by Daniel B. Klein
The American Institute for Economic Research
“The entire book that you are going to read,” wrote Alexis de Tocqueville in the introduction to Democracy in America (1835), “was written under the pressure of a sort of religious terror in the author’s soul, produced by the sight of this irresistible revolution.” This religious terror haunts the two volumes of Democracy in America. What is the object of that terror?
It is not “this irresistible revolution” itself. The “irresistible revolution” that Tocqueville saw was the “equality of conditions”—namely, equal subjection of the individual under the sovereign, in the territorial polity. The equality of subjection arose when the sovereign was represented by a Caesar or the crown, and it continued into Tocqueville’s time. The trappings of the sovereign changed, but equality of subjection persisted. This “revolution,” Tocqueville wrote in 1835, “for so many centuries has marched over all obstacles.”