• Heritage Action
  • More

Soft Despotism, Democracy's Drift: What de Tocqueville Teaches Us Today

Recorded on April 16, 2009

Location: The Heritage Foundation's Allison Auditorium

Despotism can come in many forms.  In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville cautioned readers about the possibility that democracy would result in a soft despotism of expanding paternalistic state power that gradually undermines self-government.  Soft despotism does not "tyrannize, it gets in the way: it curtails, it enervates, it extinguishes, it stupefies, and finally it reduces each nation to nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd."  Since the early Twentieth Century, de Tocqueville's warnings have gone unheeded.  The result is a soft despotism of scientific experts and administrative bureaucrats.

Paul A. Rahe has authored several books including Soft Despotism, Democracy's Drift: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville and the Modern Prospect and the forthcoming Montesquieu and the Logic of Liberty: War, Religion, Commerce, Climate, Terrain, Technology, Uneasiness of Mind, the Spirit of Political Vigilance, and the Foundations of the Modern Republic.  He holds a B.A. and Ph.D. from Yale University.  James W. Ceaser has taught at the University of Virginia since 1976.  He has held visiting professorships at the University of Florence, the University of Basel, Oxford University, the University of Bordeaux, and the University of Rennes.  Since 1974, Thomas G. West has taught at the University of Dallas.  He is the author of Vindicating the Founders: Race, Sex, Class and Justice in the Origins of America and also serves as a Director and Senior Fellow of the Claremont Institute.