Political Theory of the EU and America
Political Theory of the EU and America
Political Theory of the EU and America
Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville was a European aristocrat who was actively involved in French politics. In his book, Democracy in America Tocqueville compared the different types of political administrations that were present in the United States and Europe during the French Revolution. Being a classical liberal, he strongly advocated for a parliamentary government in France. The book was intended to help the French understand the difference between the emerging democratic order and the fading aristocratic order that was being used by European governments. Unlike in an aristocratic order where power is in the hand of the few people privileged to be in the ruling class, a democratic order allows everybody, despite their social class, to participate governing the country through elections and referendums. Even though he was skeptical of extremes of a democratic society, Tocqueville identified democracy as the best balance between equality and liberty. After a Visit to the United States, he was certain that democracy was the only solution that would end the confusion that was present in his home country.
Tocqueville points out that unlike in Europe, the government in America belong to the ordinary citizens. They were allowed to run for political positions through a competitive process. Furthermore, the people themselves elected their leaders and punished those who disobeyed the governing laws by removing them from office. Fundamentally, the ordinary citizens are the ones leading because their representatives in the government expressed the public’s opinions, interests, passions and prejudices (1956). Unlike, in the United States, countries in the European Union had monarchial governments. Power was confined to those within the royal family. This form of government assured royal families of maintaining their power and control despite the ruthless governance by most of them.
Tocqueville identified social conditions of the Anglo-Americans as an essential contributor to their democracy. He argues that circumstances and laws regulated the social condition of a society. Conversely, aristocrats created legislations that influenced the ability of public to accumulate wealth. For example, laws that regulated property ownership and inheritance ensured that wealth and social authority remained in the hands of the few. With immense wealth within their disposal, Tocqueville argued that aristocrats manipulated their influence in the society to rise to power. He compared this to what was happening in the United States. He noted that the equality in social conditions in the American democracy was a significant character during the foundation of Anglo-American Colonies, and continued to be valued by the society. After the American Revolution, laws prohibiting property transmission were abolished or modified to allow free circulation of property. AS a result, these reforms reduced the gap between the rich and the poor in America. Social equality in Anglo-America enabled the country to escape from the dominance of absolute power that affected Europe.
The principle of Sovereignty in America also contributed to the country’s democracy. Tocqueville (1956) argued that the doctrine of sovereignty governed all people, institutions, politicians and laws instituted in the United States. He argued that unlike any other countries, including France, the principle of sovereignty in America was proclaimed by each state’s laws and recognized by all customs. After the American Revolution, the principle of sovereignty among Americans, which had been nurtured in municipalities and township during the war, took central stage in all states and federal governments. He notes that the irresistible democratic impulse in America forced aristocrats to support the implementation of social reforms in the country. Maryland, which was considered as the most aristocratic state in the United States, was the first to introduce democratic forms into their government and proclaim universal suffrage (Tocqueville, 1956). Unlike France, the doctrine of sovereignty, which was strongly held by governments and citizens in America, shaped how all legislators and those in power ruled the country. It has set the standards for all politicians and ordinary citizens.
Tocqueville also points out that democracy in the United States was also influenced by the manner in which the country combated the effects of individualism. He argued that, after the revolution, Americans recognized public affairs and participation as key contributors to democracy. Without the support of the public, American politicians realized that they are not independent, as they had previously imagined. Tocqueville points out that political life was infused in all aspects of the society from state to federal governments. He argued that this provided all members of the community with the opportunity of participating in governance, and created the spirit of dependency among them. They were able to understand how public affairs could influence the destiny of their private lives. Thus, they are able to identify and take control of public welfare concerns that had direct impacts on their lives. He compared the level public participation in the United States to that of France. In most European Union member states, the public did not have any kind of influence in matters that affected their private lives. The spirit of individualism among leaders saw them govern the country in a way the benefited their private lives.
Tocqueville also argued that the freedom of political association in the United States strengthened the civil associations in the country. He noted that there was immense freedom and political associations in America as compared to any other country in the world. Freedom of association allowed citizens and politicians to form alliances and groups to peruse goals that hey would not have achieved individually. Tocqueville further argued that the bigger the association, the stronger and more effective they were in exercising their mandates. He noted that, in France, it was a completely different case because political associations were prohibited in the country. The executive government had discretionary power to prohibit or approve civil associations in the country.
His comparison of politics and public mentality provided a lot of insight on the field of political science. It elaborated the importance of public participation in a democratic government. Tocqueville stressed the need for governments to make the public feel in control of the administration and have opportunities through which they can participate in the governance structure of the country. He gave a compelling example by comparing two countries with different forms of governments. In France, the public became increasingly frustrated by the continued decadence of an aristocratic order. This form governance coupled with public enlightenment triggered and fueled the French Revolution that dethroned aristocrats from power. Conversely, Anglo-American citizen significantly benefited from the democratic form of government. Social equality, public participation and the spirit of sovereignty convinced the Americans that they had the power to determine how they were to be governed. Furthermore, politicians in the democratic government were convinced that they were simply representatives elected by the citizens to run the government on behalf of the public. This mentality shaped how they conducted themselves while occupying public office.
Tocqueville, A. (1956). Democracy in America. New York: New American Library.
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