Toqueville And Freedom

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Toqueville And Freedom

Political Freedom: Arendt and de Tocqueville
Freedom in America emanates from the state of political freedom held by the citizens. Both Hannah Arendt and Alexis de Tocqueville provide criticism of the apparent shape freedom maintains in America as well as insight regarding how they perceive true political freedom. By using the observations and criticisms of de Tocqueville and the vision of Arendt, the position of modern America and its relation to the ideals of political freedom can be understood.
It is necessary to understand de Tocqueville's observation of equality in order to make the distinction of democracy and how freedom relates to it. According to de Tocqueville, democracy requires an initial ingredient of civil equality. Civil equality is the absence of social divisions and barriers. The necessity of equality then leads to individuals and the deconstruction of community bonds. This occurs because the presence of community requires separate social classes and dependencies based on the class relations. De Tocqueville says, …equality places men side by side, unconnected by any common tie… (de Tocqueville 194). Individuals' needs and desires in society evolve into individualism and the further pursuit of one's self-interest. Political liberties and freedoms are thus sacrificed in attempts to satisfy the private appetite for personal gains. De Tocqueville maintains that,
Selfishness blights the germ of all virtue; individualism, at first, only saps the virtue of public life; but, in the long run, it attacks and destroys all others, and is at length absorbed in downright selfishness.
(De Tocqueville 193)
Such selfish disassociation from society equates to tyranny of the majority under the despotic rule of centralized government because citizens no longer find reason or a feeling of responsibility in terms of a public realm that offers no direct personal reward. The collapse of public responsibilities is rooted in the growth of private desires.
Alexis de Tocqueville takes democracy down a miserable path where citizens become divided and governments become despotic and centralized. The morals of society collapse, connections dissolve between citizens, and freedom produces private animosities, but despotism gives birth to general indifference (de Tocqueville 195). Democracy in America does not end in despotic centralization; it concludes with the realization of the need for political freedom and the insinuation of power into the citizens through associations. In order to combat the evils which equality may produce, there is only one effectual remedy, --namely, political freedom (de Tocqueville 197). Political salvation in America does not seep from the national government, nor does it fester within the states themselves. De Tocqueville recognizes associations, which are the political forces beyond the sphere of institutional government, as the necessary means of preserving political power of the majority and political freedom in democracy.
If men living in democratic countries had no right and no inclination to associate for political purposes, there independence would be in great jeopardy; but they might long preserve their wealth and their cultivation; whereas, if they never acquired the habit of forming associations in ordinary life, civilization itself would be endangered.
(De Tocqueville 199)
Associations offer salvation where governments fail to preserve themselves. Without politics beyond the government there cannot be politics within the government except for absolute despotism.
For Arendt, the circumstances that inhibit political freedom and those that establish it are of equal importance. This helps in developing the necessary means involved in obtaining political freedom. There …should be no reason for us to mistake civil rights for political freedom, or to equate these preliminaries of civilized government with the very substance of a free republic (Arendt 220). Arendt has established civil rights as an entity separate from political freedom. Civil rights apply to liberation and not political freedom, because civil rights do not necessarily assume the presence of freedom. Civil rights can be granted to a population under the rule of a tyrant in the form of a law, but when the population is not part of the formation of such a law then political freedom does not exist.
According to Arendt, the presence of poverty further suppresses the possibility of political freedom. If individuals are forced to focus their efforts towards the fulfillment of biological needs such as food and shelter then they cannot possibly be political. Capitalism also prevents

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