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De Tocqueville And Mill, And The Tyranny Of The Majority

991 words - 4 pages

Threat of Tyranny of the Majority not Strong enough to "Temper" the Spirit of DemocracyIn the present political spectrum, democracy is essentially understood as both the most humane and effective means by which to govern a body politic. While democracy is currently relatively non-controversial, this was not the case during its establishment. The democratic experiment in America was viewed somewhat indifferently by many of the world's prominent political philosophers. Alexis de Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill existed among those most apprehensive of the democratic experiment. To each of these men, democracy certainly possessed certain positive attributes, but at the same time, represented a potential threat to the individual freedoms of man, through a much feared 'tyranny of the majority'.De Tocqueville and Mill both cite the possible oppression of minority groups as a significant drawback to democracy. While each author cites the 'tyranny of the majority' as a possible problem, their perceptions of the alleged problem differ in scope and definition. De Tocqueville regards the above mentioned problem largely as a hindrance to actual action on the part of minority groups and individuals; Mill discusses it relating primarily to the oppression of minority thought. De Tocqueville recognizes the ability of the government to regulate thought, but does not focus on it to the extent that Mill does.One of the fundamental questions raised by De Tocqueville is, "When a man or party suffers an injustice in the United States, to whom can he turn?" (252) In the American democratic experience three separate branches of government exist, but, de Tocqueville does not feel that this mitigates the threat towards tyranny. Furthermore, he states, "in a democracy organized on the model of the United States there is only one authority, one source of strength and of success, and nothing outside it." (255) Under De Tocqueville, this "authority" is the majority and its reign absolute. De Tocqueville's primary fear is the government, particularly the legislature, as a tool of the masses, will have no constraints upon it to stop it acting solely in its own best interest.While De Tocqueville references the majority's ability to silence minority action, Mill is more concerned with its capacity to marginalize minority thought and opinion. In the realm of Mill's world, the majority has a strong, overpowering effect on how those in the out-group think and form beliefs. The control the majority has over the minority in this respect is so great, that he goes as far to say that the minority likely will essentially lose their entire identity. To this he comments, "One whose desires and impulses are not his own, has no character, no more than a steam-engine has character." (62) Furthermore, Mill hypothesizes that through this marginalization of individual thought, the "despotism of custom" will inevitably ensue. Basically, the suppression of individual thought leads to a uniform...

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