A despotism is defined as a system of government in which the ruler has unlimited power. Many of the aristocratic regimes of old can arguably be labeled despotisms, as well as some of the dictatorships of today?s modern world, if one can truly define ultimate power. De Tocqueville delved into this concept in his discussion of the newly forming American democracy and how he noticed this democratic revolution making it?s way towards Europe.
De Tocqueville states that: ? The first and liveliest of the passions inspired by equality is, love of that equality itself.? (Reader 321) This is why democratic nations are more concerned with equality than liberty. Because of this love for equality, De Tocqueville argues that there is a new form of oppression that threatens democracies. This type of oppression is one that has never been witnessed before in history, due to the lack of successful democracies until De Tocqueville?s era. According to De Tocqueville, despotism and tyranny don?t accurately describe the situation. He describes it as what could be labeled as ?soft despotism?. He adamantly argues that this oppression is one that will go un-noticed until future generations later on, upon recognizing the problem, are powerless to stop it.
Basically, upon the founding of this democracy, the citizens are relieved of the everyday duties of the government, and elected officials burden the weight. The citizens are provided with security and the ability to attain the necessities they require in life. Ultimately the people want to enjoy themselves. The people feel confident in their choice of elected officials and no longer have to worry themselves over every minute detail of running the country. They are left to live their lives happily alongside their neighbors, their equals. When on occasion, they are called upon to make a vote for their new representatives in this government, a vote that provides satisfaction and confidence in their voice in politics. Upon which, they return to their everyday lives feeling that they are the ones in control of their government.
De Tocqueville worries that this love for equality is that which could possibly threaten the freedom of the individual citizens. He is concerned that as more and more control and decision-making is taken from the people and placed in the hands of elected representatives, the people become more complacent and less apt to want to regain this control. In a sense, the people don?t want to worry themselves over such matters. In this changing of priorities by the masses, the government can slowly take more and more power from the people. Just enough that will not be noticed, or so irrelevant in the peoples minds that they will relinquish it quite easily. The government will begin to implement laws and regulations and it easily becomes so difficult to intervene in public affairs that even the most intelligent of men will not have the will power to try. And those that do are unable to make themselves noticed to the rest of the newly created mob that is called society, as the main body of citizens has become totally detached from government.
This possible problem with the effects of the democratic passion for equality is echoed in the writings of other authors as well. Mosca states his belief on the system of political organization that is based upon a single absolute principle. He presents the idea, identical to De Tocqueville, that when the entire political class is organized after a single pattern, it is difficult for all social forces to participate in public life, and more difficult for any one force to counterbalance another. Naturally, a system with elected representatives is specifically subject to this theory. Coinciding with this belief, Mosca feels that the checks and balances that exist in democracy and bureaucracy are inadequate and never perform to their fullest potential.
Nietzsche only adds fuel to the fire in regards to the general human behavior discussed by many of the authors we have read. In his argument he directly correlates his perception of the people as ?the herd? with the Christian movement. Claiming that the Christian religion has ?indulged and flattered the most sublime herd animal desires, we have reached the point were we find even in political and social institutions an ever more visible expression of this morality: the democratic movement.? (Reader 109) Nietzsche parallels those beliefs of Mosca and De Tocqueville. In the peoples quest for equality, they have become the herd, and are no longer perceptive to the authority they are letting go of. This democratic movement is a ?form of decay of political organization? and specifically the ?diminution? of man. Overall, Nietzsche is saying that man is now of a lowered value, due to his herd mentality he will steadily loose control of everything. But he will not notice until it is too late because of his preoccupation with his newfound equality.
De Tocqueville does however feel that this advancement of the ?soft despotism? can be prevented. He points out that in the age of aristocracy, man had the aid of those in his class to protect him and stand by his side against oppression. In the age of equality, each man is isolated. There are no hereditary friends he can call on. De Tocqueville implies that an oppressed citizen must appeal to the nation, or to humanity at large. This is done through freedom of the press. Through the press, a single citizen can gain the attention of his fellow people and effectively stand up for himself in a democracy. Therefore, freedom of the press is a necessity.
Judicial power is a key element as well. Any citizen, however weak he is, can appeal to a judge and have his case heard. This judicial system must continue to grow with the level of equality as well.
Most importantly, De Tocqueville stresses that the elections must be maintained, even in the lowest forms of local government. Through this the people will always have their voice heard and will maintain control. Ultimately, it sounds as though De Tocqueville?s main point is that the citizens themselves must realize what can happen to them if they do not keep a handle on the situation. It is they who make the decisions on who leads them and they must keep an eye on the authority to ensure it does not reach a level that is irreversible.