It is in this last element, the power of combined action, that the progress of the Democracy has been the most gigantic. What combination can do has been shown by an experiment, of now many years duration, among a people the most backward in civilization (thanks to English misgovernment) between the Vistula and the Pyrenees. Even on this side of the Irish Channel we have seen something of what could be done by Political Unions, Anti-Slavery Societies, and the like; to say nothing of the less advanced, but already powerful organization of the working classes, the progress of which has been suspended only by the temporary failure arising from the manifest impracticability of its present objects. And these various associations are not the machinery of democratic combination, but the occasional weapons which that spirit forges as it needs them. The real Political Unions of England are the Newspapers. It is these which tell every person what all other persons are feeling, and in what manner they are ready to act: it is by these that the people learn, it may truly be said, their own wishes, and through these that they declare them. The newspapers and the railroads are solving the problem of bringing the democracy of England to vote, like that of Athens, simultaneously in one and the same agencies are rapidly effacing those local distinctions which rendered one part of our population strangers to another; and are making us more than ever (what is the first condition of a powerful public opinion) a homogeneous people. If America has been said to prove that in an extensive country a popular government may exist, England seems destined to afford the proof that after a certain stage in civilization it must; for as soon as the numerically stronger have the same advantages, in means of combination and celerity of movement, as the smaller number, they are the masters; and, except by their permission, no government can any longer exist.
M. de Tocqueville considers a democratic state of society as eminently tending to give the strongest impulse to the physical well-being. He ascribes this, not so much to the equality of conditions as to their mobility. In a country like America every one may acquire riches; no one, at least, is artificially impeded in acquiring them; and hardly any one is born to them. Now, these are the conditions under which the passions which attach themselves to wealth, and to what wealth can purchase, are the strongest. Those who are born in the midst of affluence are generally more or less to its enjoyments. They take the comfort or luxury to which they have always been accustomed, as they do the air they is not but An aristocracy, when put to the proof, has in general shown wonderful facility in enduring the loss of riches and of physical comforts. The very pride, nourished by the elevation which they owed to wealth, supports them under the privation of it. But to those who have chased riches laboriously for half their lives, to lose it is the loss of all; a disappointment greater than can be endured. In a democracy, again, there is no contented poverty. No one being forced to remain poor; many who were poor daily becoming rich, and the comforts of life being apparently within the reach of all, the desire to appropriate them descends to the very lowest rank. Thus,
America, a Democracy? Essay -- essays research papers
The other great political advantage which our author ascribes to Democracy, requires less illustration, because it is more obvious, and has been oftener treated of; that the course of legislation and administration tends always in the direction of the interest of the number. Although M. de Tocqueville is far from considering this quality of Democracy as the in politics which it has sometimes been supposed to be, he expresses his sense of its importance, if in measured, in no undecided terms. America does not exhibit to us what we see in the best mixed constitutions—the class interests of small minorities wielding the powers of legislation, in opposition both to the general interest and to the general opinion of the community; still less does she exhibit what has been characteristic of most representative governments, and is only gradually ceasing to characterize our own—a standing league of class interests—a tacit compact among the various knots of men who profit by abuses, to stand by one another in resisting reform. Nothing can subsist in America that is not recommended by arguments which, in appearance at least, address themselves to the interest of the many. However frequently, therefore, that interest may be mistaken, the direction of legislation towards it is maintained in the midst of the mistakes; and if a community is so situated or so ordered that it can “support the transitory action of bad laws, and can await without destruction the result of the of the laws,” that country, in the opinion of M. de Tocqueville, will prosper more under a democratic government than under any other. But in aristocratic governments, the interest, or at best the honour and glory, of the ruling class, is considered as the public interest; and all that is most valuable to the individuals composing the subordinate classes, is apt to be immolated to that public interest with all the rigour of antique patriotism.