Dear beings (not only humans),
Yet another article by myself on a political philosophy subject. After the success on my first article in this domain of thought, I thought myself that another would be appreciated. This time, I chose to expose you Alexis de Tocqueville vision of how leaders in democracies were often mediocre. This ambitious theory will be explained bellow, with my own thoughts on how to avoid such consequences in our political system.
Alexis-Henri-Charles Clérel, vicomte de Tocqueville (1805-1859)
In his book De la démocratie en Amérique (On Democracy in America), Tocqueville exposes his vision of the newly born democracy in United-States while France is under a restored monarchy after the Napoleonic Wars. Tocqueville, an aristocrat from France, decides to tour North America and write a book on his observations and theories in a somewhat well established democratic system with “universal” suffrage (which excludes women and ethnicities).
In the fifth chapter of the first tome of his book (which strangely is chapter XIII in the English edition I found for the sake of this article), Du governement de la démocratie (Of the government of democracy), he briefly exposes his views on the choices of the people and instincts of the American democracy in its choices. The following few pages describe how, to his eyes, democracy leads to the choice of mediocre leaders. There are three main reasons that I’ll try to vulgarize bellow.
According to him, even if the people sincerely want the best for the state, he surprisingly states: “On my arrival in the United States I was surprised to find so much distinguished talent among the subjects, and so little among the heads of the Government. […] the most able men in the United States are very rarely placed at the head of affairs; […]” Subsequently, he explains three reasons explaining this phenomenon:
Firstly, “Long and patient observation, joined to a multitude of different notions, is required to form a just estimate of the character of a single individual; and can it be supposed that the vulgar have the power of succeeding in an inquiry which misleads the penetration of genius itself? The people has neither the time nor the means which are essential to the prosecution of an investigation of this kind: its conclusions are hastily formed from a superficial inspection of the more prominent features of a question. ” In a few word, the people don’t have time to make thoughtful choices because he is occupied to work and do anything he must do to survive (in opposition to aristocrats who don’t have to work to live).
Secondly, he postulates that in the democratic society, people has a great taste for success, the feeling of envy comes with it. “Whatever transcends their own limits appears to be an obstacle to their desires, and there is no kind of superiority, however legitimate it may be, which is not irksome in their sight.” Thus, they have no desire to vote or choose better people then they are because they envy them and see them as obstacles or their own success. If it is he, that is elected, it won’t be me. In this way, the people they choose are often considered, or show themselves, as “candidates of the people”, as very ordinary people, so the voters identify themselves to the candidate and don’t see him/her as a threat. This could explain, in a way, the rising number of demagogues raised to power (in real life and in eRepublik).
“In the United States the people is not disposed to hate the superior classes of society; but it is not very favorably inclined towards them, and it carefully excludes them from the exercise of authority. It does not entertain any dread of distinguished talents, but it is rarely captivated by them; and it awards its approbation very sparingly to such as have risen without the popular support.”
(We must also remember that Tocqueville himself is an aristocrat)
Thirdly, those who are true to their values and are against populism and demagogy refuse to present themselves: “Whilst the natural propensities of democracy induce the people to reject the most distinguished citizens as its rulers, these individuals are no less apt to retire from a political career in which it is almost impossible to retain their independence, or to advance without degrading themselves.”
As with my previous article, I think these reflections must be considered in our in game experience of politics. Who in my readers can’t think of someone very capable to run this country, but yet refuses to present themselves, or wouldn’t be elected.
Hopefully, this isn’t fixed. A few solutions or incitations can be made to improve our politicians or motivate our most capable citizen to go into power:
Firstly, each and every one of us must be attentive ; pay attention to the candidates, try to see through their messages of demagogy and populism and see their real ideas (if they have some). Sadly, sometime very good candidates play the game of demagogy only to be elected. The first solution to mediocrity in our political systems is to inform ourselves before voting, the first solution is to be responsible of our political sovereignty we are expressing by voting.
Secondly, try to encourage the participation of citizens in the government. The more the people can see how it works from inside, by participating to the state early in the eYouth, the more they will be interest to candidate themselves later. By getting them involved, we can assure a new generation of good politicians, but we must give them good habits, and not be expressively pessimist of cynic in such a way to discourage them. Also, the more the citizens are participating, the less errors can be made (one man can be wrong, when many people are working together, errors are less frequent.) also, good old citizens who don’t want to do much could still be involved by doing a small job but not having all the responsibilities they despite.
In short, we must both ourselves be better and more informed/enlightened voters (as it is our responsibility in the well being of our state as a democratic society), and we must also show our fellow citizens that involvement in politics can be done without having to be demagogic populists.
P.S. This is a general article about in game ePolitics and RL politics, no reference is made to any specific government or politician. If the shoe fits.
Previously published: Liberty of Discussion in Democracy (John-Stuart Mill), day 1955.
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