Democracy: Self Destructive or What?

Danielle Romero
Sociology 250
Nina Eliasoph
September 21, 2010
Midterm 1
Prompt 5

Democracy: Self-Destructive or What?

In the spring of 1831 Alexis de Tocqueville, a member of the French aristocracy and a son of noble lineage, traveled to the United States to study the prison system.   He stayed until February of the next year and studied not only prisons, but all social aspects of American life, including the economic and political systems.   One of Tocqueville’s main concerns with the American political system, as outlined in Democracy in America, is that democracy leads to too much individualism and eventually to either a tyranny of the majority or excessive competitive anxiety and greed.   He argued that these extremes are both psychologically harmful to the individual as well as socially harmful toward the state and to democracy itself.   He did, however, include in his observations that there are some checks to these potential problems, and also a few certain things that can be done to cure extreme individualism and therefore save democracy from destroying itself.
Tocqueville first argued that were individualism to become too extreme, people would get caught up in the idea of always letting “majority rule” and eventually the majority would end up dictating the entire state, thus resulting in a tyranny of the majority.   He believed that this could happen because there is not enough dissent when it comes to opinionated sources.   Tocqueville posed the question, “When a man or a party suffers injustice in the United States, to whom can he turn?” (Tocqueville, 1966: 252).   The problem is that all arenas of the government – public opinion, legislative bodies, executive power, police, and juries – are all either directly or indirectly controlled by the majority, and one who is in dissent with the majority can never argue his opinion.   Tocqueville believes the preferred “moral authority of the majority” is caused by two reasons, one being, “…based on the...