Despotism: The Soft Way

Though it went virtually unnoticed, April 16 marked the 150th anniversary of the death of one of the significant thinkers of modern times. Author of the classic Democracy in America (1835/1840), Alexis de Tocqueville’s prophetic insights into America have been cited approvingly by figures ranging from Nobel Prize economist Friedrich Hayek to Pope Benedict XVI. Today, de Tocqueville is largely ignored in his native France, where the left-dominated intelligentsia dismisses him as “anti-democratic.” Americans of all generations, however, have regularly turned to this 19th-century aristocrat to understand their past and future. This is especially true when it comes to de Tocqueville’s thoughts about democracy’s promise and perils which, more than ever, seem relevant for America.