restricted access Chapter 8. Of What Tempers Tyranny of the Majority in the United States
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427 s4s4s4s4s4 c h a p t e r 8 Of What Tempers Tyranny of the Majority in the United States Absence of Administrative Centralization The national majority does not have the idea of doing everything.—It is forced to use town and county magistrates in order to carry out its sovereign will. Previously I distinguished two types of centralization; one, I called governmental , and the other administrative.a Only the first exists in America; the second is almost unknown there. If the power that directs American societies found these two means of government at its disposal, and combined, with the right to command everything , the ability and the habit of carrying out everything by itself; if, after establishing the general principles of government, it entered into the details of application, and after regulating thegreatinterestsof thecountry, a. In America, there are a thousand natural causes that soto speakworkbythemselves toward moderating the omnipotence of the majority. The extreme similarity that reigns in the United States among all the interests, the material prosperity of the country, the diffusion of enlightenment and the mildness of mores, which is the necessary consequence of the progress of civilization, greatly favor the leniency of government. I have already pointed out the different causes; the time has come to examinewhat barriers the institutionsthemselves havecarefullyraisedagainstthepowerfromwhich they derive. Previously I distinguished . . . (YTC, CVh, 4, p. 15). 428 the tyranny of the majority it could reach as far as individual interests, liberty would soon be banished from the New World.b But, in the United States, the majority, which often has the tastes and instincts of a despot, still lacks the most advanced instruments of tyranny. In none of the American republicshasthecentralgovernmentevertaken charge of anything other than a small number of objectswhoseimportance attracted its attention. It has never undertaken to regulate the secondary things of society. Nothing indicates that it has ever even conceived the desire to do so. The majority, while becoming more and more absolute, has not increased the attributions of the central power; it has only made it omnipotent in its sphere. Thus despotism can be very heavy at one point, but it cannot extend to all.c Besides, however carried away the national majority may be by its passions; however ardent it is in its projects, it cannot in all places, in the same way, and in the same moment, make all citizens yield to its desires .d When the central government that represents the national majority b. In the manuscript, the paragraph is written as follows: “The Americans must consider themselves fortunate that this is so: if the majority in the United States found the one, like the other, in its hands in order to compel obedience to its will, and if it combined , with the right to do everything, the ability and the habit of carrying everything out by its agents, its power would be, so to speak, without limits.” c. In notes taken by Beaumont for the writing of Marie, this is foundinTocqueville’s hand: In the American republics the central government has never taken charge except of a small number of objects whose importance attracted its attention. It has never undertaken to direct the administration of the towns andcounties[v:secondarythings]. It does not seem ever to have conceived the desire to do so. Becoming more andmore absolute has allowed the rule of the majority to regulate these objects with more sovereign authority, but has not increased the number of objects in its sphere. So despotism can be great, but it cannot extend to everything (YTC, Beaumont, CIX). d. Two causes. 1. Splitting up of sovereignty. 2. Splitting up of administration. Tyranny can be very great but it cannot be popular. The Union cannot present a tyrannical majority. Each state could do it, but town administrations (illegible word). the tyranny of the majority 429 has given orders as a sovereign, it must rely, for the execution of its command , on agents who often do not depend on it and that it cannot direct at every moment. So the municipal bodies and county administrations form like so many hidden reefs that slow or divide the tide of popular will. Were the law oppressive, liberty would still find a refuge in thewayinwhich the law would be executed; the majority cannot get into the details, and, if I dare say so, into the puerilities of administrative tyranny. The majority does not even imagine that it can do so, for it is not entirely aware of...


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