought

IV. The Dangers of the New and the Old

V. The Fate of Democracy

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