Alexis de Toqueville, DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA


Alexis de Tocqueville was a cult figure in the US a few years ago partly because his Democracy in America is one of the few books by 19th-century European visitors to present a favorable picture of this country.  In 1937 at Oxford it was a required book for French, and I taught it- The  Hilary 2005 issue of Oxford Today has an article "Anatomizing America" by Gerald Bevin, who translated de Tocquville's work (Penguin. 2002).  I was struck by the fact that the book discusses the tyranny of the majority, which has been the subject of a WAIS discussion. "He was alarmed by the precipitate `progress towards majority rule. ?The maxim that, in matters of government. the majority has the right to do everything, I regard as detestable'. In a perceptive chapter entitled "Tyranny of the Majority"  we can find echoes of today's events.

RH: Indeed, I was surprised to receive a message from George Sassoon denouncing the government of Tony Blair almost as a dictatorship: "In the UK we have an election coming up, and in spite of the present government having assumed near-dictatorial powers, crime rates are rising inexorably.  Does dictatorship always cause law and order?"

RH:  In America, where people are not directly involved in British politics, there is general admiration for Tony Blair.  Attacks on him by his enemies in the UK must reflect their frustration at being unable to unseat him. This seems inevitable in any democracy where the government is the majority and the minority is unable to get its way.  The will of the majority should prevail.  I can see no way out of this dilemma.  We await the results of the British elections.

Ronald Hilton 2005

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last updated: June 11, 2005