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SOC203H1 Chapter Notes -Alexis De Tocqueville

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Feb. 25 reading: Tocqueville: “What sort of Despotism Democratic Nations Have to Fear”
In antiquity…
- When the power of the Roman emperors was at its height, the different people of the
empire still preserved very various customs and mores
Most provinces had a separate administration, though the whole government of
the empire was concentrated in the hands of the emperor alone and he could
decide everything, yet the details of social l life and personal everyday existence
normally escaped his control
The burden of his tyranny fell most heavily on some, but it never spread over a
great number
It was violent, but its extent was limited
However in a democratic society…
- Despotism would be more widespread and milder
- In such an age of education and equality as our own, rulers could more easily bring all
public powers into their own hands alone, and they could impinge deeper and more
habitually into the sphere of private interests than was ever possible in antiquity
- When there is no citizen with great power or wealth, tyranny in some degree lacks both
target and stage and thus limits the sovereign’s own spirit
- Democratic governments might become violent and cruel at times of great excitement
and danger, but such crises will be rare and brief
- The type of oppression which threatens democracies is different from anything there
has ever been in the world before
Men, alike and equal, are withdrawn into himself, unaware of the fate of the rest,
he exists in and for himself.
o It daily makes the exercise of free choice less useful and rare, restricts the
activity of free will within a narrower compass, and little by little robs
each citizen of the proper use of his own faculties,
Having grasped and shaped men to its will, government then embraces to
include the whole of society and covers it with uniform rules
o It does not break men’s will, but softens, bends and guides it, it seldom
enjoins, but often inhibits, actions. It does not destroy anything but
prevents much being born, it is not at all tyrannical but it hinders,
restraints, enervates, stifles so much that in the end each nation is no
more than a flock of timid and hardworking animals with the government
as its shepherd.
o Orderly, gentle, peaceful slavery
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