In an examination of Alexis de Tocqueville’s work, Toby Young (no relation), notes Tocqueville’s observation that America’s majority rule creates “a society characterized by ‘equality of conditions,’ in which political questions were decided by a majority vote, there was an absence of alternative sources of authority, which made it hard for mavericks and dissenters to survive.” Young continues in Spectator World:
For Tocqueville, this was the explanation for the extraordinary uniformity of opinion he encountered in America. He wrote in Democracy in America:
In the United States, the majority takes charge of providing individuals with a host of ready-made opinions, and thus relieves them of the obligation to form for themselves opinions that are their own. I know of no other country where, in general, there reigns less independence of mind and true freedom of discussion than in America.
Many American readers, then and now, objected to this criticism; but for most Europeans who’ve spent time in America it is obviously true. I remember going there as a graduate student in 1987 and being struck by the fact that there was a greater range of political opinions among the ten students I’d studied PPE with at my Oxford college than there was in the whole of the Harvard Department of Government. Since then, with the triumph of the Great Awokening, the lack of viewpoint diversity in America’s universities has only got worse. For anyone seeking to understand this phenomenon, Democracy in America is still essential reading.
The scholarship on Tocqueville is voluminous, and retracing his journey across America has been done several times. But Jennings’s book is the first to exhaustively follow him on his travels outside America as well, and provides a highly readable introduction to the work of one of the nineteenth century’s most insightful political theorists, as well as a persuasive defense of his ideas.
Read more here.
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