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Democracy In America

.. s rampant and no one seems to care if justice or punishment is served or not. Many are very disillusioned with the government and think it is easier to do nothing than to become involved and try to change it. This is in direct relation to de Tocquevilles notion that democracies have a tendency to lose liberty and personal interest as the country grows larger. Not only with more people are there bound to be more differing ideas, but more people who share them, creating more voiced dissonance in the political sphere.

This dissonance is glossed over when still in the minority. “[T]he tyranny of the majority” is one of de Tocquevilles main concerns with democratic nations. When a government is run and hindered by the thoughts of the majority, where do the ideas of the minority fit? When in elections only 45% of the population votes, and who elects representatives, how is the majority of the country really represented? The original thought behind the majority was that the consensus of many would be more informed and intelligent than of a few. But looking upon the uninformed voting habits of the public today, is that still the case? De Tocqueville sees the problem of an oppressive majority and it seems to have come to light in the last few decades. He views the majority not as an entity unto itself, but as a conglomeration of single men who might have aspirations other than the betterment of society.

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If a lone man has the ability to misuse power, what changes if a majority has the ability to misuse as well? “Thought is an invisible and subtle power, that mocks all efforts of tyranny(116).” Since America is founded upon education that lacks thought, Americans are facilitating oppressive powers from the very place they are trying to facilitate freedom and liberty. Original American concepts of democracy are falling to the wayside, hypocrisy and apathy are taking its place, creating an even more fertile ground for the majority to gain more power than it already has. If not careful, the majority will soon be speaking for a very select group, while the masses will be left out, creating a despotic government of the past to take over what is now one of the greatest democracies of the era. In response to Hofstadters theory on anti-intellectualism, De Tocquevilles vision of American education, or lack there of, again comes into play. It is not in the nature of America to strive for excellence.

For to do so would be to draw oneself out of the masses, creating a feeling of distrust and suspicion that would envelop them wherever they went. In order to feel a common bond with ones’ peers, intellectualism is not the route to take. So as to not alienate oneself, one must be content to merely be average. Mass media knows this; television was not created to promote education, it was and is used as an “opiate for the masses,” as Karl Marx once said about anything that would keep peoples minds off what could potentially be revolutionary ideas. Lives kept mundane and boring are not a threat to the development and movement of a nation.

The contradictions in American values are amazing. Liberty is canonized, yet Americans will give it up so easily if enticed, which is not difficult. Yet, there is still some element that has kept the country together and away from the tendency to convert from democratic means to other, more easily managed ways of govern. This element is adaptable from person to person. Many are content with the government as it is, as long as they can go about their lives without interference. Others will whole-heartedly take it as a personal mission to enter into politics and change the world for the better. Whatever the case may be, people are easily led away from what is really important to the lasting of a society, and take their lives on a tangent route that may leave them satisfied with their mediocre accomplishments, but might eventually kill off any real progress towards excellence in any genre of society, even if for the time being, it feels that as a nation, America is content with itself.

De Tocquevilles ideas of the effects of democracy on feelings and gender roles are very enlightening. He sees the lack of class distinctions as to why Americans are immediately friendly with one another. Since no one person is better than the next, there is no premise for suspicion of one another. Americans are unaccustomed to a rigid etiquette, so they are less easily upset by a slight from another person. Amiable to the end, they will most likely let minor things blow over, and they will be hard to provoke with breaches in decorum. Americans are very good-natured for the most part, and this trait will always make them a little apart from the rest of the Western societies.

De Tocqueville sees women in America as extremely different from the women in Europe. “and she is remarkable rather for purity of manners than for chastity of mind(234).” He sees American women as worldly and unaffected by the European naivet and ignorance. He sees the influence of democracy in every action of a female. She has none of the rigid social restraints of the Europeans, and in so, needs to know how to combat her passions herself and not rely on society to do it for her. American women are self-assured and strong of opinion. They have an innate ability to be strong and independent while still respectful of their husbands and fathers.

Religion helps in maintaining constraints on the female population, but democratic societies hold the woman responsible for herself. De Tocqueville has left no aspect of American society out of his publication. He rips the American body open and examines all the things that are inside right down to the bare bones. It is a little scary to read of ones own nation and its culture. To realize that ones own life is not how he made it, but of how his ancestors have created society. Whether it be as to how Americans view their politics, or their social afflictions, de Tocqueville voices his opinions as to what is commendable, are conversely, what is wrong with every aspect of America.

He sees America through the eyes of intelligent outsider who has no reason to make America sound anything other than it is. He has done a very thorough job, and his vision of nineteenth century America will surely help lead America into the twenty-first century with a better definition of itself.


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