Tocqueville and Hartz v. Madison

Seminar Paper, 2006

18 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

I. The maintenance of democracy

II. Madison and The Federalists in favour of a strong state

III. Tocqueville’s and Hartz’ accentuation of political culture and civic virtues

IV. Is there really so much difference between Madison and Tocqueville?

V. The economic prosperity as a third stability granting factor

VI. Conclusion

I. The maintenance of democracy

Since the fall of Rome there was no long lasting democracy in the history of mankind, though there had been several attempts to establish one, all failed in terms of duration. Even the ancient Roman Empire itself got shattered a few times, oscillating between a democratic republic and dictatorship. So the founding fathers of the American Constitution in the late 18th century were deeply concerned about the possible failure of the young democracy. So far all empirical evidence supported Platon’s teachings of a cycle of returning political regimes that led inevitably from democracy to oligarchy to dictatorship and again to monarchy. The construction of a political system that was both democratic and stable had never worked before.

In The Federalist paper No. 1 Hamilton argues that being in favour or against the new Constitution is about “to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend, for their political constitution, on accident and force” (Hamilton, 2003, p. 3) According to him this is about “nothing less than the existence of the Union” (ibid. p. 3). So the main question of this essay, whether in the United States of America in the late 18th and 19th centuries political values or political institutions were more responsible for the maintenance of democratic practices, was essential to the people of that time.

The Federalists’ most important question is: How can one create a stable political order that is still free and democratic? Their answer is: By carefully constructing the political institutions in a way that compensates the imperfection of man. In contrast to this Tocqueville and, tying up to him, Hartz are pointing out the necessity of political values to maintain democratic practices. In my opinion, institutions are more important than political culture in order to create a stable political system, but surely both factors cannot be isolated from each other. Not only do they strongly depend on each other but can probably even be regarded as two sides of the same coin.

To prove this thesis I will first introduce the different approaches of Madison, substitutional for The Federalists, who favour a strong state, and of Tocqueville and Hartz, who rather accentuate the importance of political culture and civic virtues. In the following paragraph I would like to pose the question whether there really is so much difference between Madison and Tocqueville as argued before. In my opinion all three authors agree on the relevance of both pillars of democracy – polities and culture. Indeed, I believe that Tocqueville recognises the need for strong institutions just as much as Madison. Furthermore I want to introduce “economic prosperity” as a third stability granting factor in the next paragraph to which in my opinion is paid too little attention by the relevant authors. The challenge of the conclusion will be to sum up the mentioned factors and to weigh their importance for the maintenance of democracy. But the starting point of all analysis has to be the discussion of The Federalists and The Anti-Federalists about how one should construct the union of the United States of America.

II. Madison and The Federalists in favour of a strong state

During the war of independence, the former colonies had reached a state of unity that resembled more an alliance. The Confederation established a first constitution in 1781 which provided a “Continental Congress” with each of the thirteen states being represented by one vote. A state wishing to do so could have easily withdrawn from the Confederation. The Congress could settle disputes amongst the states or admit new states, and regulate relations to foreign countries (Dolbeare/Cummings, 2004, p. 52). But nevertheless the central government was weak not only in comparison to foreign states but also compared to the federal states themselves. The Congress had no power to raise taxes or to regulate any kind of commerce, also it could not dispose over military troops. Facing these problems, a convention was held in Philadelphia in 1787 in order to find better rules for the Federation. Finally, it came up with a new Constitution. ”The [old] Constitution provided that ratification would be done by specially called conventions in each of the states and that it would go into effect when nine states had ratified” (ibid. p. 69). The ratification process was very difficult under the circumstances of that time. But “by mid-June [1788], however, eight states had ratified, but neither New York nor Virginia, both essential to the new nation, had done so” (ibid. p. 70). In order to convince the delegates of New York James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay published a collection of essays “The Federalist Papers” in the New York newspapers.

They considered in detail the dangers the new democratic and federal system might face and defended the Constitution as the solution to most of them. Amongst the most dangerous Madison pointed out the tyranny of one faction of society that gains the majority of votes. “Measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice, and the rights of the minor party; but the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority” (Madison, 2003, p. 51). Therefore The Federalist essay No. 10 justifies the constitution as designed to prevent effective majority rule: “There are two methods of curing the mischiefs of faction: the one to remove its causes; the other, by controlling its effects” (ibid. p. 51). According to Madison, the majority “must be rendered, by their number and local situation, unable to concert and carry into effect schemes of oppression” (ibid. p. 54). This cannot be achieved within a direct democracy but through the principle of representation, therefore Madison favours a big republic that includes a wide range of different opinions that are being mirrored in the “House of Representatives.” Furthermore, limiting the ruling power to a small number of citizens will lead to the effect that only the wisest persons will be chosen to govern.

There is a lot of political elitism evident in Madison’s writings. For example, one can well ask whether his fear of the majority is, because the rights of the propertied elite must be protected. “The most common and durable source of factions, has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold, and those who are without property, have ever formed distinct interests in society” (ibid. p. 52). The Federalists were also suspicious of the people’s ability to choose wisely or, as Hamilton puts it: “Of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics the greatest number have begun their career, by paying an obsequious court to the people, commencing Demagogues and ending Tyrants” (Hamilton, 2003, p. 5).

Madison extended this fear of an actual representation of the people in the government to a theory of separation of powers that meant to a great deal separating the power from the people. He was especially afraid of the Legislative gaining too much power and dominating government. Therefore the Constitution contains a functional separation of powers through a system of “checks and balances”. The different government bodies are on the one hand separated and on the other given enough power over each other so that no one could dominate the state. “Neither of them ought to possess directly or indirectly an overruling influence over the others” (Madison, 2003, p. 300). For example, each body of government (with exception of the Judiciary) should be elected separately. “The members of each [branch of government] should have as little agency as possible in the appointment of the members of the others” (ibid. p. 314). The British tradition of a mixed government was adopted in a functional way. Instead of having a government in which the different “mixed” social groups are balancing each other, the mixture of US-government lays within a functional separation. Another fear was that the office-holders could use their position for their own purposes. In order to prevent this “ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place” (ibid. p. 316).

Regarding the roots of the American democracy, one has to take into consideration that the colonies were already more or less self-governing republics. Therefore the Anti-Federalists defended traditional republican ideals while the Federalists articulated a new theory of liberal and national government. Whilst the Anti-Federalists feared an all powerful government, the Federalists feared primarily an all powerful democratically elected Legislative. Finally, the citizens’ “Bill of Rights” had been attached to the constitutional document as a compromise with the Anti-Federalists, who mistrusted the power of the new state. But in a democratic system the citizens do not only have certain rights to defend themselves against the state, but also strongly influence through their political thoughts and values the maintenance of democracy itself as shown by the arguments of Tocqueville and Hartz in the following paragraph.


Excerpt out of 18 pages


Tocqueville and Hartz v. Madison
Dresden Technical University  (Institut für Politikwissenschaft)
Political Ideas and Political Institutions in the United States
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This essay discusses the question whether - regarding the United States in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries - we should consider that political values or political institutions were more responsible for the maintenance of democratic practices. For this purpose the arguments of Madison, Tocqueville and Hartz are reconsidered.
Tocqueville, Hartz, Madison, Political, Ideas, Institutions, United, States
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Peter Neitzsch (Author), 2006, Tocqueville and Hartz v. Madison, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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