Thursday, January 23, 2014

Democracy's Seed of Death?

Democracy's "Seed of Death"

I recently had the chance to take some of our Tocqueville programming on the road to share it with students at Davis and Elkins College in Elkins, WV. For them, I chose to discuss the following quotation which comes from Volume I of Democracy in America (and which we will be discussing Monday night with Dr. Farrier, I assume).

"Every government carries within itself a natural vice that seems attached to the very principle of its life; the genius of the law-maker is to discern this well. . . every law whose effect is to develop this seed of death cannot miss becoming fatal in the long run, even if its bad effects do not immediately make themselves felt" (227-228).

Tocqueville helps us understand this by talking about an absolute monarchy and how its irrational tendency is to drive ever more power into the central office of the monarch until it eventually destroys itself.

What is this "seed of death" for democracy? Why, it is, of course, the tendency to drive more and more power into the hands of the people.  

Tocqueville praises our American founders for understanding this and putting in place institutions that could resist this destructive tendency. They gave us an unelected Supreme Court, an Electoral College (a real one, not what we have today), Senators chosen by state legislatures, federalism and equality of the states, a written Constitution with a specified amendment process that insisted on changes going through institutions in a specified manner.

The progressives told us the cure for the ills of democracy was more democracy. They got many of the reforms that they wanted.  Tocqueville tells us more democracy will destroy democracy.  Which is it?

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