Tocqueville’s Hope

After his visit to America in 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville returned to France and published the first volume of Democracy in America in 1835, and the second in 1840. The work is remarkably timely. Here I have selected a few words from the final pages. The work is full of warning, especially toward the end of the second volume. In what follows, one sees how he inspired Friedrich Hayek’s title The Road to Serfdom. But the final words also sustain a note of hope. When Tocqueville speaks of certain “more enlightened” people, it is with irony:

 

Among our contemporaries, I see two contrary but equally fatal ideas.

Some perceive in equality only the anarchic tendencies to which it gives birth. They dread their free will; they are afraid of themselves.

Others, fewer in number, but more enlightened, have another view. Next to the route that, departing from equality, leads to anarchy, they have finally discovered the path that seems to lead men invincibly toward servitude. They bend their souls in advance to this necessary servitude; and despairing of remaining free, at the bottom of their hearts they already adore the master who will soon come.

The first abandon freedom because they deem it dangerous; the second because they judge it impossible.

If I had had this latter belief, I would not have written the work you have just read…

Let us therefore have that salutary fear of the future that makes one watchful and combative, and not that sort of soft and idle terror that wears hearts down and enervates them…

As for myself, having come to the final stage of my course,…I feel full of fears and full of hopes. I see great perils that it is possible to ward off; great evils that one can avoid or restrain, and I become more and more firm in the belief that to be honest and prosperous, it is still enough for democratic nations to wish it.

 


Dan Klein is professor of economics and JIN Chair at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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