Tocqueville applied Rousseau’s critique of the Enlightenment to modern democracy. He saw in the age of equality the possibility of a new and unprecedented form of despotism arising out of long-standing trends toward administrative centralization. Tocqueville drew on Montesquieu’s theory of doux commerce to show how modernity would replace the old warrior ethic of glory in order to produce new habits based on individualism and an ethic of and “self-interest rightly understood.” This ethic was in turn the source of a distinctively modern pathology that leads people to flee from their own freedom in order to seek security and comfort from the state that had become a new kind of tutelary power. Tocqueville’s fears about this new kind of soft despotism were prescient. They were developed by twentieth-century thinkers, like Louis Hartz, Hannah Arendt, and Michael Oakeshott, concerned with the emergence of mass society and totalitarian political parties.
Keywords: Administrative Despotism, Arendt, Hannah, Doux commerce, Hartz, Louis, Hirschman, Albert, Individualism, Mass Society, Montesquieu, Oakeshott, Michael, Philistine, Restlessness (inquietude), Self-Interest Rightly Understood, Tocqueville, Alexis de
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