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In truth, he did no more than state its stark potential. Abraham Lincoln knew that much; so too, in a very different way, did Stephen Douglas. But if the tyranny of the majority was such a threat to liberty, how could its sway be sufficiently tempered, if not by law and representation? Equality of conditions destroyed the historical basis of authority.

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But they failed to preclude the passion for rule. But what they most desperately Edition: current; Page: [ [48] ] desired was the mutual protection of common authority. If this was true in general, it is especially so of Jacksonian America. It is easy to miss the true significance of this, characteristically Tocquevillian, formulation, or rather, reformulation. But he surreptitiously redefined it.

Mass opinion. In that way, he disclosed an entirely new form of authority. This was democratic, social authority. But that was not a justification for nostalgic fatalism. This necessarily determined much of the resultant method. For, just as Tocqueville dismissed long-standing liberal hopes vested in representative democracy, so he also derided those new scientific pretensions entailed by purely regulative, political organization.

Practical wisdom rather began in appreciating the possibilities that critical observation established between the nature and arts of democracy. Its nature always tended toward equality. But its art sometimes allowed for liberty. Such artificial freedom was achieved not just, nor even primarily, through the application of rules as in the performance of duties. That was why Tocqueville began his analysis of American liberty in American associations.

It was also why the fruits of that association ended, for Tocqueville, not just in reciprocation but in self-knowledge. Recall his understanding of the social function of the jury system. Schleifer lists some of these:. The spirit of industry, the spirit of association, the spirit of religion, political experience, general enlightenment, public and private morality, a sense of justice, respect for the law, public spirit, sensitivity to the rights of others, and a grasp of interest, well-understood.

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Thus Democracy begins with a historical moment—the American point of departure—and moves on to a continuing model—the New England township. Moreover, this is true for the whole book. Time and again, careful perusal of the Nolla edition establishes how concepts, even case studies, apparently new to the second volume, actually appear half and even fully formulated in the notes and drafts deployed for the Edition: current; Page: [ [51] ] earlier study. In that way, the intellectual unity of the work is demonstrated as never before. These—seeming—distinctions, between the supposedly empirical first and allegedly abstract second volume, similarly between a consideration first of the political then of the social state of the Americans, even between an optimistic departure and a pessimistic arrival, turn out to be more superficial than profound on closer inspection.

This is not to say that there are no differences between the two Democracies. It is to suggest that such divergences as emerge were cumulative and contingent rather than clear-cut and crucial. Moreover, there may have been important reasons behind such apparent messiness. How did Tocqueville achieve that ulterior end? He did so, at least in part, by posing as a detached arbiter between the aristocratic and the democratic way of doing things.

He was a curious arbiter, to be sure: one who, after all, always insisted that the historic aristocratic dispensation was dead. Think of his account of the lawyers in volume 1. Still, we might reasonably ask, instruction in what? Similarly, we might profitably demand, insinuation with what end in mind? What kind of liberty? And to what purpose? As Harvey Mansfield observes, Tocqueville acknowledged no notion of a prepolitical state of liberty.

For all that, he never reduced the political to the social. And he became a protosociologist only in the very broadest sense.


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Even in its strange novelty, his was still a political science. And it remained political freedom that he was trying to defend. It contains no obvious end state of freedom. Perhaps, in the final analysis, the reader really was left to do his own thinking in this respect. That possibility compels the present author to conclude that in so explicitly Edition: current; Page: [ [53] ] differentiating human nature, rightly understood, from the merely material sum of things, Tocqueville surely also intended to distinguish what makes a man free from what merely renders us all the same.

But what about Tocqueville after America? Did he change his mind, not just about the future for freedom in America, but also concerning the possibility of liberty, within democracy, tout court? Did he, in other words, make one final—melancholy—moral voyage, after ? If so, what are we to make of his lasting intellectual achievement? The implication is that his teaching was flawed. Yet On Liberty, his best-known later work, often reads like a nostalgic memoir. Much of it pointed to the possibility of a drearily conformist—read illiberal—future that would have struck Edition: current; Page: [ [54] ] a definite chord with his recently deceased friend.

But then again, he had every reason to be uncertain about America after the passing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. In addition, he was unlucky enough to die before the promulgation of the Fourteenth Amendment. A careful reading of his subsequent writings on America reveals a man properly concerned for the future but not fatalistic about the possibilities of freedom, either there or elsewhere. What is less clear is whether anything linked these concerns. He never forgot that lesson, however much he subsequently journeyed literally and figuratively beyond America.

If this is true, then we still have much reason to praise him in our own time, after all. In large part his book is an exploration of democratic dangers How does equality threaten freedom? What were the essential dangers? Tocqueville warned his readers about three in particular: materialism, individualism or excessive privatism , and consolidated power.

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We will touch very briefly on the first two and then elaborate on the third. In democratic times, people were increasingly concerned with their material comfort, and with the order and public tranquility needed to further this ease and prosperity. Their ceaseless striving toward physical well-being narrowed their hearts and minds, and diverted them from public affairs.

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Advancing equality also led people toward a growing sense of isolation and noninvolvement; they ended by withdrawing from public life and by focusing almost exclusively on personal and family well-being. By , Tocqueville would name this phenomenon individualism. But the message was clear in the text and even in the working papers for the first part of his book.