Since the evolution of the political thought within a particular country is defined to a significant degree by the relevant social, economic, and cultural factors outside of political influences, estimating the potential choices of avenues for development is a challenging task. Moreover, depending on the perspective that one might adopt and the philosophical system applied, the results of the specified observations and the identification of likely trends may vary significantly. Considering Tocqueville and his political ideas, especially his attitude towed the American political environment, one would conclude that the political scientist would consider the Communist Manifesto in opposition to the values of American democratic society.
The reasoning behind the specified statement concerns the presence of the warped justice system according to which the principles of American legal standards are implemented. The ideas based on which Communist ideas promoted in the manifest are planned and developed, as well as the core foundation of these regulations, can be considered as important in promoting the successful growth of society. However, the implementation of the specified justice principles, namely, the focus on complete equality as the key decision-making factor, could be seen as the possible pathway to establishing the environment where everyone should be equal, which is the exact reiteration of the ideas voiced in the Communist Manifesto (Wolin, 2009). If the Communist Manifesto had subverted Tocqueville’s idea of Communist as the tyranny of the majority, he might have concluded that the principles of the American democratic system and the ideas rendered in the Communist Manifesto were quite different from each other due to the forcefulness of the former and the threat of fostering the dictatorship of the masses.
When speculating on what Tocqueville’s position on American society in relation to the principles stated in the Communist Manifesto would have been, one needs to consider the notion of equality and the elements of the two ideologies that address the specified notion. Namely, it will be necessary to consider the people that both ideologies place at the forefront of decision-making. The Communist Manifesto heralds the principles of complete equality as the foundational concept of the existence of Communism (Strausz-Hupé, 2018). In turn, the American democracy promises something that ideologically rubs shoulders with the specified idea. Namely, at its core, the foundation of American democracy, especially given the recent tendencies, is geared clearly toward the idea that equality principles define the way in which decisions are made in the political and social contexts (Errington, 2019).
The tyranny of the majority is one of the key terms that would have allowed defining Tocqueville’s attitude toward the undiluted and direct notion of democracy as it was initially stated in the context of American society. Although the Communist manifesto did address the problems of the class struggle as one of the cornerstones of the problems within the social structure, including the issues of poverty, the unevenness of power distribution, and the related concerns, it still placed emphasis on the use of power against several groups, namely, emigrants and rebels (Strausz-Hupé, 2018). The specified proposition as a part of the manifest was unlikely to resonate with Tocqueville’s vision of equality, which was why there was a very low probability of him subscribing to the idea of equality that the manifest promoted.
In addition, the ideas that were rendered in the Communist Manifest could also be scrutinized through the lens of Communism as Tocqueville saw it. Namely, it should be mentioned that Tocqueville defined Communism primarily as the dictatorship of the masses, with the active reinforcement of the point of view that the majority saw as the most effective solution (Baehr, 2019). However, when examining Tocqueville’s possible perception of American democracy in relation to the Communist ideology as it was explained in the Communist Manifesto, one may need to consider Tocqueville’s specific definition of Communism as well. In contrast to the Marxist definition of Communism as the promotion of equality across classes, races, and other inherent characteristics of the population, Tocqueville viewed Communism as the dictatorship of the masses (Wolin, 2009). Therefore, if considering Tocqueville’s personal opinion on Communism ad assuming that the Communist Manifesto would not have a tangible effect on his perception of the subject matter, it would be unreasonable to believe that Tocqueville would equate American democracy the principles of the Communist agenda.
Indeed, when aligning the concept of Communism as the tyranny of the majority, one would have to accept the idea that American democracy with its focus on equality could also allow it, which is practically implausible. Arguably, one could read the ostensible connection between equality as it was viewed in the Communist Manifesto and the American democratic principles as the attempt of the majority to control the rest of the population. In this context, the democratic principles as the environment where the vote of the majority wins also imply a slightly similar idea, namely, the fact that the masses will define and reinforce their philosophy in the social landscape of the country (Boesche, 2019). The described notion, with the focus on the majority and its huge potential for changing the course of history, making decisions, and affecting the political, economic, and social environment of the country, aligns with the idea of tyranny of the majority, as Tocqueville put it.
However, the connection made between the tyranny of the majority as it was seen by Tocqueville and the situation that could be observed in the U.S. at the time, as well as the developments in the present-day U.S., would have been rather weak. Although the connection between the absolute control that the masses are given in the Communist ideology and the reasonable opportunities for decision-making that citizens are provided under the American law could be seen as slightly similar in terms of the power of the majority, further details would have been disclosed the differences between the two systems (Wolin, 2009). Namely, the fact that American democracy also implies that race and ethnicity, as well as other characteristics that define different types of minorities, should be protected characteristics, is an important argument against conflating the American legal standards and the dictatorship of the masses that the Communist Manifesto suggests.
Indeed, a closer look at the principles of American democracy will reveal that it, in fact, rejects the core concept of the dictatorship of the masses fully by providing the voice for underrepresented communities. Therefore, while the current American systems of legal and social justice are very flawed, they still provide the opportunity to avoid the situations in which the opinions of the majority become the tool for weaponizing the latter and shaping it into a force that could harm the rest of social and ethnic groups within the American community (Wolin, 2009). In fact, Tocqueville recognized the specified problems within American society and especially the principles of capitalism-based democracy that were beginning to build within the American political environment at the time. Often defined as a “liberal-conservative” or a “conservative liberal,” Tocqueville generated the opinions that appealed to both sides, which means that the ideas promoted by Marx could have gained legitimacy in his eyes after reading the Communist Manifesto (Tlolka, 2017, p. 737).
Indeed, after considering the stance that Tocqueville adopted when deconstructing democracy and Communism, one will have to agree that Tocqueville’s position lacked the theoretical support that would have made his argument stronger. Indeed, according to Wolin (2009), “The lack of a theoretical orientation at the beginning of his journey is suggested in a letter written just prior to his departure for America” (p. 114). Therefore, there is a probability of the Communist Manifesto changing Tocqueville’s perspective on American democracy as a concept. Specifically, the presence of the capitalist perspective and, therefore, the inherent economic inequality that it implied, could have soured the experience of American democracy as the statewide philosophy for Tocqueville.
Nevertheless, the change that Tocqueville’s philosophy and outlook on the ideology of Communism and the principles of Democracy still do not imply that he would have agreed with the ideas promoted in the Communist Manifesto. The idea of the social state, which Tocqueville promoted as the cornerstone of justice and equality in his perception of relationships within a state did not seem to quite fit the framework of the Communist Manifesto despite the evident similarities. Although Tocqueville did agree with the idea of the social state, his perception of social freedom seemed to be geared toward collectivism rather than pure socialism.
Likewise, the idea that Tocqueville would have parted with his idea of American exceptionalism and the notion that the principles of democracy could ever be bent in the way that would lead to failing the disadvantaged seems unreasonable. Indeed, when considering Tocqueville’s concept of American democracy, one should first refer to the concept coined by the political scientist himself, namely, the principle of American exceptionalism. By definition, the specified notion is supposed to reflect the idea of the American democratic system being the impeccable representation of social equality and justice according to Tocqueville (Aron, 2017).
The juxtaposition of the socialist state and the capitalist one, which the manifesto and the American system of democracy implied, would have been another possible point of concern for Tocqueville. Although there is a certain intersection between the Communist Manifesto and the principles of democracy as they were promoted in the U.S. at the time, it is unlikely that Tocqueville would have considered the two as similar philosophical systems (Wolin, 2009). Indeed, the political scientist had a clear vision of the Communist agenda as that one of the dictatorship of the masses, which contradicted the notion of the American democracy as Tocqueville knew it at the time.
Naturally, some of the ideas that Tocqueville promoted would not survive the scrutiny of contemporary analysis, mainly due to the recent developments in how different political systems are considered and how the relationships within them are shaped. Witnessing the dawn of the development of the confrontation between socialist and capitalist ideas, as well as the rise in the fight against inequality as a response to the Industrial Revolution (Wolin, 2009), Tocqueville embraced a very vague idea of a perfect future. Namely, he envisioned the scenario the notion of equality and liberty extends to every single member of society, which seems to defeat the very concept of the contemporary interpretation of Capitalism.
However, the specified lack of perspective does not allow conflating Tocqueville’s ideas with those of Marx. Instead, it shows that the stance that Tocqueville took when approaching the concept of social equality and equal opportunities has shifted toward the idea of eliminating social barriers and, instead, building relationships on the principles of equity (Boesche, 2019). The proposed solution does not negate the premises of the foundational democratic principles as they were introduced in the American political system; instead, it scrutinizes the social foundation on which the specified concepts would have.
When considered in a vacuum, as an undiluted concept the principle of democracy does mean that the opinion of the majority becomes the guiding standard in decision-making. However, the specified approach would not imply that the needs of minority groups, which are protected under the U.S. regulations, are ignored since it will be the majority that will be at the helm of the decision-making process. Instead, it will require considering a variety of nuances that define the functioning of American democracy (Wolin, 2009). Therefore, in its core, the foundational concept of the American democracy could not have been viewed by Tocqueville as that one approaching the Communist ideology as it was represented in the Communist Manifesto.
Therefore, after considering the nuances of both political philosophies, Tocqueville would have likely rejected the notion that the American social setting approached the one of a Communist country. Instead, he would have assumed that the division into social classes as a systematic problem within the global relationships could be approached from different standpoints and resolved using different tools, with a varying degree of success.
Aron, R. (2017). Main currents in sociological thought: Montesquieu, Comte, Marx, Tocqueville and the sociologists and the revolution of 1848. New York, NY: Routledge.
Baehr, P. (2019). Unmasking religion: Marx’s Stance, Tocqueville’s alternative. The Anthem Companion to Alexis de Tocqueville, 2008(154), pp. 1-6.
Boesche, R. (2019). The strange liberalism of Alexis de Tocqueville. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Errington, F. K. (2019). Karavar: masks and power in a Melanesian ritual. Cornell University Press.
Strausz-Hupé, R. (2018). Democracy and American foreign policy: Reflections on the legacy of Tocqueville. New York, NY: Routledge.
Wolin, S. S. (2009). Tocqueville between two worlds: The making of a political and theoretical life. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.